By Angela Feng
Hidden along M.L.K Jr Blvd in Chapel Hill is Lucha Tigre, a bold and innovative Latin and Asian fusion restaurant.
Owner Khoa Dinh lived in Vietnam until he was seven, when his family escaped the political turmoil of the country. He came to North Carolina in 1995 and has been in the restaurant business since he was 17. Over the years, he’s worked his way up in the industry, with Lucha Tigre his first restaurant of his own.
The idea for a Latin and Asian fusion restaurant arose over dinner conversation between Dinh and his friend Lily Contreras. Contreras was born in Mexico City, and the two bonded over the similar flavors and ingredients found in Mexican and Vietnamese dishes.
“We figured, ‘why not open a restaurant that reflects both of our cultures?’” Dinh said. “Asian-Latin fusion cuisine already existed all over the world, but it was still new to North Carolina.”
Lucha Tigre began as a partnership between Dinh, Contreras and two other friends from the restaurant industry. However, the other partners had to leave for various reasons, and Dinh eventually became the sole owner.
Dinh originally decided on Chapel Hill for the residents’ openness to new ideas, as well as the town’s amazing local support system. Through the difficulties related to COVID-19, he is especially grateful for the community. The pandemic was a hard time for Lucha Tigre, and without the local support, the restaurant would not have made it through.
Lucha Tigre was one of the most recent restaurants to open back up, as the comfort and safety of the staff was Dinh’s biggest concern. They decided to wait until the vaccine came out and the staff was fully vaccinated before reopening their doors.
All of Lucha Tigre’s menu items are well thought out, with careful attention to the dishes’ history and ingredients. Dinh doesn’t believe in combining random dishes just for the sake of calling it “fusion” food. He uses pollo saltado, a traditional Peruvian dish, as an example of what he believes fusion cuisine should be. The recipe was originally brought by Chinese immigrants to Peru, where it was adapted to Peurvian culture by adding potatoes.
Aside from pollo saltado, some of Lucha Tigre’s most popular dishes include the General Tso’s Chicken and Tofu Bowls.
“These are big favorites among students and families,” Dinh said. “A lot of our customers are trying tofu for the first time, and they’re surprised by how good it can be.”
Dinh’s personal favorite item is the ceviche – a Peruvian seafood dish made from shrimp marinated in lime juice. Due to how fresh the shrimp needs to be, it’s made early in the day in small portions. It usually sells out quickly, so if you’re thinking of trying it, Dinh recommends getting there early.
Whether you’re looking for a new spot for date night, a place to catch up with friends, or a nice restaurant to take your parents to, Lucha Tigre is the perfect location. It’s open for brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 4:00 p.m. on weekends. For dinner, it’s open from 5:00 p.m. to midnight daily.