All Thai’d Up | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

All Thai’d Up 

Dropping in on a trio of terrific Thai restaurants.

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I’m not sure how we got so lucky, but it seems to me that a new Thai restaurant opens somewhere along the Wasatch Front at a rate of about one or two per month, at least. While much of the Thai community in Utah is centered around Layton’s Thai Buddhist Temple, you’ll find Thai eateries scattered from Payson (Saisavanh Authentic Thai) and Tooele (Thai House) to Provo/Orem (Thai Chili Gardens, The Thai Pepper, Thai Ruby) and Ogden (Bangkok Garden). I can name 20 or so Thai restaurants in the Greater Salt Lake City area alone. I find that to be remarkable. Even more remarkable is that so many of them are great. In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a bad meal at a Utah Thai restaurant. Go figure.

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Obviously, I can’t write about them all without this becoming a weekly Thai dining page. But recent excursions'cruising for curry, I call it'have taken me to three local Thai restaurants that are well worth the voyage.

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In terms of décor, Sawadee Thai Restaurant is the most appealing of the bunch. The spacious, well-appointed near-Avenues restaurant bustles at lunchtime especially, with activity swirling around the giant gong that serves as the restaurant’s visual centerpiece. The restaurant is named for its chef and owner, Sawadee, whose name also means “welcome” in Thailand. And Sawadee Thai Restaurant is a very welcoming place, although in that regard not unlike just about every Thai restaurant I’ve ever set foot in.

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As I said, lunches at Sawadee are very popular, and although the restaurant is always busy from noon to 1:30 p.m. or so, service is quick and efficient. For $6.95 at lunch, diners get a choice of two entrees from a list of about 20, along with jasmine rice, salad and a spring roll. The salad is a small plate of chopped greens topped with a zippy peanut-chili dressing, slightly sweet and quite delicious. The deep-fried spring roll I could do without; it’s too bad more Thai restaurants don’t offer light, unfried rice-paper spring rolls for lunch. My own unscientific survey suggests that only about one in six people actually eats the deep-fried spring rolls served with lunch at many Thai and Chinese restaurants.

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A delightful way to begin any meal at Sawadee is with an order of Thai dumplings ($5.95 for eight). The purse-shaped rice-flour dumplings are stuffed with minced shrimp and bamboo shoots, which give them a bit of crunch. They are mild and delicate in flavor'until you dip them into the incendiary sesame-oil chili sauce served alongside.

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Sawadee’s menu is extensive, with standard Thai offerings like satays, curries, noodle and rice dishes, and Thai soups. One of the most rewarding of the soups is the Po Tak ($13.75), an ocean of seafood (fish, shrimp, mussels, squid, scallops) in a broth seasoned with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms and Thai chili peppers. The roasted boneless duck with honey ginger sauce ($14.95) is an appealing dish not found in other local Thai eateries, as is the hearty Moo Pha Lo'large chunks of pork shoulder cooked in a broth brimming with Thai Five Spices and soy sauce. A dish of tender slices of boneless chicken breast stir-fried with a spicy curry paste, tiny green beans and red bell pepper called Pad Prick Khing Gai is another of my favorites at Sawadee'and not just because I enjoy uttering the name.

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Any meal at Sawadee is terrific when capped off with a dessert of durian and Thai sweet sticky rice ($3.95). Durian is a scary-looking, thorn-covered fruit that actually stinks to high heaven when the husk is opened, but the fruit itself has a sweet, nutty flavor. A Sawadee meal ends with a “wai” greeting, the customary palms-together-near-the-chest bow that signals respect.

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Run by an immensely friendly Thai couple whose equally outgoing nephew waits tables, Thai Orchid is a small gem of a restaurant on Highland Drive in Holladay. With only 10 tables or so, Thai Orchid is intimate, but not stuffy'a lovely little eatery that quickly makes you forget that you’re dining at a strip mall. As we sipped Singha beer and Chardonnay at Thai Orchid, we delighted in home-style dishes like Gaeng Daeng (slices of boneless chicken bathed in a medium-spicy red curry flavored with coconut milk, Thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, bell peppers and bamboo shoots for $9.95). The Pad Thai noodles at Thai Orchid were a hit with the kids and adults alike, as were the barbecue pork ribs called Moo Yaang ($8.95), which are marinated overnight with Thai spices then grilled and served with sweet and sour sauce on the side. Thai Orchid also offers a two-entrée lunch combination for $7.95.

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Thai Lotus has sprouted in the space on 500 South across from Library Square that used to be Boondocks Pacific Grill & Café. Sampling an array of dishes from Thai Lotus’ $6.55 lunch combo menu, I found this cozy little restaurant to fit in nicely with its charming neighbors, Cannella’s and Urban Bistro. Authentic Thai smiles light up Thai Lotus, not to mention thick Thai accents since little English is spoken here. Both the laid-back vibe and the food are fantastic as well as inexpensive. I was gaga over the Gaeng Massaman'large cubes of stewed beef so tender, you could literally eat them with a spoon. The beef came in a massaman red curry with coconut milk, chunks of boiled potato, onions and crunchy peanuts. It was completely delectable. Pineapple soup may sound like an iffy prospect, and it’s not easy to explain. But the fragrant broth called Tom Sub Pa Rod'laced with chunks of pineapple, bacon, shrimp and scallions'is simply out of this world! Alas, no beer or wine at Thai Lotus due to its proximity to the Salt Lake Main Library, but the food and friendly service are sensational.

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SAWADEE THAI RESTAURANT
n754 E. South Temple
n328-8424

nTHAI LOTUS
n212 E. 500 South
n328-4401

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THAI ORCHID
n6219 S. Highland Drive
n274-3000

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