When I moved here from New York City many years ago, my first abode was in Murray City. Going from Manhattan to Murray can cause vertigo, but I came to like the quirky place, sections of which reminded me a little of California wine country without the wine or vineyards. One of the first restaurant reviews I wrote for City Weekly—then called Private Eye—was of a Murray eatery called Grecian Garden, long since departed. Here, I turn my attention to a trio of eclectic Murray eateries, each of which has its own unique appeal.
For years, a cadre of foodie informants has been nudging me toward Tea Rose Diner (65 E. Fifth Ave. [4880 South], 801-685-6111, TeaRoseDiner.net). And for years, it’s been on my back burner. Well, now I get it, having visited a couple times recently. If ever there were a restaurant the term “eclectic” was geared for, this is it. Picture a mom & pop joint with an American diner feel, look and menu: pancakes, hash browns, garlic burgers, Reuben sandwiches, macaroni & cheese, PB&J, tuna melt, etc. Then, add killer Thai food—plus, 70 types of tea.
Trust the devoted Tea Rose Diner regulars when they tell you to be cautious when ordering the Thai dishes “spicy.” Supposedly, there’s a 1-10 heat scale in effect. I’ve never gotten past the fiery inferno of level 2. Even an order of “mild” red curry was a tad scorching, but delicious. You can order most dishes with a choice of protein: chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp or fish. The red curry with beef had great depth of flavor from the curry and coconut milk, and the thin, tender slices of beef practically melted in the mouth. Pad see-ew is excellent, too: thick, wide rice noodles stir-fried (in this case) with firm tofu, eggs and broccoli, and coated in a rich, glistening black soy sauce.
The fresh rice-paper spring rolls are a generous appetizer. For breakfast, banana pancakes are hard to top, although you might opt for the Thai omelet, made with sauteed chicken slices, carrots, lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro and crushed peanuts. It’s essentially an omeletized version of pad thai, which at Tea Rose Diner is also quite good, although a bit too buried in big piles of shredded carrots and bean sprouts. In true diner tradition, service couldn’t be friendlier.
I’ll say the same for CousCous Mediterranean Grill (5470 S. 900 East, 801-938-8307, CousCousGrill.com), where owner Nick Shams and his team—including his sons—make customers feel like part of the family. Lovers of couscous, however, might be disappointed in the menu, which, despite the restaurant’s name, contains very little couscous. There’s a veggie couscous bowl—sauteed vegetables with teriyaki sauce over couscous—and some dishes, like the wraps and pitas, that are served with a side of couscous. But you’ll need to look elsewhere for a serious couscous fix.
Nonetheless, the cuisine at CousCous—where you order at the counter and food is quickly delivered to your table—is very satisfying. The shwarma—a beef and lamb mixture formed into a cone and cooked on a rotisserie; you’d recognize it as gyro meat in a Greek restaurant—is perfectly spiced, juicy and delicious, whether you have it à la carte, in a wrap or as a platter. The shwarma platter includes a side salad or cup of soup, and the housemade cheesy tomato bisque is outstanding, incorporating a blend of four different cheeses. An entree of salmon in a mild curry sauce with eggplant was also really good, as was lemon scampi: thin, angel-hair-like pasta tossed with a handful of plump, tender shrimp in a tangy lemon-cream sauce.
The 10-inch pizzas at CousCous are tasty, too. I especially enjoyed the protein-lovers pizza, topped with sausage, pepperoni, shwarma, red onions, sweet red peppers, mozzarella and provolone. A small criticism, though: It seemed odd to me that an order of housemade hummus came with no bread or CousCous’ housemade garbanzo chips for dipping; a piece of pita was an extra $1.50. Still, prices are so low at CousCous and portions so generous, it’s hard to quibble about a buck-and-a-half.
Finally, this one has been a Murray fixture for as long as I can recall. But if you haven’t visited Italian Village (5370 S. 900 East, 801-266-4182, ItalianVillageSLC.com) recently, you might not be aware that the décor got a modernizing facelift a while back. There are lots of glass partitions to help make the dining experience a little more private and less noisy, as well as a waiting area for when the place gets crowded, as it usually does on Friday and Saturday nights.
Let’s face it: People seem to either love or loathe Italian Village. And if you’re looking for authentic Northern Italian fare or Neapolitan-style pizzas, you might want to look elsewhere. But for rib-sticking, classic Italian-American meals—lasagna, spaghetti & meatballs, veal Parmesan and such—this is the place. When was the last time you saw chicken cacciatore on a restaurant menu, for example? And where else could you find a combo meal of pizza and manicotti, or pizza plus eight housemade meatballs with gravy? Yes, Italian Village is old-school.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is the pizza bender. It gets raves. I’m guessing it gets its name because it’s essentially a pizza folded (or “bent”) in half. Elsewhere, of course, this would be known as a calzone—pizza dough stuffed with sausage, cheese, ham and pepperoni (although your bender can be customized to order). But “pizza bender” does have a certain ring to it.
So, if you’re motoring through Murray looking for a meal, keep these three unique eateries in mind.