In more than a decade of writing this column for City Weekly/Private Eye, I’ve come to depend heavily on restaurant leads from its knowledgeable readers. I can’t be everywhere at once, and feedback from readers has frequently led me to restaurant gems that I might not have unearthed on my own. But in that decade-plus, I’ve never gotten more encouraging reviews from readers about a restaurant than I’ve received in the past month or so about Thai Garden, a new Thai restaurant in Murray.
Perhaps the most provocative was an e-mail from a Thai woman in a message entitled, “Have you ever had real Thai food in SLC?” She said that she misses her home and Thai food, having spent the past three years in Utah. She wrote that dining at Thai Garden was like being in Thailand again. Her charming broken-English e-mail concluded, “I think many words of me cannot explain all but the taste and feeling of your toung (sic) it would be better than my word. ...” Well, a Thai native telling me about a Salt Lake City restaurant that reminded her of home—in conjunction with a number of positive reports from various other City Weekly readers—certainly piqued my interest.
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of ambiance when I visited Thai Garden’s strip mall location for lunch on a rainy Tuesday. But wham-o!, walking into Thai Garden is a sensory experience that’ll make you instantly forget that you’re next door to a Subway sandwich shop. The place is colorful and gorgeous, with lots of artifacts from Thailand for decorations, and a fish tank in the center of the restaurant filled with some of the largest exotic tropical fish I’ve ever seen. Each table has a small vase of fresh flowers; there’s beautiful Thai music playing in the background. Where a lot of restaurateurs would probably be happy just throwing a few posters from Thailand on the walls and a bronze Buddha in the corner, the owners of Thai Garden have sunk a lot of dough into making the place look lovely. From floor to ceiling, the restaurant is completely inviting.
But then, there are a lot of pretty restaurants in our city. And most of them are nothing more than mediocre when it comes to food. Thai Garden is an exception to that rule as well. I have not tried a single dish yet at Thai Garden that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and wouldn’t hesitate to order again in a heartbeat.
The menu at Thai Garden is extensive, with over 20 appetizers, soups and salads and about 30 main courses to choose from. And most of those entrees feature a choice of beef, pork, chicken, prawns or tofu for the protein. So how do you decide between curry dishes like Gang Dang (red curry with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers and Thai basil) and Gang Keow Wan (green curry with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, bell peppers, green beans and Thai basil)? Well, since the flavors at Thai Garden are so clean and so wonderful, it doesn’t really matter which dishes you choose. Based on my batting average, I’d guess that there’s not a dish on the Thai Garden menu that isn’t a home run.
At lunchtime, Thai Garden features a special $6.95 lunch combination that gives customers a choice of two entrees, served with a delicious house salad (the sweet Asian vinaigrette was out of this world), steamed white rice and deep fried wontons. There are lots of good choices on the lunch combination menu, but you might want to start with the fragrant coconut soup called Tom Kha Kai. The mild coconut flavor melds with kefir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, green onions, cabbage, mushrooms and slices of chicken in a manner I can only describe as heavenly. A tempting vegetarian salad option is called Som Tum: Green papaya spritzed with fresh lime juice, spicy red Thai chili and a little sugar, then mixed with green beans, tomato and ground peanuts and served with sticky white rice.
As mentioned, I’ve yet to run into a disappointing dish at Thai Garden, and I don’t have room to describe each of the gratifying meals I’ve had there. But there are a handful of menu items I’d highly recommend. I tend to judge Thai restaurants on their Pad Thai; I figure if that classic Thai noodle dish isn’t up to par, then there’s no reason to think anything else will be. Thai Garden’s Pad Thai ($8.95) definitely wins “Best Of” status in my book. It’s exceptional. I also am gaga over a superb dish called Gang Khua Sub Pa Rod ($12.95)—a splendid mÃ©lange of tender prawns, red and yellow pepper slices, pineapple cubes and Thai basil in an aromatic coconut/red curry gravy. The menu lists the dish as “mild,” but my order had plenty of spice kick. However, the sweet pineapple provides a marvelous balance to the spicy red curry.
With a full liquor license and extra-friendly service from people like Pawit at Thai Garden, I can’t really think of any way to improve the dining experience there. But don’t just take my word. Try it for yourself and see if my e-mail correspondent was right when she said the food at Thai Garden was “real Thai.” This might just be as close as I ever come to Thailand.
THAI GARDEN 4410 S. 900 East 266-7899 Lunch & Dinner Monday-Saturday