My niece, Sarah, teaches school in Bangkok. She’s continually titillating me with stories of cheap Thai street food—like shredded duck with homemade noodles, priced at a mere 70 cents per serving. And so, upon hearing raves from fellow Thai-loving foodies about the recently opened Sala Thai Kitchen, I decided to enlist Sarah’s Thai culinary expertise. After sampling many dishes, her verdict: “This is the best Thai food I’ve had in the United States!”
Located a few doors down from Brewvies and equally convenient for anyone in the market for naughty nighttime attire—Sala Thai Kitchen is next door to Doctor John’s Lingerie—you might not believe that this restaurant occupies the space previously home to Zanzibar nightclub. That’s because, with the exception of the big bar in back, no trace of Zanzibar exists. This is good, since Zanzibar had little eye appeal. Even the bathrooms were painted black.
After much scraping of paint, installation of hardwood floors and contemporary lighting, and a general brightening up of the place, Sala is spacious and airy and without the standard Asian kitsch found in many Thai eateries. There is just one discreet Buddha back by the bar. And there are no photos or tapestries of Bangkok or Thai villages; rather, the walls are adorned with Utah nature photography. Or, at least, they were when I went. Art and photo exhibits at Sala change periodically and showcase local artists.
Now, I normally wouldn’t review a restaurant that’s been open only a month. I surely wouldn’t write a negative review of a business that fresh. But, I’m happy to report that Sala seems as though it’s been around forever. The food and service are completely dialed-in. And now that they’ve gotten a wine and beer license, things are really in full swing. So, why wait to help get the word out about this place?
Friendly: That’s the first impression. Co-owner/chef Jitrada Dreier serves as hostess and waitress and, although her English is only slightly better—well, a lot better, actually—than my Thai, she is warm, hospitable and ready with explanations of unique dishes, some from her home of Phetchabun, in north-central Thailand. When I asked about the meaning of the word “sala” in the Thai language, she told me it means something like “relax” or “rest.” Well, Sala Thai Kitchen is the perfect place to relax with a cold Singha and an appetizer plate of four curry puffs ($6.95). These are similar to Indian samosas: fried triangle-shaped fritters stuffed with yellow curry-infused mashed potatoes. You cannot eat just one. Equally enticing are steamed Thai dumplings ($4.95 for five), filled with reconstituted dried shrimp. Dishes at Sala—even the appetizers—are artfully presented, looking every bit as wonderful as they taste.
I tend to measure Thai restaurants in part on their green curry, and Sala’s was outstanding. We tried it with squid rings—other options are chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu—and it was creamy, glistening homemade curry (not made from paste), with a spicy kick that had us reaching for our Thai iced tea for relief. The dish is visually gorgeous too: a thick broth of green curry with coconut milk, squid rings, bell peppers, zucchini, bamboo shoots, eggplant slices and Thai basil, served with a generous mound of jasmine rice ($9.95). Unlike most Thai restaurants I’ve visited, the dishes on the menu aren’t rated “mild,” “medium” or “hot,” and we weren’t asked how we wanted our dishes prepared. So, be prepared. As I said, the green curry is scrumptious but not for the faint of heart.
Another excellent dish is the khao soi ($9.95), a northern Thailand meal in a bowl. The folks at Sala say this dish is exclusive to their restaurant, but I’ve seen it at others in town. It’s a big, deep bowl of both soft linguine-size egg noodles and thin, crispy, crunchy rice noodles, with a delectable peanut-curry satay sauce, red onions, scallions, cilantro, julienned carrot, boneless pieces of chicken breast and a whole chicken leg buried within. This, like all of the entrees we ordered, was ginormous, so plan to dine family style, passing around one great dish after another.
Even better—quite possibly the best Thai dish I’ve ever enjoyed—is pad him ma parn ($9.95). My niece was familiar with this dish, said to be a favorite in Thailand, and boy, am I glad she was—it was remarkable. It’s a stir-fry of a meat, seafood or tofu choice (we had chicken) with cashews, water chestnuts, carrot slivers, pineapple pieces, broccoli, onion, bell peppers, scallions and toasted chiles. Normally, it comes with jasmine rice, but when my niece asked to substitute wide, flat, pappardelle-style sen yai rice noodles, the kitchen was happy to oblige. Don’t even think about visiting Sala Thai Kitchen without tasting this dish.
Lunch combos ($6.95) are predictable—a standard range of curries (red, green, yellow and massaman), along with tofu, noodle and rice dishes that come with steamed rice, spring rolls, house salad or vegetable soup and free Thai iced tea. For dessert, I thought it would be interesting to try a Thai “pancake” with ice cream ($3.95), which turned out to be the only thing at Sala that didn’t rock me. It’s a dense, rice-flour pancake that requires a knife (which aren’t supplied) to cut, topped with what tasted like store-bought ice cream. A much better dessert choice is the mango sticky rice. In fact, it’s a must. And, the same goes for Sala Thai Kitchen: It’s a must.
SALA THAI KITCHEN
679 S. 200 West