A friend once said we had to eat at bad restaurants to appreciate the finer establishments. I think of her every time I set foot in a place which, within minutes, I know is tipping on the low end of that balance.
To find a place with to-die-for tastes and regal service on a layman’s budget is a rarity. However, if willing to sacrifice taste in one form or another, the following restaurants may provide unforgettable entertainment.
The outside of Pawit’s Royale Thai Cuisine on 1968 E. Murray-Holladay Road looks as if it might have once housed an Arctic Circle fast food restaurant. A small brick building with a no-frills sign announces the name in blue above old fashioned letters meant to change the greeting or daily special.
Inside, however, the lights are low, the tables are nicely set and comfortable and the décor represents Thai culture well. Except, that is, for the Christmas colored lights strung about the fish tank in the center of the room.
“I will have that out to you as soon as the chef decides to return to the kitchen and cook it,” said Lance, our waiter, after he took our order. He indicated that the restaurant employee who was talking to people at another table was Pawit, the cook and the owner.
Lance went on to explain that Pawit comes out of the kitchen to greet his guests frequently, and occasionally gets stuck in conversation.
Since I know that I will not get food until at least ten minutes after this man has left my sight, I intently eyeball him the rest of the time he is in the room.
The Pad Thai comes and the anxiety subsides. It is delicious, perfectly cooked tofu and glass noodles; the peanut sauce is perfect in the mid-range of sweet and vinegar.
While I enjoy my dinner, the table next to ours receives one out of three dishes it is expecting and two of the guests start to wonder if their food will ever arrive. Lance gives them his theory as to why Pawit is unconcerned with the dishes arriving all at the same time. In America, he says, we are used to each having our own dish served to us. In Thailand, food is shared by all at the table. He thinks Pawit intends for the sharing of each dish.
Moving on, Ming’s Garden has been in Salt Lake for more than 30 years. Located at 3640 Highland Drive, from the street, it looks like an upscale place that I may not want to take the time to get dressed up for.
A closer look shows the restaurant is part of a strip mall containing specialty stores that close around 5:00 p.m. There is no one in the parking lot, and luckily, my companion and I think we have beaten the dinner rush. It soon becomes clear that we are the dinner rush.
Inside, paper fliers scotch taped to the walls suggest Bud or Bud Light, or a fifty cent soda. There are traces present that indicate that there are more servers than customers, such as bus tubs filled with silverware rolled in napkins left in sight on the bar, and a screen attempting to hide a table with read newspapers and un-cleared lunch dishes. I am pretty sure I am going to regret this experience.
However, when the food comes everything suddenly changes. I am having the very best egg foo yung I’ve ever had in my life. The vegetables were all freshly chopped and cooked to order. The patties were an inch thick. The sauce did not soak into the egg, making it soggy like most places.
When we paid and left, I noticed a sign that said our order should have come with a free scoop of ice cream. I decided to leave well enough alone.
Once a fine dining establishment, and before that, a furniture store, the location of Sunset Boulevard Café (2335 Murray-Holladay Road) is one that changes hands but never renovates, so it looks like everything it has ever been.
There is a fireplace on the backmost wall topped with a large flat screen television and surrounded by diamond shaped wine cubbies built into the wall. These cubbies now contain several copies of the play “Sunset Boulevard.”
The intent of the television is to play movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as is reflected in the movie posters lining the walls with such classics as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Gone with the Wind.” However, the film playing that night was the cult classic “Young Frankenstein.” Closed captioning was turned on, as to not step on the pop music playing overhead.
Buttered popcorn instead of bread or chips is placed on the table in a plastic container representing the bags you get at a theatre. It just gets worse from there.
The food is American fare. I get a cheeseburger with fries and an iced tea. The burger is served in a paper-lined plastic tray, and my drink is in an old plastic reusable Coca-Cola cup. The food is hard and gets cold fast. I feel like I just ate at the Drive-In. I guess that’s what they were going for.
If you want an ironic dining experience, trust me, you can’t go wrong with the above-mentioned eateries. They will mess something up for you, and surprise you with something that delights either your palate or your funny bone.