Tuk Tuk’s in West Valley brings Thai heat with modern vibe

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Spring roll at Tuk Tuk's, a new Thai restaurant in West Valley City, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

West Valley City • Tuk Tuk’s delivers the heat.

Thai food is known to be spicy and this new restaurant, named for the three-wheeled taxi in Thailand, brings it.

The restaurant — owned by a novice and run by a family — is proving successful by offering favorite Thai dishes but in a decidedly different vibe.

Decorated in sleek blues and golds, with a large mural of a tuk-tuk on one wall and a blue cityscape with a large golden elephant and Buddha on another, the restaurant is modern. The graffiti-style murals and the casual, pared-down menu are meant to distinguish it from more ornate Thai restaurants around the Salt Lake Valley. Pop music plays while a muted TV shows YouTube videos of foodies touring street food in Thailand.

There aren’t pages and pages of dishes, just five to six entrees listed under curry, stir fry and noodles and rice, along with appetizers and soup/salad. Add your choice of protein — chicken, steak, tofu, pork or seafood.

If you feel like a vegetable is missing, just ask and the cooks will add it. The service was like that — kind and accommodating, even for visitors whose palates, like mine, rate a green on the Scoville spice scale. Customers choose the spice level, from 1 to 5. On one visit, the waiter offered to add more coconut milk to tamp down the heat. And when the papaya salad with a spice level of 1 proved more fiery than I could handle, the waiter offered to take it back.

Jimmy Douangbupha has never run a restaurant before, but decided to open one after his family had success catering events for the Laos Buddhist temple in West Valley City. Douangbupha says his mother, who has worked at other Thai restaurants, is the main chef. While she is Vietnamese, she lived in Laos, which shares many dishes with Thailand. She makes the meals to order using her recipes, he says, even frying the chilies before crushing them. His cousins help serve and bus.

“Our mission is to serve the community,” he says. “We’re West Valley born. We live in West Valley.”

Among the appetizers, the Thai chicken wings ($8) are the best — super crispy with a sweet and spicy Thai sauce for dipping. The spring rolls ($5), egg rolls ($6) and tempura (a massive portion of eight vegetables for $8) are good but can be skipped, especially because of the large family-style portions of the entrees.

I’m not a huge stir fry fan because the dishes often taste too greasy for me. Our favorites are the curries and noodle dishes, along with some fantastic soups and desserts.

The khao piak sen, or udon noodle soup, offers large chunks of chicken with housemade udon noodles and is flavored with scallions, fried garlic, fried onion and cilantro. Add fried bread for $2 for an $11 meal that brings a different kind of heat, along with lots of umami, on these cold nights.

That dish is found on the “special menu,” which was once a secret but now comes standard. Some of my favorite dishes are on this menu, including the ka pad sa pa root (pineapple fried rice, $14), with cashews, peas, raisins, onions and hint of cloves in massaman curry. It’s peppery without being too sweet. The fried lard na ($14 or $12 without fried noodles), a Lao-Chinese dish, is rich and satisfying, made of a thin gravy over wide noodles studded with large cuts of carrots, celery, green onion and broccoli. Of course, there’s pad thai, too ($12), and plenty of other good dishes to try.

The panang curry ($11) presents just a hint of sweetness after the heat, covering zucchini, peas and bell peppers. The papaya salad ($8, $10 for fried or $15 as a platter with sides) is one of the more popular dishes, though it was too spicy for me. The fruit is julienned to look like noodles and served with tomatoes and roasted peanuts. The dressing, made of fish sauce, sugar and lime juice, was refreshing, but the chiles overpowered it. That said, I bet I could have asked to forgo the heat.

The tom ka soup ($4 for a bowl, $10 tureen and $14 with seafood) was a sanctuary from the spice, with sliced mushrooms, ginger, lemon grass and coconut milk.

Don’t skip dessert: We demolished the fried bananas ($6). And the Thai coconut waffle with vanilla bean ice cream ($8) is worth another taste or two. Green from pandan leaves, the waffle tastes of coconut, topped with condensed milk and toasted coconut.

It was a sweet ending to a blistery, and delicious, beginning.

Tuk Tuk’s • ★★★ (out of ★★★★) Authentic, spicy, scratch-made Thai cuisine served in a modern, casual space.

Food • ★★★

Mood • ★★

Service • ★★★

Noise • 1 bell out of 4

Location • 2222 W. 3500 South, No. B7, West Valley City; 385-227-8347.

Online • www.facebook.com/TukTuks.SaltLakeCity

Hours • Mondays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Children’s menu • No.

Prices • $$

Liquor • No.

Reservations • Yes.

Takeout • Yes.

Wheelchair access • Yes.

Outdoor dining • No.

On-site parking • Yes.

Credit cards • Yes.