Ginger Street is loud — loud decor, loud music, loud food.
Think neon pink signs, posters from 1990s pop culture, multicolored Cotopaxi fanny packs, a turntable staffed by a DJ four nights a week, and recipes infused with chili flakes and Thai chili peppers. At times, it can be overwhelming, particularly the noise and spice levels. But more often than not, it’s refreshing and exciting, fragrant and delicious.
The downtown Salt Lake City restaurant, created by partners Michael McHenry of Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper and chef Tyler Stokes of Provisions in Millcreek, focuses on southeast Asian street food and encourages a hawker-style approach: order a few dishes and share with the table — or even someone you don’t know.
The communal tables and bleachers are great places for that, said McHenry, previously of Even Stevens Sandwiches. “It’s OK to crush a dumpling or pad Thai next to someone you’ve never met before.”
I didn’t sit all that close to someone I didn’t know, but I did share plenty of food with friends and family.
We loved the larb gai ($12 for dinner), or lettuce cups, featuring a succulent chicken salad and garnishes that weave sour, sweet and spicy notes together. Bonus: You can order the larb gai as tacos for lunch ($7).
The scallion and ginger really shined through in the steamed Berkshire pork dumplings ($5 for lunch, $6 for dinner), which the kitchen pinches by hand twice a day. Try Ginger Street’s fresh rolls — duck ($9) or mushroom ($8 for lunch, $9 for dinner) — which are deep fried then wrapped in herbs and rolled in rice paper. Thai basil overpowered the other ingredients at times, but the textures and flavors are incredible.
We were less impressed with the overcooked meats in the sweet and spicy chicken wings ($9 for lunch, $10 for dinner) and steamed pork buns ($9). One interesting note: Ginger Street makes its own bao, which proofs two to three times each day before it’s steamed.
The drink menu offers natural wines, sake, beer, Thai tea, La Barba coffee and Mexican sodas. I recommend the handcrafted beverages — regular or long (with a shot of vodka, gin or rum). We sampled the refreshing Bird’s Eye View ($5, $8 long) and Naam Manao ($4, $7 long); a friend said he could drink a hundred of the latter on a hot summer day.
For fall, it’s all about the yellow curry ($8 for lunch, $11 for dinner) with chicken ($3). The combination of the butternut squash, bell peppers, apples and spiced pepitas brought sweet and nutty flavors to this creamy dish that has a hint of spice that builds over time.
Drunken noodles ($15 for dinner), on the other hand, heated up quickly and remained lip-tingling intense. Fat from the pastrami helped counterbalance some of the spice.
Menu items range from mild to medium heat. Dishes with chili flakes usually rate medium to hot. Even if the dish isn’t marked spicy, check the ingredients and talk with the server. You might want to ask the kitchen to adjust a little — which it will do.
The spicy chicken sandwich ($8 for lunch, $10 for dinner) gets a dose of heat from the green papaya slaw, but it was manageable. The orange chicken ($10 for lunch, $12 for dinner) was lightly battered and fragrant, and so much better than most greasy, overly saccharine takeout. The sweet and savory dry fried green beans ($6 for lunch, $7 for dinner) made a fantastic side for both dishes.
We also enjoyed the khao soi ($19 for dinner), which combines a tender, braised beef short rib with a green curry and egg noodles. The pad Thai ($8 for lunch, $10 for dinner) arrived a bit deconstructed, with an egg — sunny side up — atop the noodles, and it tasted more sour than sweet, with savory notes coming on the back end.
Our least favorite dish was the cha ca la vong ($10 for lunch, $14 for dinner), a fried white fish and pineapple nam prik on a bed of rice vermicelli. It just didn’t come together, though each element tasted amazing on its own.
Don’t skip dessert — especially the gooey caramel, coconut and gingersnap G-Bars ($5), which Ginger Street calls “Our Signature Addiction.” Fact.
The restaurant rotates flavors of soft serve ice cream ($4) and ice cream sandwiches ($5). We tried several, but loved the mix of vanilla and curry topped with Fruity Pebbles (50 cents extra) most. The chocolate soft serve perfectly complimented the cold brew in the Vietnamese coffee float ($5).
Here’s the real genius of Ginger Street: You can order desserts and drinks from the “Wok Up” window on State Street any time during business hours. A limited food menu is available at night. Of course, if you order from the window after 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or after 5 p.m. Sunday, you’ll miss music by DJs at the turntable.
Nightly concerts aside, the noise level might be the most unbearable thing about Ginger Street. That and the folding chairs, which aren’t comfortable and are too short for the tables. We asked to move once because of the chairs. Our waiter reseated us in one of the booths, one example of the attentive service we’ve received there.
The staff at Ginger Street is knowledgeable about the food and potential adjustments, and McHenry often swings by to check on guests. You also may catch the co-owner on the corner, handing out flyers or stickers.
And you might find me on a bleacher, looking for a stranger who wants to crush some dumplings.
GRAZING AT GINGER STREET
Ginger Street • ★★★ (out of ★★★★) Get a new take on southeast Asian cuisine at this downtown Salt Lake City restaurant. Popular dishes include the duck fresh rolls, pad Thai, chicken sandwich and orange chicken. Must tries include the yellow curry and G-Bars. Fun fact: The kitchen has maintained a master stock since June that is used in the dan dan noodles and wok barbecue pork baby back ribs.
Food • ★★★
Mood • ★★★
Service • ★★★1/2
Noise • 3 bells out of 4
Location • 324 State St., Salt Lake City; 385-477-4975
Online • https://www.gingerstreet.com
Hours • 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m. - 3p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Fridays; noon - 11 p.m. Saturdays; 5-9 p.m. Sundays
Children’s menu • Yes
Prices • $-$$$
Liquor • Yes
Reservations • Yes, call or use OpenTable
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Street parking only
Credit cards • Yes