With some 300 restaurants, the dining dilemma in West Valley City isn’t finding a place to eat, it’s narrowing down all the possibilities.
Utah’s second-largest city has a strong global presence with Chinese, Japanese and Thai food, as well as Mexican, Mediterranean and Indian cuisine. It also has all-American breakfast, barbecue and burger joints with seafood and fusion options mixed in.
All combined, this city is a dining destination — not just for its 130,000 residents but also for those across the Salt Lake Valley and beyond.
“It’s a passport to the world,” said City Attorney Eric Bunderson, specifically mentioning the area around 3500 South and Redwood Road. “There are so many one-off, family-owned restaurants right there. You can travel around the world in a one-mile radius.”
However, three West Valley restaurants stand above their peers, according to an unscientific poll taken by readers of the Salt Lake Tribune.
Tuk Tuk’s Thai was the winner of our online contest, earning 55 of the nearly 200 votes cast.
La Casa Del Tamale was a distant second with 26 votes.
And Fat Fish garnered 20 votes for third.
Tuk Tuk’s brings traditional Thai heat
Launched in 2019, this restaurant has a modern interior and a simple menu that brings fresh ingredients and traditional Thai heat.
Hang Nguyen worked for 20 years in Thai restaurants around the Salt Lake Valley when her son, Jimmy Douangbupha, finally convinced her it was time the family opened their own place.
They picked a strip mall in the heart of the city to open Tuk Tuk’s.
“It’s very diverse, with so many cultures,” Douangbupha said of the spot at 2222 W. 3500 South, “we love being part of that.”
Decorated with sleek blues and golds, there is a large mural of a tuk-tuk — Thailand’s three-wheeled taxi — on one wall. A large elephant and Buddha adorn another space.
Nguyen does all the cooking. She was born in Vietnam but lived in Laos and learned Thai recipes before immigrating to the U.S. Her children and a few other family members are hosts and servers.
Unlike many Asian restaurants with an expansive number of menu options, Tuk Tuk’s keeps a tight list of offerings and has specialties not always found in other restaurants in the valley.
Pineapple fried rice (ka pad sa pa root), udon noodle soup (Khao piak sen) and the papaya platter with chicken wings are among the favorites. Several variations of curry, larb and, of course, pad Thai are available, all in generous portions.
Guests can pick the desired heat level for their food, but the restaurant doesn’t intentionally tone down the spice for American tastes, said Douangbupha. “Even our lowest heat level still has a kick.”
That hasn’t kept customers away, he said. “We seem to have found the people who are the right fit for us.”
Even when restaurants were closed to dine-in options because of the coronavirus, Tuk Tuk’s kitchen never shut down, he said. It continued to operate a brisk takeout and delivery business until it could reopen its dining room.
“We really strive to have good customer service and quality food,” Douangbupha said, “That’s what has kept our doors open.”
Tuk Tuk’s • 2222 W. 3500 South, West Valley City; 385-227-8347 or tableneeds.net/r/tuktuks. Open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.
La Casa Del Tamal moves to a new location
When it first opened a little more than a year ago, tamales were the crowd-pleasers at Cristina Olvera’s new restaurant, La Casa del Tamal.
The business really took off, though, after Olvera’s daughter convinced her mother to add trendy tacos made with birria — a slow-cooked beef in a red pepper sauce — to the menu.
Sales skyrocketed and within a few months, La Casa del Tamal had outgrown its original location inside the Azteca Indoor Bazaar. In November of 2020, Olvera moved the restaurant to a larger — and more modern space — at 2843 S. 5600 West.
Customers come for more than just tacos. The giant molcajete — a mix of grilled beef, chicken, shrimp, chorizo sausage and nopales (cactus) that feeds at least three hungry people — is popular, as are the meat-filled quesadillas with a choice of protein.
Olvera and her family have come a long way in a short time and succeeded in the midst of a pandemic.
In December 2018, Olvera was operating a delivery and catering business out of her home, wrapping nearly 10,000 tamales for the holidays with the help of her husband, Carlos Villa, and their five children.
The family is still helping make the business a success. Villa cooks; Olvera’s daughters manage social media accounts, serve guests and work the register, and her son helps clean tables.
La Casa del Tamal • 2843 S. 5600 West, West Valley City; 385-266-8729 or lacasadeltamalutah.com. Open Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Fat Fish for affordable sushi and pho
When it first opened in 2014, diners flipped for Fat Fish — primarily because it offered fresh sushi at an affordable price.
Rolls, as well as sashimi and nigiri, were several dollars less than at Sapa Sushi and Asian Grill, Fat Fish’s sister restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City. The items were — and still are — less expensive but still contain the same fresh cuts of albacore, salmon, eel, yellowtail or escolar. While the prices have gone up from seven years ago, the rolls still range from $7 to $13.
Through the years, customers also have come to appreciate Fat Fish’s impressive selection of pho. The Vietnamese noodle soup comes in more than a dozen combinations of steak, lean brisket, marbled brisket, tripe, tendon and meatballs. It arrives in a flavorful broth and is accompanied by plenty of fresh basil, sprouts and other toppings.
Fat Fish’s Bento Boxes also have a following — a great option for lunch, kids, picky eaters and takeout during the pandemic. Entree choices include curry, teriyaki beef or chicken or Korean short rib, all served with a California roll, potsticker and rice for $12 to $15.
The Fat Fish formula worked so well in West Valley City that the owners opened a second location in Bountiful last year.
Fat Fish • 1980 W 3500 South, West Valley City; 801-887-7272 or fatfishwvc.wix.com/fat-fish. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, 4 to 9 p.m.
Best of the rest from West Valley
More than 50 West Valley City restaurants earned at least one nomination in The Salt Lake Tribune poll, which ran April 12-23. Here are eight other voter favorites that span the globe.
Pho 777 • (Vietnamese) 1835 W. 3600 South, West Valley City; 385-528-0189 or pho-777-vietnamese-restaurant.business.site/
Tonkotsu Ramen Bar • (Japanese) 1898 W. 3500 South, West Valley City; 385-202-5241 or tonkotsu.us
La Frontera • (Mexican) 3784 W 3500 South; West Valley City; (801) 967-9905.