1442 E. 12300 South, Draper ; 801-571-3888
Expanded menu includes Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisines. Many vegetarian options.
Cuisine: Vietnamese, Thai
Hours: M-Th, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Su, 4:30-9 p.m.
Liquor: Beer & Wine
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Spring rolls, caramel pork, mango fish.
September 7, 2005
By Nancy Hobbs
DRAPER -- The foothills of this city are now covered with homes, and the quiet farm community of only a decade ago is a thing of the past. Slower to catch up with the increase in population are things like schools, parks -- and good restaurants.
That's what new residents to the area were telling the owners of Cafe Trang, and Anna and Long Tran responded by opening a restaurant on the bluff overlooking historic Draper City.
The newest Cafe Trang -- the third, with others in downtown Salt Lake and at the Cottonwood Mall -- opened several months ago, with an expanded menu of Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisine.
"Customers have been telling us they don't want to travel all the way downtown for dinner. They asked us to put a restaurant out there," says Anna, whose family -- the Nguyens -- opened the original Cafe Trang on Salt Lake's Main Street in 1987.
With three women in the Nguyen family sharing the given name Trang, including her, it became the name of their family's restaurant as well. In the meantime, she adopted Anna as her more familiar name, and after marrying Long Tran, they inherited the business to run with brother-in-law and chef Quinn Vu.
Though the menus and prices at all three Cafe Trang locations are the same, the decor and "flavor" of each is intentionally distinct, Anna says. The original downtown restaurant is the most "authentic" to its Vietnamese roots, while the one in the Cottonwood Mall is a bit fancier, attracting more of a "special occasion" crowd.
The new Draper site is still a bit like a pair of new shoes being broken in, and not totally comfortable with itself, though with a few tweaks, it could become the new favorite. The restaurant is at the west end of a strip mall filled with new enterprises, including a Chicago pizzeria on the east end and La Baguette bakery in the middle (both previously reviewed in Dining Out).
The three exterior walls are full of windows, allowing in lots of natural light but unfortunately not the best views.
Luckily, the interior is attractive and comfortable, with walls painted the color of deep scarlet poppies and adorned with Asian artwork. The open kitchen is visible behind a half-wall as you enter, and it's always interesting watching the cooks hustling to get out the next order.
Open kitchens have also been touted for giving diners more confidence in the healthful preparation of their meal, as well as connecting the kitchen staff more closely to the restaurant's overall goal of customer service. On the down side, open kitchens tends to be noisier, even with the cooks being careful to keep their voices low and the banging of pans at a minimum.
Such is the case at Cafe Trang, as well; if you're seated close to the kitchen, it can be a little noisy, but not annoyingly so.
In any case, it's what comes out of that kitchen that diners are generally most concerned about, and we found little of concern and plenty to enjoy.
Fresh spring rolls are always a refreshing starter, and Cafe Trang's are especially good, with crisp fresh vegetables and glass noodles wrapped in a "skin" of thin transparent pastry that's best dipped in a tasty peanut sauce. The pretty cream cheese won tons with sweet chili dipping sauce also are a delicious way to whet the appetite.
Though our table was overflowing with food, and our adept servers no doubt wondering who we were feeding under the table, we barely scratched the surface of the menu. Though the restaurant originally emphasized Vietnamese fare, it has expanded over the years as customers have requested more vegetarian options and spicier Thai choices.
The traditional pad thai and curry chicken were both delicious, albeit timid, choices. The caramel pork -- advertised as a crowd pleaser -- certainly fit the billing, with tender shredded pork in a delicious, not overly sweet sauce, with the bits and edges of charred meat being the very best bites of all.
The mango fish, prepared with tilapia on the night of our visit (it changes with what is the freshest available), was a personal favorite, with a couple of flaky filets topped with a plate-licking hot-and-sweet sauce, shredded green papaya and chilies.
Sweet-and-sour dishes are not generally my preference, but fellow diners wisely opted for the sweet-and-sour prawns, which came out looking like a plateful of small donuts, with huge curled and tender shrimp encased in puffed, crisp deep-fried breading. The sauce was tasty and light, not gummy.
With little other than chain restaurants in Draper, it's nice to have another independent option to patronize. Cafe Trang, offering delicious Asian cuisine in an attractive and comfortable sit-down atmosphere, is a double delight.