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The food at East-West Connection isn't totally authentic, but the Southeast Asian flavors on the menu are clean, straight-forward and an ideal alternative for anyone stuck in a take-out rut, especially this year with the lunar New Year upon us.

Most of East-West's menu is derived from Vietnamese food, so there's less emphasis on deep-fried protein and gloppy sauces, and more on the sauté/stir-fry with fresh aromatics from lemon grass, ginger, lime and cilantro.

The restaurant sits on the second floor of Foothill Village, above MacCool's on the south end of the complex. On weekends and weekday lunch, parking can be scarce and it's not uncommon to see a bout of dueling cars vying for coveted spaces by the store fronts. If all else fails, there's plenty of underground parking.

East-West has long been a neighborhood favorite. My first encounters came in the form of to-go dinners supplied by family friends who made it a weekly ritual. Grilled sesame beef ($13) is exactly what the menu promises: tender beef sliced and grilled in a sesame marinade. The cool thing here is that the entrée is essentially a do-it-yourself wrap — complete with sheets of translucent rice paper, mint and lettuce to stuff and roll as you please.

A few dishes will be familiar, thanks to the presence of sweet and sour chicken ($12) or shrimp ($13), and fried wontons ($5). All are decent, particularly the sweet and sour dishes since the sauce tastes prepared from-scratch versus the fluorescent jarred industrial stuff. The wontons were a little too greasy, and paled in comparison to the morsels of cut-up fried spring rolls ($5). The shells shattered appealingly under the teeth, the filling was solid and the accompanying fish sauce was nicely balanced, not too sweet, not too tangy.

The real strength of the restaurant is found in dishes like the spring rolls or others popular with East-West regulars who congregate in the elongated dining room. The interior is what you'd expect — textiles, ornaments and landscapes of a far-off region.

Service is the friendly, abrupt sort, where your waiter will spend time explaining a dish and flatly tell you when you've ordered the wrong thing, and that you should order something else, such as the Look Luck beef ($12) because "it's so good and everyone else orders it."

They were right. Like the sesame dish, the beef here is exceptionally tender. It's good by itself, but really sings when taken in the same bite with the fresh cilantro and lettuce in the form of a wrap. It's filling and light in the same go.

Servers are used to regulars who know what they want without even looking at the menu. So newbies should ask for plenty of time to peruse the encyclopedic tome. Take-out might be a favorite, but it's an insufficient way to enjoy noodles (Asian or European), soup or otherwise. There's a respectable house pho ($9) that's rather cleansing, calming and soothing for an inversion-cloaked day. My favorite is the grilled pork with noodles ($9) — a fresh noodle salad of sorts with the fresh herbs, slender rice noodles and hot sizzling beef to be mixed together.

There are some definite misses on the menu — inevitable for a menu this large. Though we were promised a good dish of fried shrimp with spicy salt ($13), there wasn't much spice or salt. The shrimp were good (we ordered the shell-on version for more flavor; you can eat through most of the shell, like a potato chip) but lackluster in comparison with the menu's description. The pan-fried noodles ($12-$13) were as bland as any take-out variety but doubly disappointing because of the price.

A special tamarind salmon ($13) made up for the disappointment. Though the sauce looks unassuming and too viscous, the tart tamarind was tamed with plenty of fish sauce and a bit of sugar to produce a rounded flavor on the tongue.

Likewise, five-spice roasted chicken salad ($12) arrives in the same set up as the sesame and Look Luck beef, only this time, there are juicy bits of chicken roasted with just the right amount of this spice powder. It's easy to overdo it with the likes of say, star anise, which tastes almost licorice-y, though warmer, like cinnamon. But the kitchen was judicious with its use, which made normally bland chicken into something far more delicious, lightening up the natural chicken fat that ended up together being a great mock vinaigrette for the accompanying greens.

Dessert wasn't an option here — the times we visited we weren't offered a menu, not that we needed one. As for portion size, our group had plenty to share and pass around. After all, if we felt like we had missed anything, there was always the option of take-out the following week.


East-West Connection

Food • HH

Mood • HH

Service • HH

Noise • bb

Southeast Asian dishes in a friendly neighborhood spot. The food isn't totally authentic, but the Vietnamese flavors are clean, straight-forward and a great alternative to ubiquitous Chinese takeout. Try Look Luck beef, five-spice chicken and South Sea pork.

Location • 1400 S. Foothill Blvd. (second floor), Salt Lake City; 801-581-1128

Hours • Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Monday to Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$

Liquor • Beer and wine

Corkage • $5

Reservations • Accepted

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major