Looking at its pleasantly unassuming exterior on a quiet, pretty street just off State, Tea Rose Diner could be a lot of things.
Maybe it's a classic diner serving up hearty plates of pancakes or omelets. Perhaps, judging from the "tea" in the name, it's an Asian bistro. Or maybe, looking at its classic building, complete with counter and bar stools, it's an ice cream place dishing out delicious frozen confections.
Or maybe it's all three.
Tea Rose Diner does serve classic breakfasts such as full stacks of pancakes, Denver omelets and various combinations of eggs, breakfast meats and hash browns; as well as breakfast sandwiches and Thai breakfasts like Thai fried eggs and "Kai-jeaw moo sub," a mixture of eggs, minced pork, red onion, carrots, mushrooms and green onions served over rice.
At lunch, there's a whole menu of enticing-sounding sandwiches such as grilled cheese with bacon and pear or portobello-avocado, plus Thai food. Dinner is pretty much all Thai, except for a selection of sandwiches and American entrées like salmon with lemon-caper sauce and raspberry-chipotle ribs.
And then there's the ice cream, wonderful homemade stuff with flavors most people likely have rarely, if ever, tasted.
In fact, Tea Rose Diner wears so many hats, menu-wise, that I'm concentrating mainly on the Thai dishes and ice cream — though I hope to go back soon to explore the rest of the menu.
With Daddy busy at work and my two oldest daughters off on summer adventures, I was looking for a restaurant that was interesting but also kid-friendly. I found that at Tea Rose Diner, as well, with its clean, welcoming dining space and kids' menu offering favorites such as mac and cheese, chicken tenders and PB&J.
My 5-year-old son, not a culinarily adventurous type, ordered his current default, the cheeseburger and fries. He got a nice big patty, well seared, with American cheese melted on top and crinkle-cut fries on the side. The meal suited him just fine.
My 9-year-old daughter is my food explorer, and she ordered the ginger chicken noodle soup from the grown-ups' menu. It arrived in a huge bowl with two big pieces of chicken on the bone and one of the most succulent aromas I have ever smelled: rich and meaty, with the earthy-spicy scent of ginger mixed in.
It tasted as good as it looked, too, with tons of tender rice noodles, bean sprouts, lots of fresh cilantro and chopped peanuts. Eventually the smell overcame my son's food fears, and he requested and consumed with enjoyment some of the noodles.
I had the mango curry at level 1 (of 10) on Tea Rose Diner's heat scale. I initially requested level 4, but the thoughtful waitress had me try a drop of level-2 sauce that burned my throat and cleared out my sinuses.
After tasting the level-1 curry, I think I could have eaten a 2, but what I had was mild enough to keep me eating while starting up a nice simmer in my mouth and throat.
The yellow curry was delicious, seasoned with complexity and full of bell peppers, onions, snow peas, carrots, lean chicken and, of course, big, sweet chunks of mango. I had it over perfectly cooked, creamy sticky rice.
The kids and I shared a plate of fresh veggie spring rolls rolled in rice paper and dipped in peanut sauce, each with a whole mint leaf providing pretty presentation and surprising flavor.
For dessert, we looked over the ice-cream selection, which changes day to day, and chose three: honey lavender, green tea and chocolate-raspberry-chipotle. My son asked for "bamilla," his favorite, and was disappointed that there was none until he had his first bite of creamy-white honey lavender, gently sweet and aromatically herbal.