Believe it or not, October 1st marks the 10 year anniversary of the founding of Gastronomic Salt Lake City. Ten years since I hurled my last local newspaper at the floor in disgust at a restaurant review, committing instead, to do it myself. Hopefully I’ve caused similar moments for those who’ve read my wittering these past 3650 days. You’re welcome.
At any rate, the milestone seemed a sign of insanity a good time to look back over every restaurant I’ve critiqued in chronological order and give a quick summation of what I think about those restaurants today. For a complete list of original articles referenced below, see our restaurant reviews page.
Ready, set, go…
Oh dear. Back in ye olde miste of time I once gave restaurants scores out of 100. Terrible idea. Don’t believe anyone who attempts to ascribe a defacto star, score, spoon, or otherwise measurement to a restaurant; unless they’re willing to go back time and indefinitely calibrate; a score is as useful as sticking a finger in the air and calling the weather for the whole year. Kitchens are messy, fluid and mushy affairs. I hang my head in shame, but at least I recognized this by 2008.
ACME Burger Company – Now closed and in its place, Zest. ACME was headed up by chef Adam Kreisel, now running his own catering gig as Chaia Cucina. Kreisel has repeatedly been ahead of his time locally, these days you can’t move for gourmet burger concepts.
Bambara – Way back when, chef Dave Jones (now at Log Haven) was the chef at this destination restaurant in the Hotel Monaco. I’ve always been a fan of Bamabara, longer than this site has existed in fact. To this day, now under stewardship of chef Nathan Powers, its a class act. If you’ve got the cash of course, it ain’t cheap at all. In recent times the Monaco hotel group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels I believe – I’ve not dined since this change, so can’t speak to what difference if any this has made. Certainly there appears to be less special events and tastings the last 12 months.
Indochine Vietnamese Bistro – Still going strong a decade later and I think, much improved. The restaurant has seen at least one remodel, and several tweaks and changes to the menu. I’ve eaten here consistently over the past decade, still a fan. My goto dish: try the fried rice with basil and garlic.
MacCool’s – The low prices afford the odd cock up (as we say back in blighty) here, of which I’ve had a few over the years. In contrast, I’ve had plenty of good to very good meals and the staff are infinitely happy and charming. Great beer selection too, always worth a mid-Winter drop in for a pint of tetleys and a corned beef sandwich.
Mad Greek – Probably one of the major contributors to my current statin script is an ever growing love affair, nay lust, with Mad Greek. It’s not fancy, it’s medically unwise, but goddamn it is delicious and easily my favorite gyro in town. Order a large fries, I dare you, see how big that sucker is.
Mazza – I sadly don’t get to this Middle Eastern restaurant as much as I’d like. I’m not a local of either location, and parking isn’t amazing. The few times I’ve dropped by over the intervening years, I find myself bemoaning the fact I don’t live locally and am not a regular.
The Metropolitan – Now closed, once SLC’s pinnacle of fine dining and closed its doors in 2011 after sixteen years. The chefs that cooked at the Met are a who’s who of er, chef who. The pricing was always too much for a nascent Salt Lake dining scene though, even back then the pricing was rivaling Michelin joints in Vegas. And my singular experience was far from Michelin quality.
Pine – Also now closed, an Asian influenced affair by Greg Neville if my memory can be trusted. I believe maybe one or two others opened in this spot until The Royal (a bar) finally found a winning formula for the location.
Sugar House BBQ – Despite a location move down the street to accommodate the recent S-Line light rail service, still going as strong as ever. In fact, better than ever in my book. Open seven days a week and replete with a drive in window now. Cmon, drive thru BBQ. Cmon guy.
Tandoor Indian Grill – I’ve probably eaten here at least once every year since 2007. The verdict: infuriatingly inconsistent. I’ve had some truly transcendent curries, and others, the definition of mediocrity. I’ll still go back, ever hoping for one of the ‘good’ nights.
Yamasaki – Now gone, but not forgotten, the sophomore effort from the original owners of Kyoto. I think the weird location sounded the death knell ultimately, the food was more than capable.
The Aerie – Loved it then, like it now, went back for the Tribune in 2012 and still enjoyed it then. Always a bit pricey, but hey those views.
Au Naturale – Briefly lived in the spot where Sugar House BBQ now sells drive thru BBQ. Cmon guy. Au Naturale’s shtick was fast and healthy food, sadly it didn’t resonate with Salt Laker’s loudly enough at the time. It lasted hardly any time at all.
Baxter’s American Restaurant – Now closed, but definitely missed, at least by me. Quirky New American cuisine in the space under The Depot music venue (ish). Perfect for a pre-show meal or drinks, but I got the feeling that management hearts weren’t truly invested, didn’t last long. If memory serves the space was also home to a San Francisco imported Chinese restaurant, Butterfly? I can’t recall if that came before of after Baxter’s but it lasted about eighteen minutes as well.
Best Chicken and Ribs – A perennial favorite of mine. Quality waxes and wanes, and the mom and pop owners can range from super happy to really annoyed. I figure based on what kinda dinner rush preceded me arriving, maybe its just me, but they’re genuine folks with genuine home cooked food. Lettuce in gyros though, that’s just mushy and weird man.
Braza Grill – Never went back, as honestly I just don’t love churrascaria-style dining. I live in constant FOMO and spend more time looking around the restaurant in desperation of a stick wielder, than I do enjoying my meal; it’s similar to the desperate look my dog gives me whenever I get within two feet of any edible substance. As much as I love meat on sticks, this style just doesn’t float my boat. And regular readers will know my meat/stick obsession, so that’s saying something.
Cafe Madrid – Another restaurant I didn’t return to. My recollections are of a heavy handed menu, one a little stuck in the past. These days I yearn a fresher, more modern take on Spanish cuisine, much like cutting-edge Spain itself.
Caffe Molise – The years have only made my heart grow fonder for this downtown stalwart. I’ve stopped by for lunch and dinner time and again over the years. Go eat the pappardelle al sugo now, especially in this weather.
Cedars of Lebanon – My initial experience was so under whelming I never dared a second visit. The business is still open, and looks to have a loyal following.
Cindy Lee Cafe – Replaced by Pleiku downtown a few years back and much missed, especially by my wife. Cheap and cheerful Vietnamese food, and always easy on the wallet.
Elizabeth’s Bakery and Tea Shop – I’ve been back here and there over the years, even to the new location. Sadly this place, even as a brit, just doesn’t float my boat, rock my crumpet or .
Epic Casual Dining – Never went back here, for no reason other than its just off my beaten path for regular dining. I recall a couple of meals here being quite enjoyable. Same operators behind Tiburon and Hoof And Vine (pretty sure).
Faustina – Now replaced with Stanza. By the end of its shelf life, the 90s decor was starting to show some age around the edges. Right at the end of its life, the menu was refreshed though, and was pretty decent to boot. With the La Salle group expansion, Faustina simply succumbed to the inevitable – change. I’ll have more info to come on Stanza soon, recent staff changes are making for an eye opening menu.
Franck’s – Only ever had one meal here, and as time passed, I felt less and less blown away by my memory of it. Coffee soup anyone? Franck Peissel has since left and chefs Adam Perkins and Robert Vickers now helm the kitchen. Peissel’s name still hangs over the door. Peissel himself went onto a few other projects including Franck’s Angel Cafe, starting a chocolatier operation and most recently, (don’t quote me on this) working at Cafe Madrid, I think.
Ganesh Indian Cuisine – I was once a happy regular at this restaurant but as more options opened up closer to home, that became less and less, and now, well, none. The restaurant now has three locations I believe and seems to be doing great guns.
Ghidottis – An invite meal from a friend who used to work in the management team at this Bill White outpost. A great meal for sure, and one day I’ve love to make it back and try it again. Just not an area I find myself near very often.
Hong Kong Tea House and Restaurant – I recall my visits here fondly enough, though we slowly stopped going back over the years for a variety of reasons; not limited to location, memory, other places closer to home etc.
Kyoto Japanese Restaurant – One of SLC’s gems to this day, and now under the ownership of the LaSalle group. I know some folks have expressed concern over quality since the change in management. While LaSalle are a local partner of this site, I’ve been back time and again and can say hand on heart – the quality is still there. The tempura is still air shatteringly crisp. The parking lot (from hell) is still packed every minute of every day, the place is still fab.
Little Taste of Britain – Still slinging UK style fish and chips, still in Layton, still too far from me to be a regular goto joint. Nearly a decade at the fryer though, that’s serious longevity.
Michelangelo Ristorante – Before Sugar House was crushed by bulldozer and crane, a location of this Italian eatery thrived in a weird, really weird space underground. It’s survived by Highland Drive and downtown locations these days.
Mikado – Became Naked Fish and then most recently Ikagai and then even more recently, nothing at all. The nothing at all is sad. During the Naked Fish days the omakase here dabbled with the best dinner in the state, if not surrounding ones for some time.
Monsoon Thai Bistro – A Thai restaurant in a weird location, operating out of a former French restaurant charging French restaurant prices. What could go wrong. Yep, it closed. The food here was great, better than anything we have in town now I think. The wine list wouldn’t be out of place in a fancy steakhouse either. Interesting fact: this was the only restaurant ever, that has asked me to stop taking photos of the food. Can you imagine that in today’s age? Signs and portents indeed. The restaurant is survived by its sibling on Main Street in Park City, it’s also packed with wine to the gills too.
O’ Falafel – I wasn’t a massive fan the first time around, but these guys are still going strong, innovating their menu (Jerusalem burger anyone?) and building a strong following. I do need to go back and see what difference nine years makes.
Pat’s Barbecue – The few times I’ve been the experience has just been weird. The first time I had to pay a cover charge for a band. Err, um, ok. The next few times for take out, weren’t much better.
Pawitt’s Royal Thai – Now closed, and currently in its place a location of Pig And A Jelly Jar. Pawitt’s was a by the numbers Thai joint with friendly but kinda clueless service. Want a second beer? Forget it, once your food hit the table, the next time you saw anyone was once the check arrived.
The Paris – SLC’s only French joint per se. Never been back, probably won’t again.
Pho Green Papaya – Perhaps a little ahead of its time and the pho-revolution. The food here was good, I returned time and again. It went on to become Noodle And Chopsticks before also folding. I believe its now a Mexican eatery but the group retain other businesses in town such as Fat Fish and Bucket O Crawfish.
Prime Steakhouse – Great steaks. Even better with the 50% off with a Summer discount coupon. Never been back for no other reason that happenstance.
Red Iguana – Is there anything more than can be said? The restaurant is an unstoppable juggernaut. I go back from time to time but am truly never blown away. The food is solid, but I’ve yet to eat anything exceptional which would cause me to join the zombie hordes outside. And yes, I’ve tried everything from the tex mex to the mole to the more unique dishes. I’ll continue to go back on spare of the moment whims. Good but not truly great. Sacrilege I know.
Red Rock Brewing Company – I used to be more excited about the brew pub. Years of expansion seem to have tarnished the quality just ever so slightly. Not massively so by any means and in my opinion still the best food at any Utah brew pub by a country mile.
The Rib Cage – A one man band BBQ operation out of the old Tony’s club. Now closed, as is Tony’s. The chap behind Tony’s now is the owner of Per Noi Trattoria fact fans.
Royal India – I’m intentionally not reading my original review to see what first comes to mind in each of these businesses. Nothing comes to mind here. Probably not a great sign.
Sapporo Japanese Grill – The restaurant that lived in The Copper Onion space prior to Ryan Lowder’s runaway success. Believe it or not this location was once regarded as unworkable and everything failed here. My opinion of such superstition remains – if the food is amazing, location is irrelevant. The food and service at Sapporo was anything but.
Spencer’s For Steak and Chops – Still going strong and an institution. I love the Rat Pack vibe at Spencer’s. Food quality has waxed and waned, but is presently in an upswing. I’ll be back time and again.
Stella Grill – Went once or twice, didn’t return. No reason other than my proverbial socks weren’t blown off. A pleasant enough restaurant though, just not a destination for me. Part of the restaurant group that also manages Martine and Red Butte Cafe if memory serves.
Thai Lotus – Another by the numbers Thai place, nothing remarkably memorable. Replace in time by Krua Thai, almost identical in every way.
Tin Angel Cafe – Folks thought they were crazy opening across from Pioneer Park, but they continue to impress diners to this day, so much so that reservations are a must on busier days and weekends. The team often make appearances around town at events like Taste Of The Wasatch and always impress. I am certain I read these folks are opening a new business soon too, but for the life of me I can’t find the info, maybe just a fevered dream brought on by too much gyro.
Wahso – The very first restaurant that comped me a meal. Way before anyone read this website. Way before I wrote for the SLC Tribune. Way before Yelp was hip or Instagram and micro-influencers were even a thing. Bizarrely never made it back by way of circumstance and location, I need to rectify this, it was a great dinner.
Wild Grape Bistro – Where I first met Phelix Gardner plying his trade. Great food at times, but weird management. I got reeled out one day for calling up and asking for a refund because I was double billed. How dare I. The business closed some years back.
Al Forno’s – Once upon a time, the little space next to the Urban Lounge was the dictionary definition of mediocre Italian food. Once upon a time I’d also eat there before shows next door from time to time, and again, regret doing so each and every time. You generally always saw the band having a pre-show dinner though if you wanted to say hi.
El Rooster Rojo – Before Mom’s Kitchen and their Taiwanese cuisine, was this fast food chicken joint. I went back time and again, until it closed of course. Not sure why, excellent food and prices I always thought. Always in the market for great chicken.
Eva – I’ve continue to return to this little restaurant time and again. The ever changing menu makes me forgive the sometimes weird service vibe that verges on the too cool for school at times.
Fiddler’s Elbow – No one will ever call the food here gourmet. But when I want a cheap garlic burger, a decently priced beer and want to watch a game, I come here. I probably sail through Fiddler’s doors at least a couple times a year. Masses of parking, tons of seating, flexible menu. A lot of of my regular spots tend to be at the nexus of convenience, accessibility and crap, the staff actually seeming to want you to be there. Food isn’t always the be all and end all of a dining experience.
Greek City Grill – I do believe these chaps are still going strong and I seem to remember they had great gyros. One option named after regular and former Utah Jazzer, Deron Williams. Sadly, there are many other great gyros between myself and them, blocking my path.
J. Wong’s Asian Bistro – I’ve been time and again, and I simply don’t understand the gushing plaudits for this restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, the food is acceptable, enjoyable in fact, and the drinks menu is solid. There exist however, immeasurably better places for Chinese food in SLC. Be brave, seek them out. J. Wong’s seems to exist for those a little too scared for the real thing, best I can tell. An example that lingers in my brain surrounds a press release around Chinese New Year way back when. The release spoke engagingly about traditional dishes the family would enjoy, each one would leap off the page. The actual menu served for customers during Chinese Ney Year, bleh, not a single dish from the families favorites mentioned. I queried this and was told the restaurant couldn’t sell these dishes, SLC wouldn’t bite. With the runaway success of business like Chef Gao et al I’m not so sure.
Log Haven – Fun, fun, fun. What’s not to love here. You get to head up Millcreek, surround yourself in nature and splurge on intelligent and creative cuisine. Never a bad meal and always memorable. The core team at Log Haven have been working together for more than 20 years and it shows, it’s a slick operation.
Lone Star Taqueria – Spend 20 mins in the drive thru here and you will start to think about opening your own taco drive thru. The popularity of this place is off the scale. I continue to go back, but there exist plenty of equally capable places. Also home to the worst drive thru tannoy system in the state of Utah by my reckoning, at this point I can only assume it’s part of the charm.
Meditrina – Now living life in the newly minted central 9th location amidst Water Witch and Laziz Kitchen. I’ve not been able to make it to the new location yet but intend to set that right sooner than later. The $28 all you can eat tapas deal is inspiration enough.
Michelangelo Ristorante – I don’t remember anything remarkable about this location on Highland Drive. Probably explains why I haven’t been in years. I could be wrong but driving past the other day, I am sure I spotted a new name on the signage. Could be wrong, am also blind.
New Flavor – Ho hum Chinese take out joint, no longer in business. Replaced by something else and that something else was replaced by Russian restaurant, Galley Grill.
The Olive Bistro – Quirky springs to mind, but enjoyable too. Oddly enough I never went back despite loving the panini and wine concept. I guess with so much competition downtown, it’s hard to give up a meal when something new and shiny is always calling.
Pago – A pioneer of the farm to table thing here in SLC, perhaps only beaten by Tipica (see below). A number of chefs have been and gone, Michael Richey, Phelix Gardner, Adam Findlay and plenty more. I stop by once in a very blue moon. Its a pretty small place, but still seems to be doing great business. Gardner is now back at the helm here after stints at Finca, Current and Stanza over the years.
Porcupine Pub and Grille – One of those “why is this place so popular” conundrums. Plenty fine, but with terrible parking and huge popularity, I never went back after the first couple times. Last year I checked out the new location that replaced Market Street, and much the same story. Very acceptable is the best I can muster.
Rice – Eventually replaced by Dim Sum House, and moved to Holladay to become Rice Basil. Then off to Murray and Soy’s Sushi and now owned by a new completely new chap I think.
Sapa Sushi Bar and Asian Grill – Looks like a million bucks in there, and I loved the imported Vietnamese buildings out back. Parking is a nightmare, so I don’t make it here at all really.
Takashi – Naked Fish took my fine dining sushi dollars for as long as I can remember. Now they’re closed I guess I’ll have to go back to Takashi. This fills me with equal dread and excitement. The host team are too cool for school, always have been, and always make me feel like a schmuck. The fact the restaurant doesn’t take reservations always grinds my gears too. If you’re worthy of a seat, the food is stunning of course.
Tarahumara – Fun place to anchor a day trip to Midway. We’d do it often. Make the drive up, amble around town, then go for a drink and a plate of Mexican cuisine, maybe in the sun on the patio. Not been for a while, no particular reason.
Tasty Thai – Loved their deep fried tilapia in spicy garlic and basil sauce for a while after they opened. Upkeep of this place has seemed to go continually downhill though, we stopped going. Not 100% sure it is still open.
Tipica – Another Adam Kreisel restaurant and another concept wayyyyyy ahead of its time – snout to tail eating. Also the first meal I was invited to as part of a media event. Oh the fear and trepidation! Tipica served sweetbreads and raw scallops, and frankly SLC didn’t have the balls (pun intended) for it. The restaurant in Caputo’s was replaced by Caputo’s By Night, which also folded in time.
Vienna Bistro – Frody Volgger now sells sausage, but previously, his ode to home country Austria on Main Street downtown was fun. Now closed and in its place the downtown Michelangelo’s.
Vinto – Also closed. Cool Italian joint built around wood fired pizza and Amber Billingsley’s exceptional dessert talents. A Vinto still exists in Park City, but the SLC location is now HSL who still make great use of that wood fired oven. Billingsley moved onto a few more place around town, 3 Cups and then Amour Cafe, and most recently Stanza.
Bay Leaf Cafe – Now closed, I never liked this place, always felt cheap. Couldn’t put my finger on it, but an order of chicken fried steak is better in the casino cafe out in Wendover rather than a supposed hip SLC restaurant, something isn’t right. This location is now home to Mollie & Ollie. The owner’s of Bayleaf went on to open Campfire Lounge.
Caputo’s By Night – After Tipica failed to capture the crowds, Caputo’s went back to basics with this familial driven restaurant. Affordable, simple Italian classics. I actually really enjoyed meals here, with Caputo’s garage doors swung up, bathed in sun. Missed.
Chow Truck – I’m a terrible food truck customer. Call me old fashioned, I just like a table and chair. Maybe AC or a heater. Maybe a restroom. God I am old. Anyway, Chow Truck started the whole food truck boom here, who could imagine what would follow. The creator SuAnn Chow (also of Charlie Chows) recently sold the business to J. Looney. It is presently impossible, even for Neil deGrasse Tyson, to count the number of food trucks in SLC. More than grains of sand on the beach.
The Copper Onion – People are forever claiming “the last five years have been a game changer”, but seriously, the opening of this place was THE game changer for SLC. Nothing has moved the needle as much since this one. When Ryan Lowder returned from cooking in Michelin kitchens, back to his home in SLC, in a doomed restaurant location no less, eye brows were raised. Seven years later he owns an empire. I put SLC’s continuing boom of chef driven restaurants at his feet. If Ryan wasn’t as fantastically busy as he was, I’d shake his hand and thank him for the endless fun and food I continue to enjoy at The Copper Onion.
Frida Bistro – Ostensibly SLC’s first stab at elevating Mexican cuisine above the typical plate doused in melted cheese and sad, limp rice. Over the years the chefs and managers have come and gone, but the restaurant remains running. The marketing engine kinda died a death somewhere in the last few years, and truthfully that meant I slowly but surely started to simply forget about them. Alamexo now has my Mexican dining dollars for what it’s worth.
The Kathmandu – When this opened in my neighborhood, excitement abounded. Not least for something better than the previous Thai eatery (who happily argued over the number of shrimp in a dish – paging Larry David) – but also for quality Indian and Nepalese close to home. I still go to this day, but over the years, and I guess their success, the quality remains perplexingly fluid. One day a dish can be life changing, another, well it will stop me going back for a few months; in fairness I can say this about many Indian restaurants in town. Their lunch buffet is maybe the best in town, always busy, about $10 and a good selection of meat and vegi dishes.
Layla Mezze and Grill – I love Middle Eastern cuisine, and loved my meal at Layla. Not entirely sure why I never made it back aside from random chance. Still in business.
Oasis Cafe – The start of the LaSalle group empire is still powering out brunch seven days a week. I still go back once or twice a year when the mood strikes.
Red Maple Chinese Restaurant – Once upon a time, I loved this place. Then it burned down and it was never the same. Previously the lemongrass chicken dish here was a thing of beauty. The last few meals I had (admittedly years ago at this point) at the new location were mediocre, by the numbers affairs.
Sundance resort – I love Sundance, I can’t afford Sundance. Sigh.
Taste of India – About four years ago I found myself in Layton and stopped by the award winning restaurant again, to look in and see what was happening. The cuisine was so abjectly poor we vowed never to try again. My ‘curry’ tasted no better have a bowl of Campbells tomato soup that was perhaps down wind of an accidental opening of a cumin jar for all I could tell. I remember becoming quite angry and muttering things. A shame, as I recall the restaurant was so much better way back when. Let me know if its swung back the other way by all means.
In 2011 I got an email from Kathy Stephenson over at the Salt Lake Tribune. Would I like to help take over some of the restaurant critiquing responsibilities following Vanessa Chang moving on? Would I? Would I like to roll around town, pontificating like a pompous idiot writing and eating. Of course I would.
African Market and Restaurant – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I believe still open, but don’t quote me on it. I thought it was impossible to find a bread I didn’t like, but Injera proved me wrong; as a result I very rarely eat Ethiopian cuisine.
Aristo’s Greek Restaurant – When it comes to my own personal dining, you’ll probably hear me talk about parking a ton. The parking here is miserable. The food is great. I never made it back.
Black Widow Cafe – For the Tribune. Now closed, you’re going to hear this a lot, I don’t know if this speaks to the effects of my writing, a grim reaper of prose if you will. Either way, I really enjoyed the food at Black Widow, their bread pudding was special (one chap explained he was also behind Tin Angel’s bread pudding which is noteworthy too). Now Campfire Lounge, not a place for me.
Cucina Vanina – For the Tribune. Now closed. A shame as the Italian cuisine here was rather enjoyable. H&D BBQ went onto to open, and also close, in this location. I’d say that tells you all you need to know about location, but I don’t believe in location hoodoo right.
Edo Kitchen – For the Tribune. Now closed. One of the more bizarre places I was tasked with visiting. The owner didn’t bother with menus in the traditional sense. He just pulled it down from the wall and brought it to the table to peruse. Well meaning no doubt, but it didn’t last long.
Fin And Norah’s – For the Tribune. Now closed. This restaurant was so utterly mediocre, complete middle of the road blandness – and was my first ever Trib write up.
Fratelli Ristorante – For the Tribune. Sadly never went back, just a little too far from my regular stomping grounds. The restaurant still seems to do very well with Sandy locals.
Khan Curry House – For the Tribune. Now closed. Desperately missed, some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tried in SLC at amazing prices. O.k. I will concede that some restaurant locations are demonstrably unusable, this restaurant was no doubt killed by the worst location known to man. It was the definition of blink and you will miss it. Some transcendent dishes made with care here, I wish I’d sung their praises more loudly in retrospect.
Penny Ann’s Cafe – For the Tribune. Now a three location mini chain of sorts. I very rarely go these days as the business now focuses on breakfast and lunch. It’s rare I’ll eat out for those two meals, a shame, their reuben was astounding good.
Sushi Groove – Loved it then, love it now. This is one of my semi-regular haunts and for good reason. Firstly, there’s no pretension, feel free to order up a deep fried roll, pork gyoza or drink a PBR – no one will judge you. If you want to sit up at the sushi bar and check out what’s fresh and new, there’s great nigiri also. You’ll no doubt see some familiar faces behind the bar from other places around town too. Fun spot and killer nigiri deals on $2.50 Tuesdays – that’s $1.25 per nigiri of anything…
By now, I was largely in my groove writing for The Salt Lake Tribune…
Avenues Bistro On Third – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Quirky little bistro that was enjoyable enough but somehow managed to enrage their neighbors with their patio. The mind reels at the Hyacinth Bucket types that must live in the immediate area, bent out of shape by a wild and crazed rabble drinking boutique wines and snacking on hummus. Like an episode of the walking dead but with more duck confit and a racy bottle of rose. The recently announced changes to the operating hours increases the quirk factor. Sadly for these reasons, it’s just not a place I visit.
Banana Leaf – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Singapore cuisine in Provo. Just did not enjoy this one at all. The final blow was when we tried to order the noodles and discovered these were in fact regular old egg noodles of some bland cretaion, not at all related to the curry powered Singapore classic. We were told the locals just couldn’t handle the more exotic noodle preparation. So why even bother. Sad sad sad.
Blue Lemon – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Plenty fine and dandy local chain concept who try to create fresh and healthy food at light speed. Never been back, but would happily do so if time and place demanded.
Blue Nile – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Restaurant still going strong I believe, but again this cuisine just isn’t my favorite.
Bucket O Crawfish – For The Salt Lake Tribune. From the owners of Pho Green Papaya, that then became Noodle And Chopsticks and then closed and became a Mexican restaurant if memory serves. Also, they own the next door Fat Fish which is great. I’ll level with you guys, I’m a princess, I hate getting messy, I hate grabbing into sauce filled bags of shellfish and tearing them up. I’m a complete and utter precious little thing. Everyone else loves this place, so good for them. Just keep that bag of sauce away from me man.
Cantina South Western Grill – For The Salt Lake Tribune. A fairly by the numbers Tex-Mex joint in a space that makes you wonder ‘is this a chain?’ – due to the lavish accents. When I’m in this part of the valley I still stop by. It’s hardly life changing but it’s pleasant and seemingly reliable.
Curry Fried Chicken – For The Salt Lake Tribune. One of the biggest paradoxes of modern science. They create a dish that is hands down in my top 10 things to order in SLC. Its happily the best fried chicken around and then some but I virtually never make it here due to parking/location/time/dog ate my homework. I know I know. They still seem to be doing great, if they ever opened a location with easier access for me, they’ll empty my bank account and fill my arteries over night. I’d be dead within the year.
El Rocoto – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I kinda loved this little mom and pop joint. A bit rough and ragged around the ears and a few flubs here and there, but wowser, the roast chicken here is awesome. Same goes for several other dishes. And bizarrely, Peruvian restaurants seem to make chips – the real UK stuff – just like a fish and chip shops from back home. I cannot fathom this, but every Peruvian restaurant that offers fried spuds, seems to produce near perfect English style chips.
Escala Provisions Company – Invited over by the hotel for a freebie meal. Enjoyable enough, but I don’t ski and this is way out of town, so ultimately no reason to return.
Finca – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I loved the initial Finca concept. Much like modern Spain, the restaurant menu offered clean, innovative and exciting dishes. There was a vibrancy that was exciting to the whole concept. The move to the current location downtown dampened my enthusiasm; the newer space was a personal turn off plus some changes with the kitchen team meant I never enjoyed the food as much as that first year or so.
Flora – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. I wrote a fairly scathing review, I was not impressed. One of the poorer restaurant experiences during my Tribune tenure. Really weird, and didn’t last long at all.
Frisch Compassionate Eatery – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Still going from strength to strength moving into bigger digs some years back. Vegan dining in SLC continues to grow in leaps and bounds, so much so its one cuisine I think we punch above our relative weight at.
Lamb’s Grill – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. I recall being sent to critique how the place was faring under the new owners at the time. I had gone in expecting something olde worlde, dishes resplendent in liver at every turn, but no so. Remarkably, everything was rather pleasant in a – but who is going to come and eat dishes that left most menus circa 1970 – kind of way. The answer was of course – no one. The restaurant shuttered this year. While there was much song and dance about a liquor license snafu, this was smoke and mirrors. The reality was that the restaurant did little to help itself.
In fact, here’s some friendly advice to any potential new restaurant owners. This is 101 guys:
* Promote yourselves. Email your local newspaper, contact the radio, reach out to bloggers. Virtually all will welcome any form of information you send them. News output rarely writes itself, you’ve got a story to tell, tell it.
* Run specials and promotions. You don’t need to break the bank, but again, have something to reach out to local media to talk about your business.
* Events! Do something fun, maybe a meal around a special concept or theme. And again reach out with news. If you can’t do that, maybe attend an event like SL Mag’s Tastemakers, Eat Drink SLC or similar.
* Social media. Post something, tell the goddamn world you exist!
If you don’t tell the world you exist, how do you expect them to turn up? I digress…
Pig And A Jelly Jar – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now with multiple locations. I don’t recall being very jazzed by the place, but what do I know, Salt Lakers love it.
Plum Alley – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. Makes my ‘most missed list’ many times over. Ryan Lowder’s sophomore effort for SLC might’ve had a kitchen stocked full of gringos, but they made the best Thai curries bar none in the state for me. Likewise, other dishes were all on the money. Rumor has it this one will make a return at some point, here’s hoping so.
Red Rock Place – For The Salt Lake Tribune and going strong. Utahns love brew pubs almost as much as they like complaining about liquor laws, go figure. For my money this sits slap dab in the middle of the three main locations. Downtown is the best, Park city the worst.
Spice Bistro – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Apparently still going strong, so the folks of Cottonwood must love it. I still feel a level of confusion over the twin menu approach – American Steakhouse meets Indian restaurant and as such, didn’t go back post reviews.
Stockmen’s Steakhouse – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. I clearly wasn’t the only one not impressed by this West Valley City steakhouse. Was owned by the Bout Time Pub folks, and is indeed now a Bout Time location I think.
Taqueria 27 – Todd Gardiner (former Z’Tejas chef at The Gateway, remember that one?) and his wife Kristin have grown their taco-focused restaurant to four locations as I write. Every day the restaurant turns out TODs and GODs – thats’ taco of the day and guac of the day to you and me.
Thai Aroy D – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. Completely forgettable. And so it was forgot.
Avenues Proper Pub – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I recall being a tad critical of the pricing at the time. A particularly egregious fish stick comes to mind. I should note, I loved the food itself pretty much across the board, their chicken and waffles was fantastic. The restaurant has since gone through several changes, a new kitchen team and continually tweaked menu. The bigger brand has also enlarged taking on Proper Brewing and Proper Burger. It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve been back to the Avenues location, something I need to make right, since the food I taste at events and see on social media tastes/looks first rate.
Billy Blanco’s Motor City Mexican Burger and Taco Garage – For The Salt Lake Tribune. With a name like that I desperately wanted to hate this place. And I am not a hater. Maybe surly and sarcastic but not a hater. But hot damn, I loved this place and came to realize the name in and of itself was merely and extension of the ridiculous over the top ostentatious interior design. Its fun and stupid like Las Vegas, only you won’t lose the kids’ college fund here.
Boba World – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Wonderful Chinese food that I don’t go back to sample as much as I should. Woods Cross feels like another universe, but is in fact only 10-15 mins on the freweway. Stunning home spun noodles, fantastic stuff like the enigmatically title ‘lightly cucumber’. A real gem.
Bon Appe Thai – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Now renamed to the far less punny Mano Thai Diner still located on 33rd. I still eat here quite a lot, well get take out actually. It’s not so much that the cuisine is life changing, indeed its quite a routine affair, but they do have a drive thru. And folks, my lazy ass is willing to sacrifice a few points of quality for many more of convenience.
Copper Bowl – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I believe owned by the operators of Tandoor Grill. Nothing was memorable enough here to warrant an immediate return for me personally.
Cucina Deli – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Not been back, but keeps appearing on my radar as the current chef seems to really know his stuff. Also a spot where wine dinners sell out in the blink of an eye seemingly.
El Agave – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I’m drawing a complete blank. I had to go and Google this one, and turns out its closed. The two facts are probably not unrelated.
Feldman’s Deli – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I make it back here at least a couple of times a year, and so should you. Most people write about how they can stretch the mammoth half pound sandwiches over two meals. Don’t be that person. Be like me, gorge on the whole thing in one gleeful sitting, followed by hours of moaning. Trust me on this one.
Ho Mei BBQ – For The Salt Lake Tribune and just recently closed. A shame to be sure, I’d come back here time and again for a range of dishes: salty fish and chicken fried rice and mapo tofu being two of my faves. As such I am in the market for a replacement Chinese take out option for said dishes, anyone?
Ichiban Sushi – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Fairly lackluster and unmemorable, at least during my visits for the Trib. There were far better options across town.
La Jolla Groves – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. My first restaurant review that resulted in not one, but two subpoenas. Subpoenas, just like buses, you wait years for one and then two come along at once. Oh the life of a restaurant critic. Ask me in person and I will tell you more.
Luna Blanca Taqueria – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. Nothing terrible, but nothing remarkable either. Average tacos, served in a sterile environment at slightly higher than usual prices is what I can recall.
Tortilla.bar – – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Tiny little shack of a place down in Orem. Delicate and refined but I’ve no idea if they survived.
Oh Mai – I still stop in for a sandwich from time to time, and my how these guys have grown their business, four locations now? It really is amazing to think that banh mi sandwiches were once like gold dust in these parts, the stuff excitedly talked about on forums (ha, remember those!) like a sighting of DB Cooper. Subway will probably offer them next, mark my words. Five dollar foot long banh mi. And people will talk about how healthy and great an option it is, before ordering up the other concoction that features nine pounds of Italian deli meat and 2000mg of salt. That’s what I’d do anyway.
R&R BBQ – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Some of the best BBQ in town and I love it now as much as I did back then. If you too love it so much you can’t take it – you can also open your own R&R if you’ve got $100,000 spare. In 2016 brothers Rod and Roger Livingstone sold the majority interest to local chain operator Four Foods Group. Be interesting to see how this one grows over time and how quality is mainatained.
Valter’s Osteria – For The Salt Lake Tribune. My experiences were lackluster and at the eye watering prices charged, I never returned. I don’t intend to rectify that.
Virdene’s Gourmet Burger House – For The Salt Lake Tribune. In the Peery hotel and now closed. A shambles of a restaurant sadly, not unlike its predecessors. The current Carnegie’s Public House seems to be doing a lot of things to correct past errors. This place should be a money maker if they keep the momentum going.
Vivace – For The Salt Lake Tribune, now closed. I was rather enamored by this smart and sharp eatery on the South side of the Cucina Toscana setup. It reminded me of dining in other cities, in that hard to pinpoint, je ne sais quoi fashion. Sadly, no one else agreed with me and it didn’t last long at all.
Alamexo – For The Salt Lake Tribune, and I think my first write up of the restaurant wasn’t quite 100% understood. Price/perception is a tough one. I’ve always loved the food here, and if anything it has gotten better and better over the years – as the team have really started to own and explore the concept. Therein, refined regional Mexican cuisine – in itself one of the worlds most complex and sneered at. Which is what I tried to tap into with my review. The food at Alamexo is not $1 tacos and $7.99 smothered burritos that weigh enough to anchor a mob kill to the sea bed. everything is home spun, intelligently sourced and fantastic, and sure, that comes at a price. You can take your Chile-Tepin, your Red Iguana and your other restaurants – this is the best Mexican restaurant in town hands down for me. Opening up todya (sep 26th) is their casual second effort, Alamexo Cantina in the 9th and 9th area – more on that to follow.
Bistro 222 – For The Salt Lake Tribune, now closed. The kitchen team went through at least three iterations here, and I heard tale after tale. Most are probably scurrilous but for my money, the place ultimately failed through clear direction. The location and space are top notch.
Bumbleebee’s BBQ and Grill – For The Salt Lake Tribune, went on to also open another location in West Valley City plus a food truck. Sadly off my beaten path somewhat so not managed to make it back, though I would stuff their K-POP fries into my mouth faster than you could give them to me – should they come my way.
Burgers And Bourbon – For The Salt Lake Tribune, ever so slightly ridiculous. Burgers priced high enough to rent a small condo in Sugar House, but hey its Deer Valley, so we’re in Vegas strip territory really. Putting the pricing aside for a moment, everything here was executed with aplomb and plenty fun. On night after a meal we relaxed on the outdoor patio, grabbed a few courtesy smores and drank wine till the sun set, pretty magic. If you’re paying, I will gladly go back with you. Yeah, I’m not a cheap date, sorry.
Even Stevens – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I think I love these guys even more than when I first wrote about them. For a company with a clear goal of large scale franchising – I recall a goal of 4,000 locations – their company culture is refreshingly vibrant. Each store is unique, the menu keeps updating, there’s a strong connection to local and community. I am excited to see how the brand develops over the years.
Itto Sushi – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Not been back, didn’t excite me enough. Fairly by the numbers maki roll joint, with weekly 50% offers. Did have a few quirks like setting a foil wrapped roll on fire tableside. Caveat emptor.
Johnniebeefs – For The Salt Lake Tribune. If I lived closer I would be here all the time. I recall taking some flak in my review for debating what a Chicago dog should be. I had the temerity to talk cucumbers, frikkin cucumbers oh the firestorm. Hey look angry guy, they don’t come more Chicagoan than owner and chef John Carrasquillo at Johnnibeefs, you go tell him he is wrong, I double dare you.
Moochie’s Meatballs And More – For The Salt Lake Tribune, still slinging meatball subs and cheesesteaks. I can’t really say anything that’s not been said. Even the white haired one waxed lyrical, such is his way, on TV about these guys.
Noodle And Chopstick – For The Salt Lake Tribune, now closed. After Pho Green Papaya turned heads way back when – there was a time when pho didn’t grow on trees you know kids – this place evolved into this concept. It didn’t stick very long.
Saffron Valley East India Cafe – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Lavanya Mahate’s ode to India has now expanded into a mini empire. There are three Saffron Valley locations and two Biscotts (pastries and chai) open across the valley. The latest Sugar House Saffron Valley location is modern and enticing and sports more than a few unique dishes you won’t find elsewhere.
Siam Noodle House – Another serial businesswoman entrepreneur – this time Anny Sooksri. In addition to Tea Rose Diner and Chaabar, this noodle house in the base of Murray’s major hospital complex was a nice change of pace from fast food options. Thankfully, I don’t find myself at the hospital – touch wood- that often, so have not been back. Sooksri recently opened FAV Bistro in the Holladay area too.
Sole Mio – For The Salt Lake Tribune. A rather standard Italian eatery, never went back. The family behind this went onto open Sicilia Mia and Antica Sicilia, with a new downtown location coming soon too. Not sure if the original was sold onto a new owner.
Spitz – Another one I go back to all the time, from downtown to Sugar House, even though I am abjectly too old for this hip joint. Yes, I am the old guy in the corner eating my wrap, staring at you, wondering what the heck you’re wearing and what exactly that noise your listening to is. /me shakes fist.
Tushar Brazilian Express – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Fast casual Brazilian outfit. Nice enough, but not nice enough to draw me back to this side of the valley on its own merits.
Wasatch Brew Pub For The Salt Lake Tribune. I still flirt with this location from time to time. If you can get past the Sugar House price inflation its a fun enough spot to grab a beer and a burger. Anti-gentrification types will hate it though; hate it so much they’ll explode in a tirade on Reddit about the good old times (note: the good old times were awful).
Zabiha Grill – For The Salt Lake Tribune and now closed. Some great food and some not so great food. The tikka massala was a veritable lake of grease, and I loved it. It doesn’t seem like many others did though. Grease lakes tend to be like that, misunderstood.
Zao Asian Cafe – For The Salt Lake Tribune. A growing chain, plenty fine at what it does. I’ve not been back, quite honestly the fast casual, build your own concept just makes me reach for the anxiety meds. It’s too stressful, the barrage of inquiry, like the second coming of the Spanish inquisition. Yea, I am delicate, so what.
Little Saigon – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I still return here every so often, and I’m lambasted for it over and over. “No way man, that place isn’t the best banh mi and it isn’t that cheap either:”, but you know what, “the parking is great, their fast and friendly and lunch for $5 or $6 is hardly breaking the bank.
Porch – Meanwhile over in daybreak, the second restaurant from Jen Gilroy (Meditrina) is still doing great business. If you live there, you’ve probably been. If not, stop by sometime when you’re in the area.
Seoul Garden – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I think still open? I recall some issues, and that maybe the business could be closing or looking for new ownership. Maybe that happened? This is all hearsay, I know for certain is that they have a nice shiny roof on top these days.
Zaferan Cafe – For The Salt Lake Tribune. The original location is now a gyro joint I believe, with this quirky (in all the good ways) mom and pop Iranian eatery moving to somewhere along Highland Drive. Loved my meals here, would go back in a heartbeat.
All Chay – For The Salt Lake Tribune. I just couldn’t get the enthusiasm going for this one. I know local veganites are in deep, mad love with the place though. Look, believe it or not, I actually don’t mind vegan food. I actually cook it at home several times a week. For me Vietnamese food demands fish sauce to deliver that uppercut of umami to my brain, and the vegan options just don’t cut it. It’s also kind of a weird space too.
The Annex by Epic Brewing – Oh the stories I’ve heard. Who knows which one, if any, is true. During the tenure of chef Craig Gerome, this joint was by far, far and away, the best restaurant in Salt Lake City. One weak minded trope I kept hearing was that the concept of hyper-seasonal, contemporary cuisine just didn’t work at this space – people just wanted a brew pub (yawn) experience. This as far as I could tell, flew contrary to the packed house every time I tried to get a table in its final days – seriously where else do you have to wait for a table at 8.45PM on a Wednesday night in SLC? Red Iguana? Deeply missed, HSL is probably the only joint in town doing something similar now.
Guras Spice House – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Exceptional Indian and Nepalese cooking, truly and honestly good stuff when I visited for the Trib. Located in Herriman, is as good as being in Mordor for me, so sadly, I have not returned.
H&D BBQ – For The Salt Lake Tribune. The coals have long since gone out in the smoker here.
Hot Dynasty – For The Salt Lake Tribune, Loved my meals here, been back a few times as well. It remains eerily empty, weirdly so.
Paulino’s Contigu Peru – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Never been back and not for any good reason. At the time I wrote about the place it was the best tasting (and value!) ceviche going around. I really do need to rectify that.
Sushi Burrito – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Still open, does what it says on the tin, just not my type of tin.
At the start of this year I handed my notice into the Salt Lake Tribune. I’d actually written the email sand deleted it several times over the preceding 12 months – after a five year stint I simply felt burnt out. There are only so many times you can call a circle round and a burger juicy. In fact don’t get me started on adjectivery; to this day I still have to limit my reading of restaurant reviews lest I fall upon a nice, a great, a tasty or a so good.
Moreover, my anonymity was increasingly waning by this point. I’d of course turn down assignments where I might know an owner or chef, and this was happening more and more. I recall sitting at the bar next to Scott Evans, owner of Finca, during one of my Finca review visits – didn’t have a clue who I was. Years later, he did. From talking to other critics, I knew some kitchens did actually have pictures up to spot critics.
At any rate, I was (and still am) truly humbled to have had the opportunity to write for such a well read and respected publication, but it was time to move on. The same goes for other freelancing in fact. 2016 marked the start of me ending pretty much all my ties to other publications and instead focus squarely on Gastronomic Sale Lake City. Back where it all began on October 1st 2007.
Reviews here these days are of course few and far between; I will still write something about a business if I have a great experience worth calling out mind you. To some degree, restaurant reviews almost seem anachronistic at this point. A review is a jumble of words about a fleeting slice in time. Go back three months later and the kitchen team may have changed completely. There’s a wealth of in the moment data on Facebook, Instagram and Yelp that suffice plenty for the most part.
HSL – I still go back here, but judiciously, it’s hard to leave without ordering and drinking everything in site which means at least a $200 tab. I can only do that so much in one year.
CY Noodle House – For The Salt Lake Tribune. The Sichuan cuisine here is beyond reproach. I pop in once in a blue moon, especially in the colder months for a one two punch of Sichuan peppercorns and chili.
Krua Thai – For The Salt Lake Tribune. Another in a long line of completely identikit Thai food. For a country that has a vast wealth of diverse cuisine, its stunning to see the same restaurant repeated over and over. I haven’t been back.
Mountain Dining – Reefs/Butchers/Peace Love Donuts/Honeycomb Grill. Go back to them all except the donut place, which closed this past year I beleive. Honeycomb Grill in particular seems to get better and better each time I go.
Carnegie’s Public House – The new tenant in the Peer hotel South facing space. Against all odds and predictions seems to be actually doing a decent job.
Fat Jack’s – Ho hum burger joint with prices that suggest there should be much more ho than hum. Won’t be back until I hear better things.
We Olive – A chain yes, but a chain that delivers and executes great product and sources lots of local good stuff too. Stop by for some or the COOC certified olive oil, but stay for lunch and sample some of chef Josh Garcia’s light fare.
…and that brings us to present day…
If you’ve actually read this far, you’re either an insomniac, an oddball, a stalker or heck – a lover of food like me. Raise a skewer with me, lets cheers, to another twn years of eating and drinking!
Looking ahead to the next ten, what do you think we’re missing on the SLC dining scene?
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me:
“I thought he was older”
“I don’t share his feelings”
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