Like many of my peers, I wanted to take a moment to look back over the year that was, and thank you for reading along. This year saw Gastronomic SLC publish some 150+ stories, covering North to South, fine dining to mom and pops. Our stories have been read nearly 1.5 million times this year, hopefully generating some of you out there, fine food memories of your own.
Along my own journey, I’ve eaten more than my fair share, with several dishes making a permanent mark in the memory. The following then, my favorite plates from a calorie stuffed calendar…
Kin Sen Noodle
Pictured top, and one of my highlights of 2023 – the opening of this Millcreek noodle shop. I covered them first in this story. The captivating boat noodles at Kin Sen are a specialty of the restaurant, and as far as I know, unparalleled anywhere else in the state.
These are mammoth pots of protein and rice noodle and broth – itself the work of at least five hours – offering an alluring note of cinnamon throughout. A variety of preparations are available, but my pick would be the boat combination – a mix of beef short rib, meatballs and brawny hunks of oxtail. Crispy chicharron are one of the final finishes alongside aromatic herbs and crisp beansprouts.
Later in the year, Kin Sen also added khao soi to their menu – a northern Thai/Laotian dish again meticulous executed. A fennel/anise diffused Thai yellow curry is the base for a duo of noodles – both a tangled crispy crown, and a softer pile of egg noodles lurking in the gravy. A giant chicken thigh and leg come next, as do sharp pickled greens that cut through the coconut-rich sauce. A spritz from a slice of fresh lime and you’re good to dig in. It’s comfort food of the highest order.
Umi Shabu Shabu
All you can eat
All you can eat. Four simple words that have by now either instilled a sense of dread and terror, or perhaps, sent a surge of greedy endorphins rushing. Maybe both, we’re complex people after all. Should your tolerance for all things unlimited skew toward the insatiable – let me point you to Umi Shabu Shabu. Such are the charms of this 2023 South Salt Lake newcomer, even a few die hard never-tongs might be won over too.
Shabu shabu then is the muse of Umi, the Japanese equivalent to Chinese hot pot – a table-top bubbling broth that guests direct themselves. The phrase shabu shabu translates as swish swish, supposedly the relaxing noise of ingredients swayed back and forth to completion in the cooking pot. Here’s a bigger story I wrote on them.
Lamb shinwari karahi
Head to West Valley City for this excellent Pakistani restaurant Habibi Grill. The pictured lamb shinwari karahi starts with a tomato sweet sauce that kicks with garlic, while whole pieces of star anise twinkle. Cumin and cardamom and more lurk, but I’d be lying to suggest I could nail the complete composition; a large part undoubtedly lies behind slow cooked lamb, lending a deep, deep flavor. Huge thunderous chunks of lamb – bone and meat and straggles of fat – proudly peer out from the gravy. If your serious other is of the vegetable persuasion now would be a good time to move to a different room, perhaps state. The plate is best tackled with gusto, and both hands, tearing the juicy lamb and shimmery fat from bone. Bring napkins.
Chicken fried rice
Sadly, ChiFa are no longer with us. I had the greatest of plans to write a verbose and vivid recap of my meals at this one – but sadly, time got in the way. The article never made it to print, and the restaurant called it quits before the publish button got clicked.
The West Valley industrial neighborhood surely wasn’t the best, but their menu of Peruvian classics was fabulous. The kitchen had a particular focus on the Chinese influence (hence the name) on the South American country’s eclectic culinary traditions. I really enjoyed their “carbon” menu, all big steaks and heaving sides. I’d meant to go back and try their ceviche, “best in the state”, according to their chef.
If this isn’t the best hummus in Utah, I don’t know what is. I am perplexed by exactly how ultra satiny and creamy Beirut Cafe manage to make theirs. Is it some variety of tahini I’ve yet to get my hands on, that slick of high quality olive oil on top? I am completely flummoxed, and at this point I’ve given up asking chef’s for their preciously help secrets.
Hummus is of course a universal balm, whatever you order alongside it can be dunked, doused or dipped. Which is what I often do with a side order of their shish or chicken kebabs. Perfectly seasoned and grilled to a smokey finish.
Chicken and waffles
I ate at Franklin eight times in 2023. Suffices to say, I’ve eaten the menu top to bottom. I might just even try the physical menu itself soon enough. One particular highlight this year was the brunch menu and the chicken n “waffles” plate. Quotes? The base of the dish is a frisbee sized slab of funnel cake, a piped and fried entanglement. On top, an equally blush worthy large piece of fried chicken, togarashi, dynamite aioli and maple syrup, the final flourishes. When you attend my funeral, and remark “but he was so young, why, why god” please just scroll through my feed here.
Next up, a dish that inarguably owes a hat tip towards Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s iconic template – this impressive creation from Franklin Ave’s Matt Crandall. It’s been on the menu since day one, and rightfully so; the canny assemblage routinely sees folks confiding to me that this is Franklin’s finest.
Like the noted Nobu dish, the fat-forward sable fish here relies on an umami one-two of soy and miso. The knockout blow however are the locally sourced mushrooms courtesy of Intermountain Gourmet Mushrooms; big ol’ meaty savory show stoppers. Snap peas and broccolini round things out adding bite.
New Golden Dragon
Eggplant and shredded pork hot pot
Salted fish and chicken fried rice
This remains my de-facto goto for Chinese food, especially so when I need a quick togo option. The menu affords a mix of the more traditional alongside American leaning dishes. I love it all.
I can’t order at New Golden Dragon without requesting a plate of chicken fried rice with salted fish – a Cantonese rib sticker. It’s a pea and carrot free CFR given a funk overload with chunks of fermented white fish. Imagine a taste like mackerel and anchovies merged together in a sublimely salty marriage. You’ve really got to love your pungency for this one. Everyone else run for the hills.
A new dish I tried this year, the eggplant with shredded pork. A treat for the eyeballs, all royal purple and shimmering lacquer. It’s a simple sweet and salty flavor profile, an easy going and fun one. The contrasting chew of the pork with smooth eggplant seals the deal.
Pho Salt Lake
Com Tam Dac Biet
Affording me a similar glee as those miniature cereal boxes did as a child – this house special combo plate from Chinatown’s Pho Salt Lake. This house special dish is a meat lovers delight. The platter comes loaded with with sweetly finished grilled pork, meatloaf, shrimp cake, shredded pork and for the hell of it, a fried egg. There’s metric tons of texture and flavor here, all supported by a strong line up of side sauces.
Hog & Tradition
Dominican BBQ special
Pictured first – effectively a BBQ plate on a sandwich, this creation from Hog & Tradition can now be found in the HallPass food hall (after making the keto from The Local). The base is smoked brisket, which I didn’t find to have a ton of sultry smoke flavor, but still, plentifully juicy. From there it’s party time. There are candied purple yams giving a cakey sweetness, bitter collard greens given some acidic edge, as well as a plonk of mac n cheese. A duo of gold and ruby sauces come next – mustard and trad BBQ to you and me. On the side comes apple spiked slaw, that too gets loaded on top if you’re smart. It’s a monstrous thing, especially ordered with extra brisket.
Need more meat? Look no further than their Dominican BBQ special – smoked chicharon, pernil and bandera. Plantains, potato salad, rice and beans.
Braised lamb with pastrami rub
This dish from chef Patrick LeBeau was the perfect Winter warmer earlier in the year. LeBeau has been at the wheel of the hotel Monaco’s signature restaurant for more than a year now – and is making his presence felt.
This bone-in lamb was braised to a fork tender finish that only time and patience can produce. The sides of herbed spaetzle and red cabbage pushed all the right seasonal buttons. Fennel and coriander elk with crispy mushrooms was another noteworthy dish. I was also particularly taken with the house old fashioned, sweetened with a hit of chai syrup.
Ever since we all collectively mourned the loss of Midvale’s Johnniebeef’s, there has been a sports pepper shaped hole in the SLC dining scene. That all changed earlier in the year when Bobby’s rolled out onto Utah streets; the new food cart bringing treats from the Windy City.
The specialty at Bobby’s are exactingly made Chicago dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. The dogs tick all the boxes. Yes they use imported Vienna beef dogs, yes there’s a poppy seed bun, and yes there are arrestingly neon green pickles and invigorating sports peppers in the mix.
Guisados Homestyle Mexican Cooking
Barbacoa de res
When it comes to tacos, Guisados offer a menu of nearly a dozen options, all served on top notch house made corn tortilla. The tacos themselves are slightly larger than the gobble sized street variety, and come single wrapped, simply stuffed with your selection. Most of the fixings like diced onion and cilantro are provided on the side. The star of the crop for me (and no I won’t share how many I ordered to arrive at this verdict) was the al pastor. The Lebanese influenced Pueblan dish was as good as any I’ve tasted; tender pork enameled with bright sharp pineapple in every bite.
Cohinita pibil was also in the running coming a close second. Again, shreddable soft pork, this time coated with earthy achiote. I might pass on fattier ropa vieja but the tinga de pollo, shredded chicken in a mild chipotle based sauce was a comforting change of pace. Bonus points: I’m partial to an alarm bell worthy tinga, here’s my own spin on the recipe if home cooking happens to be part of those weekend plans.
Moving on from handhelds I also enjoyed the barbacoa de res – featuring beef with that unmistakably deep flavor, one that comes only from hour upon hour or slow roasting.
Mar | Muntanya
The menu at this downtown Spanish spot has changed since I first popped by in the Fall of 2022. I take a restless chef eagerly scribbling new menu items as a good sign. Some highlights I enjoyed this year included a sweetly lacquered pork belly, providing that perfect alternating bite of unctuously fatty and meaty.
Garlicky shrimp in a small pond of olive oil was a perfect match for the restaurant’s shepherds bread; apparently a house baked sourdough from a 150 year old starter. On the side cultured butter and spruce infused jelly. The latter, a first for my fascinated tastebuds.
Proclaiming them the winner of an exhausting city wide tasting test, PhoKing wrote, “The broth is exceptionally seasoned particularly with black cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon. Black cardamom gives the bowl at 777 a very distinct flavor; an extra squeeze of lime goes extraordinarily well with their broth. The meat is always tender and their oxtail just simply slaps. They give a wider option of herbs than other restaurants, including culantro (aka Mexican coriander) even when it’s out of season. A substantial expense for the restaurant. “
I concur 100%
There’s not a time I’ve visited Urban Hill (a half dozen times this year) where I didn’t encounter a new favorite. From the mixological talents of Bijan Ghiai through chef Nick Zocco and his team in the kitchen, there’s bags of creativity and smart technique here.
A smothered adovada burrito was a monster of a brunch dish I enjoyed. A whopping 14” tortilla arrives stuffed with chunks of pork, shredded hash browns and scrambled eggs. A side bowl of hominy studded posole is a canny touch. On top of the burrito a brace of sauces, green verde and a thick New Mexico Chile sauce.
My picture above omits the usual Oaxaca cheese the dish is usually finished with. And yes I did try to steal some tips from chef Nick Zocco on that garnet-hued sauce to recreate at home; always a good sign when you’re planning how to achieve a similar food high shortly thereafter. Here’s a bigger dive into their brunch service – where you can also sample the pictured lobster salad.
I also ventured out into the world this year for my Thanksgiving day dinner. A first for me in twenty plus years of living in Utah. Guess where I went. Yep, you guessed right.
O.k. let’s talk burgers. As part of a Tasmanian devil like frenzy through Utah’s most expensive burgers this year – three builds grabbed my attention.
The first was this ridiculously resplendent creation on the brunch menu at Oquirrh. If this thing doesn’t cure your hangover nothing will. The heart of the construction is a big thick juicy patty cooked barely medium, the antithesis to those meekly thin smashed things. Yes I am still banging on about that. You can’t stop me (update: in fact you can stop me).
Completing the picture, Alpine cheese, Hudson Valley foie (the best in the world says chef Andrew Fuller) aioli, bacon onion jam and a brioche. For three bucks extra it’s worth splurging on a trembling fried egg, all jiggles and wiggles and spills. Marvelously messy and fun. Far better than reaching for the Alka-Seltzer.
Bonus points awarded for that disc of a hash brown on the side, literally overshadowed by its towering companion, it’s figuratively anything but. It’s one of the best hash brown renditions I’ve tasted full stop.
The Capital Grille
Yes it’s a chain (part of the sprawling Darden empire) and yes it’s only available on the lunch menu – but hot damn – this was one of the best burgers we sampled on our Rockefeller-esque burger bonanza. Capital Grille’s composition does exactly what it says on the tin – nailing the classic cheeseburger.
There’s nothing revolutionary going on here. The bun isn’t the result of a three day mad science experiment, the patty isn’t sourced from exotic livestock, and the toppings are pointedly simple. All the restraint yields a burger that’s a perfect example of why the humble cheeseburger can often form an indelible memory.
In contrast, this mightly looking effort from Cottonwood Height’s Franck’s. The precise combination changes each Thursday evening – and when we stopped by it happened to be a “surf n turf” build. The concoction was ultimately all over the map, effectively two burgers worth of toppings in one. That patty thought was sublime. The best I’ve unquestionably tasted in Utah.
I previewed Bar Nohm in this piece earlier in the year. A standout for me was this handsome dish served in a volcanic metal bowl, the heat lending caramelization to the grain – which itself has a smooth spicy warmth and sharp tangy edge.
Disciplined use of the kimchi goes a long way though, and it’s used mindfully here avoiding a mushy undoing. On top a circular procession of shrimp are joined by sliced Chinese style sausage. It’s the shy star of the whole damn thing. House made by chef David Chon, it’s an ever tweaked recipe I’m told. Caramel sweet hoi sin flavors mingle with Waterpocket’s anise-forward Oread.
Town And Country Market
Roast beef on white sandwich
A highlight of trying to find the best options under ten bucks, the sandwiches from Town And Country Market in SoSL. While nearby Grove Market gets the bulk of the fanfare (and commensurate hustle and bustle) this humble South Salt Lake spot is my pick for a hearty sandwich on a tight budget. Practically every sandwich on the menu under the magic ten dollar mark. Handily so in fact. You’ll only need to reach for more change should you opt for one of the monster ambassador rolls, which like Grove, will feed several people or several sittings.
Once you step through the doors at Town And Country you’ll order at the counter and choose your options. A smiling someone will quickly build the hand held of your dreams as you watch. There are no computerized ordering kiosks, QR codes or pinging apps. It’s as wonderfully yesteryear as the range of chips and snacks on offer in the market are eclectic. The business is primarily a grab and go spot, but if the weather is playing ball there are a number of picnic style benches out front.
The Dough Miner
Holiday dinner pasty
Since I wrote about this new bakery in the Granary District back in the Summer of 2022 – it’s grown by leaps and bounds. The Winter months saw the launch of their holiday dinner pasty which is exactly what it sounds like; a full meal wrapped in rich pastry. Turkey, stuffing, veggies and mashed potatoes all star in this unexpectedly excellent hand held.
2023 also saw Dough Miner launch a new bagel offering – fabulous things they are too. Modeled on classic East Coast style bagels, the process follows a careful and rigorous process. The Dough Miner take no shortcuts following traditional techniques; that means: mixing the dough, raising, cutting, hand forming, fermenting, raising again, boiling then baking then topping. Schwoo! All that hard work means you get the real deal – a nice brown crunch on the outside and a thick bready inside, delicious.
This one helped brighten a rainy lunchtime via the salve of deep fat frying. Pretty Bird’s cinnamon-spice spiked fried chicken sandwich is well known and beloved by many. Add me to the list. Also I think I’m growing, becoming almost a real grown up. When presented with the option of adding extra chicken tenders to my sandwich I somehow found the strength to decline. Still amazed with that restrained discipline frankly.
Sidenote: the past two weeks of Christmas indulging would make up for all of that…
Emiliano’s Taco Shop
When my beloved Taqueria Los Lee turned off the lights last year, I had every carpal and metacarpal crossed that someone would come close to replicating what came before. Which is to say affordable food cooked with aplomb. Then Emiliano’s opened up and immediately became one of the best restaurants in the neighborhood.
The prices are unfailingly fair, and the tacos real delights. Carne asada comes more chopped than sliced and was a surprise favorite. Carnitas were also worth, full of a fatty porky flavor. Aa you can see from the picture above Emiliano’s loads them to the brim – pico, cilantro and guac merrily piled high.
Pear and halloumi salad
Lamb merguez meaballs
One of my absolute favorite places to while away the hours. The composition of the plates are always in flux at Common, which means each revisit is a refeshing rewarding experience. Highlights from this year included a seared halloumi salad with mizuna, yuzu ginger dressing and pine nut dukkah; lamb meatballs with shabazzi yogurt, carrot pesto and pine nuts; and wonderfully crabby beignets.
I swiped the pictured quintet of crabby beignets during dinner hours, but the dish can also be plucked from CC’s brunch menu too. Rightfully so, the gossamer light interior is perfect early morning fare; the lightly crisp spheres are packed with crustacean then brightened with lemon zest.
Pirate O’s Gourmet Market
Turkey and bacon panini
While many know this Draper market for their fabulous chocolate and candy lineup – fewer are wise to their top notch sandwich counter. Traditional cold cuts are offered alongside my favorite – perfect grilled panini sandwiches. These can be enjoyed on the cute outside patio and feature luxurious ingredients. The pictured turkey and bacon comes with house made roasted tomato hazelnut pesto, tomato chipotle mayo, crisp bacon and turkey.
You can take your sandwich to the next level by exploring the store’s walk in refrigerated section which is home to a huge range of gourmet sodas from around the world. Read more about the store and their product in this article I wrote.
It looked like we might lose this fab sandwich spot back in November, but an outpouring of support for their work meant disaster was averted. One of the best sandwich spots in the city, featuring an always updated and interesting menu. The Italian beef pictured above is an intensely rewarding thing.
Bam Bam’s BBQ
While it might not match the luminaries of the Austin Q scene I tasted in the Summer, Orem’s Bam Bam’s is by no means a slouch. The setup is classic Q shop with picnic tables, napkins and sundry sauces littering. The brisket is decent enough to satiate that smoky itch, but the chopped beef was my favorite – shredded beef held in what I assume is some sort of broth or stock, lending a moreish smack of salty savoriness. The leftovers made for excellent lunches for days.
Matchstick Bar & Grill
Chinese BBQ skewers
Tin foil tofu
An end of year revelation was finally stopping by this West Valley City Chinese restaurant. As far as I’m aware Matchstick is a one of a kind in SLC, the only place you enjoy shaokao – Chinese BBQ. At least to this massive extent. There are nearly two dozen choices on the menu coated in mild spice blend, a slightly embering Korean spice.
The pork belly was wonderful, the lamb a close second. That said, I went two rounds with the Chinese sausage. Can never get enough sausage, especially on sticks. Other standout dishes included the tin foil tofu and salt and pepper chicken skin; the former a wriggling and jiggling tray of tofu and glass noodle, the latter, a bowl of crisped skin yielding to a fatty, juicy interior. A spritz of lime juice is all you need to dig in.
Spicy lemongrass chicken
Coming runner up to Pho 777 in the aforementioned pho contest was this Vietnamese restaurant in South Salt Lake. I remember how Midvalians were in shock when the restaurant upped and moved sticks North – and I can now see why after dining here several times in 2023. The menu is stacked, the service is fast, and the food, well I’ve yet to order a dish I didn’t enjoy.
Pictured was one of my final dishes out in the world this year – a spicy lemongrass rice plate. Pho 33 doesn’t hold back on the herb either, lending the chicken gobs of woodsy-citrus notes. The capsaicin gently creeps too as you progress, never overwhelming but always on that tingling precipice. As a final tip, while you’ll see a variety of sauces laid out at each table – sambal through sriracha – don’t forget to ask your server for the house specially made chile sauce they keep out back…
And that’s me! What about you? Let me know in the comment section below, what dishes rocked your 2023?
Want to stay on top of the SLC food scene, minute by minute, dish by dish? Here are a few other places you should follow along:
- FREE newsletter – never miss a story and signup for our weekly Utah food news
- PAID subscription – support the website, the ads and popups go bye bye!
- Instagram – follow us here for a dish by dish look at what’s hot
- Food talk group – chew the fat with other likeminded Utah foodies
- Best of SLC 2023 – our ever updating list of what’s best in the Beehive
Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC. I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have written in myopic detail about the Salt Lake City dining scene for the better part of seventeen years.
I’ve worked extensively with multiple local publications from Visit Salt Lake to Salt Lake Magazine, not least helped to consult on national TV. Pause those credits, yep, that’s me! I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’m largely fueled by a critical obsession with rice, alliteration and the use of big words I don’t understand. What they’re saying about me: “Not inaccurate”, “I thought he was older”, “I don’t share his feelings”.
Want to know more? This is why I am the way I am.
This article may contain content provided by one of our paid partners. These are some of the best businesses in Utah. For a list of all our current and past relationships see our partnership history page.