THE A TO Z OF DINING

SALT LAKE'S INTERNATIONAL FARE 

Don’t believe a word you’ve heard about the typical Utah dinner table. Of course, we’ll be the first to admit the state has humble dining traditions—Utah culinary classics like funeral potatoes probably won’t feature on any Michelin starred menus any time soon.

Salt Lake today, though, is actually a progressive hotbed of international dining options. Let us lead you through the eclectic diversity of dining in SLC, one letter at a time—you’ll never think of Utah and green jello in the same thought again.

A - ANTICUCHOS

The squeamish might want to look away. We’re starting our A to Z in style with anticuchos—beef hearts to you and me. This Peruvian specialty is actually far more accessible than you might believe. Served with fried potatoes and corn, the trio of skewered grilled hearts from West Valley’s El Rocoto costs less than ten bucks and is the perfect meaty appetizer for two to share.

B - BANH MI

A true fusion creation, where the flavors of France and Vietnam collide and make for one of the most wondrous sandwiches known to science. You can’t argue with the cold, hard truth of science. The banh mi takes a crisp French baguette and loads it up with all manner of goodies. Oh Mai in Salt Lake City is the undisputed master of the Banh Mi, offering ten variations ranging from the authentic original loaded with steamed pork roll, jambon ham, pork head cheese, garlic butter, pork pate, and mayo to safer Westernized offerings with garlic-butter ribeye or beef short rib. Whatever you choose, the prices here are mind bogglingly low. You’ll never hit up a chain sandwich shop again.

C - CEVICHE

Some naysayers will balk at the idea of fish in a landlocked, desert state—don’t listen to a word they say. With daily direct flights to a host of national and international destinations (see seafood markets), SLC is awash with oceans of fresh fish. One of the best uses for all that prime product is ceviche: citric acid "cooked" raw fish. Del Mar Al Lago in South Salt Lake is often held up as the exemplary practitioner of this wizardry, and chef/owner Frederick Perez makes a mean ceviche for sure. In fact, Del Mar Al Lago dedicates an entire menu page to the varied ceviche selections. The only real problem is choosing which preparation to order.

D - ‘ DOGS

Hotdogs, to be precise. Johnniebeefs in Fort Union is owned, operated, and authentically perfected by John Carrasquilla, a Chicago native and hot dog fanatic. Carrasquilla imports both buns and dogs from Chicago and crafts all the wonderful toppings in house, which means, yep, you guessed it, real deal Chicago dogs right here in SLC. Secret tip: the Italian beef sandwich “dragged through the river”—trust us, just ask for that—ain’t bad either.

E - ESCOLAR

Sushi Groove on Highland Drive is home to tons of that great fish we mentioned earlier; plus it's one of the city’s coolest, hippest hangouts, routinely filled with boarders and skiers when in season due to the owners' shared passion for the slopes. On any given night you might see a live band or DJ spinning tunes alongside the fun sushi bar team rocking out cool creations at bargain prices. One of our favorites when available is the Escolar (also know as Walu or Butterfish), a creamy, buttery, and rich white fish that will knock your socks off. Sit at the sushi bar, check the specials, and if you’re in luck and spot this special catch, order up a couple nigiri without hesitation.

F - FRIED CHICKEN

And not just any old fried chicken, either—curry fried chicken, to be precise. Sure, we’ll give you a few minutes to let that settle in. OK, let’s continue. Curry Fried Chicken on State Street is a fast-casual eatery that blends American fried chicken with pulsating Indian spices, making for a creation that is lip-smackingly stunning. This would be first rate fried chicken by itself, possessing a knee-tremblingly crisp exterior and juicy interior, but with the tingling mix of exotic spices in the coating this dish moves to another level.

G - GYRO

Salt Lake has a vibrant Greek community which means diners are spoiled for choice in this particular culinary department. Whether it's fine dining or fast and furious takeout, SLC has more options than you can shake a souvlaki at. Our pick of the bunch is the classic gyro from Mad Greek. This local chain is sprinkled liberally about the valley, but one thing they all share are sumptuous gyros. Start with a soft and fluffy pita  and then layer on heaps of juicy gyro meat. Top it off with sharp red onions and creamy tzatziki sauce, and you have a sandwich to savor.

H - HALAL

West Valley City is home to Zabiha Grill, a restaurant whose proteinous selections are prepared and butchered according to the exacting Islamic Halal tradition. This means that the Halal meat Zabiha Grill serves is by necessity of very high quality; the 100% organic chicken, beef, lamb, and mutton is butchered just next door in the adjoining market. Owner and chef Farukh Qazi uses this fine selection of meats to fuel some of the most delicious curries and roasted meats in town. Check out the zippy and zesty Chicken Tikka Massala for a rendition of the dish that is leagues away from the sad, overly safe and watered down version all too often encountered.

I - IKURA

Kyoto Japanese restaurant is something of an institution in these parts. With more than three decades of pristine service under its belt— including several wait staff still on the payroll from the restaurant’s opening in 1984—this traditional Japanese restaurant knows what it’s doing. While the epically crisp tempura, soul-soothing miso, and traditional tatami dining booths are signatures, the restaurant also sports a very capable sushi bar, too. The in-house marinated ikura (salmon roe) is best ordered as two nigiri. A couple spoonfuls of the salty, briny eggs top sushi rice wrapped in nori. Simple, elegant, and classic, much like the restaurant itself.

J - JAMON

The best place to get your charcuterie fix is at The Copper Onion, regarded by many as SLC’s best restaurant. Just try to get a reservation on any given evening and you will see what we mean. If you do snag a table, be sure to start with a sampling from the charcuterie selection. Jamon, speck, lardo, iberico, you name it, there’s always a delicious option to kick off your meal.

K - KEBAB

Doner kebabs to be specific. If you’re in downtown Salt Lake, you'll find several fine versions being served at Spitz, a restaurant that’s as fun as it is flavorful. Spitz offers a hip contemporary atmosphere, a full beer, wine, and cocktail menu, and wait—are those Cards Against Humanity sets littered around the space? Yes, they are. Oh, and of course there’s the doner kebabs, wraps of unequaled quality and flavor, all priced under ten bucks.

L - LAMB & RICE DOLAA

A traditional Middle Eastern dish that manages the delicate balance of complexity and subtlety. Mazza eschews the more traditional lamb rib for lamb shoulder, making for a leaner, deeper flavored dish. The shoulder is braised in nine different spices before being shredded and folded into white rice (cooked in those same lamb-braising juices!) before being finished with fried pine nuts and almonds. The result is delicately sublime and just one of the many reasons locals flock to both locations of this splendid Middle Eastern jewel, time and again.

M - MA PO TOFU

For something truly special, take a trip to South Salt Lake’s Chinatown. After passing under the decorative Chinese gate entrance you’ll pull up Ho Mei BBQ. Here you’ll be greeted by an array of BBQ meats, roasted daily, hanging in the window as you enter. This is the real deal. The same goes for Ho Mei’s rendition of Ma Po Tofu. A spectacularly spicy broth holds quiveringly soft tofu and rich, juicy ground pork. It’s comfort food of the highest order, just the type of dish to spice up the night after a chilly day on the slopes.

P - NEAPOLITAN PIZZA

This thin-crust style of pizza is perfected at Settebello in downtown SLC. The award-winning pizzeria continually strives to make the most authentic pizza Napoletana possible, importing many ingredients (the flour, for one) from Napoli directly when possible, and when that isn’t possible, the highest-quality American products make fine stand-ins. The result is a pizza that packs the crowds in all year round.

O - OKRA

You’re going to wax lyrical about a vegetable dish from a BBQ restaurant? Yes, yes we are. That’s how we roll. While R&R BBQ is known for some of the best ‘Q in the state, if not the region, what’s often not discussed are their killer side dishes. The sides at R&R aren’t instantly forgettable bit-part players like other BBQ joints', they’re stars in their own right. The breaded and deep fried okra in particular will make you question all you thought you knew about okra. The final preparation doesn’t retain a hint of the slippery nature many dislike, instead, it's a golden and crunchy delight.

P - PAD GA PROW

Fans of the complex flavors of Thailand will be more than happy in SLC. North to south, east to west, the city teems with affordable and enjoyable Thai restaurants. One of our favorites is South Salt Lake’s Mano Thai. Most everything here is well executed, but a popular pick is the Pad Ga Prow, a stir fry of sweet Thai basil, garlic, bell peppers, and lots of chillies. In fact, there are enough chillies to keep you aglow on the snow for weeks. This is nuclear-powered cuisine. Choose from a selection of proteins, but our tip is to go with the ground chicken, which soaks up all that gloriously warming sauce.

Q - QUESO

Fromage. Paneer. Cheese. Whatever you call it, head on over to Tony Caputo’s Market and Deli for a selection like no other. With multiple locations around the valley, the best remains the downtown original, also home to Caputo’s cheese cave, where the art of affinage or the art of ripening cheese is executed with precision. In fact, it's one of only a handful of such caves in all of North America. Caputo’s is also home to one of the country’s best fine chocolate selections and an onsite quick-service eatery that crafts award-winning sandwiches.

R - REUBEN

One of the East Bench’s worst-kept secrets are the jaw droppingly good sandwiches at Feldman’s Deli. This Jewish-style deli packs a mighty punch into each and every one of its half-pound sandwiches—yes you read that correctly—half a pound. It’s hard to pick just one of these meaty monsters, but if you pushed us, we’d go with the reuben. The "classic" comes with a half pound of corned beef (imported from one of NYC’s famed delis) piled high on Jewish rye. Add sauerkraut, Thousand Island, and swiss, and you have a sandwich that will haunt your dreams for weeks. (It’s not just us that dreams of sandwiches is it?)

S - SPICY BOILED FISH

Don’t let the name fool you. This dish by Chef Gao in downtown SLC (also available at the chef’s original restaurant, Sweet Ginger, in Midvale) is deceptively complex. Generous fillets of white fish are cooked in an eye-opening serious broth powered by an assault of chili and garlic. The first spoonful makes you go “ooh,” the second taste “hmm,” and by the third bite: utter silence. No more words will be spoken until you scoop up every last drop of this maddeningly addictive soup.

T - TANDOORI

Practically every nation on Earth has some variation of "meat on a stick." Few, though, are as delicious as Indian tandoori, one of the specialties of Kathmandu, which operates two restaurants in the Salt Lake valley. Tandoori cuisine uses a clay oven heated to incendiary temperatures, where skewered meats are then carefully lowered in and seared. Of particular note at Kathmandu are the Chicken Tikka and the Lamb Seekh Kebab (seasoned ground lamb, formed into sausages and finished to charred, yet juicy perfection).

U - UNI

Not just Salt Lake’s finest Japanese restaurant, but also one of the best all-around dining experiences, bar none. Owner Johnny Kwon has an eye for detail that borders on madness, and it translates to indescribably heavenly food. Naked Fish sources only the best products, with an ethical eye on sustainability. While the laser-guided attention to freshness means the menu is subject to routine change, if it’s available, don’t miss out on the lusciously creamy and rich uni, often sourced from Santa Barbara. Sit at the sushi counter and ask chef Sunny Tsogbadrakh to make you something special with this sea urchin—you won’t be disappointed.

V - VIEIRAS A LA PLANCHA

Sea scallops cooked on a wood-fired grill are just one of the many tapas plates available at Finca, one of SLC’s best dining options. This isn’t the played-out tapas dishes you know and might yawn over, this is tapas reimagined and sourced from the best of Utah's producers and farmers. As a keen supporter of the farm to table movement, owner Scott Evans ensures the menu at Finca is seasonal, fresh, and, frankly, fabulous.

W - WAT

Wat is an Ethiopian stew that can be prepared with a variety of meat—chicken, beef, lamb—or even just veggies. For the uninitiated, a great way to dive right into Ethiopian cuisine is State Street’s Blue Nile. This cozy restaurant offers beer and wine and traditional Ethiopian dinner service, featuring a range of combo platters that let groups take in a whole range of flavors and dishes together.

X - XIA JIAO

Also known as Har Gow, these traditional Chinese shrimp dumplings can be found at a range of SLC eateries that specialize in that most awesome of culinary treats: dim sum, small plates served at lightning pace, often for weekend brunch. The best kitchens rocking out top-notch dim sum in Salt Lake can be found along a small stretch of State Street: New Golden Dragon, Cafe Anh Hong, and Dim Sum House all vie for title of SLC’s best dim sum. Why not try them all?

Y - YANGSTAR WINGS

Just one of Bumblebees BBQ and Grill’s special creations. This Midvale eatery cheerfully fuses American and Korean cuisine (at rock-bottom prices, six days a week) that will make you rethink ever stepping foot in a boring old fast-food joint ever again. The wings at Bumbleebees come six to an order and are fried to crunchy perfection, topped in a sweet and sticky Yangstar sauce.

Z - ZELJANICA

You didn’t think we’d manage Z, did you? Well, we did. Like we said, SLC is bursting at the seams with a bounty of diverse dining. Zeljanica, fillo dough stuffed with spinach and cheese, is an eminently affordable appetizer dish from Old Bridge Cafe, an authentic Bosnian restaurant in South Salt Lake. Indeed everything at Old Bridge Cafe is affordable, from the cevapi (Bosnian beef sausages) to the Old Bridge platter, a two-person sampling of practically the entire menu, featuring shish kebab, cevaps, dolma, sarma, zeljanica, rice and potatoes—all for just twenty five bucks.