“This is the right place” said Brigham Young as Mormon Pioneers entered the Great Salt Lake Valley. Their overland exodus to the valley of Salt Lake officially culminated on July 24th, 1847. Records (according to www.Utah.com) show that, “on the very day of arrival the pioneers began tilling the soil and planting crops” (italics added). One thing is for sure, since that time the food that Salt Lake City has had to offer has only increased in variety and quality.
Certainly, the 2002 Winter Olympics brought the most recent national and international exposure to this great city and state . . . but, perhaps it was those same aforementioned pioneers that brought with them their culture and cuisine that gave visitors a reason to remember Salt Lake City as a culinary capstone of the west.
I’ve lived in (or near) Salt Lake City off and on for most of my forty-two years of life and have eaten at truly hundreds of restaurants and eateries in the valley. As to whether my palate best recalls the Dolmathes and Souvlaki from the yearly Greek Festivals of my youth (www.saltlakegreekfestival.com) or the years of “business lunches” during the late 90’s (sometimes 2 a day at different restaurants for more than 5 years) or the latest and greatest from now . . . I can’t say.
I can say that the foodie in me can aptly be described by the story of my traveling to Alabama a couple of years ago. I’d gone down for a speaking engagement. The man (Steve Goodwin) who picked me up from the airport, brought me several hours south to the conference; he was both kind and friendly beyond compare. In an act of true southern kindness, my hosts for the conference had authorized Steve to “take me to anywhere I wanted to eat – price was not a concern”. Steve proceeded to rattle off to me every chain restaurant from the airport to the college. Some were higher in price range. Others were southern staples, but chains nonetheless. Fortunately, I wasn’t hungry upon arrival and asked Steve if we could defer the meal until later. After a two hour drive, I’d begun to adjust to my surroundings and was ready to eat.
Feeling the two hours had bonded Steve and I sufficiently, I said, “Now Steve . . . I’ve come thousands of miles across the country and deep into the south. Please tell me you aren’t going to make me eat at one of the same chain restaurants that I can find in Utah. Isn’t there a place that locals eat in Troy, Alabama? A place I will not soon forget because of the food, the people, the experience?” If I thought Steve and I had been friends before, the happiness in his smile and the lift in his voice was now unrestrained. “I was hoping you’d say that!” exclaimed Steve. “I went to college down here and was really hoping to go get me some Crowe’s Fried Chicken. Would you eat there?” Friends, I have felt kinship to many a person in my day, but precious few foodie bonds surpass mine with Steve at that moment in Troy, Alabama that day. Crowe’s Chicken it was! That little dive was my birth into true southern food. Before I’d left the town that weekend, I’d had fried okra, grits with honey and butter, biscuits and gravy, and a host of other southern specialties. Not once did a chain restaurant cross my lips.
Henceforth, I’ve prided myself on being a true “foodie” for the past two decades and have, in this article, decided to share the wealth on a few of my SLC local secrets and staples.
In no particular order (which would be like commenting on which of my three children is my favorite), your visit to Salt Lake is sure to become a “foodies” foray with this “short list” of “Mont’s Musts”. Please note that, while there are many more that I could add to this list, I’ve chosen to keep it fresh by only including those of my most notable haunts and only those I’ve either been to or frequented in the last year.
I couldn’t start anywhere else. This is the restaurant that made me a foodie. I’ve been to this place no less than 100 times in my life. Honestly, I owe a childhood friend (shout out to Danny Savage) both for this find and for showing me the only item I’ve ever ordered when I go there. Sure, I’ve ordered the kids pizza or spaghetti through the years. Sadly, I’ve taken folks there that wanted to venture out and order on their own – poor novices! I’ve even snuck meatballs or various meats from the plates of some of them (and always with enjoyment) . . . But, it is the Pizza Bender that has any Utahan who is “in the know” by the calzones!
It comes with cheese and any of three toppings inside as the standard. Pepperoni, ham and sausage is the original. I’ve chosen to substitute Canadian Bacon and add a fourth topping as of late – regular bacon! It’s scored in thirds and should be ordered with sauce (dipping is for purists!) Use some of the fresh parmesan and intersperse it with a nibble of garlic bread or two and your meal is complete.
Extra hungry? Get a side salad and some of their homemade blue cheese dressing. The simplicity of an iceberg salad always has its critics, but my mouth wants not to have anything introduced that veils the taste of the blue cheese; and remember, the goal is a “time out” with a speedy return to the bender anyway! A few years ago, the cheese changed for a few months. Fanatics of The Village were not fooled and our voices were heard. Almost overnight, we are back to the likelihood of assured drippings down your arm as you lifted a triangle to devour. The price is $ on the $$$$ scale and ever worth the wait. I can go on if you’d like, but suffice it to say that, while no one would put SLC on the map of U.S. Italian cuisine . . . it’s only because they haven’t been to Italian Village! You can’t miss this place when you come to Salt Lake!
Yelpers and Urbanspooners give this German deli 4.5 of 5 stars consistently. We took friends there just before the year-end remodel this past year and were treated to traditional favorites like bratwurst, knockwurst, spaetzle (noodles) with gravy, rotkohl (red cabbage sauerkraut), and weinerschnitzel (if you’re thinking of a foam hot dog antennae or an A-frame drive thru frankfurter hut right now . . . knock it off and get in here for this breaded, fried meaty wonder!)
While meandering through a local street fair this summer we came across Siegfriend himself!
Our selfie came after our sample of his street vendor version of his tasty deli meatsicle goodness. This place is not to be missed for traditional German food while in SLC!
The foodie inside me shouts for joy when I see a dive that has the guts to call itself exactly what it is – no frills! From the minute we stepped into this place we were out of Utah and into Africa. One of the family owners, Liban, was our host for this evening of Ethiopian delights. We’d never tried Ethiopian food and were happy to have some suggestions. Our server suggested our party of four try an Ultimate Combo Wal-Maka Plate (seen below).
The platter includes such delicacies as Kochee Foanii (seasoned beef cubes), Waaddii (more sauteed beef), and a variety of vegetables cooked in various ways all atop a Budenaa (spongy fermented flatbread). No utensils were brought the table and all were encouraged to use their hands – tearing away pieces of Budenaa and using it to scoop up the various spiced meat and vegetable items. This meal is both an experience and a delight. We are fans of Indian food and of french crepes; Ethiopian food from the African Restaurant seems to fit nicely somewhere in between. By far, the best part of our night was our half hour after the meal, spent with Liban, talking over Ethiopian foods, peoples, customs and cultures while basking in the spirit of this great soul! We have sent many a friend back and will return soon and often.
Ok, so this place has been atop my list of wing joints and still, at other times, slipped below the horizon depending on who is running the fryers, mixing the sauces and working the ambience. I love the snow skiing theme that cries “We Are Utah” and there is a college kid vibe that might draw a wing and suds crowd depending upon the hour and day. Truth is, though I honestly haven’t been there this year, I’ve included this lil’ wing stop mostly for credence in my claim of “foodie” status. You see, I believe that no true “foodie” can claim that title without a few stripes on their sleeve, a few “color changes” of the belt, if you will. Sheer preponderance of places you’ve eaten might qualify. Having travelled the world and eaten/recounted its cuisine would certainly qualify. Finding the foods a restaurant is known for and taking on their challenges (when available) is a must for any “foodie”; a wing challenge is one such and it can place you atop this group of crazies known as “foodies”.
The Wing Coop has more than just your “run of the mill” spicy wing challenge. With 22 sauces on the menu and many more that can be/are created daily, the Wing Coop has a sauce for everyone. While award winners include “Tatanka” and “Honey Habanero”, the bully big brother of them all is their “Eleven” sauce.
The challenge details include: 11 wings in 11 minutes. No other food, drink or sauce of any kind and no standing from where you sit until after the 11 minutes have passed. Eleven of the hottest peppers on the planet are “sauced” and become the bath for eleven over-sized wings. The remaining sauce is then generously spread across the top of these 11 little nightmares – challengers beware! In fact, the Wing Coop makes each would-be conqueror sign this waiver before the 11 minute challenge begins:
In an attempt to do something we’d never forget, my buddy Trent and I undertook to climb the “Eleven Mountain” (I still love that man for his bravery; I couldn’t have done it without him!) We attempted this feat fittingly on the memorable date of 11/11/11. Our last words before beginning were to the clerk at the counter, “Any last words of advice?” He was quick with his reply, “Yeah, don’t do it . . . no . . . seriously . . . don’t!!”
While I know that my picture here can’t begin to explain the pain and suffering, it does show the behemoth size of the wings, the thickness of the sauce and the beat down that a grown man can take at the hands of such a little piece of chicken covered in the most wicked sauce I have ever ingested. I’m told one onlooker questioned the heat as we downed wing after wing and was given a bone of his own to try. He took one bite, said words no sailor would rightly utter, and spent the remainder of my challenge time in the bathrooom attempting various remedies to no avail.
This pic can only be superseded by my victory pic found on the Wing Coop facebook hall of fame for those who completed the challenge which can be found mid-way down the page here.
And looks like this (courtesy of Wing Coop):
Go to Wing Coop. Get your wings doubled down in the fryer for crispiness – big bones need longer frying times. Get a sauce or two on your wings and ask to sample a few more. Get a dab of Eleven sauce just so you can begin to empathize – but DON’T DO THE 11 CHALLENGE! I won’t even begin to endeavor to explain the horror I experienced for the next few days . . . suffice it to just say, “earn your foodie stripes in some other way my friends!” That said, like your daddy taught you when you were little, once you’ve beaten up the bully, no one else will mess with you. Nowadays, when someone says, “careful, that this is hot or spicy” I just laugh and think to myself, “if you only knew!”
While on the topic of foodie “musts”, seems like every foodie has a BBQ favorite or two. BBQ purists (and I pride myself as one after living in Texas for 2 years, paying for entrance into multiple rib competitions, and having arranged to attend a KCBS judging school event) look for taste, tenderness, smoke and presentation. From there, we all have a hankerin’ for sides that keep us amused and palate cleansed between bites of bone-in or chopped heaven.
In the past, even though I’ve had BBQ in Kansas City and several other notable stops (never been to Memphis or North Carolina yet so I can’t claim a clear cut knowledge . . .) Texas has dominated my reviews. I’ve raved about Rudy’s. I’ve shouted out to the Salt Lick. Heck, I’ve even nodded to Sonny Bryans. When I heard that two award-winning twin brothers were serving up smokesicles in SLC, I got excited. R&R delivers in many ways.
R&R BBQ is conveniently located off the 600 (6th) South freeway off-ramp in SLC and welcomes even the likes of the motley crew we drug in that day. David, Matt and I recently lunched there to our delight . We mixed it up and tried most everything on the plate meal menu. All the meats were top notch. Tenderness and presentation showed evidences of a nice smoke ring showing ample time in the smoker. I’m a smoke kinda guy when it comes to my meat and could have used a little more, but the bang for the buck was certainly there.
The surprise winner for me that day was the smoked wings. WOW! Smoked, deep fried AND sauced. Amazing! No question as to whether these brothers know their BBQ. Sides were a plus – especially the fried okra and the hush puppies. I always look for a stand out in cole slaw or beans and wasn’t displeased. Meats at R&R are uniform and top quality. We were given a peek at the smoker and walked through their daily process (bakers might be the only chefs who’ve got smokers beat on an early rise time each morning). Hope this place is around for a very long time and can’t wait to get back in and see what Rod and Roger are up to next.
Let me begin by saying my favorite Chinese food memory was a decade ago while on my ten year anniversary trip to San Francisco with my gorgeous wife! We wandered through China Town and I found a place that I was sure the health department was only allowing to stay open because they were bribing them with the most amazing tasting, truly authentic Chinese food in the city. Brandi tried to stop me from eating there because of the look of the establishment. Butchers worked in the front and stopped their artistry only long enough to dish me out a rice and meat treat that cost me a mere $1.97! Chin-Wah is not that place. But, it is where you need to go when in SLC.
This Chinese (American Chinese) restaurant has long been a family favorite! We ate there last night (took a new couple for their first time – and, as expected, Chin Wah’s food never fails to please.
Foodies, I know you can feel me when I say, “I LOVE INTRODUCING PEOPLE TO NEW EATS!” Call me crazy, but I’d often rather see someone else enjoy what I know to be amazing than to eat it myself.
As for Chin Wah, we can’t go there without getting the Phoenix Chicken (medium or hot on the spice). Karl and I ordered their Hot and Sour Soup (chuck full of large pieces of Char Shu Pork and equally as large cut-aways of freshly cooked mushrooms). Wonderful! Online reviews take digs at their waitresses and, sorry Chin Wah, but I might have to agree; however, I’ve always had success with the waiters. That said, the food is worth the wrestle it might take with the service. The restaurant is light and airy. The food is always presented hot and as ordered – often with little or no wait. The price is right. What’s not to love?
You’d think I’d have snapped a photo or two last night but I wasn’t travel writing, I was playing and relaxing with friends. Glad I can still separate the two! I like the online reviews and simple photos found here: (Photos/Reviews). Looking for Chinese in Utah – this is it. Asian Star www.asianstarrestaurant.com could also please. We even like Enjoy Chinese in West Jordan (website found here). Don’t fall into the trap of going to the Utahan’s Mecca of The Mandarin in Bountiful. We went there last year with a party of 6. The drive and cost is not worth the mediocre food nor the hype.
Bruges Waffles & Frites
Who are we kidding? Greats like Guy Fieri (of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) and Adam Richman (Man v. Food) have circumnavigated the globe and particularly the U.S. making a “foodies” job all the easier and less guess work. Don’t get me wrong, I feel most of us foodies feel we can run with those two on a few lesser known finds of our own. But, especially when traveling, I trust their work and often take the chance to eat at places they’ve recommended. And why not hit a few of those in my own back yard?
Bruges is a MVF tip I’m happy to say I’ve followed. In fact, we followed it almost to the letter by ordering the “Machine Gun” sandwich (which is baguette bread with lamb sausages, Andalouse sauce and frites – Belgian fries), then a Freakandel (another Belgian sausage with sauce over frites) and then a Torpedo Waffle (loaded with Belgian chocolate) and Liege Waffle (with crème fraiche and strawberries) for dessert. Both waffles contained droplets of polished sugar cooked into the batter – a decadence I can’t begin to explain. Now with several locations across the valley and one in Park City, the secret is out and is worth spreading! The cost is more than your average sandwich or treat shop, but it’s like my old friend Joe used to say, “You can’t buy a diamond for a dime . . .” (author unknown).
Moochies Meatball and More!
Here’s another tip from the Food Network. The pics online tell a pretty good story. The only dilemma at this place is on whether to get their Philly or their Meatball sandwich – take a friend and half them both! Guy Fieri went to the Salt Lake location (the Midvale location just came on board this year) and left saying, “Moochies is money!” Guy was right. Though I’ve mostly never tried anything but these two meat boats, I have even had a souped-up hot dog from here one time and left happy. Never been to Philly (save your boos . . . I will get there) but, I’ve had sandwiches at Junior’s in NYC, at Wheat and Rye in Detroit, and even Macados in Virginia and I’d rank Moochies with the best of them.
They tell me this place is straight out of Philly. Probably time for me to quit wondering . . .
I couldn’t have a SLC foodie list and leave this hometown Mexican comfort-food fav off. This place is so epic they’ve opened a second one just blocks from the first! Who does that? The Cardenas family can and did after the near cult following this place has had over the years. Yes, the food and travel networks have been here. Yes, some famous faces who’ve visited can be seen on the walls. But, it’s the Cardenas family and a local cult following that keep this place on the national registry of “must sees”. Could be the Mole (said Moh-lay) varieties that tease and delight the tongue. Get adventurous and let your server guide you with the best mole of the day. We love the homemade chili verde (spicy and full of large pork chunks like my mother used to make). I recommend you try something you can’t get at just any Mexican restaurant (like the Mole) but we even like the “standards” such as the chimichanga.
Taste of Punjab
Am I the only one who hears this name and expects to see the large bodyguard of Daddy Warbucks step out from behind a curtain and throw a knife at anyone who tries to stop me from getting to the buffet? Somehow, every time I have been to this place I never seem to have enough wits about me to snap off a photo. I must be so enraptured by the samosas, chicken tikka masala, chicken coconut korma, pakoras (garbanzo bean battered vegetables and meats – my personal favorites), mango lassi drinks, and rice pudding for dessert, that I am beside myself.
My pal Nate took me here and I’ve been taking people to Taste of Punjab ever since. The lunch buffet allows for a great sampling of all the above at an affordable price and comes with the drink. I never tire of Indian food, but this place is so good it brings to mind a phrase from a movie I once saw . . . I “crave it fortnightly”! The drive is about 20 minutes from downtown Salt Lake but also the same from many of Utah’s best ski resorts up Little Cottonwood Canyon including Snowbird, Alta and Brighton resorts (all 20-30 minutes due east of the restaurant). This would be a must stop for locals and visitors alike!
The only eatery I am giving a shout out to that lies without the Great Salt Lake Valley is J Dawgs. Mind you, Provo, Utah has no shortage of amazing eats. I have eaten at dozens of Utah County (Salt Lake County’s southern sister) spots this past year with such notables as Malawi’s Pizza, Los Hermanos (Mexican), Bamboo Hut (Hawaiian), JCW’s (Burgers) and Italian Place Sandwiches. Further, I still have an active short list of places I need to try like Harley Davidson’s – I’m not afraid of a chain now and again, Five Star BBQ Co., Tucanos Brazilian Grill, Chubby’s Cafe, etc .
However, J Dawgs might be the place I’ve sent or taken more folks to than any other place in the state (minus the aforementioned Italian Village of course – I’ve literally sat in every seat in that place, multiple times, even back during the “smoking/non-smoking” days gone by!)
The only word I can use to begin to describe J-Dawgs is “AMERICANA”. I use that word with a sense of patriotic pride when describing foods that have come to define what America is known for. Maybe J Dawgs has earned the title “UTAHNICANA”.
Sure, America didn’t invent the dog; but, Jason has perfected it! In a twist, I think he got some of his inspiration while living in Canada and frequenting food stands in Toronto. What began as a small red shack along a college campus street has become a frankfurter franchise that haunts my dreams! I crave the scored and seared edges of the quality beef or polish goodness. My jaw has muscle memory for the homemade buns. But maybe they both are just a bassinet for J-Dawg sauce. I know of more folks who’ve got a bottle of that sauce in their repertoire of sauces in their pantry than people I know who can spell repertoire!
For only a few bucks, the starving student lines up with the distinguished businessman in a DMV style lunch-line to savor these “dawgs”. I’ll never forget taking my buddies Marshall (teacher and renowned composer/pianist) and Mike (teacher and water-polo coach) there before a meeting one evening. We were in a rush and just had time to order and go. Each had asked how many dogs they should buy. Now my close friends and family know that I don’t have an “on/off” switch when eating – I never get hungry and I very rarely get “full”. Really. Diagnosed and not just in my head. Not knowing their appetites, I suggested these two start with one and see from there. Unfortunately for us, the line grew lengthy while we were downing the first round and it was certain we weren’t going to be able to go back for round two that night. The look on their faces and the urgency in their words was priceless, “We can be late to the meeting right?” Then, somewhat dejected, “I guess we have a reason to come back this week” (35 miles from each of their homes). Like every other person I’ve ever taken there, they’ve been back many, many times!
My brother was there the day I ate 3 and 1/2 of these sumptuous sausages and washed them down with Apple Beer on tap. We’ve returned again and again and never leave hungry or disappointed!
So there it is . . . Utah for FOODIES (and anyone who eats)!
If you’re like me, your ending this article saying something like, “Are you kidding me Montoya? You really attempted a foodie article on Utah and missed greats like Pat’s BBQ (Food Network nod – their burnt ends are a sellout every week before the lunch hour is over on Friday), Ruth’s Diner (iconic Utah), Rodizio Grill, The Bayou, Copper Onion, Lone Star Taqueria, Los Cucos (you’ve got to get the steak stuffed avocado here BTW), Black Bear Diner (gargantuan portions and tasty to boot – or so I am told), The Pie Pizzeria (hilarious but true . . . I used to take their 23″ Mountain of Meat into local Cardiologist Clinics and provide inservices on new medical supplies while they ate) , Moki’s (after tasty polynesian morsels, get the Moki’s split – a pineapple sliced in half, gutted and filled with exotic ice creams, re-filled with the pineapple, toasted macadamia nuts, and whip cream), etc . . .”
I did give the forewarning that I was only going to include places I’d been and within the last year. I couldn’t include everywhere I’ve been, and wouldn’t include a few others. Simply not enough space in this article and not enough time to “eat Utah” right!
Get here and come hungry.