Under the Radar Eats
25 spots for Mom & Pop hospitality and soulful food.
By Ted Scheffler
As a restaurant critic, I'm afforded the opportunity to eat in a lot of fancy places. But, truth be told, my favorite eateries tend to be funky, friendly, mom & pop joints that might not be on many folks' radar screens. Here are some of my most beloved Wasatch Front spots for soulful, no-nonsense meals.
9th South Delicatessen
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better pastrami sandwich in Utah than 9th South Delicatessen’s. The Reuben, too, is otherworldly: deliciously juicy corned beef prepared in-house, on house-baked rye bread, with high-quality sauerkraut, Emmentaler cheese and Russian dressing.
931 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City, 801-517-3663, 9thSouthDeli.com
Adobos Caribbean Grill
The warmth you experience walking into the restaurant—festooned with palm fronds and vibrant island colors—is the same warmth you'll experience from the staff. While enjoying mofongos, tostones, arroz con pollo and such, you'll feel like you're on a Caribbean vacation.
9460 S. Union Square Plaza (650 East), Sandy, 801-523-3672, AdobosGrill.com
African Restaurant & Mini Mart
The folks at this interesting eatery couldn't be friendlier or more helpful to customers needing explanations of exotic dishes like ashaakiltii, misira, shiro, handaanqoo, waaddii and raafuu. After dinner, shop for imported African products in the market.
1878 S. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, 801-978-9673
Bayleaf Bar & Grub
Alabama meets Asia at downtown's funky Bayleaf Bar & Grub, where you can enjoy hoppin' John and barbecued shrimp with grits next to dishes like Filipino chicken adobo or Korean bulgogi. Somehow, the eclectic menu just works.
159 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-359-8490, BayleafBarAndGrub.com
Located in the City Center food court, Bocata serves excellent, unique sandwiches, with wood-fired oven breads and fillings made from scratch, like the delicious fennel-rubbed, slow-roasted Italian pork sammie.
28 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-355-3538, BocataSandwich.com
Bucket O' Crawfish
The funky ambiance here (you can write on the walls) makes dinner fun; the freshly boiled crawfish, shrimp and crab dumped right onto your table with a choice of sauces makes Bucket O' Crawfish delicious.
1980 W. 3500 South, West Valley City, 801-419-0900, BucketOCrawfish.com
Grand prize winner of the Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown, owner Amparo Alam cooks up her winning Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken with fried yucca root at Café Limon, along with exotic dishes like lomo saltado.
973 W. 1700 South, Syracuse, 801-825-0219, CafeLimonRestaurant.com
Café Old Bridge
A mom & pop operation, this friendly eatery specializes in Bosnian fare, including zeljanica, goulash, homemade pita, and irresistible cevapi made from scratch, all at very affordable prices.
249 E. 3300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-466-4330, OldBridgeCafe.com
Named for chef/owner Vanina Pirollo, this inviting Italian bistro is a good choice for homemade gnocchi, spaghetti alla carbonara, gamberetti al limone, involtini di carne and the like. Try one of the interesting Sicilian wines alongside.
1844 E. Fort Union Blvd., Cottonwood Heights, 801-938-9706, CucinaVanina.com
In a town with no shortage of Indian eateries, this is one of the best, offering both Northern and Southern Indian fare. For a change of pace, give the goat curry, bindi masala, or Hyderabad biryani a try. The lunch buffet is a bodacious bargain.
777 E. Fort Union Blvd., Midvale, 801-569-3800, GaneshIndianCuisine.com
Greek City Grill
Greek City Grill might be small in size, but the flavors here are gigantic. The gyros are my favorite: thick, tender, juicy slices of gyro meat (a lamb and beef combo) from the rotating spit, served on soft pita bread with a choice of red or white sauce.
6165 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-277-2355, GreekCityGrill.com
Guzzi's Vintage Burgers & Fries
Named for the Moto Guzzi paraphernalia that serves as décor at this funky burger stop, Guzzi's fires up traditional-tasting burgers and fries: fries that actually taste like potatoes and burgers that taste like beef. What could be better?
180 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City, 801-364-4541
It's worth the trouble to find this hole-in-the-wall, mom & pop Mexican cafe for delectable comida de la casa (home cooking). Excellent choices include the hearty menudo and posole, fiery camarones a la diabla, chicken cocidos, caldo de res and other authentic Mexican fare.
51 S. 1000 West, Salt Lake City, 801-521-4096
For authentic, Texas-style barbecue, there is only one place for me: Kaiser's. The brisket and ribs are completely addictive; thankfully, you can purchase them by the pound for your next shindig, or as combo dishes with sides.
962 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City, 801-355-0499, SaltLakeBBQ.com
A good way to sink your teeth into the range of Nepali and Indian cuisine featured at Himalayan Kitchen is to drop in for the $9.95 lunch buffet. At dinner, momos are a must, along with prawn saag and aloo tamabodi. And the service couldn't be friendlier.
360 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-328-2077, HimalayanKitchen.com
Left Fork Grill
Funky diner ambiance, super-friendly service and fantastic food with all the earmarks of home cooking—that's Left Fork Grill. How can you beat the half sandwich and homemade pie combo for lunch, especially if it's the awesome Rueben and Jeff Masten's incredible banana-cream pie? The food isn't fancy—there's nothing fancy about liver & onions or meatloaf—it's just fabulous.
68 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, 801-266-4322, LeftForkGrill.ipower.com
For nearly two decades, Little World has been my go-to spot for a Chinese-food fix, and it certainly ain't for the ambiance. You can overlook the lack of décor and surly service, though, for dishes like clams with black-bean sauce or the crispy Peking duck.
1356 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-467-5213
This is a wonderful family-run restaurant, where most of the patrons are Hispanic and the staff is as friendly and helpful as you'll ever encounter. Seafood, from grilled shellfish kabobs and seafood stews to fish with mojo de ajo, is the main attraction. Delicioso!
4855 S. Redwood Road, Taylorsville, 801-269-4535
Pho Tay Ho
There is plenty of Vietnamese pho in town, but none better than that served up at this cozy, friendly mom & pop place. The delectable broth made with beef bones simmers overnight and comes to the table clear and piping hot, with hints of cinnamon and allspice. Fantastic pho!
1766 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-466-3650
Saffron Valley Indian Street Foods
Tantalizing flavors have come to South Jordan with Lavanya Mahate's homage to Indian and Indo-Chinese street foods. The extensive menu includes chaat (puri, samosas, pakoras, dabeli), a variety of ebabs, kati (Indian wraps), dosas (savory crepes), biryanis, flatbreads (parathas), curries and even India-influenced pizzas.
1098 W. South Jordan Parkway, South Jordan, 801-438-4823, SaffronValley.com
Sala Thai Kitchen
Unique dishes like khao soi from Northern Thailand pepper the appealing Sala Thai menu, filled with numerous delicious dining options. Service is very friendly, and items like fantastic pad him ma parn are served up in a light, airy atmosphere.
677 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City, 801-328-2499, SalaThaiKitchen.com
For the best Margherita pizza in town, head to Settebello, certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana organization for serving the real thing, using only authentic Napoli-style ingredients and cooking techniques. Finish up with housemade gelato.
260 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City, 801-322-3556, Settebello.net
The winner of numerous awards, chef Meng's Sandy restaurant offers authentic, traditional Szechuan cuisine such as sha cha beef, scallops with black pepper, tea-smoked duck, jellyfish with roasted chili vinaigrette, and pickled chicken feet with red pepper. Yum!
1275 E. 8600 South, Sandy, 801-233-0027, The-Szechuan-Garden.com
For authentic Thai cuisine and friendly, homestyle service, Vipada Chitratont Barry's Thai Garden is the place. Barry keeps a close eye on the kitchen as she patrols the small dining room while visiting with customers. The gang khua sub pa rod and pad thai are just two of the winning dishes here.
4410 S. 900 East, 801-266-7899; 868 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-8899, ThaiGardenNoodle.qwestoffice.net
Two Bit Street Café
Two Bit Street Café has personality: It's anti-trendy, unorthodox and even a little bit weird, in a good way, with a terrific array of menu items ranging from an excellent Cuban sandwich to steamed Little Neck clams and beef fillet with chimichurri sauce. Eclectic, to say the least.
126 25th St., Ogden, 801-393-1225, TwoBitStreet.com