Although vegetarian restaurants aren't really my forte, Sage's has won me over. I'm not alone. For eight years straight, Sage's Café has won City Weekly's Best of Utah award for "Best Vegetarian." With Sage's Café, Ian and Kelsey Brandt have created one of Salt Lake City's most unusual and endearing dining spaces, vegetarian or otherwise. Vegetarian organic cuisine is the specialty here, and it's unique and delicious enough to turn me into a vegetarian. The restaurant is intimate, with a first-class-service staff. Now, I suppose I could poke fun at something called a "Sensitivity Menu." But, the carrot butter, nut burger and pesto on it are seriously tasty. At Sage's, faux meat dishes like mushroom escargot are often better than the real thing; you certainly won't miss the meat in Sage's rich and creamy Stroganoff: a Portabella mushroom infusion tossed with home-style semolina papparedelle pasta. For kids, there's a menu filled with smoothies, PB&J and other kid-friendly items. And, the robust wine and beer selection at Sage's might just surprise you.
473 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-322-3790, SagesCafe.com
During ski season when it's open, Deer Valley's Seafood Buffet can be a tough ticket, especially on weekends. So, phone early for reservations. Then pat yourself on the back for a job well done, because you're about to encounter a truly decadent dining experience. This is not your father's buffet. That is, not unless it included fresh sushi and sashimi, freshly shucked oysters, piles and piles of Tiger shrimp and Dungeness crab, house-smoked salmon, firecracker shrimp, steamed clams and mussels, calamari and herring in red-wine vinaigrette. And that's just for starters. Pace yourself, because you don't want to miss out on the glazed Muscovy duck breasts, succulent prime rib, yellowfin tuna with wasabi cream, sea bass in ginger sauce or any of the dozens of other dishes that make the Seafood Buffet a true smorgasbord for foodies. And don't even get me started on the huge dessert selection. Eat till you can't see your feet.
Snow Park Lodge, Deer Valley Resort, Park City, 435-645-6632, DeerValley.com/dining
At Settebello, you'll find only the real thing: Napolitano-style pizza, certified as such by the president of Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization dedicated to preserving the "identity and integrity" of Napolatin-style pizza. Start out with a fresh Caprese or arugula salad; both are terrific. Then get down to business and order a pizza (or pizze, as it's called at Settebello). The best is also the simplest: a Margherita pizza made with nothing more or less than crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and extra-virgin olive oil on a crispy thin crust. It's cooked up in a matter of seconds in a thousand-degree-or-so imported pizza oven and delivered steaming hot to your table or counter seat. Enjoy, because pizza just doesn't get any better than this. Finish up with house-made gelato next door, at Capo Gelato. The hazelnut gelato is downright erotic.
260 S. 200 West, Salt Lake City, 801-322-3556, Settebello.net
"Freestyle Asian cuisine" is what Shabu owners and brothers Kevin and Robert Valaika call what they do at Shabu. At Shabu, there's a lively bar scene where sushi and sake are consumed by happy patrons, and in the dining room, Shabu Shabu is a popular favorite, where you are the chef. Shabu shabu is sort of Asian-style fondue, where you dip ingredients (meat, seafood, veggies) from a bento box into an assortment of hot freshly made broths: Thai-coconut, vegetarian or dashi-mirin. Effectively, you cook your dinner yourself at your table, and it's a fun way to dine, not to mention delicious. If you'd prefer to have chef Robert (formerly of Nobu) cook for you, try his freestyle sea bass, wok-seared diver scallops, coconut-crusted tofu, or moo shu duck. If you're of adult age and so inclined, be sure to try one of Shabu's signature saketinis.
333 Main, Park City, 435-645-SAKE, ShabuPC.com
The Shallow Shaft
After a day of skiing Alta's glorious powder, perhaps the only way to improve things is by sitting down for dinner at The Shallow Shaft. For starters, there are the views. If you didn't catch quite enough scenery skiing, the Shaft has you covered. Try to score a window seat to watch the sunset. Chef Kurtis Krause favors locally grown ingredients in dishes like his potato-ricotta gnocchi or the chipotle-glazed Utah trout. The half-pound Angus beef burger with cheddar-and-bacon onions on ciabatta is a tremendous burger. Whatever you order, rest assured you'll find a perfect wine to match from Peri Ermidis' well-assembled wine list.
Little Cottonwood Canyon, Alta, 801-742-2177, ShallowShaft.com
I'd prefer not to even think of the calories I've amassed at Siegfried's. The plates of spaetzle I've consumed alone could probably put me in the grave. This Bavarian deli is where I go to shop for hard-to-find sausages, wurst, bacon, ham, wieners, sauerkraut and the like when I'm hosting one of my choucroute garni bashes. The selection of meats, cheeses, breads and specialty German grocery items at Siegfried's is enormous. But then there's also the café, which is my real reason for returning so frequently. The Reuben sandwich is the best in town, and I love an order of schnitzel or a brat with (of course) spaetzle and kraut on a cold Saturday afternoon. Naturally, it's wise to have a glass of imported beer alongside.
20 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-3891, SiegfriedsDelicatessen.biz
Snake Creek Grill
Named for the creek that runs nearby the restaurant, Snake Creek Grill delivers excellent, innovative cuisine in an unpretentious, comfy, home-like setting. The three squeaky-floored dining rooms and tiny copper-topped bar make for intimate eating. And, there's even a table where customers sit on a sofa to dine. Chef/owner Dean Hottle's menu is just as eclectic as the surroundings, with tempting items like hoisin-glazed calamari and white shrimp, corn tortilla-crusted red trout, natural parmesan-crusted pork loin, and, of course, Snake Creek Grill's infamous black-bottom banana cream pie. Park City restaurants might get all the acclaim, but Snake Creek Grill definitely warrants a trip to Heber.
650 W. 100 South, Heber City, 435-654-2133, SnakeCreekGrill.com
Spencer's for Steaks & Chops
At Spencer's, aged, USDA-certified, natural Black Angus beef steaks are hand-cut and seared at 1,600 degrees. So, if you can find a better steak in Salt Lake City than at Spencer's, go for it. The cuisine at Spencer's (OK, the meat at Spencer's) in tandem with sommelier (and occasional City Weekly contributor) Louis Koppel's spot-on wine pairings make lunch or dinner a nearly risk-free experience. But before the meat, there are chilled "colossal" shrimp with Absolut Peppar Bloody Mary cocktail sauce to be had, not to mention the refreshing Romaine lettuce hearts with homemade croutons and aged parmesan. Although the double-cut lamb chops are spectacular at Spencer's, it's hard to resist the classic "Spencer Steak," which is 14 ounces of boneless Creekstone Farms natural beef ribeye, cooked exactly to your specification.
255 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-238-4748, SpencersforSteaksandChops.com/SaltLakeCity
Squatters Pub Brewery
For 20 years now, Squatters has been making award-winning microbrews and satisfying hungry customers with an eclectic pub menu featuring dishes like muhammara, carnitas, tandoori chicken, ahi spring roll salad, and the bodacious King Canyon buffalo burger. Over the past two decades, much has changed at Squatters but not the commitment to good food, drink and service in tandem with a serious commitment to both the environment and the community. Owners Peter Cole and Jeff Polychronis, along with their employees, consider it a necessity, not a luxury, to do good deeds in their community. In the process, they've also won countless awards for their beers. So the success of Squatters does, I suppose, come down to good food, good beer and good people. What a concept.
147 West Broadway, Salt Lake City, 801-363-2739, Squatters.com
At St. Bernard's, you'll be treated to exquisite country-French cuisine prepared by executive chef Matt Barrigar and a top-notch team of professionals, who quietly orchestrate superlative dinners nightly in this under-the-radar restaurant at Solitude. The braised oxtail with celery-root purée and the braised pork belly with roasted fingerling potatoes are so decadent they should be illegal. Ditto for the foie gras salad with Champagne-strawberry vinaigrette and the rich, dreamy duck confit with butternut-squash risotto. Got pasta on the brain? Try the ravioli "trio," which features lobster-tarragon ravioli topped with foie gras butter.
The Inn at Solitude, Solitude Mountain Resort, Big Cottonwood Canyon, 801-535-4120, SkiSolitude.com/dining/Bernards
Suehiro Japanese Restaurant
There is more to Japanese cuisine than just sushi, and Suehiro has it, in spades. Not that the raw fish and rice aren't terrific; they are. The nigiri portions in particular are very generous and always very fresh. But, at Suehiro, I also like to order traditional family dishes from Japan like the tenzaru: a seasonal specialty made with buckwheat soba noodles. The pork tonkatsu, essentially a Japanese version of Wiener schnitzel, takes me back to the slice of my childhood spent outside Tokyo when our housekeeper fed us that dish. Suehiro has been around for a very long time and for one reason: quality. Try its heartwarming udon and sukiyaki, and don't be fooled by newer imitators.
6933 S. 1300 East, Midvale, 801-255-1089, SuehiroSaltLakeCity.com
There are dozens and dozens of Chinese restaurants along the Wasatch Front. And frankly, the vast majority are mediocre. Szechuan Garden is a rare exception. For over 35 years, Chef Meng has been cooking Szechuan cuisine in prestigious venues around the world, and he's a lifetime judge of the National Ranking chef test in the Szechuan Province. So, we're quite fortunate to have him here cooking for us. Orders of camphor tea-smoked duck, sha cha beef, Da Ching chicken, and hot & spicy eel are all dishes to get the party started. And true, it's difficult to choose between "intestines with pickles," "hot & spicy intestines," and "intestines in chili broth." But that's just a translation and/or queasiness issue. Order the salt & pepper pig's feet and thank the lord Chef Meng found his way to Utah.
1275 E. 8600 South, Sandy, 801-233-0027, The-Szechuan-Garden.com
When seated before my favorite sushi chef, Takashi Gibo, the tendency is to dine with abandon, and throw caution to the wind, saying, simply, "feed me" (omakase). In a town crowded with Japanese restaurants and sushi bars, Takashi restaurant soars above the rest. I've said it before: I prefer Takashi even over the sacred Nobu. The reason is the uber-talented sushi master, Takashi Gibo. For starters, he's one of the nicest souls I know. But that alone wouldn't make me love his restaurant. The exquisite food, the vibrant atmosphere, the stellar service—those are the things that bring me back again and again. The T&T roll (named for Takashi and his wife Tamara) is a lusty combination of albacore, yellowtail, salmon and scallions fried tempura-style and served with "Hotter Than Hell" sauce. The monkfish liver (ankimo) with shredded daikon, ponzu and yuzu is heaven. And don't overlook the kitchen: cooked dishes like tender seared skirt steak with tempura Portabellas, green beans and ponzu sauce are terrific, and so are the clams in red curry-coconut broth. There's also a top-notch sake selection at Takashi, which simply adds to the fun.
18 W. Market St., Salt Lake City, 801-519-9595, TakashiSushi.com
Named for the native Tarahumara people of Chihuahua, Mexico, this terrific little Midway eatery dishes up some of the best Mexican fare you'll find in the state. There's a salsa bar with more than 20 different homemade salsas to complement dishes like pollo asado, barbacoa, mole poblano, and seared scallops in passion fruit & tomatillo sauce. But, the real bell-ringer at Tarahumara is the slow-braised pork chile verde—pork so tender you can eat it with a spoon. Bursting with the flavor of Anaheim chiles, this is truly championship chile verde. There's also a small bakery in the front where you can purchase Mexican baked goods, pastries and such.
380 E. Main, Midway, 435-654-3465, Tarahumara.biz
Taste of India
Taste of India offers authentic Indian cuisine with dishes such as shrimp korma, lamb biryani, chicken vindaloo, channa masala, saag paneer, aloo mattar, daal makhani and much more. Especially good is the butter chicken: tandoor roasted chicken cooked in a butter, onion, tomato and cream sauce. Since great care and finesse is put into every Taste of India dish, you won't find the standard lunch buffet. However, to sample a range of what this wonderful restaurant has to offer, I recommend the Thali lunch special: two entrees served on large silver platters with raita, kheer, rice and naan. Something else you won't find at Taste of India: gaudy Ganesh elephants or Taj Mahal posters. I've eaten in a lot of Indian restaurants—including my training ground in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens in New York City—and I've never had Indian food that to my palate is better than Taste of India's.
1664 N. Woodland Park Drive, Layton, 801-614-0107, TasteofIndiaLayton.com
Thai Garden & Noodle House
Thai Garden owner Vipada Chitratont Barry keeps a close eye on the kitchen as she patrols the small dining room while visiting with customers, many of whom are neighborhood regulars. And, if you can find a family any friendlier than the Vipada and the folks who operate Thai Garden, you should get them to adopt you. However, Thai Garden & Noodle House is brimming not just with Thai hospitality but also tremendous Thai flavors. Most popular, of course, is Thai Garden's impeccable pad Thai. And the $6.95 lunch combination also brings the crowds. Bursting with the flavor of lemongrass, tom kha gai is an excellent dish. But I can't get enough of the gang khua sub pa rod: a splendid mélange of tender prawns, red and yellow peppers, pineapple and Thai basil in a fragrant coconut and red curry gravy. With a Thai Singha beer alongside, you're in business!
4410 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City, 801-266-7899
Tiburon Fine Dining
Don't let the Sandy location fool you: Tiburon Fine Dining isn't just one of Sandy's best restaurants, but one of the best along the Wasatch Front. Also, don't be put off by the less-than-snazzy exterior, which used to be a fruit stand and a pizza joint. Inside, it's a wholly different, refined world. Start out with a unique and decadent appetizer of St. Andree triple creme brie and five-hour "dry" braised Kurobuta pork belly. Then move on to the house specialty: New Zealand elk tenderloin, charbroiled to order and served with a creamy duxelle-green peppercorn demi-glace. The Muscovy duck breast with sun-dried cherry demi-glace is also a winner. For wine drinkers, the eclectic wine list at Tiburon has to be Sandy's best. And, there's even a good selection of blended and single malt Scotch for post-dinner sipping.
8256 S. 700 East, Sandy, 801-255-1200, TiburonSLC.com
The Tin Angel Café
Since The Tin Angel Café is positioned directly across the street from Pioneer Park and the Downtown Farmers Market, you can count on this funky-but-cool eatery to incorporate fresh ingredients whenever possible. In warm weather, the patio is a great place to take in the neighborhood sights and sounds, including frequent live music from local musicians. Since the restaurant first opened, it's morphed somewhat into a tapas/small plates eatery, featuring tasty bites like Moroccan meatballs, a chorizo and shrimp skewer, speck-wrapped shrimp, spiced almonds with bleu cheese, and bresaola carpaccio. The Tin Angel's salads are better than average; I enjoy the arugula with sliced beets and the salad of seared ahi tuna on micro greens with citrus wasabi dressing. The Tin Angel serves brunch on Saturdays.
365 W. 400 South, Salt Lake City, 801-328-4155, TheTinAngel.com
Tony Caputo's Market & Deli
At times, Tony Caputo's Market & Deli can seem like the center of the universe. Well, at least the center of the Salt Lake City universe. It's nearly impossible to walk into Tony's without bumping into someone you know. That's especially true if the people you know are food aficionados. Some come for stinky cheeses from the cheese cave, others pop in to satisfy their sweet-tooth cravings from Caputo's vast gourmet chocolate selection, which includes ultra-premium chocolates from Chocolatier Blue. There's also the temperature-controlled curing cell where Christiano Creminelli cures his stupendous artisan sausages and salami. And then there's the vast array of gourmet foodstuffs: imported cheeses and meats, pastas, olive oil and vinegars, fresh truffles and about a thousand other items to tempt your palate. If all of that isn't enough, there's also Caputo's deli, brimming with made-to-order sandwiches, salads and lots more. Just think how much more difficult it would be to be a foodie in this town without Tony.
314 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-531-TONY, CaputosDeli.com
Kick off dinner with an appetizer of Hawaiian blue prawns. The two, large, head-on prawns are poached in olive oil then splashed with preserved Meyer lemon vinaigrette, served atop "risotto" of Yukon potatoes with small disks of homemade shrimp "chorizo." It's a remarkable dish with which to begin an evening of Tree Room dining: the tender, juicy shrimp exploding with flavor—absolutely delightful. Equally successful is chef Jesse Moreno's exquisite sautéed diver scallop, with a crisp, tangy exterior, perched on a bed of Anson Mills grits, with wild mushrooms and roasted heirloom tomato vinaigrette. A main course of Wagyu hangar steak is flawlessly executed. Seared perfectly to medium-rare as ordered, the steak is sliced into thin, juicy medallions and served with a rich, velvety Cabernet Sauvignon reduction, roasted baby potatoes, and topped with a green herb "salad." Make time to wander the Tree Room, taking in Robert Redford's celebrated collection of American Indian and Western art.
Sundance Resort, Route 92, 801-223-4223, SundanceResort.com/dine
Originally one of the first upscale sushi restaurants in Sugar House, now Tsunami has expanded into Midvale and South Jordan. While the original location is still very popular with folks from the Sugar House neighborhood, I like the Union Heights (Midvale) Tsunami where parking is never an issue and the restaurant itself is stunning. A choice from the excellent sake selection is a great way to get the ball rolling at Tsunami, along with an order of nigiri or one of the "chef's choice" sashimi combinations. I'm fond of the Lush, Aloha, and Fire-Breathing Dragon specialty maki rolls from the sushi bar and the miso-marinated Alaskan black cod and Tsunami baby-back ribs from the kitchen are very good, too. For an unusual taste treat, try the escolar "poppers."
7628 S. Union Park Ave., Midvale, 801-676-6466, TsunamiUtah.com
Ex-Jazz center Mark Eaton is a partner in Tuscany, so, for starters, the restaurant's wine list is above par, since Eaton is an avid and knowledgeable wine enthusiast. The lovely, sprawling, tree-shaded patio at Tuscany is a super spot to dine al fresco, and Tuscany's interior is gorgeous, as well. Hand-painted tiles, stone fireplaces and plenty of terra-cotta give Tuscany a Mediterranean feel; the wood-fired pizza ovens add to the restaurant's look and flavor. Tuscany's bar is a great spot for a quiet drink, an intimate rendezvous or just a snack, and the barkeeps there are some of the Salt Lake Valley's finest. Excellent dinner choices at Tuscany include sweet potato ravioli in browned sage butter, a braised lamb shank with truffle pan jus, and risotto with sea scallops, bacon, sweet peas and basil in Carbonara cream sauce. The valet parking is also a welcome Tuscany convenience. It goes without saying that you should wrap up a meal at Tuscany with the signature "7 foot 4 inch" chocolate cake with chocolate ganache.
2832 E. 6200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-277-9919, TuscanySLC.com
Owner/chef Frody Volgger is a whirling dervish of energy—does he ever leave his restaurant? Doesn't seem like it, if Vienna Bistro's high quality is any indication. Simultaneously elegant and casual, Vienna Bistro is a "what you want it to be" kind of eatery: perfect for a romantic dinner, business lunch, a get-together with friends or even a solo meal. Start out with the fleisch sampler, a taste of speck and bendner fleisch, both made in-house by Frody. Since everything on the dinner menu is so delicious, it's difficult to choose. But I'd recommend the semmelknodel dumplings, the jagerschnitzel, chicken paprikasch and fresh Utah trout. No wait, make that the house-made wurst and the sauerbraten and the kasespazle … Oh hell, just come with a crowd and try it all. At Frody's, it's impossible to order wrong.
132 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-322-0334, ViennaBistro.com
The concept behind Wahso is Shanghai in the 1930s, all Art Deco and Victorian, with imported Asian screens, an ebony fireplace, private dining rooms reminiscent of Orient Express sleeper cars … in other words, an eye-popping restaurant filled with a collection of Asian artifacts from around the world. Amazingly, the food at Wahso manages to match the lofty ambiance. Make a light meal out of selections from the Asian tapas menu, such as ahi tuna and mango tartare or Mekong Delta-style mussels. More substantial entrees include shallot- and thyme-roasted scallops, South Indian "Batata Bhaji" chicken, and Korean barbecued salmon. Of course, a selection from Wahso's incredible wine and drink list won't hurt. Sip some top-shelf sake, a fun wine flight like "Gone Sideways," or a signature cocktail such as the Green Tea Energizer. And, if you're in the mood for romance, request the table known affectionately as "the love shack."
577 Main, Park City, 435-615-0300, Wahso.com
Wild Grape New West Bistro
At Wild Grape New West Bistro, chefs Phelix Gardner and Pete Hines specialize in dishes utilizing fresh, sustainable, locally produced and organic ingredients. Good examples include dishes such as the Wild Grape's Morgan Valley lamb burger, the Niman Ranch New York strip with porcini Bordelaise, and the sweet corn risotto with mushrooms, piquillo peppers, local Chevre and Aggiano cheeses. An added attraction at Wild Grape Bistro is the hint of apple and cherry woods wafting through the restaurant, emanating from the kitchen's wood-fired grill and smoker. Wine steward Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield has put together a really smart wine list featuring an abundance of wines by the glass, so go wild!
481 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-746-5565, WildGrapeBistro.com