Dining at La Macarena is as close to a south-of-the-border experience as you're likely to find without leaving the state. Grab yourself a table, order an icy cold Corona, agua fresca or Jarrito and nibble on good house-made chips and salsa. But be sure to order the flautas con guacamole appetizer before you tuck into the bodacious carnitas platter, a serving of chili Colorado, or the excellent shrimp tostadas. La Macarena chef/owner Tomas Mesa specializes in seafood dishes, so the fried red snapper, ceviche, snapper Veracruz and shrimp a la plancha are all excellent … and cheap! La Macarena specializes in very friendly service, too, although the ability to speak some Spanish will help to facilitate your dining experience.
4700 S. 900 E., Ste. 19, Salt Lake City, 801-262-1300, LaMacarena.info
Lamb's Grill Cafe
You say you're old school? Then Lamb's Grill Café is the place for you. Originally opened by Greek immigrant George Lamb in 1939, Lamb's is one of Salt Lake City's most durable and endearing downtown institutions. A few things have changed: There's live music now, featuring jazz pianist Jimmy Reed on Fridays and Saturdays, there's local art featured monthly, and today, you'll find fresh Pacific Coast red snapper on the menu. But in general, Lamb's is still dishing up the same comforting grub that it has for decades. Fresh rainbow trout, for example. Or baby-beef liver and onions. The poached Nova Scotia Finnan haddie is a Lamb's mainstay as is the corned beef hash at breakfast. And nowadays, there's even a respectable wine, beer, and liquor selection at Lamb's.
169 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-364-7166, LambsGrill.com
Le Nonne Ristorante Italiano
Hailing from Forte dei Marmi in Tuscany, Italy, chef/owner PierAntonio Micheli brings the flavors of Northern Italy to northern Utah. There aren't many restaurants I'd drive as far as Logan to visit. But Le Nonne Ristorante Italiano is one of them. It vies with Cucina Toscana, in my opinion, for Utah's best Italian restaurant. Le Nonne ("the grandmothers") is named for Micheli's mother and grandmother, who taught him to cook. Le Nonne features live jazz on weekends and outstanding northern Italian fare including tuna carpaccio with asparagus, other-worldly home-style ravioli and gnocchi dishes, and specialty entrees like stracceti al Gorgonzola: thin-sliced beef sautéed and served with white wine and rich, creamy Gorgonzola.
129 N. 100 East, Logan, 435-752-9577, LeNonne.net
Left Fork Grill
Everything at Jeff Masten's Left Fork Grill is made from scratch daily, including the phenomenal pies that frequently are gone by noon. Seasoned servers like Flo dish up delicious items such as butternut squash soup with Italian sausage, and fish & chips made from center-cut halibut. Grab a seat at the counter or a table at this remodeled diner and tuck into the bodacious braised lamb shank, served with thick pappardelle noodles, Masten's chicken schnitzel, or the scrumptious Reuben sandwich with freshly made coleslaw. The open-faced turkey sandwich actually features real turkey, and good ol' liver and onions is a throwback to simpler times.
68 W. 3900 South, Salt Lake City, 801-266-4322, LeftForkGrill.ipower.com
Ambiance? Who needs ambiance? This is one of a small handful of Salt Lake City Chinese restaurants that actually caters primarily to the Chinese palate. First things first: Ask for the Chinese specialty menu, not the Americanized version they automatically give to gringos. Second, if décor matters, stay home. Little World is a funky little dive where the food is simply awesome. Peking ducks hang in one corner, and the smell of garlic and hot woks permeates the place. And it's usually crowded. So, if those things bother you, get takeout (there's even a drive-thru window) and eat at home. Highlights include clams with garlicky black-bean sauce, Xo frog legs, shrimp balls and steaming hot clay pot dishes. The fried prawns may just change your life. Yes, the joint looks a little scary, but the food is sublime.
1356 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-467-5213
Log Haven Restaurant
Even if the missus didn't handle special events there, Log Haven's combination of spectacular natural scenery, fabulous flavors and seasoned service would win me over. While consistently garnering "Most Romantic Restaurant" awards, Log Haven, which dates back to 1920 and is located in a national forest, combines timeless log-mansion ambiance with first-class contemporary cuisine. General manager Ian Campbell's eclectic wine selection supplements chef Dave Jones' creative culinary program, which includes tempting treats like grilled lamb "lollipops," tarragon-crusted sea scallops, peppered Morgan Valley lamb sirloin and homemade cilantro papparedelle. Desserts are a divine treat at Log Haven, with uniquely sweet creations such as curried apple financier tartlet and sake-steamed Santa Rosa plums. Got marriage? Proposals happen here nightly.
6451 Millcreek Canyon Road, Salt Lake City, 801-272-8255, Log-Haven.com
Lone Star Taqueria
The Lone Star Taqueria has been around longer than most, and looks like someone transported a taco shack from a Baja beach right into Cottonwood Heights. It's a cool and kitschy place with cold Mexican cervezas served in glass cowboy boots and a rockin' house sound system. The only thing missing is a beach. Everything is fresh at this inexpensive eatery, from the tortillas and salsas to the tamales and tacos. The mahi-mahi fish tacos with cilantro aioli are wildly popular at the Lone Star, and I love the zippy jalapeño-spiked guacamole. The burritos aren't bad, but at Lone Star Taqueria, it's really all about the tacos. Flip-flops are optional.
2265 E. Fort Union Blvd., Salt Lake City, 801-944-2300
Lugano chef/owner Greg Neville is considered by many to be Salt Lake City's best chef, and his popular eastside eatery combines a friendly bistro/trattoria-style ambiance with the rich flavors and scents of Italy. It's a bustling spot, where the open-air kitchen and wood-burning oven give customers a live Food TV-worthy show each night. Neville's seasonal cuisine is mostly northern Italian, with a focus on rustic fare like wood-burning oven "clay pot" mussels, wood-oven roasted rigatoni pomodoro, tagliattelle with wild mushrooms, pizza "Quattro stagione" and luscious, braised, Angus beef short ribs with pancetta and spinach salad. And, since Greg Neville is expert in Italian wines, the Lugano wine list offers the best Italian wine selection around, complemented by additional imported and domestic wines.
3364 S. 2300 East, Salt Lake City, 801-412-9994, LuganoRestaurant.com
MacCool's Public House
If you're in the hunt for a small piece of the Emerald Isle, MacCool's Public House has your number. Owners Mic Warner and Scott Schlisman have done the nearly impossible: created a small slice of Ireland right here in Zion. At MacCool's, you'll discover a unique Irish ambiance, complete with faux Irish stone walls, 7-foot-high beachwood chairs, a Victorian dining area, busy pub section and the hand-painted wall art of Sarah Berkowitz. MacCool's also dishes up Utah's best corned beef, made from scratch daily, and an equally good rendition of chicken pot pie, served with a puff pastry square the size of a throw pillow. The barbecued lamb ribs are essential, as is a pint of Guinness or Tetley's. But perhaps the biggest draw, for me, anyhow, are the free American shuffleboard and darts in the pub area. Shuffleboard lives! "Cead mile failte."
855 W. Heritage Park Blvd., Layton, 801-728-9111, MacCools-Utah.com
With a kitchen full of Chinese chefs via Hong Kong and San Francisco, Mandarin's woks fire up some of Utah's best Chinese fare you'll find. The menu is as extensive as this Bountiful restaurant is beautiful. Start with char shu, pot stickers and Singapore noodles before jumping into more exotic eats like Nanking chicken, lychee scallops, Szechwan catfish and eggplant with garlic sauce. Mandarin has a full wine, beer and spirits selection (a rarity in Bountiful), and you can even sip hot and cold sake here. OK, the desserts might not be so authentically Chinese, but who's to resist raspberry vanilla-bean crme brulée? Mandarin doesn't take reservations, except for large groups, although you can call ahead to be put on a waiting list. Certainly, Mandarin is Utah's only "special occasion" Chinese restaurant.
348 E. 900 North, Bountiful, 801-298-2406, MandarinUtah.com
It's a bummer that one of Utah's best restaurants is only open during the ski season. Marvelous things too often come in limited supply and vanish in the blink of an eye. Take the tasting menus at Mariposa, for instance. Executive chef Clark Norris has created two "small portion" tasting menus—one vegetarian, the other with meat and seafood—which serve as a survey of some of Mariposa's best dishes. I hate using the "melt-in-your-mouth" food descriptor but it's dead-on for describing Chef Norris' exquisite sablefish Mariposa: delicate sablefish filet glazed with honey and tamari and bathed in a delightful fresh ginger sauce. Sautéed wild mushrooms and herbed quinoa with roasted cipollini onions, house-dried tomatoes and mushroom broth is a rich, earthy dish, yet somehow light on the palate. Add superb service and a top-notch wine list to all those good flavors and you've got a real ski-town winner.
Silver Lake Lodge, Deer Valley Resort, Park City, 435-645-6715, DeerValley.com/Dining
Market Street Oyster Bar
With by far the best and freshest selection of oysters in town, downtown's Market Street Oyster Bar (there are also locations in Cottonwood and South Jordan) is a must for any oyster lover. Six to eight oyster varieties are typically offered daily, along with an array of fresh seafood and steaks. The chilled seafood platter of Maine lobster, Alaskan king crab, and Gulf shrimp is pretty hard to resist, but I'm also a sucker for the fried clam strips. All of the chowders and seafood stews at the Oyster Bar totally rock, but here's a surprise: They also serve the best chili in town. On Mondays, from 4-6 p.m., the Oyster Bar offers 69 oysters and half-priced appetizers, so get there early to grab a coveted spot at the bar.
54 W. Market St., Salt Lake City, 801-531-6044, GINC.com
Martine Café, situated in an old, beautiful brownstone building downtown, has been pleasing customers with its world cuisine since 1999. It's one of those restaurants you just wish there were more of. Owner Scott Hale and chef Tom Grant serve an eclectic array of dishes, with a focus on tapas and small plates. Grant's menu is influenced by his love and knowledge of Mediterranean, Spanish and North African cuisines and features dishes such as Moroccan braised beef with crimson lentils, lavender-seared wild salmon, grape leaf-wrapped halibut with capers and house-smoked Utah trout. Dining in the classy but casual Martine can range from a glass of wine and a tapa to a full multicourse extravaganza. A very fairly priced wine list just adds to the appeal of Martine.
22 E. 100 South, Salt Lake City, 801-363-9328, MartineCafe.com
Mazza Middle Eastern Cuisine
Mazza owner Ali Sabbah keeps a tight rein on his restaurants, so the service and food is always top-notch. Beginning as a small, counter-service falafel parlor, Mazza has become the city's finest, full-service Middle Eastern eatery, complete with an adventurous wine list that features an international selection of wines, including some from Lebanon, Morocco and Greece. Along with Utah's best falafel, Mazza also offers a wide array of Middle Eastern dishes including lamb and rice dolaa, musakhan, shawarma and kebabs, delectable baked kafta, maghmoor and much, much more. Before you head out the door, be sure to indulge in Mazza's signature cream pudding, called kanafeh, with shredded phyllo dough, garnished with pistachios and drizzled with orange blossom syrup.
912 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City, 801-521-4572, MazzaCafe.com
Metropolitan opened back in 1996, but in the intervening years Karen Olson's restaurant has seen little competition for its distinctive, innovative, even daring cuisine. With more awards and accolades than it has wall space for, this ber-stylish eatery combines cutting-edge food with an upbeat atmosphere and décor, and manages to pull it off without being intimidating or snobby. The result is nothing short of sensational. In the bar, you'll find inexpensive "bar bites" in addition to the full restaurant menu. The buffalo sliders are irresistible, as is Metro's take on mac ‘n' cheese. From the dinner menu, the bison ribeye is always a great choice, as is mahi mahi with purple potatoes, peas, kumquat and lychee-lavender foam. Add to the mix an award-winning wine list and an economically priced $12 lunch, and you begin to see why Metropolitan is one of Utah's gold-standard restaurants.
173 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City, 801-364-3472, TheMetropolitan.com
Moochie's Meatballs & More!
Featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, Moochie's is a good place to go in downtown Salt Lake City for authentic-tasting Philly cheesesteaks. They're made from thinly sliced ribeye steak and topped with grilled onions (optional) and melted American cheese (what, no Whiz?). But Moochie's is about more than just cheesesteaks. Philadelphia-born owner Joanna Rendi also assembles some of the tastiest meatballs around, as well. So, if you get into too much of a cheesesteak rut, just spice up your life with a meatball sandwich. The chicken cacciatore and deep-dish lasagna are also great, and be sure to try Don's (Joanna's husband) delicious "zappy" potato salad and a Tastykake, imported directly from Philly.
232 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City, 801-596-1350, MoochiesMeatballs.com
After a long stint at The Riverhorse, owner/chef Bill Hufferd opened Park City's Mustang, which really gives him the opportunity to strut his culinary stuff. Mustangs are wild and untethered. That pretty much describes this Mustang. Bold flavors meet with an equally bold décor at Mustang, a mix of modern art, interesting architecture and eclectic cuisine. The duck- and Jack-cheese-filled pasilla chile relleno at Mustang is an absolute must for a starter. On the entrée side of the menu, it's hard to argue with grilled Honduran lobster topped with Texas ruby-red grapefruit salsa, although the Utah red trout in lemon-butter sauce is mighty appealing, too. When it comes time for dessert, just throw in the towel and order the "Double Black Diamond" flourless chocolate cake with chocolate Hagen-Dazs, Godiva chocolate sauce and chocolate espresso beans.
890 Main St., Park City, 435-658-3975, MustangParkCity.com
The New Yorker
Since 1978, The New Yorker has been one of the town's most enduring fine-dining destinations. Chef Will Pliler has run the kitchen for much of that time, and his cuisine still seems to continually improve. The New Yorker's express lunches are a hit with the hurried business crowd, especially the delicious lamb sliders. Another excellent choice is Pliler's roasted chicken fra diavolo. For a more leisurely meal, book an intimate table for the evening and dig into the exquisite bouillabaisse, roasted rack of lamb or the irresistible papparedelle with Maine lobster and tomato-basil cream sauce. A top-notch wine selection and classic cocktails like the Bellini, cable car, and Manhattan just add to the fun at The New Yorker.
60 W. Market St., Salt Lake City, 801-363-0166, GINC.com
|The Olive Bistro
Located next door to the Hotel Monaco, The Olive Bistro specializes in panini sandwiches and offers a dozen different varieties, from the salmon-basil-provolone panini and the Black Forest ham and Swiss to an avocado and sharp cheddar or the roasted peppers, basil and mozzarella panini. Not hungry for a sandwich? Try one of the fresh salads: Tuscan, Mediterranean, Caesar, Caprese or shrimp salad. Antipasti and tapas options include bruschetta, crostinis, a cheese and olive plate, shrimp and carpaccio, and fresh melon with prosciutto. The owner, Salami, hails from Casablanca and Paris and is one of the nicest, friendly restaurateurs you'll ever meet. The cool music mix at The Olive Bistro is terrific, as is the art that decorates the roomy eatery. There's imported beer and wine available, too, along with tea, cappucino, lattes, frappes, machiatos, sodas, San Pellegrino and more.
57 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-364-1401
Pat's Barbecue and Catering
Barbecue master Pat Barber has been featured on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, so you know there's something uniquely delicious about this place. The specialty at Pat's is Texas-style barbecue, all served up with Austin-style surround sound. And what could go together better than live music and BBQ? The barbecue combo plates are popular at Pat's; I'm a fan of his award-winning pulled-pork and beef-brisket combo, but I've also been known to get messy with the delicious barbecue chicken and pork ribs. And look out for the weekday specials at Pat's: On Fridays, there are burnt brisket ends featured, and Wednesday's special is smoked BBQ meatloaf. Add a cold beer, and you're all set!
155 W. Commonwealth (2125 South), Salt Lake City, 801-484-5963, PatsBBQ.com
Pawit's Royale Thai Cuisine
Looking for authentic Thai cuisine served up in a gorgeous space by an ultra-friendly staff? Pawit's is the place. Since the affable Ponpawit Numnuan opened his namesake Thai restaurant in Holladay, the place has been teaming with a loyal clientele. They come back for generous servings of classic satays, Thai curries, salads, stir-fries and house specialties like boneless duck with red curry, salmon topped with Thai salad, stir-fried eggplant, and the delectable Thai-style omelet called kai jeaw. Some of the proceeds from Pawit's Royale Thai Cuisine help support 200 schoolchildren in a small elementary school in his home village in northern Thailand. Add very reasonable wine and beer prices to all that good food and good karma, and you can understand why Pawit's is a favorite of so many Thai-loving Salt Lakers.
1968 E. Murray Holladay Road, Holladay, 801-277-3658, PawitsRoyaleThai.com
Piñon Market & Cafe
Visiting Piñon Market & Café feels like stepping into a café in the Harvard Yard, Ann Arbor or, perhaps, Berkeley. It has a nice, funky, out-of-Utah vibe. At any rate, Victoria Topham's cozy café/market is one of my favorite lunch stops, with seating inside and out, and most selections available for take-out. The chicken salad is to die for, and the Thai curry pasta salad is always spot-on. No one leaves hungry after ordering one of Piñon's generously stuffed sandwiches, all made with bread baked in-house. The sticky buns are a must in the morning, and Topham's cupcakes will make you swoon.
2095 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City, 801-582-4539
Pizzeria Seven Twelve
According to the owners, Pizzeria Seven Twelve is an exercise in the possibilities of sustainability, seasonal cooking, freshness, and … Ping-Pong. Yup, the boys play Ping-Pong at night in the kitchen to "set their minds right." But don't get the idea that this is your typical pizzeria. For starters, you won't find pepperoni on the menu. And how many pizza joints can you name that feature dishes such as braised-beef short ribs, wood-roasted brussels sprouts or white-bean stew? The pizzas at Pizzeria Seven Twelve are wood-fired, thin-crust pies, topped judiciously with ingredients like hand-pulled mozzarella, roasted fennel, house-made sausage, speck, caramelized mushrooms and onions, roasted eggplant, leeks, goat cheese and sopprassata. The Pizzeria Seven Twelve crew is committed to using sustainably farmed produce, meats and cheeses whenever possible. Does your local pizzeria do that?
320 S. State, Orem, 801-623-6712, Pizzeria712.com
"Call the dogs in, put the fire out, the hunt's over." That's the Q4U slogan and, yes, your hunt for deliciously messy barbecue ends here. Since 1996, Q4U owners T (The Sultan of Sauce) and Becci have been keeping it real with slow-smoked barbecue and by treating customers like they were part of their ever-expanding family. The slow-cooked beef brisket has garnered so many awards I've lost track. And the Q4U ribs, slathered in a luscious homemade sauce, are so good, you sort of want to eat them naked. If you like spice, order up the hot sausage links. But then, Q4U's pulled pork, baby-back ribs and fried catfish are equally tempting. Whatever you settle upon, be sure to order a side of T's black-eyed peas and a glass of freshly made lemonade. Becci's sweet-potato pie and her baked peach and cherry cobblers are absolute musts before you walk out the door.
3951 W. 5400 South, Kearns, 801-955-8858, Q4U.com
When Ramon and Maria Cardenas started out in the restaurant business more than 40 years ago, they couldn't have possibly envisioned the wild success of Red Iguana. A perennial people's favorite, Red Iguana has had a lock on City Weekly's Best of Utah Mexican category for what seems like centuries. That's because the Cardenas family has been dishing up delicious Mexican and Southwestern cuisine in a funky, fun, boisterous and colorful setting since the mid-1980s. For authentic Mexican fare, turn to dishes like Red Iguana's signature cochinita pibil, papadzules, chilaquiles and puntas de filete a la Norteña. And the seven mole dishes at Red Iguana will have you thinking you're in Oaxaca. Keep an eye out for Los Lobos; the guys in the band visit Red Iguana whenever they're in town.
736 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-322-1489, RedIguana.com
Reef's Kitchen, located in the Marriott Plaza district of Park City, is named for the chef/owner's son, Reef—your first tip that Reef's Kitchen is a family affair. Owner Asi Yoked's wife also works there, his sister works there, and so do his parents on occasion. Well, the falafel is fantastic, and the babaghanouj is also great. But order a glass of wine or cardamom tea and carefully peruse the menu. In addition to kebabs, hummus and stuffed grape leaves are specialty dishes such as Moroccan salmon, couscous and Jerusalem shishlik (skewered, marinated leg of lamb)—I suppose you could call this Middle Eastern fusion cuisine. Sides of mejadarra and tabbouleh are terrific, and I suggest winding up your meal with sesame-spiked halva cookies or basbousa, a semolina coconut cake.
710 Main, Park City, 435-658-0323, ReefsKitchen.com
At Sandy's Royal India restaurant (there's another location in Bountiful), owner/chef Emmanuel Shanthakumar and his family cook up a dazzling array of authentic Indian dishes from the south and north of India, all in this beautifully appointed restaurant. What distinguishes a good Indian restaurant from a great one largely has to do with the little things: décor, specialty dishes, breads, service. It's those types of considerations that have made Royal India one of my two favorite Indian restaurants in Utah. The warm hospitality at Royal India matches the fiery vindaloo dishes, but not all of Royal India's fare is incendiary. Shrimp saag is rich and creamy, keema dosa is stuffed with fragrantly spiced lamb and the Peshwari naan (filled with cashews, raisins, and coconut) is heaven. Vegetarian options also abound at Royal India, and the daal Maharani is especially good. For dessert, you must try kulfi: homemade ice cream with pistachio, cashew nuts and cardamom. The sweet lassi drink is very refreshing, and there's also beer and wine available.
10263 S. 1300 East, Sandy, 801-572-6123, RoyalIndiaUtah.com
Royal Street Café
Located mid-mountain at Deer Valley's Silver Lake Lodge, Royal Street Café is a perfect spot in summer, when the crowds thin out and one can enjoy a leisurely lunch on the sunny deck supplemented with fine wines and killer cocktails. The yellowfin tuna tartare appetizer is a terrific beginning to a meal and the renowned Deer Valley turkey chili is justifiably famous. While at Royal Street, consider taking the award-winning (Best Park City Cocktail) St. Germaine Elderflower cocktail for a spin. Hungry? The chipotle barbecue burger with Royal Street's shoestring fries is a real whopper! And the best BLT I've ever had was the DVBLT (cherry chutney and Dijon-tarragon mayo make the difference). By all means, don't think of escaping without sinking your teeth into Royal Street's decadent ice cream sandwich.
Silver Lake Lodge, Deer Valley Resort, Park City, 435-645-6724, DeerValley.com
Recently the recipient of a million-dollar overhaul, Ruth's Diner in Emigration Canyon still retains most of its original charm. One of the oldest restaurants in Utah, Ruth's opened in 1949 in a Salt Lake City trolley car that Ruth moved up Emigration Canyon. Erik and Tracy Nelson took over Ruth's a few years back, and so now, you'll find contemporary dishes like Erik's raspberry chicken alongside classics such as liver and onions or tender braised pot roast. And breakfast is served into late afternoon, so you can order the famous mile-high biscuits & country gravy for a late lunch if you'd like. In warm weather, the sprawling patio is the place to be, as Ruth's also features live music from local artists such as the Stoddard Brothers, Maggie & Julie, Amy Jones and Jaded.
2100 Emigration Canyon, Salt Lake City, 801-582-5807, RuthsDiner.com