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Best Dishes From 2021 

Things are weird out there. Make sure to tip your server.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

Most of us started transitioning back to dining in at our favorite restaurants in 2021, but it's clear that our friends in the hospitality biz continue to hurt from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. I've visited my share of places whose haggard staff is clearly struggling just to keep the lights on.

Despite the hardships our restaurants have endured over the past two years, however, they continue to blow our minds. Over the course of this year, I've found new favorites, rediscovered old treasures and broadened my gastronomic perspective. Here are a few dishes that defined local dining in 2021 for me.

The Boba Mille Crepe Cake at Conte de Fee (7695 S. 700 East, 801-987-8112, contedefeebakery.com): Any of the crepe cakes at Midvale's Conte de Fee are stellar; you can't really go wrong with layering meticulously prepared crepes with pastry cream and stacking them as high as possible. But when you pour an Earl Grey tea-infused syrup and a heap of black sugar boba on top, you've got something entirely singular. It's packed with surprisingly sophisticated flavor combinations, and goes particularly well with an overcast Saturday morning.

The Korean Corn Dog at Yummy's Korean BBQ (2946 W. 4700 South, 801-769-6614, yummysutah.com): Though the Korean corn dog's meteoric rise has been well-documented by local food writers, I can't forget the place that introduced me to this apex snack. For me, it was Yummy's Korean BBQ that got me hooked on this sinfully crispy and sugar-dusted variation on a classic corn dog. I've had many since, and I will have many more in 2022—but you never forget your first bite.

The Elk au Poivre at Bambara (202 S. Main Street, 801-363-5454, bambara-slc.com): Eating at Bambara is consistently a good time, but Chef Jerry Pacheco's winter menu had some shockingly delicious entries this year. The elk au poivre, which is a perfectly cooked elk tenderloin served with oyster mushrooms, butternut squash and sunchokes, is a perfect synthesis of seasonal ingredients and creative execution.

Sushi Nachos at The Garage Grill (1122 E. Draper Parkway, 801-523-3339, thegaragegrill.com): The Garage Grill is one of those local favorites that somehow eluded me until this year, but one bite of their sushi nachos has pretty much guaranteed its spot in my rotation. It's not uncommon for gastropubs to bring sushi into the mix, but The Garage Grill's creativity on that front has given us some truly great pub food innovations, such as crispy wonton wrappers topped with tuna, seaweed salad and spicy mayo.

Cachapas at Venezuela Mia (9460 S. Union Square, Ste. 104, 801-831-6420, vzlamia.com): 2021 marked my first time trying cachapas, and boy oh boy what an experience that was. Cachapas are a traditional Venezuelan dish consisting of a pancake-like corn tortilla folded over an obscene amount of melty cheese. It then gets topped with whatever grilled meat you feel like—pork, carne asada, and the like. Sounds simple enough, but once you take that first bite you become overwhelmed with a sweet and savory flavor combo that brought me to my knees.

Detroit Deep Dish at Bricks Corner (1465 S. 700 East, 801-953-0636, brickscornerslc.com): Bricks Corner brought Detroit-style deep dish pizza to Utah, and based on its legions of fans and Best of Utah considerations, I'd say locals have taken a shine to the stuff. Crispy around the edges and topped with insanity like grilled Spam and braised beef, the pizza at Bricks Corner hits all the right notes. For a lifelong pizza-lover, this place is a gift.

The Pambazo at La Garnacha (5418 S. Main Street, Herriman, 385-695-5871, lagarnachautah.com): La Garnacha is another place that somehow flew under my radar until this year, but this Herriman spot and its Mexico City classics are worth checking out. I'm a longtime fan of the sandwiches that come from Mexico and South America, so snagging a genuine pambazo here in Utah is a definite win. Marked by its thick slices of bread, turned fiery red from a dip in some flavorful chili sauce, the pambazo is a chorizo- and potato-stuffed meal in itself.

The Tasting Menu at Mint Sushi and Tapas (Multiple locations, mintsushiutah.com): During 2020, I remember planning my first few outings once I felt comfortable dining out again, and the 10-course tasting menu at Mint Sushi was right at the top of my list. Once I got my COVID-19 vaccine, I booked a reservation, and it was one of the most memorable dining experiences of the year. Course upon course of beautifully prepared sushi welcomed me back to the pleasures of eating in a restaurant.

It's been a weird year to write about food, but it's also been an inspiring one. Amid all the punches that the hospitality industry has taken, there are still so many out there that just want to whip up a good meal or share their culture with their neighborhoods. Here's hoping that 2022 starts seeing some of these scars heal up—and for goodness' sake, please be nice to people out there.

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