Ringed in mountains offering fabulous hiking, biking and skiing, and home to a burgeoning biotech industry, Salt Lake City is an attractive place to live. There’s a building boom going on — and plenty of opportunity for ambitious restaurateurs to cater to active locals and outdoorsy visitors. Dining varies from homey to highfalutin, but everywhere, check averages are gentle, especially since the state agency that controls liquor sales keeps prices on alcohol low. Here are seven worthy spots to grab a meal in the largest, most colorful city in Utah.
Who’d think that Mormonism’s hometown would produce this exciting bar? Ostensibly a holding tank for adjoining sushi spot Takashi, this stylish downtowner is much more. Narrow but airy with high ceilings and interesting furnishings — a spoon-handle chandelier, Steadman-esque glass-panel paintings — its centerpiece is backlit shelving filled with drinkable esoterica, much from Japan. Sip through whiskys like Yamazaki, Hibiki and Ohishi while grazing on punchy Japanese-Peruvian tapas: piquillo peppers stuffed with shiso and quinoa; sweet-and-sour pig’s ears; beef tongue cured like pastrami. Fat-grilled shiitake caps come dressed in a smoky, tangy ají panca sauce heady with cumin. Best are the sliders. Creative and filling, housemade Spam with pickled ginger is the right foil for inspired cocktails like the Rutukuma Sour, in which pickled grape brine tarts up pisco and banana liqueur. It sounds weird but works beautifully. You may never make it to your table next door. Dinner only; closed Sunday.
Post Office Place
16 West Market Street. Tel. (801) 519-9595
Done up in brick and reclaimed wood with old-timey paintings, this new American restaurant, which housed SLC’s first creamery, wears its century-old space with pride. But the cuisine is contemporary: farm-to-table with brash, bumped-up flavors and the requisite charcuterie list. As per trend, food is draped across half the stoneware plates. Brussels sprout leaves add umami to sweet, roasted sunchokes and Peppadew relish over white bean purée. Dollops of triple-cream cheese offer luscious reprieve from the dish’s earthiness. A broth rich in sausage, onion and fennel bathes clams in deliciousness. Scallops are golden-crusted and plump, but red meats are less successful. Ribs nearly drown in a bowl of goopy jook, and the bavette is tough. But the drinks are unimpeachable. The Cane & Basil cocktail, a garden-based sour, with rhum agricole, pear eau de vie, celery and basil, is herbaceous, tart, addictive. An amaro from local Waterpocket Distillery is the brilliant, bitter payoff at meal’s end. Reservations recommended. Dinner only; closed Sunday.
237 South 400 West. Tel. (801) 935-4431
The Cardenas family’s flagship was so popular that they opened another location two blocks from the first. The red and yellow space, with its bright portraits of Mexican wrestlers, John Lennon and Salvador Dalí, is larger, so you sit quickly. The menu ranges from Monterrey’s shredded beef with eggs to San Luis Potosí’s masa-based enchiladas to Oaxaca’s moles, but the food is authentic and deeply satisfying. Service lags — your mezcal margarita might not arrive, and your appetizers may come with your mains. But the guacamole and salsa are super fresh, the tortillas are warm, and the refried beans are full of fatty flavor. Encurtidos (“pickles”) — egg-dipped, marinated jalapeños stuffed and smothered in cheese — are spicy, diminutive versions of chiles rellenos. Nutty mole Coloradito enfolds a generous pile of tender carnitas. There’s even an SLC-only creation: potato-and-chorizo enchiladas paired with chicken salad lettuce wraps, a meal that welcomes border crossing.
Red Iguana 2
866 West South Temple Street. Tel. (801) 214-6050
Small cities yield big discoveries, like this enthralling spot far south of downtown. The banquettes are so high, they’re like private dining rooms. But counter seats are best for watching the trio of chefs tweezer garnishes and coax dough into boules. With house-cultured butter, that sourdough is irresistible. Don’t fill up, though; an extraordinary $55 tasting menu awaits. Much comes from the garden. Curried-beet purée with crunchy chickpeas and pickled cauliflower has autumnal appeal. You could die happy after eating risotto with lemon, brown butter and mint. But you’d miss moist, alabaster halibut on coconut sticky rice with a hint of Thai chile heat. Tender bavette with basil chimichurri will have you exclaiming its glories out loud. Desserts, like garden fruits and poppyseed cake, aren’t as exciting. But the wine list is, with finds like Secateurs’ old bush-vine Chenin Blanc. Indulge. Reservations recommended. Dinner only; closed Sunday and Monday.
1457 East 3350 South. Tel. (385) 528-3712
Most cities have at least one place by an ambitious young chef where the oven is Neapolitan (domed, tiled), the pizza crust is well-honed (yeasty with a thin center, pillowy edges and spots of chocolatey char), and the toppings are creative (capocollo, Broccolini, piquillo peppers and hot honey; acorn squash, porcini, smoked mozzarella, triple-cream blue cheese, lemon, thyme). This is that place in Salt Lake, and it’s a fine spot for lunch over local beers. Stoneground adds housemade pastas to the mix. Decadent with beurre blanc, the linguine nevertheless feels virtuous with artichokes and other veggies. A signature appetizer comes from the wood fire: focaccino, a salt-graced flatbread meant for ripping apart and dunking in labneh and pomodoro. This place is great for a group, though you might want to keep the rich, dark-chocolate budino with its peppermint garnish all to yourself. Dinner only on weekends.
249 East 400 South. Tel. (801) 364-1368
SLC’s buzziest restaurant offers tropical wallpaper, leafy plants, a prominent bar where ice is hand-carved for a Japanese whisky, Amontillado and Carpano Antica vermouth elixir. Fennel-strewn olives in a warm pool of pucker-inducing citrus marinade is a foil for such cocktails, and you could add the huge meat and cheese board and call it a night. But order more; it’s all terrific. The most lovable salad features oft-unloved celery. Crunchy and fresh with a mellow tamarind vinaigrette and loads of celery salt, it’s an invigorating precursor to guilty pleasures like the fried chicken breast, enormous with a briny crust, served with a soulful bean-and-pork ragout and bitter greens for bracing contrast. Bucklin Old Hill Zinfandel works with that, or the short ribs with roasted eggplant and pickled Romanesco. Then lemon-ricotta cheesecake on a rectangular plate painted in raspberry coulis? Only dessert feels dated. Reservations recommended. Dinner only; closed Monday.
418 East 200 South. Tel. (801) 539-9999
All the comfort food you could want is at this beloved American brasserie downtown. The unembellished dining room is awkwardly arranged, but the fare makes up for it. Caesar dressing is properly anchovy-enriched, the full romaine leaves are bolstered by big, crunchy croutons, and the whole salad is showered in fresh Parmesan. It’s straightforward and deeply fulfilling. A bowl of delicata squash, roasted until caramelized and sticky, gets the same cheese treatment. Kurobuta ham and a swirl of fresh cream only improve the verdant pea soup. Ricotta dumplings might be a bit too pan-fried, but the candied lemon rind that accents them is a genius touch. Expertly pan-seared with crispy skin and moist, orange flesh, rainbow trout sits in complementary puddles of garlicky tzatziki and sweet curried lentils. All that’s left to do after that is polish off a bowl of housemade ice cream. Intriguing flavors include cinnamon and sweet corn.
The Copper Onion
111 East Broadway. Tel. (801) 355-3282