Salt Lake magazine has been covering the food and restaurant scene in Utah for 25 years. Every year, we present our Dining Awards to the best restaurants in a list of categories from Best Chinese to Best Lunch to Best Wine List.
This year, we’re breaking down the boundaries.
We are simply presenting awards to the top 25 restaurants in Utah. High standards of service, the best quality of food, comfort, beauty, hospitality and above all, uniqueness, are the standards by which all restaurants should be measured, whether they are casual or elegant, whether they serve hot dogs or haute cuisine, Thai or Mexican food.
To arrive at this list we talked to food experts, dedicated amateurs and restaurateurs. But in the end, these are our picks. De gustibus non disputandum est, after all. (Click here for a quick and printable list of the winners, and click here for the winners of our Dining Awards Reader's Choice.)
Here they are—in NO PARTICULAR ORDER at all.
Ryan Lowder of Copper Common and Briar Handley of Handle. Chef Emmanuel Levarek, owner Eric DeBonis and Maxime (the French Bulldog) of The Paris Bistro
The Copper Connection
Why: Ryan Lowder has pretty much copper-plated the city. All three of his restaurants are good, but Copper Common, billed as a bar, is exceptional—partly because it created its own adults-only niche and then filled it. The food has Lowder’s signature heartiness and the interior has the eclectic coziness we love from designer Rachel Hodson. At the Common, it all comes together in an uncommon success.
Stellar Dish: Lobster Spaghetti
111 E. Broadway #170, SLC, 801-355-3282
Why: Briar Handly made his name at Talisker on Main where he had to represent the brand of a luxury real estate company and a ski resort. But his eponymous restaurant is unabashedly heart-and-soul Handly. The young chef’s signature style is daringly pure and unembellished, like an edible haiku. Small plates feature a star ingredient, simply and expertly prepared with just enough accent flavors to bring a food to its full potential.
Stellar Dish: Fried Chicken and Potato Salad
136 Heber Ave., Park City, 435-602-1155
Joie de Cooking
Why: Eric DeBonis was one of the founders of the food scene in Utah and continues to innovate, but his classic French restaurant focused on local ingredients remains his star enterprise. Chef Emmanuel Levarek’s French connections and DeBonis’ natural fanaticism account for the authenticity of the food and atmosphere that has never rigidified into continental stuffiness. Sitting at the Zinc Bar, enjoying steak frites and a glass of Bourgogne, it’s easy to imagine you are in fact in a Paris bistro.
Stellar Dish: Steak au Poivre Pommes Frites
1500 S. 1500 East, SLC, 801-486-5585
Mark Daniel Mason and Bleu Adams of Blue Poblano. Owner Colton Soelberg, Chef de Cuisine John Newman and owner Joseph McRae of Communal
The Apex of Taco
Why: Utah has been blanketed with tacos, from Don Rafa’s carnitas cart by Sears on State Street to the extravagant duck confit tacos at Taqueria 27. The best are found at Bleu Adams and Mark Daniel Mason’s soulful little restaurant, which—in a reversal of the usual migration pattern—is an outpost of a Provo restaurant. We love BP’s ingenious relationship with next-door bar Dick N’ Dixie’s that allowed Blue Poblano diners to enjoy a margarita via a hole in the adjoining wall. We also love that they now have a bar of their own.
Stellar Dish: Chimi-Relleno (stuffed pepper wrapped in a flour tortilla and fried)
473 E. 300 South, SLC, 801-883-9078
Strength in Community
Why: Colton Soelberg and Joseph McRae invented contemporary dining in Provo, and though several restaurants have opened in their wake, Communal still owns the category. The duo—with Chef de Cuisine John Newman—balance contradictory elements: refined but rootsy cooking, local but exotic ingredients and an elegant family style- that reflects the authentic culture of new Provo.
Stellar Dish: Smoked Trout Pot Pie
102 N. University Ave, Provo, 801-373-8000
Aristo Boutsikakis of Aristo’s, Jerry and Kestrel Liedtke and Robin Fairchild of The Tin Angel Café
Why: Salt Lake’s Greek heritage means we have dozens of Greek restaurants around town. But this particular Greek restaurant rises far above gyro joints. The menu evolves constantly, deriving fresh inspiration from Hellas itself via owner Aristo Boutsikakis’ frequent trips to the homeland. And because Aristo is a fearless innovator, few SLC restaurants stay so far ahead of the curve.
Stellar Dish: Lamb Tacos
224 S. 1300 East, SLC, 801-581-0888
Why: The trio of Jerry and Kestrel Liedtke and Robin Fairchild created an idiosyncratic oasis in a city that’s often considered hidebound and hesitant. Tin Angel is exuberant, experimental, unconventional—this is a place that puts the fun back in food. But the blackout dinners at Halloween, Bloody Mary sliders and funky art are backed by Jerry Liedtke’s solid skill in the kitchen. No funny stuff there.
Stellar Dish: Bread Pudding
365 W. 400 South, SLC, 801-328-4155
Chef Phelix Gardner and owner Scott Evans of Pago. Jen Castle and Blake Spalding of Hell’s Backbone Grill and Jorge Fiero of Frida Bistro
Why: “Local” is a nationwide trend now, but Scott Evans built Pago around the ethos six years ago. Pago was not only the first restaurant in SLC to source locally, but to stick to the philosophy through ups and downs and a changing kitchen cast. Evans’ stubborn ideology has inspired imitators, jump-started farms and supported food producers. Sometimes karma comes around and Evans has expanded rapidly lately, opening two restaurants in one month last winter with Phelix Gardner as the apparently permanent leader at the stove.
Stellar Dish: Pago Burger
878 S. 900 East, SLC, 801-532-0777
Why: Gourmets on the coasts don’t believe fine dining is possible in Utah, much less in the outermost Middle of Nowhere, Utah. But contrarians Blake Spalding and Jen Castle, owners of Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, love proving the know-it-alls wrong, and they do it in spades (and with spades, growing a big percentage of the food they serve on their own organic farm). They tell their tale in two beautiful cookbooks and sell from-the-farm pickles and jams at the Salt Lake Farmers Market.
Stellar Dish: Steelhead Trout
Boulder Mountain Lodge, 20 Hwy. 12, Boulder, 435-355-7464
Food = Love
Why: Jorge Fierro’s Frida is based on a love of two countries and cultures that sadly don’t always convivially coexist—the land of his birth and his adopted home. The food is centered in a cultural context, a Mexico that too few Americans know about. Sophisticated dishes with earthy roots—like huitlacoche quesadilla and chile en nogada—combine French finesse with Latin gusto.
Stellar Dish: Huitlacoche Quesadilla
545 W. 700 South, SLC, 801-983-6692
Chef Steven Musolf of The Farm Restaurant, Chef Tommy Nguyen of Rye and Chef Adrian Rose of Fresco
Why: Idealism is outside the norm for resort restaurants, but The Farm was founded on locavore principles and chef Steven Musolf is true to its roots. The unpretentious but elegant menu relies on local cheeses like Gold Creek and Beehive, Utah trout and vegetables from Zoe’s Garden, and is defined by flavor—meaning tenderloin of beef and broccoli casserole are comfortable side by side.
Stellar Dish: Braised Oxtail Onion Soup
4000 Canyons Resort Dr., Park City, 435-615-8080
Food as Venue
Why: The trio of owners conceived this cafe to satisfy after-hours rockers at the Urban Lounge, and its hours still accommodate that. Meanwhile, Chef Tommy Nguyen has made it a destination for everyone, anytime. The hipster vibe permeates the place, but its palatal attractions are classic. Crisp, light waffles. Eggs scrambled very slowly, so they stay creamy. Heavenly fried chicken. Where else can you eat breakfast for lunch and order a cocktail?
Stellar Dish: Breakfast Bowl (rice, pork belly, kimchi and egg)
239 S. 500 East, SLC, 801-364-4655
Why: Size doesn’t matter. The tiny space and quasi-clandestine location (in the back of The King’s English Bookshop) have always been big pluses for this enduringly charming restaurant. Owner Mikel Trapp has had the wisdom not only to leave Fresco’s dimensions alone, but to make sure his chefs (now Adrian Rose) keep the menu in proportion. There are four entrées on the menu right now, not counting pastas—pork, beef, chicken and vegetarian. But they are all sublime.
Stellar Dish: Fettuccine Alfredo (goat cheese, provolone and gremolata)
1513 S. 1500 East, SLC, 801-486-1300
Matthew Lake of Alamexo, Jason and Jordan Wong of J. Wong’s Thai & Chinese Bistro
Why: Matthew Lake raised the bar for Mexican food in Salt Lake City by combining authentic technique with sustainably and carefully sourced ingredients. The result: familiar flavors and favorite dishes—like enchiladas—elevated to crystalline chile perfection. Lake honed his skills on the uber picky New York City dining scene, learned authenticity from the masters, like Diana Kennedy and Mark Miller, and was named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. But the point is not Lake’s pedigree—it’s his passion.
Stellar Dish: Tacos Cochinita Pibil
268 S. State St., #110, SLC, 801-779-4747
Why: The Thai-Chinese menu reflects the twin heritage of the Wong family—chef Jason and manager Jordan—and frequent travels in those countries keep the food contemporary, combining current trends in Thai and Chinese restaurants with the lush American appetite and bringing us fusion from another point of view.
Stellar Dish: Pla Rad Prik (whole crispy salmon)
163 W. 200 South, SLC, 801-350-0888
Frederick Perez and father Wilmer Arroyo of Del Mar al Lago. Lavanya Mahate of Saffron Valley, Kathie Chadbourne of Avenues Bistro on Third
Why: Utahns are slow to step outside their comfort zone, so the head-spinning speed with which they embraced the Peruvian cuisine introduced by Frederick Perez and his team attests to the restaurant’s excellence. Peru’s long Pacific coast and multicultural history are presented here right on the plate—tiger’s milk, ceviche of all kinds, beef heart and potatoes you’ve never dreamed of.
Stellar Dish: Cebicha Classico
310 Bugatti Dr., SLC, 801-467-2890
Why: We are blessed with some great Indian food in Utah, but here in the shadow of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple, Lavanya Mahate’s Saffron Valley presents some of the most varied and little-known dishes from the subcontinent. Drawn not only from the established regional cuisines of India, but from the food carts, street festivals and cafes of its great cities, the dishes at Saffron Valley reflect the richness of raj culture, the spices of the south, and the dharmic intention of ancient vegetarianism. And it’s all good.
Stellar Dish: Spring Dosa
1098 S. Jordan Pky., South Jordan, 801-438-4823
Labor of Love
Why: Owner Kathie Chadbourne is locally famous for the madcap enthusiasm with which she approaches any project—and there have been many. But her energy and willingness to battle City Hall has paid off in this tiny, eccentrically charming cafe in the Avenues, featuring an idiosyncratic menu—constantly updated by Chadbourne, her pastry chef daughter, Kelly Sue Pugh, and chef Kevin Romans—served in a one-of-a-kind dining room. And now, thanks to community support, a charming patio.
Stellar Dish: Spicy Tortilla Crusted Chicken
564 E. 3rd Avenue, SLC, 801-831-5409
Bowman Brown of Forage and Ali Sabbah of Mazza
Why: This ultimately handmade restaurant has been at the cutting edge of American cuisine from opening day. That’s a hard position to maintain in an industry where novelty makes news, but chef-owner Bowman Brown has kept the (sometimes outrageously) imaginative, experimental cooking at its apex, making Forage something rare: an intellectual challenge. Just its continued existence attests to Forage’s unwavering dedication to its chef’s dream.
Stellar Dish: The Vegetable Garden
370 E. 900 South, SLC, 801-708-7834
Why: Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe means that the art of hospitality developed early and naturally there. Ali Sabbah’s Lebanese restaurants in Salt Lake City, at the crossroads of 15th and 15th and 9th and 9th, preserve that tradition. Go for lunch, a snack, dinner, a drink—mezze is all about sharing and Mazza is the crossroads of SLC.
Stellar Dish: Mazza’s Lamb Shank
912 E. 900 South, SLC, 801-521-4572; 1515 S. 1500 East, SLC, 801-484-9259
Tosh Sekikawa of Tosh’s Ramen, Sunny Tsogbadrakh, Akané Nakamura and Johnny Kwon of Naked Fish
Why: The reason is in the bowl. Simplicity is easily degraded into schlock—hence, the student’s sustenance, dried ramen. But the Japanese have a genius for elevating simplicity into art and that’s what Tosh Sekikawa, formerly of Naked Fish, has done with his ramen, a deceptively simple soul-sustaining bowl of broth and noodles.
Stellar Dish: Karai Ramen
1465 S. State Street, SLC, 801-466-7000
Why: Utah’s inexplicable appetite for sushi has led to some fishy travesties, but Naked Fish owner Johnny Kwon is determined to keep pure this most elemental dish, and Chef Sunny Tsogbadrakh has the skill to carry it off. So the sustainably sourced protein is so fresh it might still be trembling on your plate.
Stellar Dish: Live Shrimp Sashimi
67 W. 100 South, SLC, 801-595-8888
Takashi Gibo of Takashi’s, David Jones of Log Haven, and Romina Rasmussen of Les Madeleines. Matt Caputo of Caputo’s Market & Deli
Why: Takashi Gibo is the undisputed father of fine sushi and Japanese cuisine in Utah. His restaurant established and maintained a standard of excellence and freshness that has never wavered, and the crowds attest to the enduring quality of the food and classic coolness of the dining room. Wisely, Takashi also bows to Western tastes with untraditional signature rolls.
Stellar Dish: Magic Dragon Roll
18 W. Market St., SLC, 801-519-9595
Sense of Place
This might be the quintessential Northern Utah restaurant. The antique log cabin radiates mountain hospitality and the beauty and bounty of the Wasatch are apparent on each plate. Chef David Jones is an experienced forager. He, general manager Ian Campbell, owner Margo Provost and banquet manager Faith Scheffler all have a stake in the place, which means visiting diners are treated like personal guests.
Stellar Dish: Grilled Bison Teres Major Steak
6451 Millcreek Canyon Rd., SLC, 801-272-8255
Why: Romina Rasmussen’s pastries combine all the nit-picky precision and butter worship that make French pastry one of the culinary wonders of the world. Everything her kitchen turns out is not purely French in origin; but everything does have the sense of disciplined luxury that defines Gallic style.
Stellar Dish: Kouing Aman
216 E. 500 South, SLC, 801-355-2294
Restaurant Community Award
Matt Caputo, Caputo’s Market & Deli
Why: A restaurant is only as good as its ingredients, and Matt Caputo’s untiring pursuit and procurement of the best products Utah and the world have to offer is evident on menus all over the state. Now with three locations, so regular folks can shop like chefs.
314 W. 300 SOUTH, SLC, 801-531-8669; 1516 S. 1500 East, SLC, 801-486-6615; 4673 S. 2300 East, SLC, 801-272-0821