Aristo’s has been one of my favorite restaurants in Salt Lake City since the first time I went there, nearly five years ago. It was always at the top of my list of restaurants I recommended people to go and for awhile I went there about once a month. Then Guy Fieri brought his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives to Utah and filmed a segment at Aristo’s.
And everything changed.
Before the camera crews arrived, Aristo’s received a welcome facelift with a remodel cleaning up both the interior and exterior of the restaurant. After Guy Fieri and his bad haircut left, Aristo’s changed their menu and crowds of people flocked to the restaurant. Both of those could be positives except that some of my favorite items were removed from the menu. Heartbroken, I didn’t return for months.
Driven back by my craving for their Skordalia, one of my favorite dishes in all of Salt Lake Valley, I was determined to find some new favorites on the updated menu. For those of you who haven’t seen the new menu, it’s more condensed than before with portions regulated into better sizes (for some dishes that means downsizing, which is actually good for some of the heavier, richer dishes).
The skordalia ($7.50), a dip made of garlic, garlic and more garlic (swoon) is something I dream about. I order it in the Orektika sampler of three dips ($13) with the kafteri, a dip of roasted Macedonian peppers and feta cheese with a touch of cayenne pepper. It’s slightly spicy, but the prominence of the red peppers has such a unique kick when contrasted with the soothing feta that it’s lovingly addicting.
One of the favorites that remains on the menu is the Kotopoulo ($20), breaded chicken stuffed with garlic, spinach and feta, served with a rice pilaf in a mushroom sauce. Juicy chicken filled with slightly savory mushrooms and spinach surrounded by a slightly crunchy coating, it’s a must-try dish that’s flavored to perfection. Another remaining favorite is the rich Yemista ($17), a sort of Greek lasagna with tomato, green bell peppers and zucchini in rice with heavy seasonings of mint and oregano.
Another classic that made the cut: Boureki ($10), although its been gratefully downsized, with layers of sliced zucchini and sliced potatoes, packed with feta and Athotyro (a Greek ricotta-like cheese). Satisfyingly rich, the smaller size is much more enjoyable. (Order it as an appetizer or as a small plate paired with octopus.)
I finally tried the famed octopus (Oxtapodi, $12 for small, $20 for large), now deemed a “Fieri favorite” (after Guy Fieri). The tender, luscious chunks of octopus arrived dripping in olive oil, oregano, and lemon. Tangy and delicious, it’s my new go-to dish.
Other go-tos are traditional Greek favorites like Spanakopita ($9), rich wads of spinach and feta wrapped in flaky phyllo dough, and dolmathes ($6.50) with lamb, beef, rice and mint wrapped in grape leaves. (Note that the vegetarian dolmathes are no longer on the menu.)
New items like the flight of gyros (a tasting of three gyros, $12), lamb tacos (with horiatiki pico, mint and feta for $5), and souvlaki skewers (pork, $4, chicken, $4, or shrimp, $5) are filed under Street Favorites on the menu. Simple but tasty, they are reminiscent of your favorite fast food Greek joint but much better tasting. The Plevrakia ($11), char-broiled lamb ribs, are so incredibly tender they slip off the bone; a salty, juicy sensation that I can’t wait to repeat.
Pork chops (“Brizoles,” $18) marinated in oil, salt, pepper, garlic and oregano then char-broiled and served with fries, or the lamb chop version (called Paidakia, $30) are easy to love classics that are so basic, yet somehow manage to still be surprisingly delicious.
After enjoying the feast at Aristo’s, I had one of those regretful Why did I wait so long to return? thoughts. Yes, the menu changed and yes, some of my beloved dishes left with it. But just like in life, not all change is bad, even when you miss what you once had.
Go to Aristo’s for :: an amazing meal of Greek favorites and Greek surprises that will surprise you, then keep you coming back again and again. Notes :: Many dishes are vegetarian- and vegan-friendly and are clearly marked on the menu. Reservations are accepted online here. Aristo’s is open Monday-Saturday, 11 am-10 pm and Sunday 4 pm-9 pm.