It’s been 8 months since I moved to Chicago and let me tell you: the food here is outstanding. There are so many restaurants that it’s hard to repeat my favorites because hundreds are waiting for me to try. But we’re not here to talk about Chicago.
Chicago may be a food-lover’s mecca, but there are several dishes in Salt Lake City that I find myself constantly craving and haven’t quite found a Midwestern equivalent for yet. (Trust me, I’m trying!) Luckily I return home often enough to indulge in my favorite SLC restaurants. Curious what I’m craving?
Here are the 7 Salt Lake City dishes I miss most.
1. Mole Amarillo at Red Iguana
This spicy mole is tingly hot but so tasty that I’ll risk the burn just to keep eating it. Available served with shredded chicken ($15.99), with pork carnitas and topped with poached eggs and bacon (Huevos Motulenos is an excellent choice for brunch, $12.99) or, my favorite, smothering pork enchiladas ($10.49). Red Iguana is famous for their moles and all seven of them are outstanding.
And the same goes for the remainder of the menu. Dubbed “Killer Mexican Food,” it’s the best Mexican I’ve ever had and thanks to two locations near Salt Lake International Airport, it’s usually the first place I go when I land in SLC or the last place I eat before I leave.
Runner Up: Tacos Don Ramon (pork chorizo tacos with queso cotija, $11.49)
2. Wagyu Beef Stroganoff at Copper Onion
If you haven’t had Copper Onion’s Wagyu Beef Stroganoff ($20, pictured at top), you’re probably thinking Seriously?! You miss beef stroganoff? But if you have tried it, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. Made with juicy chunks of beef embedded in house-made pappardelle pasta in a sauce of creme fraiche, mushrooms and chives, this piece of heaven will have you reminiscing about mom’s home cooking while making you realize that somehow beef stroganoff has a lot more potential than you ever thought possible.
If stroganoff’s not your thing, the rest of Copper Onion’s New American menu is full of classic favorites done in not-so-classic ways. And I don’t mean in a molecular gastronomy unrecognizable way, I mean in a simply amazing way, letting the classic characters of the dishes shine through. (Case in point: I’m not a huge mushroom fan, yet both of my Copper Onion picks contain them!)
Runner Up: Sauteed Mushrooms (served over potato sticks topped with a fried egg, $9)
3. Stinky Bacon Cheese Burger at Lucky 13
Yes, I live within walking distance of the best burger in the country. But before trying it, I was doubtful it could beat any burger at Lucky 13. And even still, I find myself dreaming about Lucky 13’s Stinky Bacon Cheese burger ($10) and the way its salty peppered bacon contrasts with the rich blue cheese paired perfectly with the oh-so-lovely garlic fries and it seriously makes my mouth water. Like right now. Damn it.
Runner Up: The Breath Enhancer Burger (garlic, rosemary and cheddar, $8.50, plus bacon)
4. Eggplant Stir Fry at Chabaar Beyond Thai
Thai food is a cuisine of contrasts, with dangerously spicy elements intertwined with delicate sweetness in dishes that are a medley of flavors, textures and tastes. Chabaar Beyond Thai is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant outside of Salt Lake City (in Midvale) serving up Thai perfection. Though technically not on the menu, the eggplant stirfry is always available. It’s a wonderful mix of crunchy chicken, sliced eggplant and vegetables in a savory sauce. It may sound weird, but it works. Even the eggplant-weary will love this dish.
Runner Up: Yellow Curry, with potatoes, onions, coconut milk and yellow curry paste ($11)
5. Koung Aman at Les Madeleines
This incredible French pastry is crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and full of buttery flavors. Yet somehow it’s made with only five ingredients: butter, water, flour, sugar and salt. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. Chef Romina Rasmussen’s koung aman ($5.50) at Les Madeleines has been mentioned in Martha Stewart, GQ, The Best Thing I Ever Ate and my blog numerous times and there’s a reason for it: these one-of-a-kind beauties are hard to beat.
Runner Up: Monkey Bread
6. Skordalia at Aristo’s
I realize Chicago has an entire Greektown to satisfy my Greek culinary cravings, but I have yet to discover a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine with the same dedication to deliciousness as Aristo’s. The entire menu is outstanding (with Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins & Dives agreeing), but the skordalia dip ($7.50), a garlic-based dip served with warm pita bread, is my favorite. My love of skordalia is something I’ve obsessed over for years and if you’re a garlic fan, this garlic-based dip will be your Achilles’ Heel.
Runner Up: Kotopolos (spinach- and feta-stuffed chicken, $20)
7. The entire Omakase at Naked Fish
A Chicagoan once scoffed when I lamented about the quality of sushi in Salt Lake City, which is ironic because even though Chicago’s giant lake looks like the ocean, the city is no closer to the sea than SLC. And while I admittedly haven’t done enough research on Japanese food here, I haven’t found anywhere that does an omakase like Naked Fish. My last omakase there was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in any city and, well, I’m dying to do it again.
Naked Fish’s omakase changes almost nightly and is a series of small dishes in a progression like a tasting menu, including everything from fresh sashimi to innovatively cooked Japanese creations (starting at $65/person; advance notice required).
Runner Up: Tonkotsu ramen (served during lunch).
Even though Chicago is packed with more Italian restaurants than I can count, the Lasagna at Caffe Molise (not to mention their unbelievable chocolate cake) crosses my mind a lot, along with the Lamb & Spinach dish at Mazza. If someone can point me to a Middle Eastern restaurant in Chicago on par with Mazza, I’d be a happy camper. I mean Chicagoan.
I’m gearing up for another trip home for the holidays and the tough part is picking which of these places I’m going to go while I’m in town. There’s got to be a way to fit them all in in one weekend, right?