Not a week goes by that I don’t think to myself how lucky I am to get paid to eat in restaurants and write about them. It’s a job that doesn’t suck. And as the calendar turns over to a new year, I like to look back on the previous one and consider some of the most memorable restaurant dishes I enjoyed. Here are my Top 25 from 2022, ranging from steak tartare and sushi to burritos and goulash. Enjoy.
One of the most interesting culinary experiences of the summer was a pop-up dining series called Arthur, created by chef Kevin Finch and his wife Lex Finch. It was staged at one of my favorite SLC restaurants, Nohm. Among an array of mind-bending delicious dishes was an exceptional King Salmon fillet served with grilled and pureed eggplant and bathed in a silky brown butter sauce that was poured onto the plate tableside.
One of the more amazing vegetarian dishes I encountered was Gargouillou at Bambara. Gargouillou (pronounced gar-gu-YU) is a dish created in Laguiole, France, consisting of as many seasonal fresh market veggies as you can fit on a plate. At Bambara it’s an eye-popping arrangement of veggies including beets, grilled bok choy and heirloom carrots, pickled mustard seeds, watermelon radishes, and much more.
Not all of the food I relished in 2022 was from fine dining restaurants. At Burrito Grande in Roy, you’ll find tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, tortas, chimichangas, entrees and more. But the main reason for a ride to Roy is Burrito Grande’s burritos, as you might have guessed. The Chile Verde Burrito smothered with scrumptious pork nuggets in green chile sauce with melted cheese was my favorite burrito of the year.
The new Cast & Cut restaurant at Deer Valley Resort’s Snow Park Lodge has barely opened and yet it is already making a big splash with tourists and locals alike. Maybe that’s not so surprising, given the outstanding steak and seafood offerings there, like the Blacked Bison Tips appetizer. Executive Chef Peter Menteer sources the highest quality bison and lightly chars the tips which are served with chimichurri and hollandaise. Oh-so tender tips that melt in the mouth!
A meal at Chimayo restaurant in Park City is always a special experience. But that’s even more so if you sip a margarita while enjoying the killer Queso Fundido from Executive Chef Arturo Flores. It’s a wonderful blend of Manchego, Gruyere, and Asadero cheeses topped with grilled jalapeño-tomato salsa and served with flatbread and homemade corn tortilla chips – the best restaurant tortilla chips I’ve ever had.
The best burger I encountered in 2022 was one of the simplest: The CC Burger at Copper Common. What makes the Copper Common Burger so sensational is the perfect beef blend, combined with a striking simplicity. As Chef/Owner Ryan Lowder says of his burger, “We set out to do a very simple, proper burger where the meat couldn’t hide.” Well, mission accomplished. This burger is a thin meat patty composed of local beef and trim from “tenderloins, ribeyes, strips, and brisket,” according to Lowder, with melted Noord Hollander aged Gouda, black pepper, and pickled onion on a perfect bun. Sometimes, less is more.
I like octopus but hesitate to order it in restaurants since many chefs don’t really know how to handle the eight-limbed mollusc and it tends to be cooked and served tough and chewy. But that is not the case under the guidance of Current’s talented Executive Chef, Manny Acero. The Spanish Octopus was tender and delicious, not to mention a plated work of art. It is grilled and served with eggplant, plump heirloom beans, tomato, and Moroccan olives. A truly memorable dish.
There is so much deliciousness at Eva that it’s hard to narrow down one winning dish. But if I had to, I would return again and again for the outrageously delicious Grilled Asparagus. Never has asparagus been treated better – nicely charred and topped with prosciutto, perfect poached egg, and shredded Romano cheese.
Feldman’s Deli is justifiably renowned for overstuffed sandwiches, sensational sides, Utah’s best bagels, and other good things to nosh. But don’t visit Feldman’s without indulging in Janet Feldman’s soul-nourishing matzo ball soup with chicken. Not to get too schmaltzy, it’s simply the best soup in town.
Although Franklin Cocktails & Kitchen is a 21-and-over bar, the food isn’t your standard bar fare, that’s for sure. To wit, most folks probably don’t walk into a bar looking for a spectacular salad. But at Franklin the Baby Gems Salad is every bit as delicious as it is eye-popping on the plate. It might be easier to list what wasn’t in this superb salad than what was: Baby gems lettuce with grilled avocado, crab meat, pepitas, radish slices, tomato, olives, and more, all bathed in a silky buttermilk dressing.
The highlight of a dinner at Hong Kong Teahouse & Restaurant was a whole Ocean Perch steamed with ginger and green onion. It was perfectly cooked, with the meaty fish flesh nearly falling off the bone and with a vibrant ginger-infused sauce to accompany it. So simple, yet sensational.
One of the highlights – and there were many – of dining at the newly opened Italian Graffiti restaurant in The Gateway is Chef Marc Marrone’s take on Steak Tartare. It is a generous portion of hand-cut Prime filet topped with a chile pepper and served with a tangy tarragon remoulade and crispy rye-spiced waffle fries. It’s just one example of the awesome antipasti at Italian Graffiti.
There is a lot to recommend at KITA, the Pendry hotel’s Japanese steakhouse and sushi restaurant. From Prime and Wagyu steaks to octopus and hamachi. But what stands out in my mind was the exquisite Sushi Platter that included remarkable seared Japanese A5 Wagyu beef, an assortment of sashimi including hamachi, zuke sake, bluefin tuna, and hirame, along with bincho-charred maguro and tamago nigiri. At KITA, we were in sushi heaven.
A visit to The Lakehouse at Deer Creek is a special one where Executive Chef Tamara Stanger prepares unique signature dishes centered around her love of heritage foods, regional terroir, small farms, and indigenous ingredients. Her Chilaquiles plate is stupendous: house-made corn chips smothered in a chile verde sauce, local cheese, fermented chiles, pickled onion, huun ga’i corn, microgreens, and pico de gallo.
There is a lot to love at Laurel Brasserie and Bar in The Grand America, including French bistro fare. But one of my favorite dishes of the year came from the bar bites menu at Laurel: the Grilled Beef Tenderloin Skewers, with button mushrooms and served with a fresh herb dipping sauce on the side. It’s just one of the wonderful things to come from Executive Chef Fernando Soberanis’ kitchen at The Grand America.
One of the best pasta dishes I enjoyed during 2022 was Pappardelle al Sugo at Chef/Owner Fred Moesinger’s Caffe Molise. It’s a plate of fresh, thick pappardelle pasta made in-house, tossed in a hearty, robust, slowly-simmered sauce of beef and pork with tomatoes, then topped with grated Asiago cheese and julienned basil. The sauce is so rich and robust that there are large morsels of pork and beef to be found, like meaty treasures, hidden within those luscious pappardelle noodles.
There is no shortage of tasty tacos around town. But my favorite tacos of 2022 were the Birria Tacos at Monarca. Not surprising, perhaps, since Monarca’s owners are the same folks behind the wildly popular Santo Tacos eateries. The trio of birria tacos at Monarca featured shredded house-made brisket birria served with crispy melted cheese and a side of consomme for dipping, plus all the standard taco accoutrements.
Once in every blue moon I come across a dish where I absolutely love EVERYTHING on my plate. Such was the case at Oquirrh and the Beer Steamed Mussels, which was a dozen or so black mussels steamed in Squatters Chasing Tail Ale with a big, beautiful marrow-filled beef bone and grilled toast points. It’s an example of the sort of elevated comfort food that Chef/Owner Drew Fuller and his team does so well.
Best beets? Why, those would be the ones at Scott Evans’ Pago on Main. Kudos to Evans, Executive Chef & Partner Phelix Gardner, and their team for offering guests so many vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes to enjoy. One of the best – and most gorgeous – is the vibrant dish of pickled strawberries with beets, goat cheese mousse and crispy quinoa.
There is a lot of great pizza around Utah. But for Neapolitan-style perfect pizza look no further than Chef/Owner Will McMaster’s Pizza Nono. A Margherita pizza is a simple, beautiful thing that is totally dependent on a few ingredients, so they must be of the highest quality. A great Margherita pizza begins with a great crust, and PIzza Nono nails it. It’s thin and cooked to perfection with lovely char marks that add flavor. To complete the Margherita, there is tangy and sweet, ripe tasting San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, Grana Parmesan, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil – nothing more, nothing less. To be honest, I haven’t tasted a better Margherita pizza than the one at Pizza Nono.
It’s not easy to improve on the much sought-after hot chicken found in Nashville. But, Pretty Bird Chef/Owner Viet Pham has done it. His secret spice blend and cooking technique makes Pretty Bird hot chicken uniquely bodacious – you won’t find tastier hot chicken anywhere. The Fried Chicken Sando – boneless chicken thigh with slaw, pickles, Pretty Bird sauce on a buttered bun – is the perfect hot chicken sandwich.
Perhaps you wouldn’t look to Layton for some of Utah’s best Indian cuisine. But then, you would if you’d ever visited Red Fort Cuisine of India. Owned and operated by Shamsheer Singh and Wahid Noori, Red Fort is a treasure trove of delicious Indian dishes, but none better than the Lamb Vindaloo. It is tender boneless lamb morsels and potato cooked in a fiery curry made with tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, and spices including hot chilis, served with perfectly cooked basmati rice.
At Log Haven restaurant, it’s hard to pick a favorite from Executive Chef Dave Jones’ bonanza of tantalizing dishes. But if hard-pressed to do so, I’d say that my favorite Log Haven dish in 2022 was the Risotto with Grilled Shrimp. Chef Jones’ risotto is made in the Northern Italian-style, which is more creamy and almost porridge-like as opposed to “drier” risotto that you might be familiar with. Anyway, it’s absolutely delicious: arborio rice cooked in broth with lemon and tomato butter, topped with plump and tender grilled shrimp, Parmigiano-Reggiano, asparagus, and finished with extra virgin olive oil. It’s one of the more decadent and delightful risottos I’ve ever enjoyed.
At Tupelo Park City, Chef/Owner melds his love of Southern cooking with global flavors and ingredients. A perfect example is his deliciously tender barbecued Spanish octopus, which is accompanied by slightly sweet passion fruit baked beans and dollops of tangy Georgia mustard sauce, garnished with microgreens. The unique flavor of those perfectly cooked baked beans demonstrates the attention to detail that is given even a simple “side” dish in Chef Harris’ kitchen.
When my wife and I crave great food and friendly service, more often than not we head to Weller’s Bistro in Layton. One of the many outstanding dishes there is the Goulash, which is based on owner Jan Weller’s family recipe. It is impossibly tender stewed beef with mushrooms cooked in a paprika-spiked stew. Jan Weller told me that there are some 30 or so spices and seasonings in his goulash. Whatever is in there, the flavor is very complex and the goulash comes with delicious homemade spätzle and classic sauerkraut (Grandma’s recipe). It’s a perfect winter dish, but I’m happy to eat it anytime.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “So long as you have food in your mouth you have solved all questions for the time being.” – Franz Kafka
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.