Remember the wide-eyed stare the first time the Sloppy Joe sandwich was placed on your table at Feldman’s Deli? The mounds of pastrami and corned beef glistening in the sun streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Or the hot sizzling sound of the molcajete as it makes its way across the expansive dining room of Chile Tepin?
While it’s exciting that Salt Lake has opened so many new restaurants post-pandemic, it would be a shame to forget about the tried-and-true favorites that have sustained us through both the good and bad times and that we keep going back to — although maybe less frequently than we should.
These establishments have stood the test of time (most open for a decade or more) and all are owned by local chefs or families who call Utah home and give back to the community. Although a few qualify as special-occasion destinations, some don’t require or even take reservations, but still make a Tuesday feel extra special with their consistent dishes and solid service. So pull up a chair to the table, it’s time to relive some great dining memories.
Chabaar Beyond Thai
87 W. 7200 South, Midvale; 801-566-5100; bestthaifoodinutah.com/chabaarbeyondthai
Restaurateur Anny Sooksri brings as much character to her restaurants as the food of her native Thailand offers.
As her second Thai restaurant, Chabaar Beyond Thai serves up a substantial menu of salads, stir fries and more, plus favorites like fresh spring rolls ($8) served with an idyllic spicy peanut sauce and variously colored curry (red, yellow, green). Less ubiquitous curry finds also emerge with 8 other offerings.
Kow soi ($18), traditionally found in northern Thailand, is a hearty, colorful bowl of thick coconut curry enveloping your choice of protein — try the beef — that’s topped with julienned carrots, bean sprouts, pickled mustard greens and fresh lime, served over long noodles.
Each of Sooksri’s restaurants (she also owns the Tea Rose Diner in Murray and Fav Bistro in Holladay) heralds its own specials. At Chabaar, the dishes everyone clamors for are the curry pot pie ($17) and the eggplant stir fry ($18). The latter features slices of Thai eggplant battered and fried, then mixed with bamboo, bell peppers and carrots for crunch and either fish or crispy pork as protein in an herbaceous basil sauce.
It’s also not unusual to hear diners at Chabaar order “crack soup”. Long-time customers seek out Sooksri’s hot and sour noodle soup ($17) like addicts. One taste of the tangy, spicy broth loaded with chicken, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, carrots, cabbage and egg noodles explains the fix needed. The steaming bowl is flavored with chili paste, lime juice and fish sauce for kick, then topped with a raw egg before serving — creating a silky, creamy, savory bowl of deliciousness that can certainly cure all ails.
For years, regulars at Chabaar would see with each visit new plants in the front entrance and reconfigured/remodeled spaces that resembled the former diner location less and less each time, yet guests can always expect to leave satiated by the delicately nuanced flavors of Thailand.
307 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City; 801-883-9255; chile-tepin.com.
While the Salt Lake Valley offers a wealth of Mexican restaurants to choose from, not all live up to the standards of Chile-Tepin, located in the Crane Building in downtown Salt Lake City.
It’s a regular stop for business lunches, dinner before Jazz games, and for those looking for filling, colorful dishes in a clean and casual environment. Known for serving fresh, well-prepared Mexican dishes with great service, you won’t leave hungry here.
Start with the queso fundido ($11) with spicy chorizo to share around the table or fresh guacamole ($7) served with salty, crispy house-made chips.
The sizzling molcajete ($32) is a dining experience to remember, as the meal features a large heated lava rock bowl brimming with grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, nopales (cactus) and sticks of queso fresco simmering in green tomatillo sauce and topped with charred jalapeños and onion. Sides of rice, a bowl of smoky beans and warm corn or flour tortillas complete the display, which makes a generous entree for two (if not three) adults.
Sizzling fajitas ($15), complex moles ($16) crispy chile relleno ($12) and perfectly succulent shrimp dishes ($17) round out the entrée menu.
In Chile-Tepin, owner Carlos Rodriguez has devised the right environment for a festive meal that tastes as good as it looks and is readily accessible to downtown traffic any time of day or night.
2005 E. 2700 South, Salt Lake City; 801-906-0369; feldmansdeli.com
Despite this New York-style deli’s immediate and long-standing success, Feldman’s Deli owners Michael and Janet Feldman have resisted constant urging to expand. Instead, they focus on the highest-quality food and personal service at the original location opened in Millcreek in late 2012 — and now slowly turning the family establishment over to their grown children.
Home to the Sloppy Joe ($17), this Jewish deli sandwich turns heads with a quarter-pound each of sliced-to-order corned beef and pastrami, separated by three slices of Jewish rye and topped with cool coleslaw and tangy Thousand Island dressing for a taste sensation that still makes Utahns swoon. The East Side Sloppy Joe is similar, with turkey and roast beef.
Both come with a choice of side that have their hardcore fans (crispy skin-on fries and potato salad are neck and neck) and, like the “Seinfeld” soup Nazi, there are no substitutions — it should be eaten as designed. Other hot and cold sandwiches are more accommodating.
For breakfast, East Coasters can get their Taylor Ham fix here in the Breakfast Sandwich ($11) or Eggs Benny ($14), served on a latke with fried eggs.
Old World specialties like pierogi and chicken paprikash can be enjoyed with a side of live music on Friday nights — sometimes featuring Michael Feldman himself as a member of Two Old Guys. It’s all part of the neighborhood ski chalet vibe of Feldman’s, where you come for the food but stay for the fun.
Kobe Japanese Restaurant
3947 Wasatch Blvd., Salt Lake City; 801-277-2928; kobeslc.com.
Kobe chef and owner Mike Fukumitsu knows how to keep a table of diners happy. The menu features several pages of specialty sushi rolls, featuring the likes of the Pablo Escolar ($14) — with spicy tuna, tempura peppers and seared escolar — alongside sashimi and plenty of appetizers. But it’s the ramen that sets Kobe apart from other Japanese restaurants in the valley.
Fukumitsu spent a year in Atsugi, Japan, learning the art of scratch-made ramen before purchasing Kobe on Wasatch Boulevard in June 2013 and transforming it into a destination to enjoy steaming bowls of ramen at lunch and dinner.
Fukamitsu’s eight different ramen offerings ($11-16) embody the idea that the sum is greater than its parts. “At its core, ramen is a dish that highlights all of its parts: the noodles, the broth and the toppings,” Fukumitsu said. “Having each of these parts perfectly complement one another makes it a great all-in-one dish.”
Tender pasta and rich broth that’s been slowly coaxed to greatness — achieved by simmering pork (or chicken) bones and vegetables for hours and finally adding flavorings such as shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) or miso — each offer their own delights. Kimchi, katsu curry with a panko-crusted chicken breast and gyoza creatively layer flavors together in these signature offerings. Fukamitsu’s tonkotsu replaces bamboo shoots with kikurage (wood-ear) mushrooms for a chewy mouthfeel infused with the creamy pork broth.
At Kobe, ramen is a carefully orchestrated symphony of flavors where not a single slice of skillfully roasted pork charshu, poached egg, green onion or narutomaki slice is placed without thought and care.
“Our process is very labor-intensive,” Fukumitsu said, “and requires a lot of time to make sure that everything going into each bowl is perfect.”
Four locations: 1059 East 900 South, Salt Lake City, 385-900-0288; 7628 S. Union Park Ave., Midvale, 801-676-6466; 10722 Riverfront Parkway, South Jordan, 801-748-1178; 1616 W. Traverse Parkway, Lehi, 801-770-0088.
Since 2002, Utahns seeking out sushi could always count on the sushi chefs at Tsunami to deliver inventive rolls and fresh sashimi along with other Asian-inspired dishes.
Tsunami’s original location in Sugar House is set to reopen in early this summer, after a top-to-bottom remodel, bringing locations along the Wasatch Front to five, from 9th and 9th to Lehi.
Drew Kawaguchi, director of food operations, oversees the menu and sourcing for all locations, making it a priority to serve fish and dishes that no other restaurant does. His efforts allow diners to be as adventurous as they want, as the menu offers a breadth of choices. From teriyaki and donburi (rice bowls, $9-11) for those keeping it simple to nigiri and sashimi for fish purists and much in between.
Meat lovers will swoon over the Tsunami baby back ribs ($15), basted in a jalapeño teriyaki sauce that’s worth licking your fingers for.
A beautiful and delicious appetizer, the green-lipped mussel shooters ($6) are the perfect combination of sweet, salt and fat. The mussels are broiled, chopped and then tossed with a sweet and spicy soy sauce. Served with a slice of fresh avocado, a raw quail egg and topped with masago.
The signature sushi roll, the Tsunami Roll ($17), is filled with deep-fried soft-shell crab and cucumbers and then topped with tuna and avocado with a flourish of eel sauce. This compliments dozens of other options including a large selection of vegetable-forward rolls.Quality ingredients, enormous selection and multiple locations make this two-decade-old restaurant group a spot to visit again and again.