The Perfect Meal

Eating your way through downtown Salt Lake City, one course at a time.
Current Fish & Oyster. All photography by Austen Diamond.
Current Fish & Oyster. All photography by Austen Diamond.

Let us assume that we can extend both time and, more importantly, our maximum caloric intake. With our parameters set, we’ll take a foodie field trip through downtown Salt Lake City to create The Perfect Meal.

Utah’s capital city offers myriad dining options. In fact, Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named Salt Lake City one of America's 5 New Foodie Cities. Settle in for comfort food at historic dives or get gussied up for a multi-course wine-pairing dinners over white tablecloth. Relax with award-winning beers at Utah’s best breweries or be amazed with cutting-edge modern gastronomic fare. Whatever your flavor, Salt Lake City has it — and this is just downtown.

Discover downtown’s best dishes, one course at a time at 10 different restaurants. We think the appetizers, entrees, tapas, and drinks included in The Perfect Meal represent each restaurant quite well. Due to seasonality, though, certain courses might not be on the menu when you arrive. But fear not, for each establishment can point you in the right direction, and you can put your own spin on The Perfect Meal.


1. Les Madeleines — Kouing Aman (Kouign Amann)  

The Perfect Meal would, of course, begin with dessert … at lunchtime — don’t let any pesky work get in the way of your downtown Salt Lake City food excursion. Just a scant UTA TRAX ride east of downtown to the Library Square stop (located in the free fare zone), and you’re ready to get started. Pay a visit to the Queen of the Kouing, pastry chef Romina Rasmussen, at Les Madeleines. This cozy, French-style cafe is inspired by the renowned pastry chef’s world travels and offers a bevy of savory breakfasts and lunches and world-class treats. The centerpiece of the pastry collection is the beloved Kouing Aman.

The Kouing Aman of Les Madeleine
The Kouing Aman of Les Madeleine

The Kouing Aman was named by Food & Wine as the 2012 Pastry of the Year, and with one bite, it’s easy to taste why. The rich and buttery pastry hails from Brittany, France, and offers simultaneous lightness and crunch. Right here in Salt Lake City, Rasmussen has been baking the superb pastry for more than 12 years — hundreds come out of her kitchen each week and are shipped across the country to hungry addicts. 

216 East 500 South
Salt Lake City
801-355-2294
LesMadeleines.com


2. Even Stevens Sandwiches — Pot Roast Dip

Want to feel good about your gluttonous day of eating? At Even Stevens Sandwiches, you eat to give. In the same cause marketing, buy-one-give-one strategy as companies like TOMS Shoes, when you buy a sandwich at Even Stevens, the restaurant donates ingredients for a sandwich to a handful of local nonprofits geared towards alleviating hunger. The downtown location’s sales benefit the Good Samaritan Program, the Rescue Mission, Volunteers of America Homeless Youth Outreach, and the YWCA. As of September 2015, Even Stevens has donated more than 150,000 sandwiches to those in need.

Sit in the flagship Even Stevens’ rustic, yet modern-cool interior and order the Pot Roast Dip. Succulent turkey pot roast, Swiss cheese, red onion, jalapeno jelly, lightly-toasted sourdough, and a side of au ju — it reads like a poem and tastes even better. Snack on this sammie, and do a little good.

Salt Lake location
EvenStevens.com


3. Bar-X — Negroni

Spark your appetite with an aperitif. The word comes from the Latin aperire, which means "to open." This drink is meant to stimulate the appetite; it’s often light, dry, and modestly alcoholic. A slightly bitter, herbaceous liqueur will do, or you can add a bit of panache to your pre-dinner with a cocktail. Pre-Prohibition-era cocktails have made a comeback in America in a big way, and the past several years have seen Utah’s drinking culture blossom.

A must-stop is the 200 South spot Bar-X, co-owned by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell. While the bar originally opened doors in 1933, it morphed into its modern iteration just years ago. The dimly-lit, oaky, speakeasy vibe remained, though. Bar-X serves cutting-edge house-created cocktails on an ever-changing menu, as well as your classic pre-Prohibition drinks. Since the drinks are handmade and artfully prepared, be ready to wait a minute to be served, even on weeknights, which can be bustling.

Our aperitif of choice for The Perfect Meal is a classic: the Negroni. One part Campari (a bitter Italian liqueur), one part gin (use locally-made Beehive Distilling Jack Rabbit Gin), and one part sweet vermouth makes one stimulating imbibing experience. For a less alcoholic libation, try an Americano, which substitutes seltzer water for gin. Too traditional? Bar-X serves up a bevy of Salt Lake originals you may never have expected out of Utah's capital. Now, just sit back in this cozy hangout and let your tastebuds wake up.

155 East 200 South
Salt Lake City
801-355-2287
BarXSaltLake.com


4. Squatters Pub & Brewery — Nachos and a Full Suspension Pale Ale

No one said The Perfect Meal needed to be over-the-top fancy. But we do prefer it to be classic at the very least. The downtown staple, Squatters Pub & Brewery makes award-winning beers and cooks some of the most delicious gastropub fare in Salt Lake City. On any given day, Squatters is packed with convention-goers, after-hours execs, college students, and just about everyone in between. The homey interior is a fantastic place to saddle up, see the community come together, and enjoy an appetizer and a session ale.

Come in and nosh on — dare we say — the best nachos you’ll ever eat. The Roadhouse Nachos are piled nearly as tall as Squatters’ three-story building itself with black bean refritos, jack and cheddar cheeses, jalapenos, tomatoes, black olives, sour cream, salsa and guacamole. Indeed, this classic, cheesy delight is the ultimate app. Make sure to bring a pile of friends so you don’t ruin your appetite, because these nachos are huge. Pair this with a Full Suspension Pale Ale. This balanced, Northwest-style pale ale is a two-time Great American Beer Festival Gold Medal winner (2001 and 2002 in the bitter category). As Squatters says, “It really smooths out the bumps.”

147 W. Broadway
Salt Lake City
801-363-2739
Squatters.com


5. Current Fish & Oyster — Grilled Hawaiian Prawns and East and West Coast Oysters

One of Salt Lake City’s newest restaurants, Current Fish & Oyster, has the city buzzing. Firstly, it’s hard not to commend the establishment for its environs. The historic building, located in the up-and-coming 300 South corridor, dates back to 1906 and was once home to Salt Lake Antiques. During the remodel, layers and layers were removed to showcase the fabulous, century-old framework, which was given modern, industrial flourishes. It certainly makes for a romantic and scenic dining experience.

Here, time-tested American seafood dishes get a unique, contemporary spin thanks to Executive Chef Logen Crew. Classic preparation and technique work in tandem with fresh, high-quality ingredients for some mesmerizing gastronomic experiences . Our current (no pun intended) favorite is the Grilled Hawaiian Prawns, served with heirloom hominy, tomato, Utah corn, and tomatillo nage. This entree offers a playful balance for your palate and epitomizes the innovative approach of Crew and his crew. Also, don’t forget to begin with an order of East or West Coast oysters. Served with cucumber mignonette, spicy ponzu or cocktail sauce, these oysters are incredibly fresh.



279 E. 300 South
Salt Lake City
801-326-3474
CurrentFishAndOyster.com


6. Naked Fish Japanese Bistro — Nigiri and Kushiyaki

If you’re noticing a trend, yes, there are impeccably fresh fish and seafood options in Salt Lake City.

Nestled between the Salt Palace Convention Center and City Creek Center, Naked Fish Japanese Bistro is as convenient as it is delightful. Led by Executive Sushi Chef Sunny Tsogbadrakh, Naked Fish’s sushi is what put it on the map some years ago. Owner Johnny Kwon has even said that nigiri is his favorite food on Earth, so why not start there? Using high-end short-grain Koshihikari rice from Japan and premium fish, Chef Tsogbadrakh nails the nigiri options. Try them all, but do yourself a favor and don’t miss the maguro (big eye tuna), sake harami (king salmon belly), hamachi harami (yellowtail belly), or tai (snapper).

Next, turn your attention to the kushiyaki offerings, prepared by Executive Chef Akane Nakamura. A generic term for skewered and grilled meat and vegetables, kushiyaki is prepared on Salt Lake City’s only 1,600-degree-Fahrenheit Japanese Higo yakitori griller. In seconds, these skewers of deliciousness are blazed to perfection. Fit for sharing, try several kushiyaki options, including mekyabetsu (brussel sprouts), ika (squid), or tsukune (minced chicken). With every option on Naked Fish’s menu, though, it’s obvious that perfection is the goal.

67 W. 100 South
Salt Lake City
801-595-8888
NakedFishBistro.com


7. Pallet Bistro — Lamb Osso Buco

Nary a nook in Salt Lake City is more enticing than Pallet Bistro. The name is a play on the historic building's roots as the loading dock for Salt Lake’s first creamery. The building’s heritage has been preserved, but the bistro has added a detail-driven interior design that’s fit for a casual lunch meetup or a romantic splurge. That said, the culinary artistry is every bit as thoughtful and nuanced as the dining area. The readers of Salt Lake Magazine thought so as well, naming Pallet Bistro “Best Restaurant in SLC” in 2014.

Led by Executive Chef Zachary “Buzz” Willey, the kitchen crew at Pallet Bistro is plating some pristine New American dishes. Willey learned much from his Italian grandmother in the kitchen, including the Italian cooking ethos of letting quality ingredients do the heavy lifting. Try the Lamb Osso Buco, made with a cut of Utah’s Morgan Valley Lamb and served with carrot, onions, and lemon parsley gremolata.

237 South 400 West
Salt Lake City
801-935-4431
EatPallet.com


8. Whiskey Street — Stuffed Free Range Chicken

This is not your typical bar food. Across the board, Whiskey Street surprises and delights guests with its cuisine. What appears to be an after-hours watering hole located on prime real estate in downtown SLC turns out to be one of Main Street’s best eateries. What’s more, the thoughtful preparations won’t break the bank (more money left for Whiskey Street’s craft cocktails).

Executive chef Matt Crandall has curated an exquisite entree in the Stuffed Free Range Chicken. This organic, free-range airline chicken breast is stuffed with three cheeses, chorizo, spinach, and artichoke hearts. Crandall sous vides the chicken to retain the natural juices and then pan roasts it for a crispy outer layer. It’s served with creamy polenta, grilled asparagus, and a red-wine-kalamata-olive pan jus.


Another reason to love Whiskey Street: The restaurant demystifies food-and-drink pairings and simply lists what beverage — whiskey, wine, or beer — to enjoy with each dish on the menu. For the Stuffed Free Range Chicken, Whiskey Street suggests Elijah Craig 23-Year-Old Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Mirassou Merlot, or Epic Cross Fever Amber.

323 S. Main
Salt Lake City
801-433-1371
WhiskeyStreet.com


9. Finca — Paella Catalana and various tapas

Do as the Spanish do — keep eating into the wee hours of the eve. As such, make a stop at downtown Salt Lake City’s finest Spanish-style tapas restaurant, Finca. You are in the home stretch of The Perfect Meal, so make it count.

Downtownees recently welcomed Finca when the restaurant moved locations. The new digs are as cozy as they are sleek — a perfect canvas for Finca’s food. Because owner Scott Evans and Executive Chef Phelix Gardner are hitting such high notes, we couldn't pick just one entree. And after all, Spanish cuisine is most notably known for its tapas — small plates made for sharing.

The centerpiece of Finca’s menu is Spain’s iconic Paella Catalana. Chef Gardner mixes house-made chorizo, Mary’s chicken, Manila clams, Kauai shrimp, and local Utah vegetables. Throughout the menu, you’ll note local sourcing and a sustainable mindset when it comes to ingredients. Tap into your love of tapas and eat the elotes, Utah corn served three ways — smoked, charred, and sauteed — and the zanahoria, Utah carrots grilled, then sauteed with cumin and honey, served on top of saffron butter cream.

327 W. 200 South
Salt Lake City
801-487-0699
FincaSLC.com


10. The Vault Bar & Lounge at Bambara — Red Thunder

Paying homage to the fervor locals have for University of Utah Utes football, the mixologists at The Vault have crafted the Red Thunder. This indelible libation is served up in a martini glass and is made with High West whiskey, Aperol, Angostura bitters, and a honey-rosemary-cranberry-ginger compote. You don’t even have to like football or the Utes to fall in love with this drink. And for a little midnight snack, should you still need to eat, try the Duck Liver Crostini — grilled sourdough bread, frisée, arugula, chives, honey-rosemary-cranberry-ginger compote, and balsamic vinegar.



Aside from the walkability of downtown and the fact that Hotel Monaco is right in the middle of it, making a quick trip to The Vault Bar & Lounge at Bambara a no-brainer, how nice is it to catch a nightcap literally right under where you’ll be sleeping. After your last sips, tuck yourself into a lovely bed and call The Perfect Meal — in all (or part of) it's glory — a success.

202 S. Main
Salt Lake City
801-363-5454
Bambara-SLC.com


Nice Weather We're Having? See it by bike.

Explore The Perfect Meal on Google Maps. Each option is near a GREENbike bicycle share station (seasonal, closes in winter; a 24-hour pass is $5, which includes unlimited 30-minute rides — make sure to dock your bike between rides) or completely walkable to burn a few calories and build up the appetite for the next course.


Austen Diamond

Austen Diamond is the former music editor of the City Weekly and a freelance writer for national and regional magazines covering arts, entertainment, food, and news. He has won numerous awards for his reporting skills from such organizations as the Society of Professional Journalists. Also an acclaimed photographer and photojournalist, he shoots creative portraiture and documentary-style work and produces 13% SALT, an online photo journal highlighting Utah's modern pioneers, subcultures and communities.

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