One of the things I love is the bounty of Mexican food restaurants that we have in the city. We have our 24-hour drive throughs that all end in “etos” or “bertos.” We have taco carts and birria joints. We have places to eat deep, flavorful molé. We have cheap eats and higher-end. It’s a bounty of choices.
So where does Lola, located at 9th and 9th, fit in this spectrum? Well, it might be best for me to describe the place and you can judge for yourself.
The interior is befitting of the chic exterior of the restaurant. The first thing that draws you eye upon entering is the long open kitchen that greets you right as you cross the threshold. I am, and forever will be, a sucker for open kitchens. I don’t care how “2010” of me it is to say so. As a wannabe chef, it is infinitely intriguing to me to watch them work their magic.
The dining room is noisy with excitement, but not overly so. The steady thrumming of noise adds vibrancy and energy to the room, while not being too much.
The menu is focused, though not overly simple. You’ll find two to three appetizers, a few salads, and eight or so entrees. The restaurant offers some creative drink options, including some really nice aguas frescas.
We started our meal with the queso fundido, and warm, melty cheese dish featuring Heber Valley Cheese. The dish stuck to its roots with soft corn tortillas, but I would have liked to have been given the option to get some traditional tortilla chips, which would have made scooping the gooey cheese with bits of plantain a bit easier.
For our entrees, our party chose the toasted Japanese yam with “umami sour cream,” the tinga empanada, and asada burro, and the chicken milanesa.
The yam received rave reviews from our friend, who said the mix of flavors were really nice. The yam was so light that she remarked that it was like she was eating a cloud. The tinga dish was also well received, and the carne asada burro, despite needing a bit of salt and perhaps a tangy element like some pickled onions or jalapeños, was also tasty.
The milanesa was a dud, I’m sad to say. Milanesa is traditionally prepared by slicing beef or pounding a chicken breast very thin, then lightly breading and frying. After reading the description, I was excited to give it a try, but sadly was disappointed. The dish needs to be completely reworked, or just 86’d. The chicken was tough, dry, chewy, and flavorless. I found myself wishing for a crema or sauce of some sort to help add some complexity to this dish and help add a bit of moisture, but all I had was a lemon wedge. The best part of this dish were the quick-pickled tomatoes, which I believe were seasoned with Tajin. I would have loved to have had another handful of those to help add a little excitement to this otherwise bland dish.
We had great service from who I believe is one of the owners and “sometimes chef” (in his words). Water pitchers were brought to the table promptly, silverware was replaced efficiently, and the timing of the meal was spot-on.
Should you check out Lola? I definitely think so. The restaurant adds a fun vibe to an already fun 9th and 9th. I’d say the restaurant sits between Chile Tepin and Monarca from an “upscale” perspective. You won’t be getting refried beans and rice with every entree, but you also won’t be spending $40 per plate, either. I think Lola sits in a nice spot price-wise, with entrees ranging from around $18 to $25 dollars.
So, go check it out and let me know what you think. Just don’t get the milanesa.
It’s always fun to discover someone or something that does things a bit differently than the rest. Taking chances and experimentation creates excitement and vibrancy. And few SLC restaurants exhibit this better than SLC Eatery, located on 1017 South Main Street.
SLC Eatery remains one of my favorite restaurants in Salt Lake. I love the someone oddball location on Main Street around 10th South. The building is a former rock shop, sandwiched between a motel and a used car dealership. The interior decor remains current, with beautiful woodwork designed and built by Chad Parkinson at The Furniture Joint.
The wide-ranging menu is creative and daring, but keeping things within most peoples’ comfort zones. Expect to find everything from Utah scones to bulgogi to albacore tataki to swordfish.
My favorite feature of the restaurant is the dim sum cart, which is wheeled around to diners at least twice throughout the meal. The dim sum cart at State Bird in San Francisco inspired co-owner and chef Paul Chamberlain to incorporate a dim sum cart as part of SLC Eatery.
Pre-COVID, the cart was chock-full of various small plates filled with tasty bites. The plates are priced low enough to encourage diners to try a bunch of different plates and see what they like. Now, in a post-COVID world, and with food waste in mind, the cart no longer has ready-made plates ready to be picked off the cart. Rather, the cart has one prepared plate of each option, allowing diners to choose which they would like. The dishes are then prepared a la minute and brought out. I’ll admit some of the charm of the cart is gone with this change, but the idea is still fantastic and sets SLC Eatery apart from other restaurants. On a recent visit, we were able to try a bunch of different small plates, instead of committing to just one entree.
I love that the cart allows co-owners and chefs Logan Crew and Paul Chamberlain a creative outlet to experiment with different flavors and techniques. On the evening we stopped by, we were lucky that one of the dim sum items was an item that’s been with them from the start: the very lovely Tokyo Turnips, with a wonderfully sweet and bright caper date purée and a sesame garlic crunch. The Utah Scone with “everything” seasoning was wonderfully light and crunchy, and the clam dip with tobiko and house-made potato chips were a hit. My favorite small plate was the fried quail with pomegranate and an SLC Eatery take on barbecue sauce. The quail was shatteringly crisp and perfectly cooked.
A standout plate of the evening was the calamari “fried rice,” a gorgeous dish with crispy rice, a carrot ginger nage, jalapeños, olive, and cilantro. Logan and Paul really know how to balance flavors in a way that each dish is wonderfully tasty, but not overpowering.
For our main, we had the house-made orecchiette in a basque chorizo ragu and topped with buffalo mozzarella. It was outstanding.
At the end of the meal, the dim sum cart made another tempting round, this time with desserts. We chose the apple cheesecake with salted caramel and oat crumble. The crust was unique, and was more filo dough-like than a standard graham cracker crust, but it was delicious regardless.
I absolutely love and appreciate the niche that SLC Eatery has managed to carve out for itself in SLC. The food is elevated but approachable, and reasonably priced (expect to pay between $30 and $40 for most entrees). The chefs flirt with molecular gastronomy, but keep it on the conservative side of the spectrum in a way that doesn’t scare off their general audience and keeps prices reasonable.
One other side note: you know the old cliche that we eat with our eyes before we eat with our mouths? Paul and Logan get that. And it shows with their food photography, especially on their Instagram account, which routinely posts some incredibly beautiful photos of their food. They seem to be one of the few restaurants in SLC that understand that proper food photography sets restaurants apart from the rest.
Paul and Logan (and the rest of the SLC Eatery crew): keep doing your thing, man. I love the inventiveness, the willingness to stick your necks out to try a unique location and a unique service model.
A few years ago, my wife and I travelled around Switzerland during the holidays. One excursion took out to Lac Leman, where we visited an old castle and walked around Montreux (the highlight being visiting Queen’s recording studio inside of a wild casino). It was chilly, and we found ourselves in a park by the lake. The park was decorated with all sorts of holiday cheer, and various vendors were scattered about.
We tucked into one small little wooden hut, and were immediately welcomed by the warmth of a fire and the aroma of melting cheese. We found the right place.
The raclette shack was a warm, welcome reprieve from the bitter cold evening. We sat down and ordered two plates of raclette and watched as they warmed up a half wheel of cheese and the scraped the melted bits onto a plate, then added boiled potatoes, cornichons, bread, and other tasty items to accompany the cheese. That tiny hut, and the rich dish, were the perfect combination to battle a chilly Swiss night.
The same feelings I experienced there were re-kindled in me upon a visit to Deer Valley’s Fireside Dining, located in the Empire Lodge at Deer Valley resort.
Ski lodge by day, it switches over to a wonderful dining location at night. Although it is a big space, the way the lodge is designed it splits tables up among various different locations, giving it a much cozier feeling than you might think.
Fireside Dining is a unique setup; there are five or six different “stations,” each one anchored by a large fireplace that is actively cooking some component of the meal. At our visit, the stations were as follows:
Raclette, consisting of melted Raclette cheese from the heat of the fireplace, and depositing the cheese on a plate. You then move on to the rest of the Raclette table, which contains charcuterie, potatoes, house-pickled onions, homemade mustards (don’t skip the fig mustard–it’s incredible!), and sliced baguettes.
A soup and salad station, featuring a beer cheese soup, beautiful gem salad, house made pretzels, and other delicious items.
A stew station, featuring a rich veal and mushroom stew, wonderfully tender salmon, and hand-grated rosti (ask them to pour the stew over the rosti for a nice, crunchy surprise at the bottom of your stew).
The carvery station had roasted leg of lamb (they had leg roasting in front of the fire, suspended by string) and ribeye, with some wonderful sauces to complement, and the most deliciously herby spaetzl that I’ve ever had.
And of course the desserts. The evening we were there, they had a flambé station that featured an orange créme galette, with fresh oranges, sweetened cream cheese, and a blood orange caramel. A few steps away a fireplace was warming three Dutch ovens with white chocolate, milk chocolate, and caramel fondues. Plenty of delicious fruits, cookies, and cakes were nearby to accompany the fondue.
Given the price, I wasn’t sure what to expect from an attire perspective. But it turned out it was a somewhat casual affair, with some in sweaters and snow boots, and most in either slacks or jeans.
The service was exactly what you would expect from Deer Valley: attentive but not overbearing. Always there if you needed them, but never hovering.
When we made our reservation we also reserved a spot on a short sleigh ride which starts and stops right outside the lodge. It was the perfect way to get ready for dinner as we caught snowflakes on our tongues and cheered the horses on.
Reservations for the season open up in the fall, so you’ll want to keep an eye out on social media for Deer Valley’s announcement regarding reservations.
As we sat there that evening, I was transported back, at least momentarily, to the warmth and deliciousness of that evening in the raclette shack in Switzerland. Fireside is welcoming, approachable, and not stuffy in the slightest. The majority of those dining are on ski vacations, and I’m sure Deer Valley would like more locals to know about this unique experience.
We skied at Deer Valley before our dinner, changed into our “street clothes,” and meandered Main Street on our way over to the lodge. If you ski, I’d highly suggest making a whole day of it and then finish it off by dining at Fireside.
Fireside Dining Empire Canyon Lodge 9200 Marsac Avenue Park City, UT 84060 (435) 649-1000 Fireside Dining
I’m not usually one to rag on local restaurants. I like to think of myself as more of a hype man regarding SLC’s dining scene than anything else. I truly feel that anyone that’s willing to stick their neck out and run a restaurant deserves our applause and support. Generally speaking, if a restaurant is out there trying their best, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt when things fall short.
However, there’s a point in which certain restaurants don’t even try anymore, and when they get to that point, they deserve to be called out. I feel it’s disrespectful to customers when the service and the food is so egregiously bad that it’s obvious the restaurant has given up on having any sort of standards.
Sadly, such is the case with Pat’s BBQ. I don’t know what happened to Pat’s over the past little while, but whatever it is, it hasn’t been for the better. I will say I noticed a similar pattern with another once-great BBQ restaurant: R&R BBQ. Both have seemed to followed the same path: original owner/pitmaster sells out, transitions away from the business, and the quality control falls apart.
At the Commonwealth location off 21st South, it’s a full-service restaurant, unlike their State St location, which is quick-serve style. I feel the quick-serve setup is better for most BBQ restaurants, and given that 90% of the BBQ restaurants I’ve been to over the years is the “order at the counter and sit down” style, I think it’s evident that that’s the way to go.
Walking into Pat’s was a sleepy affair, with us waiting several minutes be be acknowledged by the lone server working that day. The first red flag was that the place smelled absolutely nothing like a BBQ place. I want to walk in and smell like there’s a raging campfire in the room next door (or at least somewhere in the vicinity.) Staged or not, I want some smell of burning wood to tell me there’s some serious smoking work going on behind the scenes. Pat’s smelled more like a Costco or a library than a BBQ restaurant.
Once seated, no drink order was taken, and what seemed like ten minutes passed before our food order was taken. It was not busy.
And then the food arrived. First, the positives: the french fries were very good. Breaded, crispy, and warm. Same goes for the baked beans, which were rich and flavorful. And then there was the brisket, which was a room-temperature nightmare, and the slices had some obvious oxidation that told me these slices had been sitting out for a while. The room-temperature meat made me nervous. A comment was made to the server about this, and the reply was “I’ll let her know” (assuming the “her” was the cook). No efforts were made to rectify the situation by either replacing the meat with another option, or taking it off the bill. If I’m running a restaurant and a customer tells me something’s not up to snuff, they’re going to get more than just an “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the problem. It just makes the server feel better while leaving the diner with a bad experience.
For the cornbread, I might as well have eaten drywall spackle. It would have been more moist and would have had more flavor than what we were given. And maybe the drywall would have come with a side of butter, which is more than the cornbread came with.
My kid had the mac and cheese, which looked sadder than the empty band stage behind us. He didn’t even touch it. It was barely warm, with terrible presentation, and lacking in flavor. For my four-year-old to not completely house a cup of mac-and-cheese told me everything I needed to know about it.
If a shoulder shrug and an eye roll could be personified in food and service format, it was perfected in this meal at Pat’s.
Enjoy the $25, Pat’s. It’s going to be the last money you ever see from me.
Wildwood Restaurant sits nestled amongst historic homes on 3rd Avenue in the city’s Avenues neighborhood, and is located in the former Avenues Bistro location.
“American Comfort Food” is the name of the game here. Their website describes themselves as a “product driven restaurant which features an evolving and continuously changing menu with craft cocktails, beer, and wine.”
It’s no surprise the menu is approachable yet innovative, given that Wildwood is owned by Chef Michael Richey. Richey is a mainstay of the Salt Lake culinary scene, having opened Pago and working previously as the chef at Solitude as well as Grand Targhee Resort. Those familiar with Pago’s culinary approach will feel right at home at Wildwood.
The menu is innovative yet not intimidating. Diners will spot recognizable offerings such as shishitos, salmon pillows, croquettes, chicken wings, fish and chips, and fried chicken. But each of these dishes buck tradition in their own unique (and good) way.
For example, the chicken wings were cooked to a perfect crisp. That much is to be expected from any competent kitchen. But the spicy sambal sauce that the wings were doused in added a unique, spicy tangent that presented wings in an entirely different light and paired with the blue cheese dip made an irresistible combination. I couldn’t stop eating them. I will admit that I wasn’t sure at the time (and I’m still not sure now) if the bright orange oil that covered the plate was a feature or a bug of the dish. But that question certainly didn’t slow me down.
The braised pork dish had some familiar aspects, featuring crispy pork belly and tender short ribs, accompanied by shishitos, some greens, and a deliciously light and tart cara cara orange and pear gastrique. The citrus was a perfect foil for the rich and fatty pork.
The “Desert Mountain Burger” features caramelized onions, Beehive Cheese cheddar, bourbon bacon, and an aioli. The burger was really nice, and pretty much what you’d expect from a restaurant of this caliber. Although I must admit I continue to hold out hope that the fancy burger trend will shift away from these giant, gloppy, unmanageable creations, and shift back to something that I’m able to eat at my leisure without having to wolf it down before either a) the bun disintegrates and it turns into a big, sloppy mess or b) everything slides off the burger because there’s simply too much “stuff” on it. I’m of the opinion that burgers shouldn’t be taller than what I can fit in my mouth. Make Burgers Approachable Again.
Other items such as the mushroom risotto, cast iron bavette, and roasted steelhead trout left me anxious to stop by again to try them out. With their quickly-rotating menu, I hope that I’ll be able to catch them before they’re gone, although I’m sure that when they are replaced, they’ll be replaced with items that are equally delicious.
The layout of the restaurant is, shall we say, unique. Which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those familiar with the eclectic architectural designs of Avenues residences and businesses. Our reservation was at 6, and so the dinner service was just getting into full swing, with the main-level dining room completely packed.
The hostess beckoned us to follow her, and indeed we did, past all of the diners, past the galley-style kitchen, being careful to avoid the dish rinsing station, kitchen racks, and other various “back of the house” objects. We made it past the kitchen, to the back of the building, and then down a narrow staircase into what can best be described as a downstairs bar/speakeasy. The speakeasy was plenty dark, and we were the only ones down there. The tables were rounded glass perched atop High West whiskey barrels, so leg-stretching was not an option. The chairs were backless mid-height barstools.
On one hand, it was a cool, unique experience. On the other had, it was somewhat uncomfortable, and lacked the typical conviviality that is usually experienced in a busy, bustling restaurant. I felt like we were sitting at the otherwise empty kids’ table at Aunt Mildred’s house.
But the awkwardness abated after a half hour or so, as other diners found themselves seated in our intimate dining dungeon. It was actually sort of fun as we laughed about the situation and found some humor in all of it.
The separation also made me wonder if the attentiveness of service would suffer as a result of our being cast into outer darkness. But those concerns were unfounded as our server was extremely attentive and did everything he could to make sure we had a special experience at Wildwood.
My advice is as follows: if you want a busy, loud dining experience with a bunch of hub-bub, ask to be seated in the main dining room. If you’re looking for something more intimate and secluded, and are fine sitting on stools and dining on whiskey barrels, then by all means ask for downstairs. It was a fun experience. My suggestion to WildWood would be that if you’re going to seat someone down there, make sure you ask them ahead of time when they make the reservation, if it’s ok. Explain the situation. Don’t put your diners in the uncomfortable situation of either requesting a seating change and disrupting the dining plans for the evening, or just dealing with the surprise of the seating situation.
Either way, no matter what you decide, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the food, or the experience. As an Avenues resident, I’m glad that we have these small neighborhood spots to enjoy, and hope that Wildwood will be around for many years to come.
Wildwood is currently open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner service only, from 5pm to close.
WildWood 564 E 3rd Ave Salt Lake City (801) 831-5409
For those familiar with the Avenues neighborhood, you’re well aware of the beautiful pioneer-era Victorian at the corner of 3rd and B Street. The mansion now holds a bed and breakfast and was purchased two years ago by Tyler and Kara, who have been making serious efforts to rejuvenate this Avenues jewel.
Recently Tyler and Kara have added their new secret weapon to their B&B—Victoriya, who is the Ellerbeck Innkeeper. Together, they’ve launched a new project at Ellerbeck—a walk-up café to serve all of your caffeinated and caloric needs.
The concept fits in perfectly with the general vibe of the Aves, which is known for its walkability and easy access to just about everything.
I stopped by to have a taste of their offerings. The hot chocolate (made with steamed milk, of course) was rich and delicious. I also tried their “Johnnycake” slathered with “Beehive Butter,” which is essentially what you would get if you crossed cornbread with cake. Lighter than cornbread, but still with the delicious, crunchy top that I love so much.
I’m excited to stop by again soon to try out their “cottage cakes,” with strawberries and cream. Cottage cakes are fluffy pancakes made with cottage cheese to give it body. Sounds pretty great to me.
The walk-up is open 8am-2pm Thursday through Sunday, and features a rotation of pioneer-inspired breakfast items.
Let’s get a few things established right off the bat.
There is a disco ball, posters of Saved by The Bell, and a DJ station at Ginger Street
There is a lot of neon
The servers wear fanny packs
This is not a place I will take my mother in law, who thinks the Red Iguana experience is a bit “out there”
The food in incredible
In the food blogger/writer world these days, unfortunately the trend is that it’s more about speed and less about quality. She or he with the first review rules the world. I tend to shy away from that approach. Not for any reason other than I don’t like opening week crowds and I like to give the front and back of the house a little time to settle in. But Melissa and I found ourselves with an extra hour or two after a wedding reception sans kids, so we decided to pop over to Ginger Street for a quick second lunch to see what all of the fuss is about.
The first tip: the entrance is on the 3rd South side of the building. We tried entering from the porch, but the door was locked. Then we walked along State Street. No dice. Then we found the hard-to-miss pink “red carpet” that welcomes you to the large space with tall ceilings and plenty of room. You’re greeted by a host or hostess and given a menu, and you place your initial order with them. Once paid, they then will give you a number and help you choose a table. Ours happened to be made out of an old bowling alley lane. I say “initial” order, because the intent of Ginger Street is that this is “hawker style.” Hawker stalls are prevalent in Singapore, and the idea of them is sort of like a food court where you order from the various vendors and then sit down and enjoy the varying dishes. A bit of a conundrum at Ginger Street, since there’s only one purveyor, so I’m not totally convinced they really get what hawker stalls are about. But it does follow along the hawker model in that the intent is that you order numerous different plates of dishes to share (or not) throughout your stay. I wasn’t a huge fan of feeling the pressure of walking in and feeling like you had to make a quick decision since there’s a line of people behind you, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one that feels that way. I’d much rather be able to sit down and settle in before deciding on what I want to eat. Maybe their intent is to help turn tables by eliminating that initial 10 minute “settling in” period. I don’t know. I’m curious to know if they stick with that approach or not. I’m hopeful they don’t.
Even at 2 pm, the dining room was steadily busy. Michael McHenry, one of the owners of Ginger Street, mentioned that within the first day or two of them opening, they had a line of 140 people waiting for lunch. I’d say there’s a bit of hype with this one. And after our meal, I’d say the hype is very well justified.
Varying textures are prevalent throughout your experience at Ginger Street. Textures in music (yes, they have a DJ booth and a disco ball), décor (they have posters featuring Saved By The Bell and pillows with a distinct Indian flair), and tastes. I have a feeling that this spot will be a bit of a chameleon as the day and week progresses. Downtown white collar workers will find it suited well for a quick lunch, but as the night progresses and the bar crowd emerges, I have a hunch that this place will get a bit crazy. In a good way. But maybe not a 40-year-old-with-two-kids-in-diapers good way. I’ll likely stick to lunchtime or early dinner.
Ginger Street is in a good location, centrally located between the Main Street bar scene, Gallivan, and Broadway theater. They are also in the late stages of opening a walk-up dessert and small bites window, where you will be able to order a quick bowl of rotating soft serve flavors, ice cream sandwiches, and on late nights during the weekend, small hot bites of pork buns and other items. The window is expected to open in the next two weeks. I find it interesting that two similar concepts (walk-up Asian-inspired food) are launching at nearly the exact same time, within a block of each other. Ginger Street’s window, and Ryan Lowder’s latest idea: a walk-up window named @hotbunsnfun on the side of Copper Common, where you can get noodle dishes as well as various steamed buns.
We ordered a starter of pork dumplings, perfectly cooked and filled with napa cabbage, garlic chive, and accompanied by a very nice chili soy sauce. The Crispy Fish Cha Ca La Vong was a standout dish: pieces of white fish breaded in their version of a panko coating with a hint of citrus, laid on a bed of cold rice vermicelli, peanuts, scallion, and topped by a hearty helping of dill. The fish was accompanied by the best sauce I’ve had in a while: a pineapple nam prik, laced with bird’s eye chili for a bit of heat. This dish had sweet, sour, warm, cold, crunchy, soft. Chef Tyler Stokes understands textures and contrasts.
The Ginger Noodles dish was perhaps my favorite dish. It’s a simple dish, and screams “humble,” but it was so good in so many ways. Ramen noodles are accompanied with a salty scallion relish as wells as pickled cucumbers and sauteed baby spinach and topped with peanuts. The dish had great balance and the noodles were perfectly cooked. Just an all-around great dish, and a bargain at $13.
At this point in our lunch I was spotted by Ginger Street co-owner Michael McHenry. McHenry, who has formerly worked at Blue Lemon, cofounded Even Stevens sandwiches, and recently took over Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper, has a track record of establishing unique concepts backed by solid operations and excellent service. After speaking with him, you begin to understand how each of his concepts are able to execute his vision so well, and each one so uniquely. He gets it, and is passionate about bringing a new type of culinary experience to Salt Lake. McHenry sent out a few other dishes for us to try. The steamed Snake River Farms pork belly buns were pillowy soft, and the hoisin, pickled cucumbers, and scallions provided a nice counter balance to the rich pork.
Crispy Duck Rolls
The crispy duck rolls were a hit. Tender duck is wrapped up and fried, then wrapped with Thai basil and finally an outer casing of rice paper to provide the perfect contrast of crunchy and soft. Wrapping the basil outside of the cooked portion of the roll allows the basil to really shine through and retain its texture and punch.
The green curry has the right amount of spice (if you’re more brave than I with spice, get the red curry). The sauce features charred eggplant, cauliflower, red bell pepper and basil. Again, a steal at $10. Other items I can’t wait to come back and try include the fried spicy chicken sandwich and the caramelized lemongrass shrimp.
Curry Vanilla Soft Serve
Passionfruit Ice Cream Sandwich and G Bar
There is an extensive drink menu, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We had the Naam Manao, a fresh-squeezed Thai limeade that was tart and punchy in all of the right ways. Desserts are provided by Jane Anne, formerly of Vinto, Stanza, and Normal Ice Cream. Ginger Street features a rotating menu of soft serve flavors, and we tried the curry vanilla, which was rich and delicious, and had just the right amount of curry flavor to get the point across but not make you feel weird about eating curry for dessert. An ice cream sandwich with a cocoa almond crust and passionfruit ice cream, as well as a rich “G Bar” with a gingersnap crust, were both top-notch delicious.
I really like Ginger Street. I like that they’re trying something different that what we’re used to. They’re bringing a level of quirkiness and character that the city doesn’t have enough of. But it’s not a gimmick, either. They’re backing this innovation up with a solid menu and excellent execution from the kitchen. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish, and am optimistic that they’ll do very well.
Santo Tacos sits in a nondescript building with strip-mall vibes. It’s in an odd part of town: north of the fair park, and right off the 1000 North exit of I-15. If you’re not looking for it, you’d likely miss it, camouflaged in with the barber shop, smoke shop, and quick stop convenience store.
The interior is light and bright, and is set up quick-service style. Signs point diners to the various locations along the line to order (“tacos order here,” “nachos order here,” etc.). The staff is busy, grilling various meats and building orders. Their menu states “tortillas recien hechas” (fresh-made tortillas), and that isn’t just lip-service: one employee stays busy full-time making the masa, putting it into the tortilla press, and bagging up for service.
“Ok, I’m going to go curl up in a corner and die,” I said to my wife. We had just consumed the equivalent of a VW Beetle, but in cookies. And that was just the cookie from Goodly. We had two more to go. And we did it all for you, dear reader. You see, there’s been a surge of late-night cookie delivery businesses in Salt Lake City. Yes, you read that right: you can now order cookies without even leaving your couch, and they will be delivered to your door within an hour, piping hot and ready for you to drown your sorrows in a warm pile of butter, sugar, and chocolate.
I’m a simple man that enjoys simple pleasures. Near the top of that list is a fried chicken sandwich. Confession time: I enjoy chicken sandwiches in all of their forms. Elementary school mystery patty smashed between two slices of Wonder Bread? Sign me up. Spicy Chicken from Wendy’s? I’m already there. The classic chicken sandwich from Chick fil-A? They’ve had to serve me eviction notices before.
There’s been somewhat of a resurgence of fried chicken and its many variations recently in SLC. Viet Pham opened Prettybird, an homage of the various Nashville hot chicken shops. Justin Soelberg, formerly of Avenues Proper, opened Nomad Eatery in an off-the-beaten path location near the Salt Lake airport. And Scott Evans, of Pago, Finca, and Hub and Spoke, is opening a new restaurant in the 9th and 9th neighborhood named The Birdhouse, serving (you guessed it): prime rib. Just kidding. Chicken.
So chicken’s the new hotness in town. And while Prettybird does nothing but chicken, the fried chicken at Nomad is just one of various menu items. So, loyal readers, as your humble servant I took it upon myself to visit both locations and try their respective versions of the fried chicken sandwich, and I’d like to report back on how it went.
Short version: it went very, very well.
Long version: keep reading.
Let’s start with Prettybird. Prettybird benefits from being founded by local celebrity chef (and Iron Chef winner) Viet Pham, formerly of Forage. This guy knows food. It is fun seeing Chef Pham transition from “fine dining” at Forage to the somewhat lowbrow concept of a fried chicken shop. But there’s nothing lowbrow about Prettybird. The tiny shop on Regent Street is clad in all-white, lending an aura of cleanliness and levity. What the place lacks in interior seating it makes up for an even greater lack of exterior seating: the patio had two small tables that fit 4-6 people total. Everything you’ve heard about the long lines and depressing lack of seating is true. A victim of their own success I guess. Get there early and plan to take your food to-go.
Nomad is such a bizarre location, located near the Jet-N-Go or whatever the name of the airport parking lot is. But you know what? It works. There’s certainly an underserved market of workers near the airport, and it’s a close enough drive from downtown that makes it worth the journey. And what it lacks in a convenient location to downtown, it makes up for in a trendy, upbeat interior. And did I mention it’s big enough that paying customers can sit down and enjoy their food? What a concept.
So Prettybird wins in the “walking distance in downtown” category, and Nomad wins in the “you pay $11 for a sandwich, you should be able to sit down and enjoy it” category. I give the nod to Nomad because of all of the pleasures available in life, sitting is right up near the top.
On to the most important part: the chicken. Both locations offer super tender, moist chicken thighs as their base. Both versions are brined and breaded in their own spice blend, then fried. I don’t know if this is going to make any sense, but it does in my head, so here goes: Prettybird’s chicken is more crunchy, and Nomad’s is more shatteringly crispy. I really liked both, but preferred the crispyness of Nomad’s version. But you can’t go wrong with either, as they are both mind-numbingly excellent.
Prettybird’s version is topped with house-made pickles, cider slaw, and their Prettybird sauce. You can get it seasoned with your heat preference: everything from mild all of the way up to a version that will make you regret it the next day. Nomad’s sandwich is topped with mayo, shredded lettuce and zucchini pickles, and comes with a hot buffalo sauce, either smothered on the chicken or on the side. For those of you who prefer your food more on the mild side, like myself, I highly recommend getting it on the side.
Chicken winner: Nomad
There’s really not too much to this one. Nomad’s is a bit crustier and drier, while Prettybird’s is fluffier. Both have great chew and are strong enough to stand up to the massive chicken and toppings inside. But I like fluffy.
Hot Buns Contest winner: Prettybird
Sides are offered a la carte at both locations. At Prettybird you have a choice of cider slaw, a seasonal offering, and crinkle cut fries. I went with the fries, since the sandwich already comes with the slaw as a topping. Crinkle cut fries never cease to disappoint, no matter where I try them. I’m sure Prettybird puts a lot of effort into their fries, but whenever I have crinkle cuts I can never quite get over the bad nostalgia associated with sad, soggy elementary school crinkle cuts. Just say no to crinkle cuts. They just aren’t good.
Nomad offers a variety of sides, including wings, falafel croquettes, pickled and roasted beets, house-made salt and vinegar chips, and fries. I opted for the fries, which were well cooked and cut and fried fresh. I think next time I’ll check out the salt and vinegar chips.
Fry winner: Nomad.
In my not-so-scientific analysis, Nomad wins three of the four categories (although location could go either way depending on your dining preferences).
But look, you can’t go wrong with either of these spots, and they have quickly risen to two of my favorite spots to grab a bite in the city. I will happily recommend each, with a couple caveats. Prettybird: get ready for a line, sometimes they run out, and you have a 50% chance of getting a seat. If you’re with a group of 4 or more, forget about it. Nomad: it’s just a bizarre location, that’s all. But it works. If you’re looking for some super spicy, delicious chicken and aren’t with a larger group, I’d say go with Prettybird. If you’re with a group that may prefer a bit more menu options, go with Nomad. But like I said above, go to both. Make a day of it. Because they’re both fantastic and I’m so glad to see them doing well.