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Utah's Restaurants - 30 Under 30
Like Forbes, but local and delicious.
Every year, Forbes Magazine (and publications trying really hard to be like Forbes Magazine) releases its “Thirty Under Thirty” issue. This tradition, which is most efficient at making people like me feel bad about ourselves, serves to highlight the grandest accomplishments of those under the ripe old age of thirty (at which point we all start to rot, obviously). The youngest winners of the 2021 edition were both 15-years-old — Shahadi Wright Joseph and Jalaiah Harmon, an actor and dancer, respectively.
While thirty is young in the realm of human achievement, every one of those years is a mark of greatness in the restaurant world. The food industry can be a vicious place. While numbers vary, researchers from Ohio State University concluded that 26% of restaurants close within their first year of business, with that percentage rising to 57% by their third year. While all restaurants deserve to be celebrated, those within their first three years especially need our support.
Salt Lake City is a hub for both emerging food talent and bedrock industry favorites, and they all deserve to be recognized.
So, as a nod to our favorite Forbes feature and in celebration of some of our favorite local eats, here is the ultimate, comprehensive, all-inclusive Salt Lake City’s Restaurant 2021 Thirty Under Thirty Awards.
The Main Event: Ten Under Ten
Penny Ann’s Cafe - 2011
Penny Ann’s Cafe, Salt Lake’s pancake sweetheart, opened their first location on 1810 South Main Street. It didn’t take long for people to take notice, and within a few years, they won 2016’s Best of State Utah for “Best Breakfast.” With three locations and a slew of awards under their belts, it's no surprise that Penny Ann’s is in it for the long haul. Try their famous “Heavenly Hotcakes'' or Breakfast Nachos for a satisfying meal any time of the day. I go there more than I should (for my waistline) and not as often as I’d like.
Feldman’s Deli - 2012
Feldman’s Deli is located in what is arguably one of the best intersections in all of Salt Lake City, on 20th East and 27th South, across the street from local bookseller Frost’s Books and (arguably) the best Maverick in the state. Of all the greatness in that little section of the city, Feldman’s, an authentically Jewish delicatessen right in the heart of Utah, might take the cake. Celebrating their 9th year in 2021, this little deli provides powerhouse meals for any time of the day, from their award-winning bagels to their incredible corned-beef on rye. Dining in is a pleasure, with a general vibe of New-York chic meets ski chalet, a carefully crafted combination of two cultures centered on some seriously awesome food.
Valter’s Osteria - 2013
The Osteria may only be eight years old, but Valter Nassi is a legend in Salt Lake City’s culinary scene. His latest restaurant focuses on the flavors and culture of his Tuscan-Italian home, and the simplicity and quality of dishes at his Osteria sets it apart from any other restaurant in the city. As Valter says, “You don’t need much material to create good food.” Valter himself is a friend to all and a celebrity in his own right, having written a book about the work he’s done to put Salt Lake City on the international dining radar. If the past eight years are any indication, Valter’s Osteria will continue to thrive. It consistently tops lists of best restaurants, favorite places to eat, and every foodie’s Salt Lake City bucket list.
Provisions - 2014
Another incredibly classy restaurant with a focus on simplicity, Provisions opened its doors on 3300 South 2300 East seven years ago. It has long been a favorite of many Salt Lake City diners, putting their signature twist on craft American food in a modern cuisine setting. They work with local food producers to cultivate their ever-changing seasonal menu, which we of course love to see. Chefs Tyler Stokes and Ryan Nelson guided Provisions towards three Salt Lake Magazine Restaurant awards (2016-2018) and a slew of devoted fans. While their menu is always changing, if you’re to order soon, you will never regret their Caramelized Black Cod. I repeat: You will never. regret. it.
Manoli’s - 2015
When my husband and I were poor and engaged, he did a very cute (and in retrospect, somewhat irresponsible) thing and took me to Manoli’s (named for head chef Manoli Katsavenas) for dinner on Valentine’s Day. Cute in that it was the best food I had ever eaten and I walked away more in love than ever (honestly, with the food more than anything), and irresponsible in that we were poor and couldn’t afford it. But we had no regrets. Manoli’s opened six years ago and has fast cemented itself as one of the top spots in the city. Like Provisions, they focus on seasonal menus and local food producers, but they give it a Greek twist. They are big on the community feel at their restaurant, so you normally order small plates, called meze, to share. As I said, they spread the love. Find them on 4th East and 9th South, and be prepared for the best Greek food in SLC.
Vessel Kitchen - 2016
As a recent devotee of Vessel Kitchen myself, I was surprised to learn that they are five years old this year. And here I am, thinking I discovered them first. A Park City original that now boasts locations in Salt Lake City, Fort Union, and Sandy, Vessel serves fresh, seasonal fare a la cafeteria-style, with protein bowls, flat-bread tacos, and sides galore. They source their food from local farms, bakeries, and cookie companies (looking at you, Suss), a popular practice in our ten under ten list. Vessel is a fast, easy, and healthy way to pick up a meal you can feel good about.
Fav Bistro - 2017
Not to be cheesy (I will be), but Fav Bistro is my fav. I discovered this four-year-old Thai restaurant a few weeks ago while exploring dining options near my home in Millcreek. Located off Highland Drive and Murray-Holladay Road, this wonderful bistro is known for its Tom Kar (Thai coconut milk soup), which is served in a bowl bigger than most peoples’ heads and is somehow still not enough. Fav Bistro is owned by chef Anny Sooksri, who runs a family of sister Thai restaurants throughout the state. Fav Bistro was her third of four successful endeavors, which puts Chef Sooksri among the top ranks of restaurant entrepreneurs in Utah. If this Thai food feels fresher and more authentic than most, it’s because it is: Chef Sooksri grew up in Thailand before relocating to Salt Lake City, and she beautifully incorporates the flavors and influences of her youth into her food. Everything is good, and it needs to be said that they have some of the friendliest staff around. You can’t not enjoy your experience there.
Gurkha’s - 2018
“If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha,” according to their website. Sign me up. Gurkahs were Nepalese troops renowned for their fearlessness, and they lent their name to this 2018 restaurant on 30th East and 33rd South. Their menu includes a mix of Nepalese and Indian fare and opened a few years ago to rave reviews. Owner Rabi Subedi has experience in Salt Lake City - he also started Himalayan Kitchen and Kathmandu, and this same excellence is evident in Gurkha’s. The Nepalese items on the menu include momos and chow mein, and the Indian fare doesn’t get more impressive than with the lamb samosas and the plentiful vegetarian options.
I’m not going to lie to you. I wanted to write this article because I wanted to write about Mr. Charlie’s Chicken Fingers. Alabama natives Cody and Bartley came to Salt Lake City in 2014 to ski, and soon found that they missed the comfort foods of home. Mr. Charlie’s was then born and has quickly risen through the ranks of us non-famous Utahns and Post Malone alike. The fried chicken is as close to perfection as any food can be, and they don’t vary far from it on their menu. Get chicken fingers, a chicken finger sandwich, or a chicken finger salad — just make sure you get the chicken fingers. Located on 47th South, just west of I-15, this easy-to-miss, hard-to-forget dive should be first on your to-do list.
Hall Pass - 2020
The Hall Pass was an early 2020 innovation that opened before the pandemic hit, which, like, was there a 2020 before COVID? I don’t remember it, but I’m glad that Hall Pass is with us, regardless. Hall Pass is a food hall, with eight incubator kitchens and two bars. They have rotating menus with everything from waffles to ramen and custom cocktails. It’s fun, it’s inventive, and it’s a different experience every time. All of this, combined with the excellent food and Gateway atmosphere, makes it one of the best new places that Salt Lake has to offer.
Twenty Under Thirty, By Category:
The Sweet Stuff
Gourmandise - 1991
Salt Lake’s classic bakery is thirty this year! Celebrate with a fresh blueberry croissant and a coffee, and you’ll think that all is well in the world.
Sweet Biscuits and Limeade - 2009
This rave-reviews breakfast spot started its victory lap around Salt Lake at the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market in 2009.
Burgers and Sandwiches
Proper Burger - 2013
The proper way to have a burger and beer. Don’t skimp on the sweet potato fries, a word to the wise.
Freshie’s - 2009
Fresh lobster from Maine? Flown in every day? For the most perfect lobster roll? Yes, please.
Toasters - 2002
One of my favorite Salt Lake success stories, Enes Huskic immigrated from Bosnia in 1996 to eventually start one of the most beloved sandwich shops in the city.
Moochies - 2003
When you can convert a vegetarian to meatball subs, you know you’ve got something special. So started Moochies, famous for their meatballs and more.
Lucky 13 - 2009
One of the state’s most popular burger joints, Lucky 13 takes risks that pay off. Peanut butter on a burger? It’s real, and it’s wonderful.
Pretty Bird - 2009
One of the best fried chicken sandwiches around, Pretty Bird tends to sell out quickly each day, so get there early and enjoy your quarter bird in the heart of Salt Lake.
Cafes and Grills
Stella Grill - 2007
Red Butte and Martine shut down this year, but Stella in Millcreek is still here and thriving. The Turkey Tortellini Salad will make you want to sing, and they have one of the best veggie burgers in the state.
Porcupine Pub and Grill - 1998
After a long day on the slopes or in the classroom, Porcupine is one of the best places to take a load off and enjoy really good food in one of the coolest places in the state - right outside of the University of Utah campus.
Lazy Day Cafe - 2010
Another Millcreek addition, this cafe is a neighborhood favorite, with famous lemon pancakes and southern comfort food.
The Pie Hole - 2011
If late-night pizza cravings are your thing (join the club), then The Pie Hole is the perfect, and probably coolest, place for you to be.
Nuch’s - 2010
This little pizzeria on 28th South and 23rd East was the first place I encountered potato on a pizza and, let me tell you, I’m hooked. I’ve been back more often than is financially sensible and it’s totally fine.
Seafood and Asian
Sawadee - 2006
Of the friendliest restaurants in the city, Sawadee also has some of the most authentic Thai food that you can find in one of the most picturesque locations around.
Sapa - 2009
Chef Mai Nguyen brought over two decades of experience in the food industry into her State Street gem Sapa, one of Utah’s most popular sushi joints. Take my word for it. It’s divine.
SOMI Vietnamese Bistro - 2015
The best places to get both a Branzino and creme brulee, while staying true to the theme of local food and community growth.
Ejo - 2018
If you’ve never had Korean BBQ, now is the best time to get into the habit. Endless meats, interactive experience, and my personal favorite dish, bulgogi, is all included. You really can’t go wrong.
Santo Taco - 2019
Decades of working their way up through the food industry in the United States helped Santo Taco owners Claudia and Alfonso fine-tune their taco mastery into the west-side delight that it is today. A great spot for Mexican-food loving vegetarians, as well.
Blue Iguana - 1998
Blue Iguana was purchased from the Red Iguana family two decades ago and has always lived up to the hype. Chef Castillo was trained in Chihuahua and brings that background to the table through mouth-watering dishes modeled after the Aztec cuisine.
Real Taqueria - 2019
A new establishment in a bright red building on Highland Drive, Real Taqueria started with a food truck and quickly grew in popularity. The tacos can’t be beat, and neither can the branding. The menu alone is pretty enough to convince me that this place lives up to the hype, and the food seals the deal.
And that’s a wrap! The Salt Lake restaurant scene has been around a lot longer than thirty years. Places like Ruth’s Diner (1930) or The Roof (1914) predate almost every person living in the state, WWII, and The Real Housewives franchise. Like I said, ancient. But for every restaurant that has withstood the test of time, there are ten that are still fighting to make it past five, ten, or even twenty years. The last several months have proven devastating to establishments that seemed indestructible, and the dark night isn’t over yet. So, do your good deed for the day, brush off your upstanding citizen card, and go order some delicious food. It can’t really get any easier than that, and it will go a long way toward your favorite restaurants eventually graduating from the 30 Under 30 list and moving on toward their permanent place in SLC history.