I absolutely love Asian food, especially Southeast Asian food. There is nothing better than Vietnamese and Thai flavors. Being in Southeast Asian for about a month, I’ve had my fill, and feel like I’ve maybe hit an Asian food plateau, this plateau has caused me to intensely crave so many foods from back home in Utah. Typical Utah food is centered on large families and large groups of people getting together; think pot-lucks. Popular dishes include many casseroles, the favorite being cheesy potatoes (funeral potatoes) and other easy to make, filling, and easy to serve to large numbers dishes of food. These dishes are rarely served in restaurants, and what I’m really missing are my favorite restaurants. At home, I ate out a lot, for sure once a day, if not every meal. My collection of favorite restaurants in Utah consists of a variety of foreign foods that have been Americanized, Southwest food, and the American staples; pizza and burgers.
Maria’s Cocina – Beaver, UT
Maria’s is my favorite Mexican Food restaurant, that isn’t actually in Mexico. My family and I have been going here for about as long as I’ve been alive. Maria runs a little restaurant in the KOA campground in Beaver. She is open from February to November, weekends only during the spring and fall, and every night from 4-9 p.m. during the summer. To this day, Maria’s still has the best chips and salsa of any Mexican restaurant. I love anything on the menu, but would for sure order a home-made horchata or pineapple drink in a frosty glass. The quality of food is great, and the prices are very affordable.
The Station Restaurant – Milford, UT
Chinese food in Milford, it is a thing. Most everyone from Southern Utah has heard about the Chinese food from Milford. There used to actually be two Chinese restaurants in this small town of about 1,500. The Station is the only one left and serves up a variety of Chinese-American dishes. My favorites are the fried shrimp, sweet and sour pork, kung pao chicken, and cashew chicken. When dining in, you’ll start your meal with saltine crackers and butter as the makeshift appetizer.
Café Rio – Various Utah Locations/www.caferio.com
This is what I crave the most while being away from Utah! Café Rio started in St. George, but has spread all over Utah, and must of the West. Café Rio has a very loyal following and is usually the top choice for lunch in town. Café Rio is set up much like a chipotle, but has been around longer, and is much better! The tortillas are hand-made, and the salads are the most popular dish. The salads are huge and are built in front of your eyes as you make your way down the Tex-Mex assembly line. All fillings are tasty, but the pork is the most popular. Regardless of what you put in your salad, make sure you cover it in the highly addictive tomatillo ranch dressing.
The Pie – Salt Lake City, UT/www.thepie.com
Greasy, glorious American pizza! It’ll take a whole day to prepare for the feast, and a whole week to get overt the guilt. The original is in a basement by the University of Utah, with walls covered in years of student’s names and bullshit. Any pizza choice will do, but the must is an order of the cheesy pull-apart’s. These are a big delicious pan of garlic bread filled with cheese. In true Utah fashion, make sure you dip these and the pizza in ranch dressing. Also, PBR drafts are only $1.00 (is that even legal in Utah?)
Oscar’s – Springdale, UT/oscarscafe.com
This hits pretty high on my charts, and after a day of hiking in Zion, nothing is better! They seem to have the same specials always running; fish tacos and ribs. I always go right for a burger, with sweet potato fries. If you are a veggie lover, the black bean burger is the best black bean burger I’ve ever had. They have Utah beers on tap, and amazing outside seating area, and please save room for the carrot cake! The cake is homemade, and the icing is sinful.
Market Street Grill – Salt Lake City, UT/marketstreetgrill.com
Rumor has it they have a great dinner seafood, but I go here for breakfast. During the week, Monday – Saturday, they have the best breakfast in Salt Lake. The breakfast by numbers is very affordable, most meals under $10, and come with a glass fresh squeezed orange juice and all you can drink coffee. Any selection will do, but choose the Market Street potatoes, and a bread to liberally apply with their homemade jam.
Benja’s Thai – St. George, UT/www.benjathai.com
This is the best Thai food in Southern Utah, and one of the best overall restaurants. Benja and her son run the two locations, and everything on the menu is great. If you love sushi, try the all you can eat sushi session. It runs from 4:00 p.m – 6:00 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, and gives you 60 minutes of all you can eat fresh-made sushi for 29.95. The session comes with miso soup, soft drink, and tempura veggies. You’ll sit at the sushi bar and watch each roll get made in front of your eyes.
Alvaro’s – St. George, UT
Typical fast food Mexican restaurant with a menu with pictures, salsa bar, and a small dining room filled with construction workers and students. My favorite is the giant veggie burrito for $3.99, it will give you a food baby, and is packed with beans, rice, salsa fresca, and a generous portion of guacamole. When in Utah, fill the burrito with hot sauce from the salsa bar, and dip liberally in spicy ranch. If it is 1:00 a.m. and your health conscience has been impaired by alcohol, you might as well order the giant carne asada fries, with extra ranch, cheese, and guacamole.
La Casita – Springville, UT
Great food, a smart-ass owner, and what has to be over the legal pour limit in Utah margaritas. This local Springville favorite is always packed! Utah has a strict rule on how much alcohol can be used when making a cocktail, but it seems La Casita is above (or below) the law as the margaritas pack a punch! I usually go for the original on the rocks, with salt, but there are a variety of flavors including an Orange Bang margarita.
Shooting Star Saloon – Huntsville, UT
From the dollar bills on the wall to the taxidermied St. Bernard, this place has character coming right out of the mounted deer’s ass on the wall! They have a simple cash only menu with burgers, sausages, beer, but no fries. The special is the burger with grilled sausages. Depending on who is counting, this establishment just might be the oldest bar in Utah.
Sawadee – Salt Lake City, UT/www.sawadee-cuisine.com
My favorite Thai food in Utah, don’t tell Benja. Sawadee has authentic Thai food, with many items usually not on an Americanized menu. The lunch specials are the best deal, and dinner portions are huge!
O’Mai – Salt Lake City, UT/ohmaisandwich.com
Really great Vietnamese food! Pho and Banh Mi make up the majority of the menu. I love this place, and it is priced extremely affordable. This place stands up to actual Pho and Banh Mi in Vietnam.
Red Iguana – Salt Lake City, UT/rediguana.com
Red Iguana is the mother of all Mexican restaurants. This place is always busy, and you’ll usually wait about an hour to get a table. The restaurant is a dive, on North Temple in SLC, but the entire look/feel of the place adds to the experience. Everything on the menu is fantastic, but they are known for their mole. To start, ask for a sample plate of the mole, and then you can try each one of their popular flavors.
Café Diablo – Torrey, UT
This is impressive dining, in a very small town. Café Diablo is in the little town of Torrey that is close to the entrance of Capitol Reef National Park. Try the lamb, trout, or local rattlesnake. They also have creative cocktails, and an impressive tequila and wine list.
In-N-Out Burger – various Utah locations/www.in-n-out.com
This isn’t a Utah restaurant, but a famous California hamburger joint that now has a few locations in Utah. I crave their burgers and fries! Anytime I am out of the country, and want a burger, I’m dreaming about In N Out. They make everything fresh, even the French fries start as potatoes and are cut then fried in front of your eyes. This is fast food, but the right kind of fast food.
I have about 45 more days left in Southeast Asia, then I’ll be back in Utah and chowing down at these places as much as I can.