Ever seethed at the latest best of awards? Recoiled in anger at the so called best this, and coveted that? Yip me too. Which is why this year I decided to look back on the year and use science. Please note: I am terrible at science.
As we all know, there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Still, neither Disraeli nor Twain would be able to dispute the following best of 2016 dining list. Generated by smushing (data smush, science lingo) together data from the: Salt Lake Tribune Salt Awards, Salt Lake Magazine 2016 Dining Awards, City Weekly 2016 Best Of, Open Table best SLC restaurants 2016, KSL 2016 A List and our own Best Salt Lake City restaurants list – the data encompasses everything from readers choice awards to critic picks. And then it’s smushed.
So, without further ado, the best of SLC dining 2016 as decided by science, the higher the score the better:
5.5 | Ruth’s Diner
4.0 | Red Iguana
4.0 | Takashi
3.0 | Copper Onion
3.0 | Current Fish & Oyster
2.5 | Caffe Molise
2.5 | Cupbop Korean BBQ
2.5 | Gourmandise
2.5 | Oh Mai
2.5 | Tsunami
2.5 | Mazza
2.5 | Squatters Pub Brewery
2.0 | Alamexo
2.0 | Bombay House
2.0 | HSL
2.0 | Log Haven
2.0 | Lucky 13
2.0 | Mandarin
2.0 | Naked Fish Japanese Bistro
2.0 | Pallet Bistro
2.0 | Penny Ann’s Cafe
2.0 | Provisions
2.0 | R&R BBQ
2.0 | Red Rock Brewery
2.0 | The Paris Bistro
2.0 | Tin Angel Café
2.0 | Zest Kitchen & Bar
…full list of 149 voted restaurants on Google Sheets…
Surprised? Still beguiled? Even angrier? Oh well, you can’t make everyone happy. What does seem to make everyone happy across the board though, is Ruth’s Diner and their mile high biscuits; couple those with their eclectic and affordable menu, and a dose of Emigration canyon diner charm and you have a restaurant formula that’s loved. Hats off to those guys. As the rampant crowds at any waking moment will attest – Ruth’s is an iconic classic, and a consistent hit with people who eat.
Same goes for Red Iguana, try getting a table there at midnight, on the Vernal equinox while brandishing a rabbits foot grasping a four leaf clover – you’ll still need to queue for a good hour or two. Kudos to the Cardenas family for keeping the restaurant as popular and palatable as ever.
From there we have some newer classics in the making; Takashi and The Copper Onion are quickly becoming dining institutions, while newcomer Current Fish And Oyster is hot on their heels with across the board appeal.
The rest of the list paints a varied picture of our current food landscape with a few insights:
* Despite what naysayers would have you believe, Salt Laker’s have eclectic tastes. It ain’t all jello and somberly named potatoes. From nigiri to naan, bone marrow to banh mi. Don’t believe the hype, SLC diners support a diverse array of flavors. The list is dominated by American (new and old) but includes restaurant that specialize in BBQ, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese and vegetarian cuisine.
* And one more factoid that flies in the face of all an too often lazy national media, you can get an alcoholic beverage at 23 of those 26 top rated restaurants. The average cost of a glass of wine is $7.98 and if cocktails are your thing, they will run you 10.97 on average.
* While the Salt Lake valley is replete with a variety of Thai restaurants, not one features in the elite list. Some might point to over supply, myself, I’d say no restaurant has yet created an extra special dining experience around Thai cuisine. They should.
* The same largely goes for Chinese cuisine. Beyond Bountiful’s Mandarin, no one restaurateur has really been able to convince the masses, this is the place.
* The food truck revolution is not actually a revolution. Cup Bop makes a bold impression in the top ten of the list, but that’s it. Even in the complete list of 149 restaurants rated people prefer bums on seats, to bums on, er, concrete. I’m with the masses here: give me aircon, a stiff drink and a table and chair any day of the week.
* While the list represents a variety of price points from low to reasonably high, the ultra-spendy joints fall at the last hurdle. None of the restaurants featured have an average dinner entree price exceeding $27. The average dinner cost of an app and entree in the best of list is $9.18 and $16.96 respectively. Burgers, as you’d expect are one of the most popular items, available at 35% of the top list. The average price, here forth to be known as the Burger Index is $9.25.
* Oh Mai is the defacto champion for those with modest wallets, an average entree will set you back a measly $6.67 for dinner. In fact, the entire list of 38 entrees at Oh Mai can be yours in one fell swoop for $245.96. You could feed yourself and your entire street for less than dinner for two at some of downtown’s ultra-high end joints. Invite me if you do this.
* Love it or loathe it, Yelp data agrees with all the other sources included in the breakdown, proving it is indeed a valuable resource to cross check public opinion. The elite 28 restaurants have an average Yelp rating of 4/5 with only four restaurants failing to nail four and above.
Side notes: One point awarded for top place. Readers choice awards take priority over editorial if available. Hall of fame entrants and 2nd/3rd place winners receive a half point. Coffee shops etc removed from list.
Edit: The original calculations had a slight error that sadly left out Log Haven – a wonderful restaurant worth every penny. The error also rated Squatters, Mazza and Tsumani, 0.5 lower – this now reflected in the current listing.
Meanwhile over on Instagram, why bother with a thousand words when a picture will do just fine. For a different glance at what made hearts and bellies flutter this year, I looked back over our own year on the annoying guy with a camera in a restaurant app popular photo sharing platform Instagram:
HSL – Crushing it over and over and over again throughout the year – Briar Handly’s ode to New American cuisine. Ably assisted by a roster of some of SLC’s finest you can see why this place will surely only get hotter to score a seat at in 2017.
418 E 200 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Alamexo – It’s not just the picture perfect plated food that made SLC stand up and notice (well, sit down and eat) Alamexo this year. Whether it was creative cocktails, tacos, table side guac or any of the exemplary fine Mexican cuisine – it all resonated with IG’ers in 2016. Bonus points by the bucket load for the knowledge packed chef and owner Matt Lake, see the video above: I’ll be adding a molcajete to my shopping list this Christmas for sure.
268 State St #110, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Kathmandu – Now with two locations and a mainstay of the dining scene, this Indian/Nepalese eatery continues to pack diners in year after year. Highlight’s include the daily AYCE buffet and wonderful roasted meats from the tandoor. As well as the knockout momos and rogan josh, Kathmandu can boast one of the most charming service teams in the city hands down. There isn’t a more genuinely welcoming bunch of restaurant staff under one roof out there.
3142 S Highland Dr
Proper Burger / Avenues Proper – There’s a reason I created that Burger Index, Salt Lake is truly, madly, deeply in love with the things. Proper Burger has a simple premise therein, burgers and beer, what’s not to love? The menu is constantly changing with creative burgers while the businesses older sister, Avenues Proper, is just as popular as ever too.
865 Main St, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Even Stevens Sandwiches – Eat a sandwich and support someone in need, boom, done. Reuben’s quirky takes on classics like the PLT, breakfast sandwiches, French toast and more, this restaurant packs a ton of flavor with the feel goods.
And there you have it. The best restaurants in Salt Lake City 2016 as decided by me, you, and him, her and them. Who did we miss, what were your favorites this year and who should we keep an eye on in 2017?
Founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review. Former restaurant critic at the Salt Lake Tribune. Stuart is largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words he doesn’t understand. Ate all the pies.