State Of The Plate 2017

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Best Of 2017 award 400px

It’s time to get angry again folks, get your pitchforks and torches ready. We’re going to go ahead and name the best restaurants for 2017. Back for the second year then, our State Of The Plate, a data driven look back at the year and some thoughts on the state of Utah dining. For reference you can find the 2016 State Of The Plate here.

This year’s review draws data from several best of/awards/roundups through 2017 then smushes it together with science. Or at least something approximating science, as is reasonably possible in my current state, addled with one too many Christmas brandies. This year that list comprises: Salt Lake Tribune Salt Awards (critics and readers), Salt Lake Magazine 2017 Dining Awards (critics, readers, hall of fame), City Weekly 2017 Best Of (readers, staff), Open Table (diner voted 2017, most booked), KSL 2017 A List, Our own Best Salt Lake City restaurants list.

So without any more delay, here are results. One point is earned for placing first in a critic or reader choice award. Half a point is awarded from placing second or third or being noted otherwise (e.g. SL Mag hall of fame). The higher score better.

The very best restaurants of 2017

5.0 Lucky 13
5.0 Ruths Diner
4.5 Takashi
4.0 Current Fish And Oyster
3.5 Cupbop
3.5 HSL
3.5 Log Haven
3.0 Bombay House
3.0 Caffe Molise
3.0 Table X
2.5 Hells Backbone Grill
2.5 Hub And Spoke Diner
2.5 Red Rock Brewing
2.5 Squatters
2.5 Caputo’s
2.5 Tsunami

…full list of 231 voted restaurants on Google Sheets…

Lucky 13 - award winning burgers
Lucky 13 – award winning burgers
Patio dining at Ruth's Diner
Patio dining at Ruth’s Diner

Best of the best

Just like in 2016, Ruth’s Diner retains it place at the top of the pile, however this year it must also share the honor with the burger-experts over at Lucky 13. Ruth’s Diner secures plaudits from both critics and the general public alike; moreover it appears in multiple award lists and categories proving a flexible and fun dining destination. Go for breakfast or brunch and behold the queues and it all makes sense. Lucky 13 deserves a round of applause too for moving up the table by some margin. If there’s one thing Salt Laker’s love – more than complaining about liquor laws – it’s a burger. And man alive, Lucky 13 make some of the finest around. Hats off to both.

Table X makes an instant splash into the elite tier, which is especially remarkable given its relatively short history on the dining scene. This no doubt speaks volumes about the work going on at this new Millcreek restaurant. Current Fish And Oyster also manages to move up a notch, a sure sign that SLC diners have taken the seafood centric restaurant to their hearts. They should, it’s great. Indeed fine dining is well represented in this top tier with Log Haven and HSL – two of our own favorites – scoring well.

Hells Backbone Grill is something of an outlier statistically speaking – it’s entire scoring based on Salt Lake Magazine. That in turn asks readers to name restaurants from certain geographies where choice is more limited. Not that it isn’t a great restaurant per se of course.

Familiar faces like Red Rock, Squatters, Tony Caputo’s, Bombay House, Tsunami and Takashi prove that once you’ve struck it big with Utahns – they’ll reward you over and over with their love and dining dollars. That said there are some notable omissions…

HSL - dessert
HSL – dessert

Sleeping Giants

Red Iguana immediately jumps out, placing second in last years list and virtually disappearing this year (down from a 4.0 to mere 1.5 score). Pago, Finca, Even Stevens, Bambara, Spencers, Market Street are just a few more big names that fail to make a mark in the top forty or so this year.

Highest Rated By Category

Looking through the list more largely here are the top rated restaurants by cuisine:

Best American – Lucky 13 / Ruth’s Diner
Best Bakery – Gourmandise
Best BBQ – R&R BBQ
Best Chinese – The Mandarin
Best Greek – Manoli’s
Best Indian – Bombay House
Best Italian – Caffe Molise
Best Japanese – Takashi
Best Korean – Cupbop
Best Mexican – Alamexo
Best Midle Eastern – Mazza
Best Vietnamese – Oh Mai

and by dish:

Best burgers – Lucky 13
Best pizza – The Pie Pizzeria
Best sandwiches – Feldman’s Deli
Best seafood – Current Fish And Oyster
Best steak – Ruth’s Chris
Best sushi – Takashi
Best wings – Stellar Wings / Trolley Wing Co

You can’t get a drink in Utah

Oh wait, hang on, that’s a lie told by charlatans and ne’er do wells. Every restaurant in the winning list bar two offer alcohol; the only outliers being Cupbop and Caputo’s, ostensibly casual lunch spots anyway. Moreover twelve of the sixteen very best places to go and eat right now also have full bars. Far be it from me to suggest that folks love a cocktail with their dinner, but there you go…

Log Haven - bison with poblano chile grits
Log Haven – bison with poblano chile grits

Yelp cross reference

Don’t agree with those awards and data smushing? Running the names through the hive mind that is Yelp shows that none of the restaurants on the list earn less than 3.5 stars, with the average of all sixteen being 4.0 out of 5.0. Even if you can’t stand Yelp, conceptually it’s hard to disagree with volumes and volumes of crowd sourced data, stacked up over time. Takeaway: eat everything here, its all good.

But how much will it cost me to dine like a king in SLC

Mean Average. To eat at one of the best restaurants in town in 2018 – an appetizer will cost you on $10.32, an entree $20.57 and a cocktail $10.33. These are the average costs for restaurants that currently list their menus online. This contrasts with the 2016 averages prices of $9.18, $16.96 and $10.97 respectively.

Burger Index. In 2016, 35% of the top rated restaurants offered at least one burger on their menu, the average price of which was $9.25. Skip forward a year and 41% of our top list offer one or more burgers. The average price this year is $12.26. This represents a year on year increase of 32.5% in the Burger Index. If only there was a futures market to invest in that tracked the Burger Index!

Naturally tracking the prices over time is ever so slightly a fools errand as the top rated restaurants always have some potential fluidity; that said the increased costs across the board point to diners in 2017 being happier to patronize higher prices restaurants than in 2016.

Current Oysters
Oysters at Current

Get your motor running

Or well, don’t actually. Just as we saw in 2016, Cupbop remains the only food truck operation to make an imprint on the best of list. From there its a precipitous drop down the list to find other food trucks: Falafel Tree (1.5), Buzzed Coffee Truck (1.0), Raclette Machine (1.0), Pizza Cone Zone (0.5), Waffle Love (0.5).

Given Cupbop’s rapid growth trajectory and build out of bricks and mortar stores it might be time to stop calling the business a food truck at all. The Korean BBQ in a cup concept has certainly resonated with Salt Lakers, with a now reputed $10 million+ revenue per year according to a recent SL Tribune feature.

The business has five trucks and eight stores already open with more going up in neighboring states fast as well, so yes I am calling it, Cupbop no longer qualifies as a food truck orientated business.

Don’t Thai that

Also mentioned last year, Thai cuisine seems to be low on Utahns list of unmissable international flavors. Only one single Thai restaurant (Mano Thai) appears on the overall list of 239 restaurants. This doesn’t seem to speak to a fear of culinary exploration; Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Middle Eastern and more all appear, and do so repeatedly. Despite the numerous Thai restaurants around town, and still opening aplenty in 2017, there’s a seemingly virtual embargo on considering the cuisine in best of lists.

Likewise, Chinese cuisine seems to be lurking in the shadows presently too. Just Bountiful’s Mandarin restaurant makes it even close to the top of the list. Both cuisines remain ripe for a talented restaurateur to dominate in.

Meanwhile over on Instagram

For a different view of the best of 2017 dining, I also like to look back over the year on our Instagram page. What moments made Salt Laker’s leap from the chairs and exclaim, take my money? The following are our top 10 most well received Instagram posts in 2017:

Proper Burger - Southern-style fried chicken

1) Proper Burger
Wowing IG’ers with this Southern-style fried chicken special, replete with mole rojo, herb cheese, honey, and green onion all wrapped up in golden waffles – this was our most popular post of the year by far. This newish burger emporium (sorry, that’s a terrible word I know) went from strength to strength in 2017, rising up the overall table (1.5 score) with its clever mix of creative burgers and equally interesting specials.

Even Stevens - hits one million mark

2) Even Stevens
These philanthropic sandwich-slingers (urgh, can we stop slinging too) passed the million mark of donated sandwiches in 2017. Later in the year they went on to hit 2 million as well. The chain continues to grow, now operating in multiple states.

Stanza - fritto misto

3) Stanza
Hopefully dishes like this fritto misto from the downtown contemporary Italian restaurant will help them reach more accolades in 2018. The rejuvenation of the restaurant under chef Jonathan LeBlanc is genuinely impressive. Go if you haven’t been. This dish comes with shrimp, calamari and zucchini with preserved lemon and a chili/citrus aioli.

Ice Haus - bratwurst and gravy fries

4) Ice Haus
Ahhh, the classics still make people faint of heart. This makes me happy. This casual bar in Murray offers a range of loaded brats and burgers and everything is delightfully messy. And then it goes and offers the whole menu again, reworked for vegans, kudos. This concept is the same that owner Dave Morriss has executed at his other bars too: Piper Down and Ogden’s Harp And Hound.

Saffron Valley - saag

5) Saffron Valley
This saag dish comes from Lavanya’s Mahate’s third outing of the Saffron Valley brand in Sugar House. And in my opinion, it’s getting better and better with age. Utahns agree as the popularity of this post confirms.

Avenues Proper - brunch

6) Avenues Proper
With liquor laws updating to allow brunch beverages an hour earlier this year (now 10.30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday) places that offer stellar brunches like Avenues Proper just became ever more popular. Make note of their $3 mimosas or bloody Mary’s if you’re headed over.

Copper Onion - burger

7 – Copper Onion
The Copper Onion burger, enough said surely?

Sweet Lake Biscuits And Limeade - The Hoss

8 – Sweet Lake Biscuits And Limeade
More brunch, this time, The Hoss from Sweet Lake; the farmers market startup that transitioned to bricks and mortar to great success. The $11 Hoss comes with biscuit, fried chicken breast, egg, bacon, cheddar, sausage gravy and green onion garnish. You’ll need to bring your own heart meds.

Caffe Molise - soup

9 – Caffe Molise
The Winter eventually came and as soon as it did, warming dishes like this soup from one of our favorite downtown SLC restaurants get folks into a frenzy. Expert tip: the rolls at Molise are wonderful, grab as many as you can and stuff em in your pockets.

Kyoto - broiled mackerel

10 – Kyoto
I was rather surprised by this one being as popular as it was. Who knew Utah diners shared my love for the fishiest of the fishies. The above broiled mackerel with tempura veg from Kyoto is one of my all time favorite SLC dishes. If you have to ask, “but is it fishy?”, walk away.

Pretty Bird - Nashville style hot chicken. Credit, Pretty Bird
Pretty Bird – Nashville style hot chicken. Credit, Pretty Bird

Prognostication And Crystal Balls

Time to put my neck on the line and make some guesses for 2018.

1) Fried Chicken.
Viet Pham’s exceptionally-hyped and overdue Pretty Bird should open in 2018. Despite being nothing more than an empty space for most of 2017, the restaurant managed a restaurant review of sorts in 2017 (it’s wonderful apparently) and an appearance on a best of list – that’s the excitement surrounding this place. Couple this opening with the national trend of fried hot chicken, and a couple other spots around town expected to come online next year – 2018 should be finger licking good.

2) Meat Is Murder
Countering all that chicken karma is the recent boom in vegan dining options. Joining established players such as All Chay and Buds (both featuring higher and higher in our lists this year) are new entrants such as Boltcutter, Monkeywrench, Lil Lotus, Seasons Plant Based Bistro, Veggie House and more. All 100% vegan and all receiving great reviews. Restaurants like Ice Haus and Stanza are putting out substantial vegan menus alongside regular offerings too. Expect this space to get bigger, better and more popular in 2018.

3) Chains Kill Cool
This one is less prediction, and more reminder to see what’s happened come the end of 2018. As local grown brands like R&R BBQ, Cupbop, Even Stevens gear up their expansion plans both in and out of state, it will be interesting to see if they manage to maintain both quality and appeal. The best of list leans predominantly to smaller operations, with diners seemingly eschewing bigger brands.

4) Peak Burger And Beer
We’ve surely hit the maximum capability to sustain any more burger joints or craft brewers. I say this, almost teasingly of course, as it seems a foregone conclusion that more will come online in 2018. Will SLC be able to support them though? I’ve genuinely lost track of the number of brewers at this point, and retail space for their product will become increasingly elusive and competitive. Well, unless the big brewers drop support for so called 3.2 beer this year. Likewise, burger businesses seem maxed out in my mind too.

5) Down With 3.2 Beer
O.k. really it’s 4% beer, no one in the actual human universe actually measures alcohol by weight anymore. In the real world where the sane Alcohol By Volume measurement is used, the common limit in grocery stores around the country is 4.8%. As national brewers start to drop their weaker product lines in 2018, expect the legislature to allow the marginally stronger brews in Utah stores.

The logic is simple in my mind (if the product supply does dry up). With grocery stores supporting an apparent 95% of beer sales, and DABC stores not having capacity to take the slack – there’s not a cat in hells chance the state would risk losing the tax dollars on this cash cow. Not a chance…

Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you!  I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune.  I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.

I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade.   I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand.  I ate all the pies.

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Alamexo, Avenues Proper, BGR, Bourbon House, BTG Wine Bar, Caffe Molise, Cafe Niche, Cuisine Unlimited, Current Fish & Oyster, Kyoto, Feldman's Deli, Log Haven, Meditrina, Oasis Cafe, Porch, Proper Burger, Proper Brewing Co, Red Rock Brewing, Spencer's For Steaks And Chops, Saffron Valley, Stanza Italian Bistro, Vida Tequila, Vine Lore, Whiskey Street, White Horse.

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