Tag Archives: Diners Drive-Ins and Dives

Triple D Shines a Light on SLC

Lone Star Taqueria has everything Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives loves: it's funky, affordable and delicious

Lone Star Taqueria has everything Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives loves: it’s funky, affordable and delicious

A sure sign you’re culinary funky is the ubiquitous presence of the bleached-hair god,  Guy Fieri, ruler of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Well, when some 10 Salt Lake City eateries have appeared on the show (plus endless reruns), you know you’ve arrived on the road-trip food map.

An appearance on Triple D can easily double the turnout of diners, leading to long lines, the bane of road trippers. But with a bit of careful planning, I’m mostly able to slide right into three Salt Lake City restaurants that have graced DDD.

Does it count that I ate at *Lone Star Taqueria a good decade ago, before it became discovered by the outside world? Didn’t think so. Back then, it was an insider hotspot, recommended to us by a local backcountry skier we met while making powder turns in the nearby Cottonwood Canyon mountains. It was certainly funky, a brightly painted old drive-in with a decorated junker out front and cold beer served in cowboy-boot shaped glasses. And the fish tacos…. oh, my. There certainly wasn’t anything like that back in Canada.

A pre-noon line is starting to form at Lone Star Taqueria, but I've already eaten

A pre-noon line is starting to form at Lone Star Taqueria, but I’ve already eaten

So I’m curious to see what it’s like now. I’m delighted to report it’s still dishing out great tacos and monster burritos ($7.69), with only one guy at the counter in front of me at 11 am. It’s still also laid-back quirky: cowboy boots on the fence posts, little metal tables and lots of natural lighting.

My pescada tacos ($3.49 per) are loaded with grilled fish, shredded cabbage and jalapeño mayo, the double corn tortillas needed to keep everything intact. On a side table are four bottles of house-made salsa to add more flavour and heat, if desired. On my way out the door, I pick up a little bag of their addictive, crispy tortilla chips to munch on during the long drive north to Canada.

First-rate fish tacos with jalapeño mayo and crispy, house-made tortilla chips

First-rate fish tacos with jalapeño mayo and crispy, house-made tortilla chips

Lone Star Taqueria
2265 East Fort Union Blvd, Salt Lake City
Monday to Thursday 11 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-10 pm. Closed Sunday
Lone Star Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen was recently featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, so cue the lineups. But when I walk in at the strategic opening hour of 10 am, I’m the first customer, and they’re still getting set up for the lunch-hour rush.

I'm the morning's first customer at Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen

I’m the morning’s first customer at Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen

Having already watched the dish being made on TV, I immediately know what kind of banh mi (Vietnamese sub-style sandwich) I want: garlic butter ribeye steak on a toasted eight-inch baguette. It’s an unusual combination, the tender meat enhanced by the crunch of house-made pickled carrots and a flavourful black pepper onion vinaigrette. I must say it’s one of the best Vietnamese subs I’ve had and a hefty bargain at $5.68.

Delicious, innovative ribeye steak banh mi at Oh Mai. Oh my, indeed

Delicious, innovative ribeye steak banh mi at Oh Mai. Oh my, indeed

Oh Mai Vietnamese Sancwich Kitchen
3425 South State Street, Salt Lake City
Monday to Saturday 10 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Oh Mai Vietnamese Sandwich Kitchen on Urbanspoon

After a very short wait on an outside stool at *Red Iguana, I’m beckoned by host Mitch: “Grandfather always said: Time to eat!” But what to eat? I’m here for the signature Mexican moles (all $16), but there’s no fewer than seven styles to choose from. No problem.

My server, Jesus, simply brings me a little plate with samples of all the rich, complex sauces to try. After careful deliberation, I go for the mole negro—featuring chile mulato, negro pasilla, raisins, walnuts, bananas and, of course, Mexican chocolate. During the scant minutes before the main event arrives, I scoop up the sampler vestiges with the complimentary tortilla chips. Who needs salsa?

Can't decide which mole sauce to order at Red Iguana? No problem. They'll bring you samplers of each to try

Can’t decide which mole sauce to order at Red Iguana? No problem. They’ll bring you samplers of each to try. Oh, and they make great dips for the fresh tortilla chips

The mole negro is a heaping plate of brown deliciousness over turkey, packing enough heat to start my lips a tingling and my brow perspiring. I scoop up the remaining sauce with warm corn tortillas, scarcely touching the accompanying rice and beans. Believe me, you won’t go hungry here.

I go for a hearty plate of mole Negro over turkey

I go for a hearty plate of mole negro over turkey

The consistently fine food is one thing. The atmosphere is another: vibrant walls of orange and green in the rabbit’s warren of rooms, the outgoing, casually efficient staff, the families with wailing infants, just discernible above the happy din of people having a good time.

The excellent food is just half the show at colourful Red Iguana

The excellent food is just half the show at colourful Red Iguana

There’s a reason this place is usually humming. The Cardenas family has been doing it right for three decades, long before there was a Food Network.

Red Iguana
736 West North Temple (two other Salt Lake City locations)
Opens 11 am weekdays, 10 am weekends
Red Iguana on Urbanspoon

Finally, here’s a Salt Lake City place you won’t likely find on TV, or on the Internet for that matter. But local cognoscenti can steer you to this one-of-a-kind Mexican joint.

Tired of the typical taco stand or truck? Just drive on down to Victor’s for something truly unique: a tire shop (“no credit check”) that doubles as a Mexican restaurant.

I can’t say I’ve ever ordered tamales in a room rimmed (another bad pun) with gleaming hubcaps. If you’re waiting for wheel work, you can sit in the small, attached restaurant and enjoy some fine, inexpensive pork skin tacos, Milanesa tortas (a breaded steak sandwich), genuine horchata drinks or green salsa pork tamales, the latter at $1.50 a pop. But seeing as how this business is dedicated to tires, I think I’ll take my meal to go.

Here's something that's unique: a tire shop that doubles as a taco joint

Here’s something that’s unique: a tire shop that doubles as a taco joint

Victor’s Tires and Restaurant
1406 South 700 West, Salt Lake City (just off the I-15 near exit 305)
Monday to Saturday 7 am-7:30 pm, Sunday 7 am-3 pm
Victor's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Feasting in Phoenix: Over 10 Food and Drink Stops in Under 48 Hours

Dinner-hour rush at Joe's Farm Grill in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert

Dinner-hour rush at Joe’s Farm Grill in the Phoenix suburb of Gilbert

Here’s a news flash: Phoenix is big, sprawling and crisscrossed with freeways. It’s suburbia taken to its illogical conclusion in the water-parched “Valley” as the locals call it. Hope you like heat. The temperature climbed to over 90 F. when I was there in mid-April; at higher elevations not that far away, it dipped below freezing at night.

A friend said I would hate Phoenix: the heat, the crowds, the cookie-cutter retirement communities. I didn’t have strong feelings either way. It was mostly a navigation problem to solve, where a GPS device certainly helped. I was there over a weekend, so the traffic was surprisingly light, and a couple I stayed with through airbnb gave me a Monday morning route that avoided the choked freeways.

There are some good things about the Phoenix area for the road-trip diner. Because it’s so car-centeric and sprawling, it’s often pretty easy to find free parking at or close to your destination. The warm climate means it’s also a great place to have an evening meal or drink outdoors. And in a city this big, there are lots of good, independent places to eat or drink, often at reasonable prices. I managed to gorge at over 10 great eateries and drinkeries in less than two days… without requiring bypass surgery.

As to why you’d be going to, or passing through, Phoenix, there’s spring baseball, a surprising amount of hiking and climbing in the surrounding hills and, of course, golf all winter long. Thousands of Canadian snowbirds can’t all be wrong.

I’ve pretty much avoided the DDD curse on my road-food journeys. The airing of a Guy Fieri Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives program on the Food Network can reportedly double the number of customers thronging to many featured restaurants. The infrequent occasions when I’ve hit a DDD spot, I’ve gone early or late in the meal cycle to avoid the lines. But I arrive at *Joe’s Farm Grill in upscale Gilbert, outside of Phoenix, on a glorious spring Saturday at 5 pm. Outside, the line extends to the curb. Inside, customers are inching along through those winding queue dividers you see in airports. The waiting gives me time to study the menu and the history of the Johnston family farm, which still grows lettuce and tomatoes used in the meals and tends olive, date and fruit trees.

The line does move smartly, thanks to a well-oiled crew of at least eight that churns out burgers, chicken sandwiches and smoked pork. In no time, a little pager buzzes and my Fontina burger is ready, loaded with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, pecan pesto and melted cheese. By the time I’ve put the lettuce and tomato on top, it takes a minute to get through the greenery and into the moist, perfectly cooked patty, wonderfully complemented by an order of rosemary-dill panko crumb onion rings. The clincher is sitting on the patio, looking out at the farm, alongside young families at picnic tables. Joe’s efficiently serves fine food, in a wonderful setting. Just try to get there before everyone else does.

Great patty, farm-fresh produce and panko onion rings add up to a perfect burger at Joe's Farm Grill

Great patty, farm-fresh produce and panko onion rings add up to a perfect burger at Joe’s Farm Grill

Joe’s Farm Grill
3000 East Ray Road, Gilbert
Daily breakfast 8 am-11 am, lunch and dinner 11 am-9 pm
Joe's Farm Grill on Urbanspoon

Want to check out the bar scene in the Phoenix area? Head over to SanTan Brewing Co. in Chandler, southeast of the big city. On a sultry Saturday evening, the taps are flowing, the music is pounding and the patrons are yelling to be heard. If it’s too noisy and hot inside, head to the outdoor patio (it’s one of the benefits of living in Phoenix), where there’s a long row of counter stools behind the busy bartenders. Mix the suds with something substantial, like a big plate of nachos or a massive sandwich.

SanTan Brewing
8 South San Marcos Place, Chandler
Monday to Thursday 11 am-1 am, Friday-Saturday 11 am-2 am, Sunday 10 am-1 am
Santan Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

I walk into a dimly lit bar, where about eight guys are hunched over a wooden counter. It’s 7:30, on a Sunday morning in aptly named Dick’s Hideaway (there’s no sign above the door, only a menu in the window). The patrons are nursing Bloody Marys, beers, glasses of red and maybe hangovers. But they’re mostly here to inhale honking big breakfasts, served on hot pewter plates. There is another room, with a couple of cool, copper common tables. But really, you want to be rubbing shoulders on a bar stool, watching a short-order pro whip up everything from French toast to eggs Benedict with two chunks of tenderloin steak. It’s not cheap. My jalapeno Eggs Benedict runs $15 but features thick pieces of Nuesle’s pork loin and comes, as most of the plates do, with big scoops of good potatoes and beans. It’s a massive amount of first-class food (the couple behind me wisely shares a plate) in a unique environment worth checking out, if you can snag a seat.

Even my hands are a bit shaky as I dig into this massive eggs benedict breakfast at Dick's Hideaway

Even my hands are a bit shaky as I dig into this massive eggs benedict breakfast at Dick’s Hideaway

Dick’s Hideaway
6008 North 16 Street, Phoenix
Brunch and lunch daily 7 am-4 pm, dinner 4 pm
Dick's Hideaway on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure if everywhere in Phoenix is like this, but there’s a healthy line at *Lux Central at 8 on a Sunday morning. But they’ve nailed the efficiency thing, taking my Americano order while I’m standing in line. It’s ready, with a little nametag on a saucer, by the time I reach the till. En route, I pass tempting scones and mixed-berry corn muffins, but the most spectacular dish is a puffy, fruit-laden Dutch pancake (only $6) that’s made to order. Lux is a cool place to people watch from a retro couch or a table lined with old-fashioned typewriters.

Lux Central is a cool place to hang out and savour a coffee

Lux Central is a cool place to hang out and savour a coffee

This puffy, fruit-laden Dutch pancake is a stunner at Lux Central

This puffy, fruit-laden Dutch pancake is a stunner at Lux Central

Lux Central
4400 North Central Avenue (near downtown Phoenix)
Sunday to Thursday 6 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 6 am-2 am
Lux Central on Urbanspoon

I seem to have hit a Phoenix daily double: a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives-featured place with no crowds. Indeed on a late Sunday morning, Los Taquitos Mexican Grill, a cheery but unassuming place in a Phoenix strip mall, is mostly vacant. It’s certainly not like this on Taco Tuesdays, when folks are lining up for $1 meat tacos. But the asada, pastor and pollo tacos are still a bargain at the regular a la carte price of $1.49, as is my excellent fish version ($1.99), featuring tender chunks of flesh topped by onions, cilantro and salsa in a double-tortilla envelope. What seals the deal is the server handing me a squeeze bottle of tomatillo-jalapeno sauce so fresh it’s still warm. I have room for a nice ceviche tostada—a crisp tortilla covered in shrimp marinated in lime juice and mixed with pico de gallo.

A fine shrimp ceviche tostada at Los Taquitos Mexican Grill

A fine shrimp ceviche tostada at Los Taquitos Mexican Grill

Los Taquitos Mexican Grill
7000 North 16 Street, Phoenix (also 4747 East Elliot Road)
Monday to Saturday 9 am-9 pm, Sunday 9 am-8 pm
Los Taquitos Grill on Urbanspoon

Hankering for a torta the size of a tortoise? Look no further than Los Reyes de la Torta, where the Latino locals head en masse for a fix of the big Mexican sandwiches, along with oversized quesadillas and sopes (layered masa disks). If you can’t decide which of 20 tortas to order, go with the monster Del Rey ($9.50): The meats alone include ham, pork sirloin, breaded beef, chorizo and hot dogs, along with some veggies for balance. My Mexican torta ($8) is a more restrained meal-and-a-half, featuring grilled steak and onions, refried beans and avocado. While manfully tackling this, I watch families converse in Spanish, tuck into their meals with gusto and sip from big goblets of agua frescas festooned with little umbrellas.

A hearty steak torta at Los Reyes de la Torta

A hearty steak torta at Los Reyes de la Torta

Los Reyes de la Torta
9230 North 7 Street, Phoenix (also another Phoenix and a Tempe location)
Monday to Thursday 10 am-9 pm, Friday 10 am-10 pm, weekends 9 am-10 pm
Los Taquitos Grill on Urbanspoon

How can a penny-pinching road tripper occasionally enjoy higher-end fare without blowing the budget? Why, by taking advantage of happy hours, which many fancier places offer to lure early-bird customers. Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar is no exception, knocking a dollar or two off many drinks and a number of menu items from 3-6 pm an unusual seven days a week. After getting, say, a discount margarita or Pinot gris, be sure to order a big bowl of excellent, chunky guacamole. The accompanying first-class, salty chips start out as house-made tortillas turned into tortilla chips. I would have been happy just filling up on this $5 treat. The grilled, wild shrimp tacos are also superior, emboldened by the hot sauce that’s, you guessed it, made in house. I should have stopped there, only $11 poorer for a pint and a couple of fine appies. But I then add a cortada salad, not noticing in the menu description the words “corn chips” and “crunchy” dried peas, which threaten my molars. Gallo Blanco is part of the charming, boutique Clarendon Hotel, which features a cool pool, framed on one end by a wall of water.

Fabulous guacamole and chips at Gallo Blance Cafe & Bar

Fabulous guacamole and chips at Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar

Be sure to check out the funky pool at the Clarendon Hotel, beside the Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar

Be sure to check out the funky pool at the Clarendon Hotel, beside the Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar

Gallo Blanco Cafe & Bar
401 West Clarendon Avenue, Phoenix
Sunday to Thursday 7:30 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 7:30 am-11 pm
Gallo Blanco Cafe on Urbanspoon

As I mentioned in an earlier post, *D’Lish Drive-Thru (“Healthy on the go”) is a fantastic place for breakfast. It’s well worth going inside to watch the friendliest, liveliest crew of guys in action. While I’m eating an excellent breakfast AZ Burro—featuring smoked turkey, avocado, egg whites and a hash patty—Josh comes over with a complementary cup of Breakfast Buzz: an invigorating iced mix of protein powder, espresso, peanut butter, banana and chocolate. Sounds strange, but it’s delicious. Why don’t more cafes concoct creative drinks like this? Another innovative breakfast item is an organic quinoa porridge with vanilla macaroon granola, fruit and steamed milk. Apparently, it’s popular with Arizona Cardinal football players, who double up with a burro or maybe a California Club on toasted artisan bread.

A lively crew greets you at the fabulous D'Lish Drive-Thru in Scottsdale

A lively crew greets you at the fabulous D’Lish Drive-Thru in Scottsdale

This excellent AZ Burro is one of many creative, healthy breakfast choices at D'Lish Drive-Thru

This excellent AZ Burro is one of many creative, healthy breakfast choices at D’Lish Drive-Thru

D’lish Drive Thru
2613 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale (also a Tempe location)
Weekdays 6 am-4 pm, weekends 7 am-4 pm
D'Lish Drive Thru on Urbanspoon

The folks at D’Lish tell me to get a Philly cheesesteak sandwich at nearby DeFalco’s Italian Deli. “It’s the best in The Valley,” one server says. But it’s an Italian deli, and I’m feeling like meatballs, which are house made, as is the tomato sauce. Squeezed inside a soft roll, the meatballs are indeed large, fall-apart tender and nicely seasoned. A guy at the next table takes delivery of an overflowing Philly cheesesteak. Mmmm. I’m sure either choice would be the right one.

House-made meatballs and tomato sauce inside a soft roll at DeFalco's Italian Deli in Scottsdale

House-made meatballs and tomato sauce inside a soft roll at DeFalco’s Italian Deli in Scottsdale

DeFalco’s Italian Deli
2334 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Monday to Saturday 10 am-9 pm, Sunday 11 am-9 pm
Defalco's Italian Deli and Grocery on Urbanspoon

The hostess at *The Parlor Pizzeria guides me to her favourite seats, at the counter overlooking the wood-fired oven, naturally. The hair-cutting chairs are reminders of the previous tenant, a beauty salon. “Can I get a cut while I’m waiting?” I ask. “If we’ve got time,” she quips. After some five minutes in a 460 F. oven, my eight-inch Forager pizza ($10 for a generous six slices) emerges with a lovely, bubbly char on the thin crust. The topping is a compelling, rich mix of wild boar meatball, rabbit sausage and finocchiona (boy, these Italian salamis play havoc with spell check). Add some radicchio, thinly sliced fennel and rosemary and I’ve got a first-rate pie, chased with a little French press pot of java. As for the trim, I need an inch taken off… my belly.

Boar meatballs and rabbit sausage highlight this great thin-crust pie at The Parlor Pizzeria

Boar meatballs and rabbit sausage highlight this great thin-crust pie at The Parlor Pizzeria

The Parlor Pizzeria
1916 East Camelback Road, Phoenix
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm. Closed Sunday
The Parlor Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

When you get right down to it, the bedrock of Mexican cuisine is the lowly tortilla. It’s used to wrap burritos, embrace enchiladas and precariously hold together tacos. When deep fried, it becomes tortilla chips and the base for sopes, tostadas and flautas. But wanting to taste a tortilla unsullied by other flavours, I head to a Phoenix institution, Carolina’s Mexican Food, where they steadily churn out fresh tortillas. I order a single tortilla, with only a pool of melted butter added. It comes out warm, incredibly fresh, chewy… and large enough to wrap me as a shroud. All this for $1.25. The next time, I’ll try something fancier like a chimichanga. But this is about celebrating the tortilla in all its naked glory.

This massive, fresh-made tortilla set me back all of $1.25 at Carolina's Mexican Food

This massive, fresh-made tortilla set me back all of $1.25 at Carolina’s Mexican Food

Carolina’s Mexican Food
1202 East Mohave Street (and one other Phoenix location)
Weekdays 7 am-7:30 pm, Saturday 7 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
Carolina's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon