Tag Archives: salt lake city

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

A Hearty Pancake Sandwich and a Gigantic Meat Sandwich in Salt Lake City

 

They're rightly called "Heavenly Hotcakes" at Penny Ann's Cafe. These have bacon and eggs in the middle

They’re rightly called “Heavenly Hotcakes” at Penny Ann’s Cafe. These have bacon and eggs in the middle

After eating a tofu scramble in Salt Lake City the day before, I’m ready for some real eggs and bacon, better yet piled between two pancakes. At *Penny Anns Cafe, they’re called “Heavenly Hotcakes”, with good reason. Yes, they’re platter big but fluffy and flavourful, thanks to the use of sour cream in the scratch-made batter. So good that even after I’m full and the remains have cooled, I can’t help nibbling. Though I must draw the line when I’m offered a slice of one of the many pies baked in the kitchen each day.

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Salt Lake City Goes Funky and Vegetarian

This colourful flea market in downtown Salt Lake City coincided with the weekend pride festival

This colourful flea market in downtown Salt Lake City coincided with the weekend pride festival

It might be time to correct some misconceptions about Salt Lake City. Yes, it’s still a Mormon stronghold, though that grip is weakening, given only half the residents are practitioners of the faith. The weekend I visit coincides with a massive pride festival, in part celebrating a landmark court ruling that allows same-sex marriage in Utah; the decision is being appealed. There’s also great coffee and beer being brewed here, and poured down non-Mormon throats, plus more good taco shops than you can throw a sombrero at. One sure sign Salt Lake City has come of culinary age is the presence, in the city’s south, of a funky vegetarian cafe. Vertical Diner is in a casual, slightly grungy space, with stucco walls, old cement floors and a pulsing, industrial soundtrack.

Vertical Diner is a funky vegetarian place on a south Salt Lake City industrial street

Vertical Diner is a funky vegetarian place on a south Salt Lake City industrial street

My plant-based breakfast is La Mesa, a bountiful, colourful plate of hash browns, black beans and rice, melted cheese, guacamole and, a first for me, a tofu scramble. The fact the food is on my table by the time I return from a bathroom freshening indicates the tofu isn’t quite “scrambled” to order, but it’s nonetheless a nicely spiced and textured dish. Good enough that I might forsake eggs and bacon, well at least for a couple of days.

A colourful plate, featuring black beans and a tofu scramble, at Vertical Diner

A colourful plate, featuring black beans and a tofu scramble, at Vertical Diner

If a vegan breakfast seems a step too far, you can always order pancakes, which start at a bargain $1.75 each (a buck more if fruit is included). Of course, they can also come gluten free.

Vertical Diner
2280 South West Temple, Salt Lake City
Weekdays 10 am-10 pm, weekends 9 am-10 pm
Vertical Diner on Urbanspoon

Continuing the vegan theme, the Barbacoa Burrito at Buds is highly recommended. Unfortunately, the little sandwich place is closed for renovations during my visit. Next time.

Buds
509 East 300 South, Salt Lake City
Monday to Saturday 11 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday
Buds on Urbanspoon

Great Salt Lake City Restaurants

Finca is in the vanguard of nouveau cuisine in Salt Lake City

Finca is in the vanguard of nouveau cuisine in Salt Lake City

Normally, I just breeze past Salt Lake City, trying to get through the hour-plus gauntlet of freeway hell on the I-15 as painlessly as possible and avoiding rush hour at all costs. But at least once, you have to go into the city, visit the temples and taste the heart of the Mormon experience. Besides, lot of folks live in the ever-expanding suburbs, so things are often not as hectic in the downtown area as you’d think, and you can get around fairly easily, once you figure out addresses like 900 West 1400 North; what’s that all about?

There are a number of fine, affordable restaurants in Salt Lake City for road trippers, especially in the south part of downtown. “The dining and coffee culture in Salt Lake is blowing up. There’s a lot of good, eclectic food,” says Joe Evans of Nobrow Coffee Werks. “And it’s very casual. Nearly every place you can walk into in jeans and a t-shirt.”

The rainy Salt Lake City marathon is taking off across the road in Liberty Park as I pull up to a local breakfast institution, The Park Cafe. That should be me, I think, shedding calories instead of adding to an expanding waistline. But the smell of cooking eggs and hotcakes overwhelms my good intentions, and I walk into the bright, former house. The pancake sandwich—featuring four slices of bacon and two eggs—looks enticing, as do the thick slices of French toast and overflowing omelette plates at neighbouring tables. But in honour of the lean runners warming up outside, I stick with a lighter but still carbo-loading order of multigrain pancakes, the denser texture offset by liberal handfuls of blueberries and a topping of sugarless syrup.

The Park Cafe, Salt Lake City

Lovely blueberry multigrain pancakes at The Park Cafe

The Park Cafe
604 East 1300 South
Daily 7 am-3 pm
Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

Salt Lake City… a capital of third-wave coffee? In a state where most people don’t drink it. Who’d have thunk it? Yet at *Nobrow Coffee Werks, founder Joe Evans is expounding in passionate detail about his latest, expensive toy, the world’s first coffee-shop version of the Alpha Dominche Steampunk, manufactured right here in SLC by some folks also dedicated to snowboarding. “It gives us control over all aspects of brewing, from the temperature and filtering to the agitation,” says brewista Joe. The result is a custom-brewed cup, using beans from local Charming Beard and other high-end roasters. I must say, it’s a complex, lovingly-crafted coffee—a great partnership between man and machine.

Joe Evans and the very latest in custom-brewed coffee at Nobrow Coffee Works; I’d say this is high brow

Nobrow Coffee Werks
179 West 900 South
Weekdays 6:30 am-7 pm, weekends 7:30 am-7 pm
Nobrow Coffee Werks on Urbanspoon

Joe sends me on to what he affectionately calls the “coffee Nazi” at *caffe d’bolla, closer to downtown Salt Lake City. If anything, John is even more passionate about in-house roasting and a 19th-century coffee-making tradition known as syphon, or vacuum, coffee. I don’t have the 20 minutes or the $8-plus for this style of hand-crafted coffee. But another customer does order it, and I eavesdrop as John explains the long history of this technique and the perfect temperature (155 F.) for tasting the full flavour array of any coffee. In the meantime, my excellent $3 Americano is delivered, with an explanation of the three-bean blend and the melon and red apple notes I can expect to taste. The owners also travel to Asia annually to source top-quality teas. I take a pound of roasted coffee to go; it’s among the best beans I’ve purchased anywhere in the past couple of years.

More coffee-making wizardry (this time syphon style) at caffe d'bolla

More coffee-making wizardry (this time syphon style) at caffe d’bolla

caffe d’bolla
249 East 400 South, Suite 100
Monday to Saturday 9 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
Caffe D'Bolla on Urbanspoon

After having my ID painstaking recorded at the door, I adjust my eyes to the gloom and enter Lucky 13 Bar & Grill. As advertised, it’s a dive bar, with a rock soundtrack and small, high tables, but too early in the morning for a Bloody Mary, at least for me. I’m here instead for the highly regarded burgers, though I can’t bring myself to try the recommended one with peanut butter. Instead, I go for the signature Celestial ($10), a big, meaty, juicy patty loaded with house-smoked bacon, caramelized onion and cheddar (hold the barbecue sauce). The included fries are hot and crispy and come with my first sampling of fry sauce, a tangy Utah staple that mixes mayo and ketchup.

Time for a great dive bar burger at Lucky 13 Bar & Grill

Time for a great dive bar burger at Lucky 13 Bar & Grill

Lucky 13 Bar & Grill
135 West 1300 South
Daily 10 am-2 pm
Lucky 13 on Urbanspoon

*Finca is a decidedly more upscale spot in a gorgeous building, with large windows, gray decor and piles of wood for the grill. Finca specializes in tapas and small plates such as my beet salad—a work of art, with a velvety house ricotta base, a ring of beet chunks and a middle tower of argula topped by macerated strawberries and toasted almonds. Bigger plates include huevos benedicto, a lamb and pork meatball sandwich and a shrimp-and-calamari decorated Cobb salad—all done with panache.

This arranged beet salad, at Finca, is almost too pretty to eat... almost

This arranged beet salad, at Finca, is almost too pretty to eat… almost

Finca
1291 South 1100 E
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 10 am-3 pm
Finca on Urbanspoon

Half the fun at *Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli is just wandering around, looking at all the meats and cheeses and dipping bread in the excellent olive oils and balsamic vinegars. This Salt Lake City landmark ages more than 200 farmstead cheeses in its cheese “cave”, has an in-house salami maker and sells more than 300 types of chocolate bars. Ask for a sample of their house-made burrata, a creamy, stringy mozzarella that comes wrapped in little green pouches. Of course, you’ll want to order one of their famous sandwiches; a half will suffice moderate appetites and costs less than $5. The award-winning Caputo is loaded with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and balsamic, while the Muffaletta adds a spicier olive salad to the deli cuts and comes on a ciabatta roll.

Just some of the cave-aged cheeses at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli

Just some of the cave-aged cheeses at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli

Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli
314 West 300 South (and two other Salt Lake City locations)
Monday to Saturday 9 am-7 pm, Sunday (they mustn’t be Mormons) 10 am-5 pm
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Red Iguana is as authentic as old-school Mexican gets in Salt Lake City. This longtime favourite is colourful and crowded, with tables tucked into every cranny of the sprawling rooms. At prime times, there’s a lineup of folks waiting to dig into healthy portions of good Mexican food, including the Iguana’s legendary mole plates, which cost around $16.

Order a mole dish at this Salt Lake City institution: Red Iguana

Order a mole dish at this Salt Lake City institution: Red Iguana

Red Iguana
736 West North Temple and 866 West South Temple
Monday to Thursday 11 am-10 pm, Friday 11 am-11 pm, Saturday 10 am-11 pm, Sunday (yes, Sunday) 10 am-9pm
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

The flagship Mountain West Burrito (in Provo, just south of Salt Lake City) used to be a gas station. The only thing that could possibly give me gas now is the organic beans—which along with meat or veggies, brown rice, cheese and perhaps sour cream and guacamole is soon stretching a regular-sized burrito, and my stomach, with warm goodness. The jumbo is recommended only if I plan on running up a nearby hill overlooking Provo. Mountain West (“We do not own a can opener”) believes in using pasture-raised meats, making everything fresh daily and adding a little kick to the proceedings. In fact, the green chile sauce I pour over my burrito has more bite than anything I’ve had in New Mexico. My lower lip tingles as I drive out of town and back onto the interstate.

The name says it all: Mountain West Burrito

Mountain West Burrito
1796 North 950 West, Provo (also another Provo and a Lehi location)
Monday to Saturday 11 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Best Sandwiches in the U.S. Mountain States

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

Honking big, glorious sandwiches at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe in Sedona, Arizona

I don’t often get excited about sandwiches on road trips. That’s because they’re often, well, boring. But occasionally, some place bowls me over with a sandwich that’s incredibly fresh, creative and served, of course, between two pieces of great bread that definitely weren’t pulled from a bag. Here, then, are the top sandwiches I feasted on during a recent trip through the U.S. mountain states.

Creative chandeliers  at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

Creative chandeliers at 626 on Rood in Grand Junction, Colorado

If you’re craving some excellence on a long road trip, please, please take a short detour off the dreary I-70 in southwest Colorado and navigate your way through Grand Junction to its historic downtown and 626 on Rood. Yes, it’s a more upscale place, where you’ll pay a pittance for street-front parking, get linen napkins and heavy utensils and have your water glass filled from a long-necked wine bottle. None of this matters, nor does the menu, frankly. Just order the smoked duck breast club sandwich, and you’ll never be able to look at an ordinary club the same way again. It’s that oh-my-God good. Besides the incredibly succulent and plentiful slices of apple-wood-smoked duck (adequate adjectives fail me) there’s pepper bacon, Napa cabbage and roasted garlic mayo, all squeezed between two delightful pieces of challah bread.

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I've ever had

This duck club, at 626 on Rood, may be the best sandwich I’ve ever had

Oh, and get some fantastic sweet potato fries as your side, and start things off with a complimentary plate of French baguette slathered in house-made herbed butter. It might be the best $12 you’ll ever spend on lunch. The duck club isn’t listed on the dinner menu, but just ask and they will deliver: They promised me.

626 on Rood
626 Rood Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 4 pm-10 pm
626 on Rood on Urbanspoon

I’m taking a two-hour detour for lunch, one that carries me steeply up through dense pine forests and around 15 mph-switchbacks en route to Silver City, in the southwest corner of New Mexico. The Curious Kumquat is just one of those nationally-recognized, destination restaurants you go out of your way for; they’re even sponsoring an NPR program I’m listening to on the tortuous approach.

What makes the Kumquat special? Consider that chef-owner Rob Connoley likes to forage for wild edibles—like cattails, forest moss and crawfish for today’s evening menu. For a relative bargain of about $40, I can enjoy a five-course tasting dinner featuring jerk rabbit, Catalan duck and smoked roots.

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

Fabulous mole-chicken sandwich at Curious Kumquat in Silver City, New Mexico

But I’m here for a real lunch deal ($7.50), a fantastic Oaxacan sandwich, with plentiful, moist pieces of shredded mole chicken, avocado, goat cheese and apple, served on lovely, seed-crusted ciabatta. The included side salad is no afterthought but a carefully constructed mix of quinoa, grape and sliced vegetables. The server brings around a couple of spectacular-looking desserts, but there’s no room, even for a jelly-filled sandwich cookie. It’s too bad I have to drive, otherwise I’d sample one of their 70 listed international beers.

Curious Kumquat
111 East College Avenue, Silver City, New Mexico
Tuesday to Saturday, lunch 11 am-5 pm, dinner 5:30-8:30 pm (final seating)
The Curious Kumquat / Cafe at the Kumquat on Urbanspoon

“You been on Man Vs. Food?” a customer asks the server as he soldiers through his sandwich at Sedona Memories Bakery & Café, in Sedona, Arizona. “You serve halves?” I add, eying the monsters anchoring tables in the gusty winds. “No, just entire sandwiches,” she replies. “You’ve got to eat the whole thing. We tie you to the chair till you’re finished.”

Sedona Memories doesn’t seem much concerned about aesthetics. Faded red-and-white checked plastic tablecloths cover scuffed beige plastic tables, with chairs to match, and the patio area overlooks a dusty gravel parking lot. This means all the energy goes into producing wonderful, thick, thick sandwiches, all for a bargain $7.25 in tourist-choked Sedona. Eschewing standards like egg and tuna salad or roast beef, I opt for one piled with veggies, cream cheese, avocado and sunflower seeds. What brings it all together is the house-made bread, especially the moist, dense whole wheat or seven grain. Forget getting my mouth around it; I have to stretch my hand just to contain it.

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

This bad boy holds down the tablecloth at Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe

Sedona Memories Bakery & Cafe
321 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
Monday to Friday 10 am-2 pm. Closed Saturday and Sunday
Sedona Memories Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

“Many have eaten here… few have died,” declares a sign in Big D’s Downtown Dive, a colourful Roswell diner featuring a collage of New Mexico license plates and tables covered in laminated maps. The Dive is known for its hamburgers and my choice of a cheesesteak sandwich, which seems a bit steep at $8.99 till it lands with a shudder on the table. If they hadn’t cut it in half, it would have measured at least 16 inches of soft roll absolutely stuffed with grilled steak, onions, peppers, mushrooms, green chiles and melted Swiss (my only quibble is it’s a tad salty, for me). This quivering mass is still steaming as I struggle onto the second half, with enough spillage to soak three napkins. It’s a good thing I don’t opt for the double meat (an added $3). That may have been sufficient to trigger my premature demise. One nice detail here is the cucumber-flavoured tank of water.

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D's Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Hearty cheesesteak sandwich at Big D’s Downtown Dive in Roswell, New Mexico

Big D’s Downtown Dive
505 North Main Street, Roswell, New Mexico
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm
Big D's Downtown Dive on Urbanspoon

It takes a while for my lunch-hour order to be taken at *Guava Tree Café in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but I don’t mind. It lets me peer into the kitchen and watch the fastest-moving cook I’ve ever seen. She’s a literal whirling dervish, assembling Cuban-style sandwiches and Venezuelan arepas, featuring unleavened corn-meal bread. The guy behind the counter isn’t much slower—taking orders, delivering food and whipping up delicious fresh tropical juices. After agonizing deliberation (I really want to order an arepa pocket stuffed with shredded beef, plantains and black beans), I opt instead for a larger Pernil sandwich ($7.50). It’s a fantastic mix of slow-roasted pork, sweet caramelized onion, Swiss cheese and garlic sauce, warm pressed on Cuban bread. Add a side of yuca crisps and a coconut flan for dessert, and I’ve got a full Caribbean dining experience. My only advice: Don’t be in a hurry. The staff’s got that covered for you.

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Savoury Cuban-style sandwiches at Guava Tree Cafe in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Guava Tree Cafe
216 Yale Boulevard SE, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Weekdays 9 am-4 pm, weekends 11 am-3 pm
Guava Tree Cafe on Urbanspoon

Honourable Mentions for a couple of great places where I tried something other than their most famous sandwiches.

Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli (Salt Lake City, Utah) is one of America’s top delis and renowned for its Caputo sandwich, loaded with prosciutto, mortadella, salami, provolone, olive oil and balsamic ($8.25 for a monster whole, $4.85 for a half).
Caputo's Market & Deli on Urbanspoon

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo's Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Check out the cheeses, meats and great sandwiches at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli in Salt Lake City

Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill (Cottonwood, Arizona) makes grilled-steak tortas (big, $7 Mexican sandwiches) that are “three-quarters-of-a-pound of heaven in your mouth,” a server tells me. I do try the toasted telera, far superior to any of the round torta breads I’ve had elsewhere on this trip.
Verde Lea Market Deli and Grill on Urbanspoon

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona

Try a great torta at Verde Lea Market Deli & Grill in Cottonwood, Arizona

Spring Climbing Road Trip

World-class crack climbing in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Nancy Hansen

World-class crack climbing in Indian Creek, Utah. Photo: Nancy Hansen

For those shaking off the last vestiges of winter, it’s not too late for a spring road trip to a climbing hotspot in the U.S. southwest. Both on the long drive down and as an occasional break from campsite cooking, it’s nice to grab something to eat or drink at independent, affordable, character places that won’t look askance at your chalky trousers. Here are some great such places, especially for those heading down the I-15 to Idaho, Utah and places beyond.

En Route on the I-15

Authentic Mexican street food... in Hamer, Idaho?

Authentic Mexican street food… in Hamer, Idaho?

Nine hours into a bleary-eyed drive south, it’s time to pull off the I-15… into Hamer, Idaho? Where the population has quadrupled over the past decade to 50? Trust me, just look for a little van with an awning on the edge of town. If there’s nobody inside, just wander around back, and you’ll likely see a little old lady in a blue hairnet come hustling up the lane. She doesn’t speak much English, but a look at the short menu board tells you all you need to know: burritos, quesadillas and tortas (Mexican sandwiches), all for ridiculously cheap prices, like $5 for three fresh, loaded and spicy tacos. Whether you eat them at a picnic table or in your car, it’s as authentic as Mexican street food gets, at least in southern Idaho. (I’m not sure of the name or the hours, but it only takes a minute from the Hamer interstate exit, north of Idaho Falls, to see if it’s open).

A delicious plate of hand-made tacos for $5 in Hamer, Idaho

A delicious plate of hand-made tacos for $5 in Hamer, Idaho

If a plate of ribs or a pulled-pork sandwich is what you’re after, persevere a little further to Malad City, also in southern Idaho. At the edge of town is Spero’s House of Barbecue, a shack-size structure surrounded by picnic tables and flanked by six barbecues. When I ask what’s in them, a woman lifts two lids to reveal thick slabs of pork ribs, then walks across to show me another filled with chicken. Spero and his wife and sister slow cook the meats till they’re fall-off-the bone-tender. My pulled pork sandwich is six ounces of juicy meat topped with slaw (for less than $6), with the barbecue sauce on the side, as I like it. Just about everything is house made including the garlic bread, BBQ sauce and potato salad.

The ribs are just starting to slow cook at Spero's House of Barbecue in Malad City, Idaho

The ribs are just starting to slow cook at Spero’s House of Barbecue in Malad City, Idaho

Spero’s House of Barbecue
168 East 50 South, Malad City
Daily 10 am-8 pm

If you’re like me, you normally try to get past Salt Lake City and its hour-long gauntlet of heavy traffic as quickly as possible. But sometimes it’s worth a surprisingly quick detour, especially if you need a caffeine jolt. The second surprise is that in a state where many people don’t touch coffee, SLC has two of the most passionate “third-wave” java places you’ll find outside the wet coast. Nobrow Coffee Werks has maybe the most advanced individual-cup brewing machine on the planet, while caffe d’bolla has half a dozen glass siphons for the same purpose. They both also make excellent espresso-based drinks and are a good place to buy first-rate beans for your trip. While you’re in the downtown area, stop at Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli for terrific Italian sandwiches.

Highbrow coffee brewing setup at Nobrow Coffee Werks in Salt Lake City

Highbrow java brewing setup at Nobrow Coffee Werks in Salt Lake City

Camp Escapes

Moab

The joke is so many Canadians flee in spring to Indian Creek, and its world-class crack climbing, that it’s become a suburb of Canmore. Despite the addition of camp picnic tables and toilets, most climbers occasionally need groceries, a shower or just a break for their beat-up hands and forearms. So they head to the tourist mecca of Moab, where there’s plenty of eating choices.

I have two good climbing friends who are most articulate about a wide range of subjects. But when I ask them to rate Quesadilla Mobilla, a parked food truck specializing in, yes, quesadillas, words fail them. The best I’ve gotten so far is “That is f…ing killer, man” and “Best quesadilla I ever had”. This after two or three visits. I’d give you a lengthier description, but when I blow through Moab, QM is closed…. on a Tuesday and a Wednesday; I thought the default closing day in Utah was Sunday! Sure enough, the couple that owns it are climbers and like to sneak away when the crags are quieter mid-week. The climbing theme is evident in a vegetarian quesadilla called The Dirt Bag, though my friends like the slow-cooked beef in the Southern Belle. Despite the lack of first-hand evidence, I suggest you give them a try. It’s #!*% awesome.

The Quesadilla Mobilla (mostly stationary) food truck in Moab, Utah

The Quesadilla Mobilla (mostly stationary) food truck in Moab, Utah

Quesadilla Mobilla
83 South Main Street, Moab, Utah
Thursday, Sunday and Monday 11 am-4 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm. Tuesday and Wednesday closed

These same two friends give a bruised two-thumbs up to a new place, Twisted Sistas Cafe (11 East 100 North) especially for its roasted beet pomegranate salad.

The Love Muffin Cafe (139 North Main Street, opens daily at 7 am) gets a lot of early morning love in Moab. Get there much after eight, and a line of active folks will be stretching toward the door awaiting their organic coffee fix and breakfast items headlined by seven types of burritos. But things move quickly. Within a few minutes of ordering, I’m munching on a warm, satisfying egg and chorizo burrito, an adequate size for a relative Moab bargain of $6. If you’re looking for something more substantial in a funky setting, try Eklecticafe (352 North Main Street), featuring a huge, steaming cup in its front garden and large plates of huevos rancheros and giant cinnamon rolls.

You want funky, big breakfasts in Moab? Try Eklecticafe

You want funky, big breakfasts in Moab? Try Eklecticafe

Zion National Park, southwest Utah

After a night or two in a portaledge on one of Zion’s big sandstone walls, you’re no doubt ready to gorge.

The big walls beckon in Zion National Park in southwest Utah

The big walls beckon in Zion National Park in southwest Utah

“You will not leave Oscar’s hungry. I guarantee it,” the Zion shuttle bus driver says as she drops me off in downtown Springdale, just outside the park gates. “If you do, it means you haven’t finished.” Oscar’s Cafe is thus the perfect breakfast for big days of climbing or hiking. A couple of minutes after ordering, my huevos rancheros special arrives so hot it’s still bubbling. The house-made green chile, salsa and guacamole topping contribute to a first-class dish. Yes, it’s big enough to take five minutes of delving to get to the eggs in the middle. And if your bivy mate is hogging the space, Oscar’s has a list of half-pound garlic burgers, including The Murder Burger. As I leave, I flip over their business card: “Hungry??? Don’t Blame Oscar’s.”

"You will not go hungry" eating breakfasts like this huevos rancheros at Oscar's Cafe in Springdale, outside of Zion National Park

“You will not go hungry” eating breakfasts like this huevos rancheros at Oscar’s Cafe in Springdale, outside of Zion National Park

Oscar’s Cafe
948 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, Utah
Daily 7 am-10 pm

City of Rocks

Thousands of rocks climbers flock to this remote southwest corner of Idaho every year to scale granite face routes that rank among the finest in the U.S. It’s not far from the camping sites here to the whistlestop community of Almo, which might be a hair bigger than Hamer.

Great granite in City of Rocks, Idaho

Great granite in City of Rocks, Idaho

Canadian friends who come to City of Rocks most years always make the pilgrimage to Outpost Steakhouse (“Where the pavement ends and the West begins”) for its superb Angus rib-eye steaks, ranging from 12 to 16 ounces. I arrive too early for that much protein so instead opt for the $12 steak sandwich—tender slices of Angus beef with melted Swiss in a hoagie bun along with steak fries. I’m still working on my side salad when the hot meal arrives. “I keep telling her (the cook) she’s too quick,” the waitress says. Nearby, there’s a great selection of beer and made-from-scratch thin-crust pizzas at Rock City Mercantile.

Great rib-eye steaks and steak sandwiches at Outpost Steakhouse in tiny Almo, Idaho

Great rib-eye steaks and steak sandwiches at Outpost Steakhouse in tiny Almo, Idaho