- Enrique Limón
Since there are 52 weeks in a year, 2019 saw me eat my way through that many different restaurants in the line of duty. Factor in the extra legwork needed for City Weekly's annual Dining Guide, Summer Guide and Best of Utah, and I wouldn't be surprised if that number was closer to 75 or 80. It's a tough job, but you're worth it, dear reader.
I'm bringing this up at the year's end not (entirely) to boast, but to put things in perspective. Delicious, vibrant, diverse and entertaining as our ever-evolving restaurant scene is, it takes something special to stick in my memory after visiting that many restaurants. These are dishes I've revisited long after the ink has dried, creeping into my subconscious as a mid-afternoon daydream. They've challenged me in some way or stretched my perception of food into new and exciting territories. Without further fanfare, here are the dishes that I'm still enamored with after a year of gustatory excess.
The Sur 39 at Big Tortas
Throughout our lives, we experience different variations of defeat. There are drubbings that leave us despondent and doubtful—which sucks. But there are also those that leave us baffled in a way that can only be assuaged through laughter. My defeat at the hands of Big Tortas' Sur 39 ($11.75, pictured) falls hilariously in the latter category. I willingly went toe-to-toe with this monster because I could tell it was the biggest and baddest torta on the menu, and I arrogantly thought I could shut it down. I was able to devour half of this monster—which consists of grilled steak, ham, bacon, chorizo and a goddamn pork chop piled up with peppers, onions and draped with a thick, melty layer of Oaxaca cheese. Then, I stared hopelessly at the other half. Knowing I couldn't handle one more bite of this colossus, I wrapped it up and ate it the next day in shame. The Sur 39 let me know that we all have limits, and sometimes the best way to define them is to go up against something that kicks your ass. There's wisdom in defeat, and our pursuit of wisdom should always supersede our fear of failure—especially when confronted with a torta the size of a Jack Russell Terrier. Multiple locations, bigtortas.com
Szechuan Garden's Mapo Tofu
Trying mapo tofu ($8.95) at Sandy's Szechuan Garden for the first time was a lot like my first time listening to The Strokes: the slow realization that I'd entered a diner's nirvana. In addition to its balanced simplicity—it's a humble dish of cubed silken tofu suspended in an ebullience of angry red oils and tossed with finely minced pork—it represents a centuries-old culinary legacy. It made me want to further explore food from the Sichuan province of China in the same way reading the liner notes of a great album made me want to explore new artists making a similar genre of music. It all hinges upon the Sichuan peppercorn and its delightful, sensory-altering characteristic of numbing the tongue. Once it's applied its brand of mischief to your taste buds, it enables them to appreciate bold new flavors or to notice the nuance within those that are more familiar. 1275 E. 8600 South, 801-233-0027, szechuangardensandy.com
Tradition's Spiced Cherry Pie
Cherry pie is something that I've had—and really liked—so often that I didn't even imagine that it could be made differently than the vibrant, candy-coated crimson and buttery crust I had gotten used to. My first bite of the spiced cherry pie ($7) at Tradition transformed my pie paradigm forever. It chortles at cherry pies that have used bright red goo and red food coloring to showcase the sweetness of cherries by killing their tartness. This pie is sans goo, and its copious amounts of cherries have been encouraged to exhibit their natural sass with the addition of lemon, ginger, cinnamon and just a touch of black pepper. You can't really go wrong with any of the pies in Tradition's repertoire, but the spiced cherry is a game changer. 501 E. 900 South, 385-202-7167, traditionslc.com
Popcorn Tin Composed Cone at Normal Ice Cream
Anytime someone can capture the shared experience of a particular flavor combination, you have to stop and take note. The soft serve magicians at Normal Ice Cream succeeded in capturing the sweet and salty notes of a holiday popcorn tin in an ice cream cone, and I've been rapt with admiration ever since. It started with their buttered popcorn soft serve that's topped with cheddar powder and some cheesy poofs. Not only was this a successful attempt at balancing sweet and savory, but it evoked the fun of reaching into one of those holiday popcorn tins with the intent to get a little bit of everything and let it party in your mouth. Such a creation transcends mere sustenance—Alexa Norlin and her team at Normal are purveyors of edible nostalgia. 169 E. 900 South, 385-444-3218, normal.club
Cheers to another year of adventurous eating!