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A Utah Roadtrip (Part 1) - SLC, Moab, Monument Valley, Torrey

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We – a couple from the Bronx, NYC - just finished a roadtrip through Utah, starting in Salt Lake City and ending in Las Vegas (yes, I know it’s in Nevada). We had a relatively short time to see a number of places, so we moved pretty quickly, and spent only one night in each location (except for Moab, where we stayed for two nights). We normally don’t go out for breakfast, and usually eat a light lunch, so most of our eating out was for dinner. Here’s a summary of our trip, and the places we dined.

In Salt Lake City, we had a lunch and a dinner. For lunch, since we were walking to Temple Square, our hotel clerk suggested we go up 200 West where there were a number of places to eat. Most were chains, and we prefer local places wherever possible. We saw a number of people heading into a pizzeria called “Settebello”, and we looked in, saw a wood-burning brick oven, checked the menu, and decided to stay for lunch. We were glad we did. We split a caprese app, and shared a pizza magherita with sausage. The fresh mozz was a bit grainy to my taste, but that’s a minor quibble. The crust was tasty, the ingredients were high quality, and altogether It turned out to be an unexpectedly enjoyable lunch.

For dinner, though, we had expectations. We’d heard a lot about the Red Iguana, and decided that our one SLC dinner should be there. The long line outside (relatively early on a Tuesday night, no less) did not discourage us, and Michel – who worked the door and kept the wait list in the most pleasant way – kept us entertained for the 40 minutes it took to get our table. Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. This was possibly the best Mexican meal we’ve eaten anywhere. Per advice from CH and elsewhere, we asked if we could sample some of the house’s moles, and our server amiably complied. Each had a distinctive and complex set of flavor notes; ultimately my wife went for the Mole Amarillo with chicken, and I opted for the lomo del puerco – a pork loin stuffed with chard, pine nuts, dried fruit, and sun-dried tomatoes served on an almond based mole that also included guajillo chiles, guero chiles, peanut butter, onions, and more. Both dishes were fabulous. The couple at the neighboring table couldn’t get close to finishing a huge sopapilla dessert, and generously offered us a taste; it was also very good. The place looks like a roadhouse dive from the outside, but the service was fine, the prices very moderate, and the food? If anything ever brings us back to SLC, it’ll be the Red Iguana. :)

From SLC we went through the surrounding mountains (Park City, Sundance) to Provo, where we ate at a decent but unexceptional northern Indian restaurant, the Bombay Palace. Service was fine, late on a quiet night. Samosas were flaky and tasty; however, a tandoori lamb kebab didn’t seem to have been marinated sufficiently, and was not particularly tender.

Next we went on to Moab. We had read about Desert Bistro and Center Café, and thinking we had only one night for dinner (we had a sunset tour planned for the second night), we opted for the Desert Bistro. It was a very nice experience. The setting is an historic home, seating was comfortable, and the noise level low. There was outdoor dining, but we normally prefer to dine indoors, particularly when the temperature is hovering around 100 (and the a/c inside was fine). Service was on the amateurish side (our waiter described an appetizer special which my wife ordered but was subsequently informed was not available any more), but was attentive and pleasant. Dinner highlights included a quinoa-based and nicely composed salad. For entrees, my wife had a vegetable lasagna and I – who loves game and lamb – opted to try the Antelope tenderloin. My server told me that it was not particularly gamy (I told him about my likes), but I thought it was worth a shot. It was actually more like lean beef (or bison) than other game I’ve eaten, and on the bland side. However, it was perfectly prepared and served; my wife’s lasagna was declared excellent , and the chocolate mousse in dark chocolate cups made a delicious dessert.

The next night our sunset tour was cancelled by the outfitter (apparently we were the only people who had signed on :) ); the silver lining was an opportunity to dine at the Center Café, where we had another very good dinner and a totally delightful – and professional - server. My entrée here was pork loin with a tasso ham gravy, served with parmesan grits and wilted greens – an elevated variation on southern cuisine that was porky, spicy, smoky, salty, and totally delicious. My wife’s Idaho trout was also declared exceptional, and we finished by sharing a fresh-baked strawberry rhubard crostata that was the perfect end to the meal. Incidentally, both restaurants had decent and very reasonably priced wine lists (especially coming from NYC!); at the Center Café, for example, we had a Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc priced at $58, which I consider a bargain. Food prices were slightly lower than what I’d expect to pay for an equivalent meal in NYC; both dinners – with a bottle of wine, tax, and tip – averaged about $130 for the two of us.

This is CH, I know, but I wanted to note that the included breakfasts at our inn, Sunflower Hill, were home made, including the baking (fresh scones!), and very good.

From Moab we headed to Monument Valley, where we stayed at The View Hotel, run by a concessionaire on behalf of the Navajo nation. The restaurant there featured Navajo specialties, and I had a green chile stew with pork (and a huge serving of fry bread). The food was solid, and the green chiles gave it a mild kick. Fry bread with honey was OK, too. There aren’t many other options in this area, but I didn’t feel trapped. The entrée included a decent salad bar, and the atmosphere was enhanced by a Navajo flute player. The views of the valley are stupendous.

A brief stop on the road at Stan’s Burger Shak [sic] in Hanksville. This is a popular burger and shake spot with long lines (it was a Sunday afternoon). We weren’t lunch hungry, but we shared a chocolate shake that was delicious (especially in the July heat).

Next stop was Torrey, right past Capitol Reef National Park, and the home of another outstanding Utah restaurant, the Café Diablo. I think this (and Bouchon in LV) was my personal favorite meal of the trip, not least because you just don’t expect to find this kind of place in a town the size of Torrey (think small). We split a refreshing citrus salad to start, and then went on to the mains. The chef likes architectural constructions, and my wife’s crown rack of pork ribs, with a chipotle/rum/molasses glaze, towered over her plate, surrounded by various vegetables and a pile of mashed sweet potatoes. I opted for the marinated loin of local Utah lamb (tender, slightly gamy in the way lamb should be, and just really really good – like the Colorado lamb I had on another roadtrip) in a pasilla verde sauce. The lamb had been prepared in a marinade that included juniper, which gave it a distinctive flavor note that worked really well, and the sauce provided a pleasant kick. It was also served with a savory pie of rice and black beans, and local organic vegetables. For dessert, my wife went with a dark chocolate “bombe” (they make their own ice cream) while I could not resist a house made pistachio cheesecake which tasted as good as it looked. Totally excellent meal! Ambience is casual, with fun paintings and prints on the wall by a local artist, service was friendly and capable, pricing was similar to Moab.

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  1. Thanks for taking the time to write this up. We're making a trip somewhat similar to yours next week and this is very helpful!

    3 Replies
    1. re: RoxyGrl

      We had a great time - southern Utah is beautiful in a kind of "what planet is this" way. We ate pretty well overall - bearing in mind that we're not particularly fussy people and that everything tastes better after a day of driving, hiking, and exploring, especially in July when the temperature in Moab/Mon Valley was running in the low 100's. :)

      I didn't mention another place - we lunched at the Moab Brewery (guess where); the beer was very good, the food was passable. Good place for a brew and a snack. If you're heading further west than Torrey, there's a part 2 post that covers the Bryce-Zion-Cedar CIty area, too.

      Have a great trip!

      1. re: Striver

        So glad to hear Cafe Diablo is still around. We stumbled across that gem 13 or 14 years ago. Like you we were thrilled given the other options in the area.

        1. re: avandelay

          We read about Cafe Diablo when we were planning our trip; in fact, It was the main reason we stayed over in Torrey (although it also worked fine with our route).

          We've done a lot of road-tripping over the past few years, and we've found that if you do a little advance legwork, you can locate good places to eat just about anywhere (not to mention the occasional serendipitous discovery)!