When we travel out of town, one of the most exciting things for us is eating really good food from really good restaurants. Our last trip to Vegas was entirely centered around what restaurants we planned to eat at. Our upcoming trip to Sacramento (this weekend, kiddies) already has us booking up lunches and dinners long before we pack our bags. I'm not saying that Salt Lake City is lacking in really tasty restaurants, but why is it they are all 1) expensive, 2) downtown, or 3) both?
In Vegas, I can find a lot of places where two can eat pretty well for under $40. I'm talking world-class cuisine like good BBQ from Lucille's, Irish food from Fado, or stuffing your face silly at any one of the many buffets. There's also a ton of cheap yet delicious eats, be it in the hotels or at Blueberry Hill, the local blue plate that's packed to the brim for Saturday breakfast. The dozens of bars around town almost guarantee a good plate of grub for not a lot of dough.
Even Sacramento has a lot of great places to dine. BJs is one of our favorites for their self-made root beer and tasty eats. Shauna is always raving about ZPie, a joint specializing in gourmet pot pies, and she swears I've got to try out this Chicago-style pizzaria called Chicago's Fire.
Utah, however, seems to be lacking a lot of these mid-range restaurants. Sure, Mimi's is good and I like grabbing some Goodwood, but when those end up being some of your only mid-range choices in the area, they get old very fast. We could drive downtown to sample some really good food, but that's a good 25 minutes away and we have to find parking for $5.
I think part of it is that Utahns, as a group, don't have the kind of sophisticated pallette that those of us from California or Vegas end up developing. Here, Olive Garden is real Italian, Village Inn qualifies as good cheap eats (gross), and fancy means a salad with strawberries on it, something that's very overplayed here. Where are the salads with bitter greens and tangy, not sweet, dressings? Where's the greasy spoon that serves up a great 24-hour breakfast for six bucks? Why can't Italian mean something more complex than choosing between red and white sauce?
Shauna adds some more to the theory. Utah has some pretty restrictive liqour laws. These laws have kept some chains like Trader Joe's out of Utah and means taking a trip to the liqour store if you need to cook with something more esoteric than your basic red or white cooking wines. It's entirely possible that these laws are also holding back a lot of the mid-range restaurants from coming here.
Maybe it's just that this sleepy farm state is finally starting to grow into a real city and we're here for the growing pains. In the meantime, we'll still be planning trips around our favorite out-of-town restaurants.