Blue Poblano's Dang Guesadilla

473 E. 300 S. Salt Lake City, Utah
T: 801.883.9078 | bluepoblano.com 

Brunch:
Monday–Saturday: 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Dinner:
Monday–Thursday: 5:30 p.m.–9 p.m.
Friday–Saturday: 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m.

The Blue Poblano space, just west of Dick N’ Dixie’s and east of its earlier tenant, The Other Place, is filled with the cool, blue faces of painted spirits, spar-varnished, brass-tattooed barrel-top tables and dark, alternative music playing quietly. The atmosphere is studied stillness. Even the kitchen, hard at work making orders from scratch, is muted, the voices of the cooks and servers as quiet as the dust that rises before rain.

The food here is really made-to-order and leaves the kitchen more slowly than other Mexican places, so starting with a delicious $2 Tecate or PBR can is my strategy. Ask for one of the chilled blue glasses. This is a classy place—make your beer match the décor. Get some starters in your sights, as your more-involved food will be a few minutes.

The Nachos ($7) are a flower of color and flavor erupting from their bowl. These are connoisseur’s nachos—don’t just power through them to soak up beer. The fresh jalapeño, the excellent chips and rough original pico de gallo, the crema and beans, the broth at the bottom of the bowl—a surprising pool of nourishment—all play a part. The flavor is not that of other nachos. The bites are savory and don’t dull down. If food is poetry, these nachos could be taught in college. They are ecstatic; they are reward enough for the travel. If you can’t bring yourself to the nachos, try the Chips ($2.50) and Guacamole ($5). The Guacamole is handmade, with flavors of cilantro, candied cumin pepitas and fresh onion. It’s good, and good for you. They don’t offer a combination of the two—you have to pay to try both. There’s Chips and Salsa ($4.50), too. The salsa is novel, featuring a finely chopped character and a smoky, not spicy, finish. Blue Poblano makes Mexican food that doesn’t taste like Mexican food, but tastes like food that looks like Mexican food. It is uncanny. It is also good.

The Dang Quesadilla ($5) is fun, fresh and warming: a healthy sprinkle of cilantro and onion on quarters of a grilled tortilla, cheddar jack cheese, grilled onion and fresh crema anda little pot of the excellent salsa to unite the flavors. This shareable table brightener is priced to please.

Ask about their best taco, the Fish Taco ($4.75). It’s a small fist of deep-fried swai in a flour tortilla, covered with a mound of tomato, onion, cabbage and white cheese with a tread of avocado and radish orbiting the buried golden nugget. It only took four bites, but it left a mark. Schedule this fish taco for your foodie taco tour. The Vegetarian Taco ($7.50) admirably defies expectation, with a lime-spiced white rice and generous avocado, crema, jack cheese and white queso fresco, crunchy cabbage and smoked-pepper red and green salsas. It is a new, more present veggie taco with more “yes” factor than the common black bean or guacamole versions.

The burritos are boxing gloves. They look safe, but they’re big and they might knock you down. The Beef Brisket Burrito ($11) is served in a foil wrapper, as big around as a forearm and covered in a rough and tough tortilla. The first brush is sweet smoked onions and the beans, which are light and satisfyingly umami. The crunch of radish and cabbage follows, which breaks like a wave on the generous and delicious marinated beef brisket. It is a Dr. Pepper and orange reduction that lubricates the machine that has filled my senses, and I love it. The Bean Burrito ($7.50) arrives with its leather-thick tortilla—again, a hunk of pleasure. Smoky and rich, it tastes more intentional than some of the fresh-to-table items. There is a mind behind this bean burrito. Smoky peppers flavor the beans and cheddar jack cheese. These few simple flavors cover the whole of my palate. My mind returns to this item just now. I want it.

The Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas ($14) is a loaded plate with beans and rice. Topped with green onion, cilantro and radish wheels, the two enchiladas, medium-sized and delicate, are doused in straight salsa verde. The chicken is abundant but dull—the enchiladas are not the success that is so much of Blue Poblano’s menu. Actually, the rice and beans were each, on their own or together, far more fun and satisfying. This is true of Blue Poblano’s chicken items—the Taco, Burrito and Enchiladas—all lacked the flavor interest of the beef, pork or especially, the great vegetarian dishes.

Get your coffee ($2) here, or try one of the margaritas: House, Mango, Grapefruit ($9) or Prickly Pear ($10). If you prefer a special drink not offered here, there’s a speakeasy-style ordering space inside Dick N’ Dixie’s full-service liquor bar. Me, I stuck with cheap beer in cans.

As local taquerías go, Blue Poblano is quiet, even reserved. It’s a bit of a secret to all but its neighborhood, but it fills up with happy hipsters for its afternoon and evening meals, and it serves a truly unique plate of delicious.


Editor’s note: As of Sept. 29, 2016, Blue Poblano has shut their doors as a restaurant but will continue on as a catering service. Cheers to a stellar restaurant that charmed Salt Lake City—we loved every bite!

Photos: Talyn Sherer

1291 S. 1100 E., Salt Lake City, Utah
Monday – Sunday: 7 a.m.–9 p.m.
T: 801.487.0698
hubandspokediner.com

Imagine a modern concrete-and-glass box set down in the middle of a sepia-forest tableau of deer in scrub presiding over some bar seating. The raw elements of nature are here: warm wood, stone and subdued earth tones; floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over neighborhood streets; and an overall whitewash of clean modernity. This is Hub & Spoke Diner, sister to Finca, Pago and East Liberty Tap House, all ambitious but relatable eateries founded and owned by Scott Evans. This one, says the menu, was conceived as an homage to a Minnesota diner that Evans’ family owned, and I’m game—I spent some of the most blissful summers of my childhood in Minnesota. Hub & Spoke is a diner in name and ambition. It opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. It concentrates on breakfast, lunch and shakes. But its space does not say diner: It is cool and hip, and the menu, though it has many of the same old items, has also changed. I need to let my mind catch up. That is easily done, I found, with Hub & Spoke’s great Bloody Mary ($4).

This Bloody Mary lives in a modern Nordic tumbler, rimmed with spicy powder, lemon, lime and olive. Based on a thoughtful house mixture of blended vegetables, tomatoes and who knows what (I taste onions and garlic), it is seductive, spicy and strong—and quickly gone. But at a measly $4, count me in for several with a meal.

The first time I came here, the crush of hip kids in line for Sunday brunch was too long for me. Weekdays, the place avails itself more readily to a fogey like myself.

Big words for a big pancake: I think the Sour Cream Flapjacks ($8.99) are the best pancakes ever. They are so delicious that they don’t need much syrup. They’re rich and moist with just a bit of crunch at the edges. Similarly, the Pound Cake French Toast ($6 for half, $9.25 full) sounds rich. It’s just on the edge of too much—a thrilling place to be—moderated by a side of bacon. The Chicken and Waffle Sandwich ($10.50) is awesome, with a fried, juicy, XXL-sized breast of flavorful chicken breaded in a funky flour and spice sheath, inserted between a couple of thin crisp waffles and topped off with jalapeno-infused syrup.

The Kentucky Hot Brown ($11) is the star of the menu. Served in the skillet that cooks it, a drench of creamy bechamel sauce rounds out a sourdough island stacked high with smoked turkey, bacon, avocado and a fried egg. Four cooked cherry tomatoes offer palate-cleansing, acidic pops during this rich meal. The most insightful aspect of this memorable dish is a mysteriously deep, smoky flavor that evokes the summer joy of waking up in the woods to a campfire, dew on leaves and crisp morning air. It is transporting.

The two versions of the eggs benedict, the Classic Benedict ($10.50) and the Crab Salad Eggs Benedict ($10.99), are examples of this diner’s contrasts: classic, and dependable, and new, now and wow. The traditional, with an English muffin, fine poached egg, ham and subtle hollandaise, is a good, old-school benedict. Its fresh, urban, seafood twin, featuring a mountain of lump crab salad and a cornmeal griddle cake base, has my vote for best new thing of the day.

On the lunch side, I can’t resist a Reuben ($10.99). Made with turkey or, as I had it, with pastrami, the sandwich stars fresh—if not salt-sharp or bright—house-made sauerkraut. The mild pastrami is premium, as is the Russian dressing, but being the rebel that I am, I used a stripe of sharp yellow mustard to bring some turmoil to the decidedly peaceful flavors. The Open Faced Roast Beef Sandwich ($11.99) is a fan favorite, mentioned fondly by my foodie friends. I see the homage to that long-ago staple, but it sure has changed.The thinly sliced beef is on a bed of arugula, with hints of celery root and Russian dill. There is no coat of gravy, but with deliciously caramelized onions and the mustard horseradish jus, it all goes together so well that I text my friends to say I’ve seen the light. The Tuna Melt ($9.99) is a generous beast that arrives demanding that you eat every bite. Each mouthful is rewarded with a tuna salad that is crunchy and fresh, and I’m happy to oblige.

If you were me, you would finish up your breakfast or lunch with a boozy shake (if you didn’t already have several Bloody Marys like I did). I liked the Grasshopper ($8.50), which is a crème de menthe and Godiva chocolate liqueur–infused bit of Northern Territory–style misbehavior. The same delicious shakes can also be made without alcohol, but where’s the fun in that?

Legends Sports Pub

Photo: Talyn Sherer

Legends Sports Pub

677 S. 200 W.
Salt Lake City, Utah
801.355.3598
whylegends.com
Mon.– Sun., 11 a.m. – 1 a.m.

Legends Sports Pub is the only family-friendly bar with a restaurant in Salt Lake City, and it has a food special and a beer special every day of the week. The kitchen is open until after midnight, and the eats are good, reasonably priced pub fare with a fresh, original flair.

Coming in the front door with or without your kids, you are met with a fine full-service bar, complete with bottles and shots all in plain view. The many smaller televisions and one giant television always broadcast sports channels, and the overhead audio plays sports as well, which might seem a little distracting, but to me, it creates a perfect situation for social time.

There are three rooms and a spacious wrap-around patio surrounding the central dining room where the bar is, with booths big enough to cozy up with friends and family. There’s no reason for a sad face here—it’s a welcoming place with beer, sports, noise, and on game days, a fun crowd in beloved jerseys matching the teams on the television. You can’t attend the game, but you can be part of the cheering section at Legends.

A liter of beer nicely complements Legends’ tomato bisque and Totchos—tater tot nachos! Photo: Talyn Sherer

The fare at Legends is unpretentious drinks and largely house-made food. Let us start with the finger food. Tater tots ($6.49) are what first brought me in the door. Tater tots are the lobster of the potato family—once ignored in favor of mashed or fried, they are now favorites of mine, as well as of hipsters, rockers and bros everywhere. Legends also has a beer-battered fry ($6.49), which is as good or better than their tater tots. Both these items appear as sides with sandwiches and dinners, but also as centerpieces in Totchos (tater-tot nachos) ($9.99, add $3.75 for steak), and Poutine ($8.99), the famous Canadian après ski dish of beef gravy and cheese on french fries. Wings ($8 for eight wings) are a big deal here, with the usual barbeque and buffalo varieties and several unique flavors like extreme buffalo, garlic, garlic parmesan and Thai chili. The Wednesday special, 50-cent wings, is a great reason to turn out for a delicious, mid-afternoon escape. Or on a Sunday game-day, get a crispy little ham-and-cheese sandwich with excellent house-made tomato bisque ($5). On a college-ball Saturday, have delicious asada or chicken tacos, hard or soft-shelled, and a side ($5).

For openers, try the Totchos. I like them with the beef, a fine-cut asada-style steak with cheese, jalapeños and mouth-pleasing sauces on a crispy mesa of tots. They can be veggie-style or come with chicken ($2.50) if you can’t commit to one side or the other. They are like nachos (which you can also get for the same price), but a little more indulgent and comforting. Totchos and beer are all you need, but you may very well want more.

The pizza ($7 plus 50 cents per veggie, $1.50 per meat, made to order) is hand-rolled, with a crispy crust that doesn’t sog. The cheese on these pies differs from the local norm by a bit, with an enzymatic tang that makes my tongue thrill a little, chill a little. It can be had in any number of variations and sauces, but I am happy with just pepperoni, or if I’m with my veggie companion, mushroom, olive and spinach. Salt Lake has some great pizza—the New York styles of Este and Pie Hole always impress, but this pizza has its own pedestal.

The burgers are made from fresh, not frozen, beef. I was intimidated by the Pac 12 Burger ($11.99) with its softball size—it’s like the famous secret Burger King Rodeo Burger on steroids, and it looks like it could bench press a steak plate. Gooey, juicy and slightly crunchy, it’s a Pacman style meat-and-sauce mouthful. The first bite, I just let it hang out, chewing as it gives my senses the happy. The bun is right, and the beef is fresh.

The Reuben ($11.99) fills its generous rye-bread house with a finger’s width of nicely grained corned beef and a fresh-tasting sauerkraut, alert and ready, with a long, finely cut profile. Being a kraut head, I feel that it is a nice change from the usual, coarse, pre-made stuff with its ferment-y, factory burr.

The Club Sandwich ($10.99) is a monster, true to the style, a BLT stacked under a ham-and-turkey sandwich. Cut into four generous cubes, I say it is Baltic, Mediterranean, Boardwalk and Park Place—all with hotels right on my plate. With this, I can’t lose. I asked for extra mayo, but others will likely love it the way it’s regularly served.

The Fish n’ Chips ($12.99) is cod, hand-cut and dipped and made to order. It’s meaty, wide-grained and satisfyingly fresh-tasting. It might be my favorite fish and chips Downtown, but with two medium, carrot-sized pieces of fish, I want more and more. But I get another beer instead, and that is just fine.

The real secret joy of Legends is the lack of loneliness that it offers with its hubbub, its large beer and liquor selection and food made for sharing. Grab a seat and get some eats. Order a beer or a drink from the kick-ass bar—and there is soda for the kids, who will be thrilled to be sharing time with the family living loud and large.

Coachmans Dinner and Pancake House

Photo: Talyn Sherer

“We think you will be pleasantly surprised,” reads the marquee outside Coachmans Dinner & Pancake House. Well, sometimes you have to walk on the wild side, and as safe and nice as wild sides go, Coachmans is that. I feel dangerous going in, but once in, I feel pretty good about myself. They take cash only. There is red velvet, and the decor is both clean and straight from a 1962 Vegas lounge. The waitresses are nice and helpful, and, best of all, the food is affordable, just as the sign promises. Coachmans’ food is good and old-style, which means that it’s both healthy and maybe occasionally deliciously unhealthy. The house music is the high school music for kids in the late ’50s, and so I suspect the food, too, is familiar in style and quality for people of that era, which I think is great—any crowd who can get behind Elvis, smoking cigarettes and swing dancing probably knows how to have a cool time and enjoy a hot meal.

People love to eat breakfast from morning till night, and Coachmans serves a great breakfast all day. The classic Three Eggs Any Style is a great deal for just $4.95—three eggs made your way, toast and a pancake or country potatoes. I splurge for my eggs, so the Steak and Eggs ($10.95) fits in my budget. The breakfast steak is the same that comes with the lunch special, and it is better-than–Market Street good, as are the Denver Omelets ($6.95). My food friend, who likes her breakfasts sweet, got the Strawberry Belgian Waffles ($5.95) covered in syrupy but real strawberries. These crunchy confections with powdered sugar fill a big plate, and it was too much food for her. But the Buttermilk Pancake Plate ($4.95), on the other hand—even at five cakes thick (tall as the large-print edition of The Princess Diaries and just as sweet)—got eaten till only syrup and silverware remained.

Lunch Specials are a killer deal here and are served only on weekdays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Lunch comes with a warm dinner roll and starts with a first-course soup or salad. The salad has the usual suspects (plus frozen peas) but no onion. The Sliced Tomato Topped with Delicious Surimi Crab Salad option is, in fact, delicious and à la Vegas. All the soups are good. The Veal Cutlet on Cheese Sauce ($6.95) is two breaded patties of veal covered in a thin cheese sauce, which is decidedly oddball (like nacho cheese without the sharp flavor or thick body). It appears here and there on the menu, taking the place of hollandaise on the Eggs Benedict, which I did not try (because of the cheese sauce), and on the Cheddar Steak ($7.75), which is the same meal but with a pounded steak instead of veal patties. The vegetables that come on the side of most of the meals and dinners are firstrate and fresh-cooked, and the mashed potatoes are made from scratch. The Sirloin Tips ($6.95) lunch is a light beef stroganoff on egg noodles, and it was the reason I started coming here again. The Liver and Onions ($6.95), too, is right and sentimental in my heart. Tender and fresh, if liver is for you, this is a goto, and the Broiled Halibut ($9.95) and Broiled Salmon ($8.95) plates are good buys. The Fried Chicken ($6.95) is a half chicken in pieces, fried to order, and varied from dry to succulent the times I had it, but still, it’s real, and it’s fried chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.

A few low points: The coffee is bad—not good bad, just bad. The one hamburger I ate was one of the worst I ever had, freezer-burned and fugly. And the spaghetti, which the menu trumpets with praise, is bad, but maybe good-bad. The fries are forgettable and under-salted. The bread pudding could use some raisins or nuts, but that is a quibble, not a gripe.

The dinner menu is largely the same as the weekday lunch menu with some bigger, better options and both soup and salad as well as dessert in the bargain. The Liver and Onions ($8.95) is about the same service as above, but the Roast Beef ($9.75) takes the place of the beef tips, still with light stroganoff gravy and egg noodles, but covered over with generous slices of stacked roast beef. The Roast Turkey ($9.75) dinner is a solid Thanksgiving substitute with real turkey on sage dressing with cranberry and mashed potato. I was told the Lamb Chops ($16.95) were the best ever by an old-timer, but my order was little meat and lots of fat. The 16-oz. Bone-in Rib Eye – Sizzling!!! ($16.95) is the real deal, cooked John Wayne style—burnt but bloody with a baked potato and vegetable, in addition to soup, salad and dessert. There are also meals of lobster, king crab and shrimp.

Coachmans has been a breakfast place for me on infrequent occasion for most of my 30 years in Salt Lake City, and I think that I should probably have been coming more. This is the go-to comfort diner of days gone by, with yesterday’s prices and old-school food quality and choice. I am definitely bringing my family here next time they come to visit. I know that they are going to be wowed by it as much as I continue to be.