The Pork Belly Bao puts the “ooh” in umami with its savory pork belly and adds another unique element to the happy hour menu. Photo: Talyn Sherer

Purgatory or Bust

Food Reviews

62 E. 700 South
Tues.–Fri. 4 p.m.–1 a.m.
Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–1 a.m.
801.596.2294 ||

There are those “off” days. This is when you’re not really sure how the world is panning out, stuck a little incognito and ready for new surprises to slap you in the face. The better side of that feeling should be like walking into Purgatory with friends and getting a close glimpse of this month’s cover artist Travis Bone taking time with his loved ones for dinner as you do the same. Good Lord Sweet Baby Jesus, please make yours the same as Purgatory in Salt Lake City.

Around for about two years, Purgatory is the brainchild of  Head Chef Hiro Tagai and proprietors Sapa Group who  are next door. Tagai is most famous for his stints at restaurants like Happy Sumo, HSL and Sapa. Lesser known, however, are the years he spent living in Japan going to ramen school—because that’s a thing that exists, and we’re better for it. We walk into this ambitious space, busy as usual, into the back by indoor cornhole. TV movies alternate between Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Crocodile Dundee, then salted mini-margarita shots are in order to properly pregame. Digging deeper into that sentiment, Purgatory is where tasteful bougie meets an extremely comfortable living room that does table service.

Pork Belly Bao. Photo: Talyn Sherer
Pork Belly Bao. Photo: Talyn Sherer
Ghetto Ramen. Photo: Talyn Sherer
Ghetto Ramen. Photo: Talyn Sherer

It’d be appropriate to dive straight into Purgatory’s extensive beertail menu of German Raddlers, Micheladas, Vanilla Ice Cream Beer Floats, Cherry Stouts and Lagunitas Hibiscus Infused Beer Sauce. Their drink card is delicious, affordable and so large that it could kill a Clydesdale if you really tried. Moderation is the key to mastering this phenomenon.

A great start is the Baked Dynamite Onigi  ($3) on Purgatory’s Happy Hour food card (4–6:30 p.m.). They mush some perfectly cooked rice into a patty, soak it in eel sauce, panko the thing and deep fry it—baked with spicy mayo. This isn’t so much what kinds of food that peasantry can engender as much as what can make a mouth drool. Keeping to the sentiment, an order of Ghetto Ramen ($5) will do things never thought possible to a human body. Who else but a ramen master like Tagai would take a heavily loved garlic broth, add pork belly and fried egg onto Maruchan Noodles?

“The Pork Belly Bao ($6) is essentially a bite-size, fluffy, rice-taco-esque bun stuffed with house pickles, greens and a hoisin-glazed morsel of thick bacon. Do the world a favor and eat one before you die and go to heaven.”

Happy Hour ends, and now it’s time to get on the french-fry gravy train, arguably a favorite during my stay in Purgatory. Looking at it this way, Jesus himself burned in order to sit and eat Purgatory’s vegetarian Curry fries ($8). This is more of a Japanese take on curry, yet it sits on a platform that the K-Pop, Verde, Buffalo and rosemary fries need to work a little harder for as far as its unity of flavors. From a curry standpoint, this is slightly sweeter, not as sharp as Indian curry and well-rounded—almost like cheesy Asian ragout on crispy shoestrings. Add egg ($1), more cheese ($2), bacon ($2), chicken ($2), pork belly ($4), short rib ($4) or chili verde ($4)—what’s more, the Pork Belly Bao ($6) is essentially a bite-size, fluffy, rice-taco-esque bun stuffed with house pickles, greens and a hoisin-glazed morsel of thick bacon. Do the world a favor and eat one before you die and go to heaven.

What throws more of a veggie/vegan mix into this Asian fusion is the Pan Fried Udon ($10) and Panko Croquettes ($5). Deep-fried mashed potatoes are so good that at least some croquette should make it into the udon. The udon is soft and glazed over savory, soy-based sauces, topped with shiitake, green onion, shredded leeks and cabbage. While pork belly ($4) is an option, putting a croquette onto the pile differentiates the noodly textures at play. It’s also fun with chopsticks.

It’d also be a smart move to order the Short Rib Grilled Cheese next ($11). As is my heart, it’s full of cheese goo, beef, pickled onions and is sandwiched around golden, buttery white bread. To complement this creation, a salad of baby kale and arugula will substitute the fry option. The garlic and thick cream that smothers these more bitter leaves clean house nicely and contrast the main spectacle. With short rib being a tougher cut of meat, who’s to know the difference in this case, because whatever Tagai is doing to his short rib, it’s wonderful.

A seeming trend in the feng shui of Purgatory is that their entire menu is  large yet thought out and consolidated enough to keep regular guests entertained for months. This is probably the exact reason why Guy Fieri most recently graced them with his presence during their swift rise to fame in the Salt Lake food scene. As it’s clear that Purgatory isn’t going anywhere, the only task assigned to us patrons is that we must keep coming back. Relevance has never tasted so good!