Salt Lake City has a healthy breadth of multicultural cuisine baked into the pockets of our neighborhoods, and there’s no shortage of fun to be had by anyone hungry. With so many offerings afforded Salt Lakers, selecting a place to start can perhaps feel like a daunting distillation of the paradox of choice. If you’re new to the city and want to expand your palate options, here are three incredible businesses that offer some of Salt Lake’s finest food in, respectively, Mexican (Santo Taco), Vietnamese (Pho Tay Ho), and Ethiopian (Mahider) cuisine.
Having just opened their doors in 2019, Santo Taco is a relatively new addition to Salt Lake’s Rose Park neighborhood, an area well known for its stellar Mexican cuisine. Situated at the corner of 900 North and 900 West, this taquería is poised to make its mark.
Per their namesake, the star items at Santo Taco are their street tacos. Served with your choice of meat on top of two tortillas (and even this double stack can barely support the bounty), these tacos are small bursts of flavor. During my visit, I took home what I’ve always thought to be the trifecta of street tacos: Carne Asada (grilled steak), Pollo Asado (grilled chicken), and Al Pastor (marinated pork). Every taco comes with the regular fixin’s of pickled vegetables, lettuce, and cilantro. Each is a real winner, but I’ll always have a soft spot for a good serving of Al Pastor. Santo’s pork has a light kick, one balanced out by the inclusion of sweet pineapple chunks alongside the more bitter veggies. It makes for an unmissable merging of flavors.
In addition to tacos, Santo Taco serves a number of other worthy items. I went with the Mulitas, a corn tortilla quesadilla served with your choice of meat, and this rich, cheese-saturated dish is a dense eat. I had the Santo team pack mine with carnitas—a nice, smoky flavor that contrasted well with the melted cheese inside. Santo Taco excels in an honest, simple way, serving up classic dishes with classic flavors. And with most of the tacos sitting around a modest $2.25 price tag (the Pescado goes for $2.75; the El Chingon for $3.50), Santo Taco is a perfect spot to pick up quick, delicious street tacos.
I almost missed Pho Tay Ho when I went off to pick up my to-go order: Operating out of a simple, white house that’s been converted into a restaurant with a modest sign atop the front door, Pho Tay Ho is so unassuming that it nearly blends in with its neighborhood surroundings on Main Street. But the flavors housed inside are anything but modest.
To start, you can never go wrong with an appetizer of Fried Egg Rolls ($3.50), and Pho Tay Ho offers up this staple in peak form. The golden-brown shell crunches before melting in your mouth with fatty goodness, revealing the juicy pork filling inside. Pho Tay Ho’s fried egg rolls don’t deviate much from a typical creation, but they are fried to perfection and bursting at the brim with filling. If you opt for a vegetarian option, Pho Tay Ho will swap out the pork for fried tofu.
It’s all really about the pho, though. This modern Vietnamese staple consists of rice noodles, vegetables, protein (most often beef) all soaking in a flavorful broth, a sort of cousin to the more popular ramen. And for only a dollar more than the $7 Small Bowl, you can upgrade to a Large Bowl ($8)—and “large” might even be an understatement. While the small bowl sits nicely in a conventional single serving, Pho Tay Ho’s Large Bowl doubles down into a full vat of broth that’s roughly the size of my head.
With their take on this dish, Pho Tay Ho gives you a heap of meat (I chose steak, tendon and tripe), a vat of broth and a bounty of accoutrements, among them bamboo shoots, chile paste, and cilantro. Salt, fat, acid, heat—it’s all there, and in large quantities. There’s a laundry list of meat combinations to pick from, including flank, meatballs, and brisket, and a vegetarian option comes with a substitute of bok choy and tofu. Pho Tay Ho’s rice noodles lie on the thicker side, providing a welcome, carb-heavy base to counter the web of flavors found elsewhere. With so much meat and broth, the Large Bowl probably pushes past most people’s conception of a single serving. But hey, who doesn’t love leftovers?
As a combination palate cleanser, dessert and much-needed digestif, I’d recommend topping off your order with a Vietnamese Iced Coffee. A simple blend of a hearty dark-roast blend and sweetened condensed milk, this sugary bit of caffeination is the perfect sip to round off your Pho Tay Ho visit.
I’ve always been partial to Ethiopian cuisine, so my friend and I took home what can only be described as a wealth of food from Mahider. Aside from a few appetizers, most of the dishes served at Mahider (and at similar Ethiopian restaurants) are eaten sans utensils, with a spongy flatbread called injera used to pinch the food and help transport from plate to mouth. We began with the Sambusas, a sort of deep-fried, triangle-shaped spring roll filled with your choice of meat and accompanying vegetables and spices. Mahider’s Sambusas feature a rich, flaky pastry crust, and the filling (ours had beef, onions, and jalapeños) balances a light spiciness that can be accentuated by the japaleño dipping sauce.
But the real, winning items at Mahider are their entrée dishes. Among our samplings were the Alicha, a beef-based dish; the Doro Wot, a spicy chicken curry; and the Vegetarian Combination plate, which features a small sample of all of Mahider’s meatless offerings. Each dish comes sandwiched between two pieces of warm injera, one serving as a plate and the other for the aforementioned food-handling purposes.
For those with a preference for heat, the Doro Wot is a must-have. With two chicken legs cooked so tenderly that the meat falls off the bone with the tap of your fork and a warm, spicy sauce, the Doro Wot is a warm, invigorating treat. The Vegetarian Combination will obviously appeal to those with relevant dietary restrictions, but even meat-eaters should venture toward this realm. There’s too much goodness to list here, but of particular note are the steamed collard greens and the berbere lentils found in the Yemisir Wot.
Even better, should repeat visits pique your interest in bringing these flavors into your daily life, Mahider also operates a market next door to their restaurant.