A collection of top-notch restaurants offering a variety of fresh and tasty Chinese fare
By Christine Balaz
Salt Lake City Local Expert
Americans have a love-hate relationship with Chinese food. They love it for its rich flavors, satisfying sauces, tender meats, and plump vegetables. The extreme abundance of Chinese restaurants in big cities (and rural villages) proves this. But somewhere along the way, Chinese food became known as a generic, salty, and cheap cuisine. And as much as people adore its flavor spectrum, they gasp at the nutritional content, and grow dehydrated from sodium overdoses.
Good news for those in Salt Lake City: this valley's best Chinese restaurants have figured out how to craft tasty dishes without sacrificing freshness - or relying on MSG as a primary spice. The kitchen of The Szechuan Garden, for example, is led by a five-star master chef, and is staffed with yet more chefs hailing from Hong Kong to San Francisco. This nationally recognized establishment offers creek-side patio dining and elegantly presented dishes. The Shanghai Cafe specializes in vegetarian cuisine, providing non-meat-eaters with more variety than just tofu as a main dish. In fact, the imitation “chicken” used at this restaurant is so tasty that non-vegetarians opt for this in favor of the real deal.
If you feeling like eating at home, call Sampan for delivery or takeout; this reliably good restaurant offers enormous portions for little cost. Or if you prefer to stick with a familiar - though high-end - chain, head downtown and to P.F. Chang's.
For Chinese fans with vegetarian preferences, Shanghai Cafe is the best place in Salt Lake City. And though eating vegetarian in many other establishments means you'll find yourself ordering tofu or strictly vegetables, Shanghai Cafe offers well-liked, vegetarian imitations of meat. Even non-vegetarians find themselves ordering the "chicken" in favor of chicken. Especially popular are the vegetarian "chicken" dishes, including lemon chicken, moo shu chicken, curry chicken, and cashew chicken. Shanghai Cafe utilizes fresh ingredients and light, but flavorful, sauces to make each dish as healthy and enjoyable as possible. In addition to the Chinese food, you'll find a few other selections hailing from Vietnam. (801-322-1841)
Situated along 700 East Street, Sampan enjoys an extremely central location. Whether you live in Sugarhouse or are staying downtown, you'll find that it takes no more than 10 minutes to reach this restaurant. But if you don't feel like leaving home (and if you plan to order at least $12 worth of food), Sampan will deliver your meal to you. Offering a huge selection of Chinese dishes, Sampan has numerous categories for entrees, including lo mein, moo shu, specialty noodles, soup, chef's suggestions, chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu, and vegetagble. Sampan also offers dozens of "combo" options in six categories; these include an appetizer, soup, and entree. A minimum of $12 is required for delivery. (801-467- 3663)
Jasmine China Bistro & Sushi Bar
Chinese food in America has a reputation for poor nutritional qualities. However, eating Chinese food doesn't mean you must sabotage your health. Jasmine China Bistro & Sushi Bar strives to create tasty - yet nutritionally sound - dishes using modified cooking styles. The resulting menu contains reduced fat and sodium items rich with fresh vegetables and meats. Located in the Murray/ Holladay area, just west of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, Jasmine China Bistro & Sushi Bar is the perfect option for killing your post-skiing hunger pangs. Choose from sushi, numerous entrees, combination platters, seasonal specialties, During nice weather, enjoy your meal on the creek-side patio. (801-278-6688)
Ho Ho Gourmet
Few restaurants downtown offer better values for the buck than this casual eatery, whose tempting aroma calls out to passersby day and night. Step in, and you'll notice immediately that Ho Ho does not try to dazzle patrons with kicky decorations and elaborate tables; instead, they place stock in their fabulously-prepared food, and for good reason. The menu features the likes of hot and sour veggies, steamed spareribs smothered in black bean sauce, General Tso's chicken, and broccoli with fresh seafood. Vegetarian options are also available. (801-487-7700)
P.F. Chang's China Bistro
In a sea of generic-seeming, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants, P.F. Chang's stands out. Operating more than 200 branches worldwide, this high-end restaurant offers a level of quality available at few other eateries in the same genre. Serving high-quality, somewhat eclectic cuisine in a contemporary environment, P.F. Chang's raises no doubts about the freshness of its food, or cleanliness of its kitchen. Where it lacks in local ownership, it makes up with consistent excellence. For large groups, P.F. Chang's is one of the best options in Salt Lake. This huge restaurant, adorned with a professional staff, can accommodate a group of almost any size - given advanced notice. Check online before your visit; P.F. Chang's offers numerous weekly and seasonal specials. (801-539-0500)
Located about 20 minutes south of downtown Salt Lake City, but very near the mouths of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, Asian Star is one of the valley's most modern and popular Chinese and Asian fusion restaurants. Offering a variety Chinese dishes in an attractive and stylish dining room, this restaurant's menu includes the gentle Mandarin and Cantonese cuisines, as well as robust and spicy Szechuan and Hunan dishes. In addition to its Chinese classics, Asian Star serves Japanese plates and sushi. Those with special dietary preferences or needs will find the Asian Star to be an excellent choice; here you will find many vegan selections and a gluten-free menu. (801-566-8838)
The Szechuan Garden is owned and operated by Master Chef Chang. Originally from China, Chang has been cooking Szechuan cuisine for more than 35 years in elite restaurants around the world. Not only has this restaurant earned the "Best Chinese Cuisine" award from Salt Lake City Magazine, but it is also part of the Top 100 Chinese restaurants in the nation according to a competition hosted by Chinese Restaurant News. Originating in western China's Sichuan Province, Szechuan cuisine is characterized by spiciness and bold flavors created by the generous use of chili peppers, garlic, sesame paste, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn. Here these dishes are masterfully assembled, with harmonious flavors and out of the ordinary presentation. (801-233-0027)
Hong Kong Tea House
Hong Kong Tea House is tucked into the western end of downtown Salt Lake City. Serving exclusively Chinese food, it offers a selection of entrees as well as well an extremely tantalizing dim sum menu. This Chinese equivalent of tapas features small plates and bite-sized items like dumplings, noodle rolls, meat balls, rolls, and pot-stickers served a la carte from steamer baskets. Hong Kong Tea House offers roughly 50 choices on its dim sum menu alone. However, if you prefer an entree, you'll be able to choose from chef's specials like steamed seabass with ginger or other classic seafood, pork, beef, poultry, noodle, rice, and vegetable dishes. You must phone ahead if you want to order the braised abalone. (801-531-7010, 801-531-7033)
Located just ten miles north of Salt Lake City in Bountiful, this restaurant has been named one of the top 25 Chinese restaurants in the USA by a leading travel publication and has won numerous "Best of State" and "Best Chinese in Salt Lake City" awards from leading local and state-wide publications. The motto, which is followed to the letter, is "Chinese food with a passion." Everything is excellent, particularly General Tsao's Chicken, and the Peking Duck (which must be ordered 48 hours in advance). Open since 1978, Mandarin employs chefs from Hong Kong and San Francisco. The menu contains over 100 items. (801-298-2406)
About Christine Balaz
Christine Balaz began her unexpected writing career in Salt Lake City with her first book on Wasatch Skiing and Travel in 2006. On the subject of Utah, Christine has written numerous travel books, iPhone apps, and never-ending web content. As a rock climber, outdoors enthusiast and insatiable explorer, Christine has journeyed through nearly every corner of Utah, and has spent aggregate years overseas, from Turkey to Jordan, Sweden to Spain.
Read more about Christine Balaz here.