Bringing Italy to Salt Lake, from Tuscany to Molise
By Christine Balaz
Salt Lake City Local Expert
At 10Best, we're always on the lookout for Salt Lake City's best restaurants, and while we appreciate places that have a broad culinary range, we can't help but adore restaurants that specialize in a given niche. When we're in the mood for Italian food in Salt Lake City, we head to Caffe Molise – a reader favorite – or we count on Fresco Italian Café's solid track record and consistently great dishes. You'll find these places – and any of the restaurants on our list – to be fantastic options for Italian cuisine, and if you're looking to concentrate your efforts, start with the vibrant Downtown area.
We also understand that not every meal should be a five-course, five-star affair, and that a clever bargain or a hidden gem can provide as much gastronomical satisfaction as a three-digit tab. For this reason, the list includes the area's less pricey favorites alongside its spendy options. If you want to be kind to your bank account, try the three-decade Salt Lake Classic, Al Forno's.
Finally, Italian food is synonymous with wine for many people. And in an area with rather scanty public transportation, it is wise to consider dining close to your hotel or restaurant. While downtown visitors will find plenty of restaurants within walking distance of most hotels, those in the southern – and more residential – portion of Salt Lake Valley will have to do a more deliberate, pre-dinner research job to pinpoint the eatery nearest them. And they would be wise to designate a sober driver for the evening.
Prepare to enjoy yourself! Salt Lake City's Italian restaurants await your visit.
Al Forno's Ristorante
It's a good thing that Al Forno's has friendly, efficient service at lunchtime, because a crowd always gathers for the midday meal. Differentiating itself from many of Salt Lake's Italian eateries, Al Forno's has been specializing in affordable -- yet delicious -- Italian dishes. The menu includes 18 varieties of pasta, salads, and pizzas. Chicken and veal entrees are luscious and flavorful, and if you're in need of a carb fix, treat yourself to the signature lasagna or to fettuccine with a bolognese or puttanesca sauce. Though the exterior may seem unattractive, don't be deterred; Al Forno's is one of Salt Lake City's best value restaurants. (801-359-6040)
Specializing in Italian cuisine from Italy's Molise region, this full-service restaurant serves fresh, brilliantly simple cuisine in a handsome, upscale enviornment. During any month, you can enjoy dinner accompanied by live, Friday night jazz performed by the John Flander Trio; in the summer, you can eat outside on the covered patio. Given its location, artistic décor, and quality of dining, Caffé Molise is an excellent place to dine before a Salt Lake Symphony concert or any downtown outing. The menu at Caffé Molise features items like polenta con funghi, bruchetta misto, gnocchi di patate, lasagna, pollo marsala. Walk-ins are welcomed, but because of the restaurant's relatively petite size, reservations could prove quite handy. (801-364-8833)
Cannella's has become a true classic in Salt Lake City, in operation for more than three decades. In a culinary market with such strong competition, this longevity says enormous amounts about the reliable quality of food, reasonable pricing, service this restaurant consistently offers. On the menu is a robust selection of pasta dishes, several entrees and salads, and a handful of sandwiches. Providing full service in a refined, yet casual dining room, this restaurant has created an atmosphere in which anyone can feel comfortable -- whether totally casual or dressed up for an evening out. The clean, handsome dining room has brick floors, dozens of black and white photographs, and wooden columns. Private parties and large groups can happily be accommodated with advanced notice. (801-355-8518)
In a sea of fabulous restaurants, Tuscany manages to be among Salt Lake's best. Winning four Utah Best of State awards in 2010, including "Best Chef," "Best Tuscan," and "Best Hospitality," Tuscany has also earned recognition from Zagat as one of the "America's Top Restaurants," and from Utah Business Magazine as "Best Place to Impress Clients." Offering an ever-changing menu, Tuscany's kitchen draws from the freshest ingredients available to create dishes in accordance with the seasons. Located toward the southern end of Salt Lake Valley, and operating out of a converted mill, Tuscany offers its guests a unique ambiance and off-the-main-drag location that enhance its excellent cuisine. (801-277-9919, 801-274-0448)
Tony Caputo's Market & Deli
This is one of the most unique places in Utah to get Italian food. Whereas most specialize in pasta dishes, meat entrees, and slow dinners -- or pizza --, Tony Caputo's instead offers deli-style eating and imported Italian foods for sale. Lunch is the busiest meal at Cuputo's, as this downtown establishment has the best reputation in town for fresh, filling, and flavorful sandwiches. These are crafted with homemade bread, gourmet and imported meats and cheeses, delicious sauces, and fresh vegetables. On your way out, consider purchasing some goods from the market to take home. Italian olives, truffles, chocolates, olive oils, honey, preserves, coffee, nuts, and meats can be taken home to add to your own meals. (801-531-8669, 801-519-5754)
Self-described as a "true Tuscan Trattoria," Cucina Toscana is one of Salt Lake's finest restaurants � in any category. Established by an Italian gentleman, and drawing from Tuscan gastronomical traditions, Cucina Toscana creates an oft-changing menu that incorporates cheeses, vegetables, pastas, legumes, mushrooms, fresh fruits, and olive oil. Many main dishes also include top-notch meats and seafoods. Winner of dozens upon dozens of awards, Cucina Toscana was honored by Salt Lake Magazine as Salt Lake City's "Best Restaurant" and "Best Italian" in 2008 and by Zagat Review as "One of America's Top Restaurants" in 2005. Cucina Toscana also hosts special occasions and parties. (801-328-3463)
Many people associate Italian food with heavy meals, old traditions, dark restaurants, and Grandma's secret recipes. However, Salt Lake's extremely popular Cafe Trio does a full 180 on this stereotype. Serving light and fresh cuisine in an open, bright, and modern environment, Cafe Trio has strong Italian foundations and draws upon them to create a simplistically delicious, a la carte-style menu. At Trio, you can mix and match your courses and sides in exactly the order you wish to have them. If hungry, order two back-to-back main courses; if not, order a salad and follow it with a first course. If you're in the southern portion of Salt Lake Valley, check out Cafe Trio -- Cottonwoods, near the Wasatch Mountains. (801-533-8746)
Salt Lake Pizza & Pasta
Specializing in pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and burgers, this Italian restaurant can please any palette. Pizzas and burgers can be custom-ordered, and built with a generous selection of toppings. On the menu, you'll see many year-round items in each of those groups, as well as a separate list of seasonal items. In addition to these major food categories, Salt Lake Pizza & Pasta offers a handful of entrees, salads, and soups. Salt Lake Pizza & Pasta offers a full bar, as well as more than 30 different beers. On your way out, you can order growlers of beer to take home, as well as other memorabilia like pint glasses, t-shirts, tank tops, and trucker hats. (801-484-1804)
Lugano offers a diverse menu ranging from wood-fired pizzas, to linguini and clams, grilled Atlantic salmon, and braised lamb shank. In the spotlight of many publications, Lugano has won numerous awards every year since its Salt Lake Magazine "Best New Restaurant" recognition in 2001. These include several nods from Zagat, Wine Spectator, Utah Best of State, and Salt Lake Magazine. Lugano stands about 15 minutes southeast of downtown Salt Lake City. Combining a bistro style Italian menu with a refined, attractive, and aesthetically clean interior, Lugano provides an ideal location for a romantic date, business dinner, or group function. (801-412-9994)
Cafe Trio Cottonwood
Located in Cottonwood Heights ﾖ near the mouths of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons ﾖ this modern, spacious restaurant is the second generation of a successful, locally-owned restaurant family. Originating in north Sugarhouse, the Trio Dining family serves fresh and flavorful Contemporary Italian cuisine. Retaining the savory culinary traditions of Italy, it improvises with bright dishes and an a-la-carte-style menu designed to give guests ultimate flexibility when ordering courses and drinks. If you'd like something light, order a salad and a ﾓfirst courseﾔ for dinner; if you're ravenously hungry, order a salad, followed by two back-to-back ﾓsecond courses.ﾔ (8019448746)
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.