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Salt Lake City's best places for casual dining and great coffee



In the Rocky Mountain West, it can be challenging to find a true cafe - a place to savor a delicious cup of coffee and a pastry, or grab a fresh sandwich with a group of friends. It seems that most establishments have taken either the pure “coffee house” route, serving only brewed drinks and overpriced cookies – or have gone the way of the “greasy spoon diner,” offering weak coffee and fried foods only.

However when you're in Salt Lake City, you're in luck. Many restaurants scattered throughout the valley have managed to nail the perfect attributes requisite of a cafe: a variety of tasty food, “real” coffee, and a casual environment. Still, there is quite a spectrum of these establishments: those quite resemble coffee shops, and others that seem more like diners. But at any of these top eateries, you'll be able to get a great cup of coffee and a satisfying meal - or dessert.

If you're leaning more toward the coffee house end of the spectrum, consider checking out Salt Lake Roasting Company or Alchemy Coffee. Both of these offer lengthy menus and welcoming environments in which to work, chat, or simply relax.

If you have more of a breakfast (or lunch) hankering - say for waffles or eggs Benedict – then head up Millcreek Canyon to Ruth's Diner or stay downtown and check out Lamb's Grill Cafe.

And if you have a hankering for a downright cafe, then head to Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks, the Red Butte Cafe, or Le Petit Cafe.


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Ruth's Diner
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren


Located in a renovated 1930s trolley car parked right in the heart of Emigration Canyon, Ruth's Diner serves all your favorite American and southwest breakfast dishes, from sausage and pancakes to huevos rancheros. The popular eatery has gained quite a substantial reputation for its morning fare over the years, and even better, breakfast is served all day, every day. Although its salty founder, Ruth, died at the ripe old age of 94 in 1989, the business she built lives on, buoyed by her independent spirit. If you visit during the summer months, you can enjoy your meal outside on the patio, occasionally accompanied by live music.

Local Expert tip: Visit this restaurant on your way home after cycling Emigration Canyon.

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Alchemy Coffee


Alchemy Coffee sits west of Sugarhouse, in a low-key, residential neighborhood called Liberty Heights. Standing among a cluster of other businesses (such as tattoo parlors and artist galleries), Alchemy has become a neighborhood staple and cornerstone business in its years as a new restaurant. Not only serving coffee, Alchemy offers a fairly diverse menu consisting of various made-to-order items. Additionally, this cafe functions as a neighborhood cultural center, offering numerous open mic nights and small concerts each month, as well as consistent artwork displays year-round. As you approach the doorway of this neighborhood coffee shop, don't let the skeleton images deter you. Despite the ghouls guarding the front door, Alchemy Coffee is quite inviting on the inside, with cozy antique furniture and art lined brick walls giving the place a warm "by the fireside" feel.

Local Expert tip: Consider stopping by for an evening concert at Alchemy.

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Mediterranean Market and Deli
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Boren


No doubt about it - if you're on the go at lunchtime and don't really have time to sit and eat, then this deli should be a "must." The place offers some of the area's best lunch specials, including delicious Italian and Greek-influenced salads and sandwiches. How does something with fresh-ground Italian sausage or Genoa salami sound? How about homemade Parmigiano-Reggiano or asiago cheese? They do it all here, and for less than seven bucks, you can walk out with a hearty sandwich, a side or two, and a drink. Located south of Downtown, this restaurant is often overlooked by the business crowd, leaving it even more open for those "in the know" to enjoy.

Local Expert tip: For a genuine, European-style treat, try dining here for lunch.

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This extremely popular eatery is a great place to stop for a tasty breakfast and a hot cup of coffee. Located on the lobby level of the Judge Building, the cafe has a relaxed, old-school ambiance and a bustling dining room. Go for one of the three-egg omelets, or enjoy oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins or a stack of pancakes smothered in pure maple syrup and warm butter. All breads and muffins are homemade, and several blends of gourmet coffee are available. Many of the menu items present creative takes on classic dishes, keeping the dining experience as interesting as it is satisfying.

Local Expert tip: Whether you're in town for business or pleasure, you'll find this a great place to have breakfast or lunch.

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Le Petit Cafe

Tucked into the lobby of the Little America Hotel, this would be an easy one for anyone but the hotel guests to miss. However, this is a great little spot for a midmorning or afternoon refresher. Beverages are the menu item of choice, with several hot and cold coffee and tea drinks available, as well as rich hot chocolate - perfect for a post-skiing treat. If you have a hankering for something sweet, freshly squeezed lemonade, fruit smoothies, ice cream, and pastries are also on offer. But if you're in the mood for something even more indulgent, you must try the thick burnt almond milkshake.

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This two-story cafe is one of Salt Lake City's longest-running, most classic cafes. Serving delicious, roasted coffees (ranging from lattes to dark espressos) throughout the day, alongside a fairly extensive food menu, this is a go-to favorite of locals. Guests are free to sip a cup of drip coffee and use the wireless, or to meet with friends and enjoy a full meal. Outside seating makes the Roasting Company a popular late night gathering spot as well. A variety of scrumptious lunch and dinner options are available, and the staff makes sure that there are plenty of fresh breads and pastries available all day long.

Local Expert tip: The spacious nature of this coffee shop makes it an excellent place to work on the computer.

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Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks


Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks sits quite near the mouth of Millcreek Canyon - a location central to both those staying in Downtown for business, and those visiting Big and Little Cottonwood canyons on a ski vacation. This restaurant has created a bright, open, contemporary dining space filled with local art and serviced by expert staff. The food served here is certainly based in the classic American breakfast and lunch tradition but, as you'll immediately notice, offers a fresh, colorful, and healthy twist on all of the typical dishes. Waffles are homemade and adorned with fresh fruit, and wraps are stuffed with lean meats and crisp vegetables.

Local Expert tip: The Millcreek Cafe & Eggworks is a perfect breakfast spot for those looking to avoid hungover diner-goers on the weekend.

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Red Butte Café


Located in Salt Lake City's east side, the Red Butte Cafe offers its guests a special chance to enjoy high-end, casual eating. Combing a laid-back atmosphere with top-notch foods, Red Butte Cafe has invented an eclectic/ Southwestern menu comprised of tasty items, all offered at a moderate price. Enjoy a brunch and a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine over lunch or dinner. Or come in between mealtimes and enjoy a dessert with an espresso and a conversation with friends. The dessert menu at the Red Butte Cafe exceeds the ordinary ice cream-and-cake selection; Red Butte's bakery offers a dozen or more truly unique and delicious items at any given time.

Local Expert tip: At the Red Butte Cafe, it is a shame to not save room for dessert!

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Park Café


Boasting a wonderful view of the Liberty Park pond, this casual eatery offers up diverse lunch and dinner menus that feature everything from quesadillas and Thai chicken to Greek salads and an always-reliable "Quiche of the Day." However excellent the lunch and dinner, it is Park Cafe's breakfast that has won native hearts and tummies. With such specialties as Southwest Eggs (served with green chili, Monterey jack cheese, salsa, and sour cream) and Mexican Hash served in a flour tortilla, it's easy to see why Park Cafe; is as popular as it is good. Stop by for some open air in the middle of the city.

Local Expert tip: Consider stopping by for an off-hour snack and cup of coffee.

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Born in the restaurant's namesake city, Bruges, Belgium, owner Pierre Vandamme brought with him Belgium's famous yeast-raised Liege waffles. Endowed with the traditional sugar pearls in the dough, these waffles are served hot and eaten with the toppings of your choice: créme fraiche, Belgian chocolate sauce, various berries, crunchy speculoos spread or vanilla bean ice cream. Not enough? Try any of the special combinations which feature waffles and various decadent stuffings. Similarly, their frites (or fries) are served with an impressive choice of aioli sauces, or in combination with a sandwich - or IN a sandwich. This is no health food store, but instead a delicious European treat in the heart of Salt Lake City.

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Meet 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...  More About Christine

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