- Cafe Diablo Salad, photo by participant Pat Owens
Signature birds of the Great Basin / Colorado Plateau were treats to observe while hiking recently in Capitol Reef National Park and Escalante – Grand Staircase National Monument in Utah. We enjoyed seeing Juniper Titmice, Gray Flycatchers, Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos, Black-billed Magpies, Black-throated Gray Warblers, Pinyon Jays and a grand array of other species. On one of our favorite days of exploring, Canyon Wrens called from ledges that framed ancient rock art and just-feathered baby Common Ravens begged loudly under alcoves that once housed people of the Fremont culture. We put on a lot of miles – about 5-9 per day – so we particularly treasured times to refuel. Amid a maze of red rock canyons we found some truly great restaurants that we encourage you to go and enjoy! Here are our picks for Torrey and Boulder, Utah.
#1 Café Diablo Torrey, Utah
This vote for our favorite restaurant in Torrey was easy. One of our group members is a Naturalist Journeys and freelance guide that travels the world. So when Carol Simon said ‘this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had!’ we all listened! Carol is a regular traveler to Chile’s Patagonia region and thus ate Café Diablo’s authentic empanadas with relish. They describe them as “cornflower pillows filled with Cojita cheese and sweet potatoes.” We returned for a second night to repeat raves about our meals. That they have fun with food is obvious. Many entrees were presented with a vertical theme and we delighted at seeing each presentation. The dishes were beautiful, fun but more importantly, delicious. The Painted Salmon first course comes out as a “glazed fillet on sizzled onion chutney and asparagus sambal with toasted pinion nuts and sweet dried cranberries.” The pecan-encrusted chicken was one of our group’s top picks for a main course as was the “small plate” choice of wild mushroom and spinach salad. We appreciated the use of local foods in combination with the exotic. How does one choose sage-and rosemary infused loin of Utah lamb over Mayan tamales rimmed by grilled vegetables and accompanied by brandied corn custard? Or, Pumpkin Seed Trout with cilantro lime sauce over Fire Roasted Pork Tenderloin with sweet potato sauce – wow. Located on the west side of town, this popular restaurant is one to book ahead with a choice of inside or outside patio seating. http://www.cafediablo.net 435.425.3070.
#2 The Cliffstone Restaurant at the Lodge at Red River Ranch Torrey, Utah
We spent four nights at the fabulous Lodge at Red River Ranch and felt so welcomed and so well cared for. Breakfasts were lovely and our two dinners we also much appreciated, due in large part to the beauty of the building we ate in. The lodge has an A+ rated location on the Fremont River. Fluted layers of Moenkopi red rocks line a leisurely flowing stream and large Fremont Cottonwood trees line the drive. It is worth dining here just to see the care and art collections of the lodge – Navajo rugs, Remington sculptures and a fine array of paintings. The chef and his kitchen staff were casual and fun and they put out some lovely food. We enjoyed trying local trout and bison steaks. The barbecue baby back short ribs were the top pick for the dinner meal and quickly made the rounds as we compared tastes amid our most companionable group. http://www.redriverranch.com/restaurant 800.205.6343
Boulder, Utah This small town of about 300 people springs up as an oasis among a spectacular but inhospitable maze of sandstone bluffs, canyons, mesas and monoliths. To find two restaurants that we enjoyed seemed nothing shy of a miracle and we will eagerly return to sample them once again.
#1 Hell’s Backbone Grille Boulder, Utah
I have this restaurant’s cookbook, With a Measure of Grace, within easy to reach at home and I thoroughly enjoy returning to this lovely small restaurant in Boulder, Utah. Chef-owners Jen Castle and Blake Spalding share food that in their words is simple, honest and sustainably grown. Against the challenges of a short-growing season in this mountain town, they nurture a thriving organic farm and keep smiles on their faces throughout a busy summer season. Local lamb and beef appear as specials with sauces crafted from Boulder’s heirloom orchards. We tried the Warm Utah Goat Cheese Fondue and the smoked Idaho Red Trout and Pecan Pate for starters. Our entrees were varied, ranging from Traditional Red Chile Pork Posole to chicken served with local grapes and a light wine sauce. The awards and accolades for this restaurant are impressive but even more so is the dedication to local foods, local people and the way that Jen and Blake encourage serenity throughout their operation. It’s simply a delight to dine here. Try the luscious Chocolate-Chile Crème Pot for dessert! http://www.hellsbackbonegrill.com 435.335.7464
#2 Burr Trail Outpost and Grille Boulder, Utah
As we had three nights in Boulder, with fabulous hikes in between, several of our group ventured a short ways to do a bit of damage buying jewelry, art and T-shirts at the Outpost followed by dinner inside at this corner location that marks the turn to the historic Burr Trail. The restaurant website boasts of serving an “eclectic mix of burgers, sandwiches, salads and house-made specialties” and this made choosing the evening’s food fun. Trout from farms in the nearby community of Loa was featured and got rave reviews.