After a day spent exploring the hoodoos and petroglyphs of Bryce Canyon, hiking to Delicate Arch, or wading knee-deep in Zion’s Narrows, what could be better than sitting down to a fantastic meal? If you are among the millions of visitors who will enjoy the majesty of Utah’s “Mighty Five” this summer, here are some hot takes on where to eat at Utah’s national parks.
A Michelin Star Experience
Let’s be honest, Utah isn’t known for Michelin star restaurants with bite-size entrees plated with tweezers. What we are known for is excellent food, warm hospitality, and an unparalleled tourist experience. In fact, Utah is the only state in the U.S. to be awarded three Michelin stars and designated a “must see” tourist destination.
The award should come as no surprise. Utah has earned a world-wide reputation for its stunning landscapes, unmatched parks, and top-tier service and hospitality. Michelin described the state as an “essential” tourist experience, “exceptional,” and “worth a journey in itself.”
But what kind of food can you expect to find when you visit Utah’s national parks? Pretty great, if you know where to look!
GREAT RESTAURANTS NEAR CAPITOL REEF AND BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARKS
World-class cuisine is not something you’d expect to find in a tiny town like Boulder, Utah (population 226), but that’s exactly what you can expect at Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm. Located just a short drive from both Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks (1 and 1.5 hours, respectively), Hell’s Backbone is the loving creation of two extraordinary chefs, Jennifer Castle and Blake Spalding.
Chef Castle and Chef Spalding have both been nominated numerous times for Best Chef by the James Beard Awards. (The James Beard Awards are basically the Academy Awards of the American culinary scene). Moreover, their restaurant has been nominated for Outstanding Restaurant in the Mountain West. They absolutely deserve the recognition they’ve received, and more!
When we travel to a new place, we want to taste the best that the local area has to offer, not something we could get back home. That’s what you’ll find at Hell’s Backbone: fresh local ingredients and authentic Western cuisine, all prepared with tremendous skill. Trust us, it’s worth the drive.
Just be sure to check ahead and make reservations. This season, they are open for dinner 4-9 pm Thursdays through Mondays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
On the opposite end of the formality spectrum, another exquisite dining experience near Capitol Reef National Park is the Capitol Burger food truck on Main Street in Torrey.
We know, we know; food trucks may not conjure up images of the best food around. But you should know that Chef Luke Fowles spent years refining his craft at high-end restaurants like Forage and on the TV show Iron Chef before “retiring” to his beloved Torrey to cook his heart out for locals and park visitors. And we’re so glad that he did! Featured on Yelp's list of "Top 100 Places to Eat in the Southwest" for 2023, Capitol Burger serves food that is original, unpretentious, and downright delicious. You should check online to see when and where you can catch them, but honestly, they’re not hard to find—Torrey’s not that big.
GREAT RESTAURANTS NEAR ARCHES AND CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARKS
Near the entry to Arches and only a few miles from Canyonlands, the city of Moab is the perfect place to end a day of adventuring in Utah’s national parks. The city offers several good dining options, but here are our favorites.
There’s a reason Moab Brewery has become a crowd favorite with locals and tourists alike—two reasons, actually. First, their menu features simple cooking with fresh ingredients and reasonable prices. And second, their cold, craft beers are the highlight of a day spent hiking or biking the trails of Arches, Canyonlands, or Dead Horse Point State Park. Kaleb likes their Over the Top Hefeweizen, but if you want to try something more unique, he also recommends their Bougie Johnny’s Rosé Ale. It’s an interesting mashup (bad pun) of beer and wine. Give it a taste!
Smack dab in the center of town, on the corner of Center Street and Main, is the Moab landmark restaurant Pasta Jay’s. The food is nothing super fancy, but the house-made pasta is good—especially the gnocchi—and the atmosphere is fun. Pasta Jay’s happens to be directly across the street from the Moab Information Center, so it’s a great place to fuel up and get your bearings as you settle into town. Don’t bother with reservations though; they only take walk-ins.
Just a block and a half north of Pasta Jay’s, you’ll find the best little breakfast spot in Moab. The Love Muffin Café is always busy for breakfast and lunch, but it’s worth the wait. Our Director of Sales (and former baker) Jocelyn recommends their great local coffee selections and says that their lattes are “bomb.” Also, their Wescial Breakfast Burrito never disappoints. The Love Muffin Café is open Fridays-Tuesdays from 6:30 am to 1 pm.
Across the street from Love Muffin Café is Jocelyn’s other favorite Moab hangout, the Trailhead Public House & Eatery. Don’t miss the fresh-made wagyu beef patties they use in their burgers (although you can opt for bison, turkey, or house-made vegan patties instead). If you want to add another level of adventure to your Moab stay, order the Macho Nachos with ghost pepper cheese! Also, they have a fun selection of mocktails along with a full bar.
On the other hand, if Mexican food is what you want to eat in Moab, you can’t do better than Fiesta Mexicana. True to its name, Fiesta Mexicana is colorful, loud, and festive, with authentic Mexican dishes in enormous portions. (Check out the 14-inch plate pictured below!)
Full disclosure: we have a soft spot for the Fiesta Mexicana owners and their story. It’s a family-owned business built from generations of stubborn endurance and fanatical hard work…much like Culinary Crafts. When we see the care and pride that the Rangel family puts into the business they’ve built, as well as the joy they take in treating their guests to excellent food, we can’t help but feel like we’re with kindred spirits.
GREAT RESTAURANTS NEAR ZION NATIONAL PARK
The food at the Bit and Spur is good, and the experience is ever better. With its outdoor terrace seating, the Bit and Spur offers amazing views of the red cliffs of Zion National Park. Throw in live music and a delicious Southwestern/Mexican menu, and you’re virtually guaranteed a good time. Their bar features spirits from Utah distilleries including High West, Outlaw, and Ogden’s Own. Try the Prickly Pear Margarita, made with locally harvested and roasted prickly pears.
Utah isn’t known for its alcohol, but if you’re looking for curated cocktails or a superb wine pairing to complement your meal, the Spotted Dog at Flanigan’s has you covered. You can make indoor reservations, but patio dining with panoramic views of the red rock cliffs is first come-first served. And if a fine cabernet isn’t relaxing enough, you can always follow up your meal with a luxurious massage there at the resort.
A lot of businesses around Springdale closed during the pandemic, but we are delighted that Oscar’s is still going strong. The food there is good—standard burgers and Mexican dishes—but what we really love about Oscar’s is the feel of the place. Cheerful service, lively banter, and gorgeous views from the outdoor patio. It’s a great way to end a day of hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering, or just soaking up the sights of Utah’s national parks.
To all our guests and park visitors this summer, welcome to Utah! Stay safe, drink plenty of water, and eat well.