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During the holidays, native sons and daughters return to Utah to reconnect with friends and family. Usually it's over food.

I have two friends who are brothers. One travels for work to places most of us fawn over in brochures. The other is the type to jaunt over to Turkey for a friend's Mediterranean wedding. When they're back home they always eat at Red Butte Café.

"We've eaten there since we were 12," they told me over a meal. "Even the server knows our name."

There are many who share their sentiment. For as long Red Butte Café has been around, it has been a quiet, steady stand-by. It's casual enough for mid-week lunch but able to accommodate larger gatherings in the expansive dining areas that overlook the Foothill Village shopping center.

For many, it's a place of tradition. But I doubt it's because of the food. None of the meals I ate there recently were outright bad, they simply weren't memorable.

Southwestern inflections abound on the menu with oversized enchiladas ($7.50 to $9.50), which include generous spoonfuls of beans and rice. You hardly need to chew the overcooked mushy tortillas. Sandwiches, hot or cold, come with thin potato chips, salad and choice of pasta salad or over-sized cubes of fruit. Entrees venture into pastas and more substantial meat dishes.

Everything here, even the special entrees come supersized. Both the bacon burger ($8.75) and the chipotle barbecue pulled pork sandwich ($8.50) came on buns the size of salad plates. Fajitas ($9.25) and crunchy fish tacos ($8.95) come on platters that would feed a small village. In our value-hungry market, it's a popular attribute. But size rarely matters when it comes to taste.

As I said, Red Butte is a casual place. Often times, too casual when it comes to service. On my visits, I felt either incredibly rushed or abandoned. At the same time, the casual nature means the chef doesn't mind if there is a salt shaker on the table. And we were grateful for it. At each meal, we found ourselves needing to season dishes that — given the presence of chiles and garlic — should have been full of flavor.

Deep-fried and cheese-stuffed Anaheim chiles ($6.50) had a crunchy-tender texture but were missing the verdant heat of the large green chile. Likewise, hot, crunchy falafel ($6.50) needed salt to bring out the flavors of roasted red bell pepper, onions and aromatics in each fritter. In the roasted beet and fennel salad ($6.75), the lack of salt wasn't much of an issue. Sweetness from the red beets and a faint anise note from the slightly caramelized fennel aren't meant to explode in your mouth like fireworks.

What's really memorable at Red Butte is dessert. A sizeable glass display of picture-perfect cakes and tarts of all heights, colors and flavors is what welcomes guests at the door. Dessert options ranging from decadent chocolate cakes to dainty fruit tarts, which contain more fruit than crust and are ideal for anyone plagued with holiday food anxiety ($4.50).

The pecan pie ($4.50) had a wonderfully golden and flaky crust and was filled with gilded pecan halves. While a seasonal pumpkin cheesecake ($4.75) had me wondering if I should forsake the traditional pie for this creamy option. Surprisingly, most of the offerings are not over-sugared so you get to taste the ingredients inside, whether it's fruit or cream cheese. The seasonal fruit poppy seed cake ($4.75) is a citrus infused, freckled cake layered with sliced kiwis, berries and a tangy cream cheese buttercream — the favorite after a super-sized meal.

The most dramatic desert is the hazelnut coffee marjolaine ($5.25). Calling this creation a "loaf cake" is like calling Uma Thurman "decent-looking." It's a massive, square-ish slice of alternating chocolate cake, coffee buttercream and hazelnut meringue.

Eat half as dessert. Pack the rest up and savor it the next morning with coffee.

Then, your Red Butte Café experience will end on a high note. —


Red Butte Café

Food • Hhj

Mood • HH

Service • H

Noise • bb

Sandwiches, Southwestern entrees and decadent desserts make this place a long-standing favorite among locals even though the food isn't memorable.

Location • 1414 S. Foothill Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-581-9498,

Online •

Hours • Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday (brunch) 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 3 to 9 p.m.

Children's menu • No

Prices • $$

Liquor • Full (limited spirit selection, mostly wine and beer)

Corkage • $7.50

Reservations • For parties of 8 or more

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • Yes