Congratulations, Salt Lake City. With a little help from your friends in Park City, Bountiful, Provo and Logan you are officially a "leading culinary center."

That's the criterion for having your own section in the 1998 Zagat Survey of "America's Top Restaurants," a New York-based guide of major metro areas in which restaurant patrons, not snooty New York food critics, vote for their favorite eateries.A total of 21 Wasatch Front restaurants (Zagat refers to the area as "Salt Lake City & Mountain Resorts) are included in the 1998 listing released this week. They include the Top 10 and 11 others deemed "other important places."

Although the Zagat survey does not have the long track record of the Michelin or Mobil guides, it has gained great credibility in recent years. Its Utah information was edited by Deseret News restaurant critic Ann Whiting Orton.

Craig Claiborne, probably the best known of those aforementioned snooty New York food critics, has dubbed the guide "honest, incorruptible, astonishingly accurate and, to my mind, indispensable."

The New York Times says Zagat is "a necessity second only to a valid credit card," while the Washington Post declares it "the single best source of accurate dining information." Vogue deems Zagat "fabulously reliable," and Elle says it's "the restaurant bible for savvy eaters."

So there you are. The next time your brother-in-law from Chicago tells you there's no place to get decent deli in Utah, you can fire back: "Obviously you haven't checked out the Zagat survey that declares Cucina, 1026 East 2nd Ave., as a top-rated deli with a `comfortable atmosphere' and `fresh, pleasantly-presented edibles, including delicious olive bread and incredible scones.' "

According to the guide, the top five restaurants in Utah ranked by the excellence of their food are:

1. The Mariposa at Silver Lake Lodge in Deer Valley, where "the rich dine in ski season, but most agree it's worth the high altitude prices."

2. The New Yorker Club, 60 W. Market St., a "downtown sanctuary with staying power and big-city elegance Utah's premier fine-dining spot and the most popular spot in our Utah survey."

3. Fresco Italian Cafe, 1513 S. 1500 East, where diners can expect "a truly pleasant experience at this small, charming Northern Italian (the No. 1 Italian in the Utah survey) restaurant in a quiet, residential east-side neighborhood."

4. Chez Betty, Copper Bottom Inn, Deer Valley, which Zagat voters say has "some of Utah's best food made even better by the warm, unpretentious atmosphere of this charming Park City eclectic with consistently delicious fare and a great staff."

5. The Metropolitan, 173 W. Broadway. "Though it draws swipes like, `Great place to go when your home equity loan comes through, both to celebrate and because you'll need it,' this posh downtown eclectic is one of the brightest stars and great for impressing clients."

There is also a top five "most popular" ranking. Mariposa drops out of that one and the New Yorker moves up to first. The Market Street Broiler and Market Street Grill restaurants (see below) move into the fourth slot in that list.

The rest of the top 10, in descending order, are the Glitretind, in the Stein Eriksen Lodge, Deer Valley, with its "classic, old money feel"; the Ichiban Sushi & Japanese Cuisine, 586 Main St., Park City, "the best sushi outside San Francisco"; the Red Iguana, 736 W. North Temple, the best "killer Mexican" in the Utah survey and "arguably the best in the West"; The Pomodoro, 2440 E. Fort Union Blvd, Sandy, with "innovative Cal-Italian food in a big open room with friendly service"; and the Mandarin Restaurant, 348 E. 900 North, Bountiful - "And you thought China was crowded. Wait until you visit the top-rated Chinese in our Utah survey, where parties of 12 are not uncommon and no reserving means there's always a line."

The 11 "other important places" are Baci Trattoria, 134 W. Pierpont Ave.; Capitol Cafe, 54 W. 200 South; Chimayo, 368 Main St., Park City; Cucina, 1026 E. 2nd Ave.; The Grapevine, 129 N. 100 East, Logan; Grappa, 151 Main St., Park City; La Caille, 9565 S. Wasatch Blvd.; Market Street Broiler, 260 S. 1300 East, and Market Street Grill, 54 Market St.; Pina, 327 W. 200 South; Sundance Tree Room, Sundance Resort, Provo Canyon; and Tuscany, 2832 E. 6200 South.



Utah's culinary best

1. The Mariposa, Silver Lake Lodge, Deer Valley.

2. The New Yorker Club, 60 W. Market St., Salt Lake City.

3. Fresco Italian Cafe, 1513 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City.

4. Chez Betty, Copper Bottom Inn, Deer Valley.

5. The Metropolitan, 173 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City.