Editor’s note: This is the first in “5 Food Thoughts,” a new recurring series highlighting notable people in Salt Lake City’s food scene.
SALT LAKE CITY — In 18 months, the @SaltPlateCity Instagram account has amassed more than 1,000 mouthwatering posts and 5,700 followers.
There are bigger food-focused Instagram accounts in Utah, but Salt Plate City’s creators, Lala Phunkhang and Ryan Roggensack, want to keep the focus on food — great local restaurants to visit, dishes you’ve got to try, etc. — rather than just getting more followers.
Sitting down with the duo recently at Meditrina tapas bar, they told us about their account’s rising success and the things people should know about Salt Lake’s expanding food scene.
1. What the food scene does well
According to Phunkhang and Roggensack, Salt Lake’s Mexican food is top-notch. (Some of their favorites are Yoyis Mexican Grill and Taco Taco.) For Phunkhang, it’s a chance to acquaint her relatives, most of whom live in Calgary, Alberta, with real Mexican food.
“If you say ‘Mexican food,’ the first thing they think of is Taco Time,” she said. “Every time they come, there are so many Mexican places to take them to, and they’re always so hesitant because they think of Taco Time as Mexican. But I think we kill it with Mexican food.”
2. When Salt Plate City started
In 2017, when Phunkhang and Roggensack were working together in design and digital marketing, the two began visiting Salt Lake restaurants together. Phunkhang, an established Yelp reviewer, would post food pictures on her personal Instagram, and the two realized a food-focused Instagram account would fit their professional skillset as well as their personal passions.
“She was already doing the work — taking the photos, posting them, hashtagging them, everything like that,” Roggensack said. “So it was just a matter of putting it on its own thing.”
3. Where to eat
Phunkhang loves Nomad Eatery, which specializes in adventurous modern American cuisine and cocktails. She mentioned Nomad’s vegetarian hot dog, which uses a carrot instead of a normal sausage.
“I just love that they switch up the menu — almost everything — every two to three months,” she said.
Normal Ice Cream, an increasingly popular soft-serve truck that sells imaginative flavor combinations, also has Phunkhang’s heart. As for Roggensack, he’s partial to the brunches, drinks and kimchi fries at Purgatory Bar.
4. Why Salt Lake’s food scene is changing
“I feel like we’re just always changing, just like Salt Lake is changing,” said Phunkhang, who grew up here. “Back in the day, when I was growing up here, it was a lot of Arctic Circles and Chuck-A-Ramas and things like that.”
She still remembers eating at good places as a kid — her father worked for Gastronomy, Inc., which runs the Market Street restaurants — but Salt Lake's offerings were fairly narrow (mostly steakhouses and Italian restaurants). As Salt Lake’s demographics have diversified, so have the restaurants.
Roggensack remembers growing up in Midvale/South Jordan, where the population boomed and chain stores/restaurants swooped in to meet demand. He said he wonders if Utah’s entrepreneurs used to be more interested in franchising an existing chain, whereas now they’re “feeling more gumption to start their own thing.” He and Phunkhang also noted the unique ownership landscape in Salt Lake’s food scene.
“Salt Lake is so little, but one group will own five or six restaurants,” Phunkhang said.
“But they’re not opening up Sapa 2, Sapa 3,” Roggensack added, referencing Salt Lake’s popular Asian fusion restaurant. “One’s doing sushi, one’s doing crawfish, one’s doing a bar.”
5. How to photograph your meal
“I think it’s got to be up close,” Roggensack said. He leaves Salt Plate City’s photographing up to Phunkhang — though he’ll sometimes use his phone’s flashlight to give Phunkhang some extra lighting.
“I know a lot of the blogger people who are not really foodies, they’re more on the business side of it, they do a lot of aerial shots, but you’re not really seeing the food,” Phunkhang added. “Like, I want to see it in 3D.”
To read more from Salt Plate City, visit its website.