Provo boasts a vibrant global food landscape that represents dozens of cuisines and offers an opportunity to satisfy the travel bug during the semester; no passport necessary.
For some, it’s a way to sample new dishes; for others, it’s a taste of home. No matter the goal, when dinner rolls around, students can treat themselves to delicious and diverse options — beyond campus.
From its opening day in 1993, Bombay House has just about three decades of serving Provo authentic Indian food under its belt.
According to Akshay Shanthakumar, who is training to take over the restaurant from his father, the Provo favorite at Bombay House is Chicken Tikka Masala: a dish made of chicken marinated in yogurt, char-grilled and cooked in a masala sauce.
“That’s the staple,” Shankthakumar said. “You can’t go wrong.”
Students who go to Bombay House will walk through pointed archways reminiscent of Indian architecture, into a dining area filled with the rhythmic sound of Indian music, the scent of aromatic spices, and colorful art and murals.
Pho Plus, located in downtown Provo, serves pho: a Vietnamese noodle soup featuring spiced bone broth, rice noodles and meat.
Though named for their specialty, they also offer a variety of Vietnamese and Asian food, according to Julia Lane, who has been a server at Pho Plus for two years.
People walking past Pho Plus on Center Street can smell the savory and spiced broth from the sidewalk; people who enter are greeted with traditional ink wash paintings and signs promising the “Best Pho in Utah.”
Black Sheep Cafe
Black Sheep Cafe specializes in contemporary Southwestern Native American cuisine — mainly Navajo-inspired, said David Libbert, front-of-house manager for the cafe.
Libbert, who is half Navajo himself, said that while the menu is an infusion of contemporary Southwestern and Native American food, some items remain traditional and authentic.
“The way we make the Navajo fry bread is pretty much how you’re going to see it on the reservation,” Libbert said. “The original owners’ grandmother taught the cooks how to do it, and they’ve pretty much done it the same way since.”
According to Libbert, the presence of Black Sheep Cafe is a reminder to the community that Native Americans are “still here.” He said he has multiple experiences where people have been shocked to hear that he’s Navajo; they were unaware that Native Americans still exist.
“It’s hard not to laugh at it, and also hard not to be discouraged about it,” Libbert said. “It’s nice that Black Sheep puts a spotlight on the culture.”
Sweet’s Island Place
Sweet’s Island Place — now run by the second generation of the Crichton family — is the oldest-running Hawaiian restaurant in all of Utah, according to Omai Crichton.
Crichton said they sell home-style Hawaiian and Polynesian comfort food — poké, rice plates, spam musubi, and more — from scratch, every single day.
According to Crichton, they prepare the food in the early morning before they open their doors at 11 a.m., and stay open until they sell out for the day.
The outside reflects its island heritage with a vibrant tiki head mural, but the inside speaks to Sweet’s laid-back family atmosphere. Photographs and cards from customers, friends and family cover the space that Uncle Al and Auntie Sweet opened in 1994.
El Gallo Giro
El Gallo Giro is a long-time Provo Mexican food establishment, opened and run by Zulema Ortega for 18 years.
From patio seating, guests can see the large, smoking grill where the kitchen staff cooks their meat. Papel picado, or colorful Mexican banners, flutter overhead. Inside, customers snack on tortilla chips and fresh salsa from the salsa bar as they wait for their food.
Ortega said her food makes community members and students from Mexico feel comforted.
“They don’t miss their country as much, because they can find the food here,” Ortega said.
Bianca’s La Petite French Bakery
Bianca’s La Petite French Bakery showcases handmade French pastries like croissants, mille feuille and macarons, alongside an assortment of other baked goods like cronuts, cheesecakes and Bolivian treats.
The combination of confections is a result of a change in ownership, according to Luciana Cardenas, who has worked at Bianca’s for two years.
“The first owner, she is French, but she sold the restaurant to the new owner, who’s from Bolivia,” Cardenas said.
Cardenas said that while the new owner brought her own twist to the menu, Bianca’s hasn’t strayed from its French roots.
“We have people from France that say our Napoleons are really authentic — our Napoleons and eclairs,” Cardenas said.
El Salvador Restaurant
This Center Street restaurant draws its menu from the owners’ family recipes, which date back 50 years to their life in El Salvador.
“Our recipe is very, very old. It’s a great recipe; we haven’t changed it yet,” said Leonel Ribas, who shares ownership of El Salvador Restaurant with his wife and mother-in-law.
The decor is inspired by El Salvador just as much as the cuisine; on the wall hangs a massive map of El Salvador next to a line of paintings that depict Salvadoran life. The paintings were created by a local Salvadoran artist that was a regular at the restaurant, according to Ribas.
Ribas said it is the only restaurant in Provo that serves exclusively Salvadoran food. The customer favorite is pupusas: masa flour flatbread filled with beans, meat or cheese.
“People buy different things, but they always buy pupusas,” Ribas said. “It’s unique to El Salvador. Nowhere else in the world, they make it.”
There are, of course, many other options; students need only to wander through the streets or conduct a quick search on Yelp to find the plethora of other cultures that Provo represents. From traditional Indian fare to contemporary Native American, Provo provides a window into other cultures through authentic, delicious, multicultural meals.