SALT LAKE CITY — We love going out to eat, but how much do you really know about the restaurants you’re dining at?
Restaurants don’t get grades in Utah, but in Salt Lake County, they do get a score based on how many cumulative health inspection violations they have. The higher their score, the lower their ranking.
The Salt Lake County Health Department considers things like: Is the restaurant clean? Is the food safe? Does it have cockroaches?
The information is publicly available, but instead of making you look at thousands of restaurants yourself, the KSL Investigators did the dirty work for you.
They spent weeks examining health inspection reports for 2,937 restaurants in Salt Lake County. It’s a lot, so they honed in on those which currently score in the bottom 10%. According to health inspectors, those are the restaurants that had the most critical violations.
Keep in mind, the rankings are just a snapshot in time. That means while a restaurant might rank in the bottom 10% now, after its next inspection, it might not.
Health inspectors, like Jeffrey Oaks, visit every restaurant two to three times per year. He said inspectors have definitely seen some things that will give you nightmares.
“We’ve seen a number of places where the number of cockroaches they have is just overwhelming,” said Oaks. “There was a place where the inspector went to wash their hands, put their hands in the soap dispenser to get the soap and cockroaches came out of the soap dispenser into the inspector’s hand. That inspection didn’t end well.”
What inspectors are really focused on, however, are violations that could make you sick. They’re looking for things like overall cleanliness, hand washing and food held at the right temperatures.
So with that in mind, back to the bottom 10%: It’s about 300 restaurants, too many to name individually, but we’ll start with those that rank the very worst with health inspectors.
Restaurants with a ranking of 0%:
- Rancherito’s at 3455 South 5600 West, West Valley City. It was shut down temporarily in July 2019 after being dinged with 49 violations. They included things like “food that exceeded time for safe cooling was not discarded,” and “Raid fogger stored in kitchen is not approved for use in a food service establishment.” It was ultimately closed “for imminent health hazards due to lack of managerial control and numerous temperature violations.”
- Shanghai Café at 145 East 1300 South, Salt Lake City. It was also closed temporarily in Aug. 2019 with 34 violations. Those included “severely dented cans are stored with useable food products” and “live cockroaches in the establishment.” It was ultimately closed for “presence of pests, unapproved source food, temperature violations, and various imminent health hazards.”
- Pho 99 at 2899 South Redwood Road, West Valley City. Its last inspection in Aug. 2019 had violations including “cockroach infestation and inability to maintain cold-holding temperatures of potentially hazardous foods.” Pho 777 at 1835 West 3600 South, West Valley City. It was closed temporarily in June 2019 “due to imminent health hazards including a lack of refrigeration and numerous cockroaches on food contact surfaces and non-food contact surfaces.”
- Cubby’s at 2130 South 1100 East, Salt Lake City. It was closed temporarily in May 2019 “because there is insufficient cold holding capacity. Time control for safety foods are being held at 46-50 degrees F in the walk-in, make table, and cold drawer.”
“I guess having done this for a long time, nothing really surprises me,” said Oaks. “It doesn’t matter how much the kitchen costs, it depends on how much they clean it.”
Health inspectors may not be surprised by some of the other restaurants currently in the bottom 10% but the KSL Investigators showed a list of popular restaurants with that ranking to some regular restaurant-goers, who were surprised.
“Which one surprises you the most?” asked Mike Headrick to each person.
“Probably Chile Tepin and Happy Sumo,” said Mike Prince. “It’s very interesting considering some of those are the top restaurants here downtown.”
“Well, La Caille is really expensive so you’d be surprised,” said Jackie Hobson.
“Takashi and Tsunami,” said Leanne. “For the price I’m paying at both of those restaurants I would expect that they would have clean environments.”
“Harbor?! No! Oh, it’s amazing,” said Brooke Bateman.
Here is a selection of restaurants that were in the bottom 10%, along with their ranking, as of Feb. 18, 2020 (it is also important to note that violations are often remedied or adjusted on-site during an inspection):
- Chile Tepin at 307 West 200 South, Salt Lake City(4%). Its last inspection in April 2019 had violations including “a food employee used the same single-use gloves to handle raw meat and then a container of ready to eat food” and “spatulas used for handling raw meats on the grill are used to portion food onto plates.”
- Happy Sumo at 6572 South Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (2%). Its last inspection in Oct. 2018 had violations including “the sushi knife is being wiped off with the same rag to wipe off the table,” “the interior of the zucchini container has mold in it,” and “the tuna is holding at 47 F and the salmon was at 44 F in the sushi cases.”
- Gourmandise at 250 South 300 East, Salt Lake City (3%). Its last inspection in Dec. 2019 had violations that included “the meat slicer is unclean to sight and touch” and “the vegetable press next to the ice machine is unclean to sight and touch.”
- Harbor Seafood and Steak at 2302 East Parley’s Way, Salt Lake City (9%). Its last inspection in Sept. 2019 had violations including “potentially hazardous and ready to eat foods that are prepared on-site and held for more than 24 hours are not date-marked” and “there is no measurable sanitizer in the final rinse of the dish machine.”
- HSL Restaurant at 418 East 200 South, Salt Lake City (8%). Its last inspection in Dec. 2019 had violations including “shelves in the walk-in cooler are unclean to sight and touch” and “the interior of the ice machine is unclean.”
- La Caille at 9565 South Wasatch Boulevard, Cottonwood Heights (9%). Its last inspection in Oct. 2019 had violations including “the meat slicer is unclean to sight and touch” and “hand sink water temperature does not reach 100 degrees F within 30 seconds.”
- Sicilia Mia at 4536 South Highland Drive, Millcreek (8%). Its last inspection in Dec. 2019 had violations that included “food handler is handling ready to eat bread with bare hand contact” and “bread is stored inside of and in contact with cardboard box that is not sanitized.”
- Takashi at 18 West Market Street, Salt Lake City (5%). An inspection in May 2019 included violations like “pre-cooked rolls are prepared on the same cutting surfaces as raw sushi rolls” and “cooked chicken pieces are being held out of temperature control.”
- Tsunami at 10722 South River Front Parkway, South Jordan (4%). Its last inspection in Dec. 2019 had violations including “raw meat is stored next to ready-to-eat foods” and “caviar is being held out of temperature control at 51 degrees F on a counter.”
- Tucanos Brazilian Grill at 162 South 400 West, Salt Lake City (2%). Its last inspection in June 2019 had violations including “managers in charge are not properly overseeing employees to facilitate proper thawing” and “foods hot held on the buffet line are being cooled and reheated for service the following day.”
As far as types of restaurants, Chinese and Mexican restaurants showed up most often in the bottom 10%.
KSL reached out to all of the restaurants mentioned in this story. Here are the statements from restaurants that responded:
Gourmandise: “We are in a very old building downtown which has been a restaurant for decades. Sometimes young inspectors move from simple, new chains to downtown legacy restaurants and don’t adjust their expectations. But we repair, replace or correct anything that is pointed out.”
Happy Sumo: "The Happy Sumo is always committed to providing high quality, fresh food and serving it in a clean and safe environment is our utmost priority. The issues found during this inspection were immediately corrected on the spot; the sushi case temp was adjusted, the food container discarded, and the sushi chef was instructed not to wipe his cutting board (it was not a table) and knife with the same towel. Our next inspection will show a marked improvement to re-align with our typically high inspection results."
HSL Restaurant: “We take cleanliness and professionalism very seriously at our award-winning restaurant. The numbers on file do not properly reflect our practices and commitment to keeping an extraordinarily organized and clean kitchen and business. Anyone who knows us, and has dined at HSL, knows our expectations are high and how much pride we take in the quality and cleanliness of our food.”
Tsunami: “Tsunami is committed to providing a delicious, fun, clean and safe dining experience for its patrons. We acknowledge and apologize for the breakdown in safety standards at our South Jordan location. We immediately corrected those issues and are certain our next inspection will show a marked improvement and reflect the high standards on which we have built our reputation.”
Even one health inspection could change a restaurant’s scores. A single bad inspection could get them on the list and one good inspection could get them off.
The Salt Lake County Health Department has an online system for checking every restaurant in the county.
Here is a searchable list of restaurants the KSL Investigators determined were in the bottom 10% as of Jan. 16, 2020: