Salt Lake’s Mazza named a finalist for prestigious restaurant award

Mar 31, 2023, 10:15 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2023, 10:54 am

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s his nightly routine.

The meals, using quality ingredients, are made from scratch every day. Ali Sabbah says it’s the only way to do it.

“Have you ever had a warm baklava?” he said while putting the finishing touches on the dessert.

Sabbah has made a career out of serving Middle Eastern food at his Mazza restaurant in the 15th and 15th neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Often, his small restaurant is packed with customers.

“We have the traditional stuff, the hummus and the baba ghanoush and the falafel and the shawarma,” he said. “But our strength is the varied menu.”

That menu, which comes from his Lebanese roots, is now giving him national attention. This week, Mazza was named a finalist for the James Beard Award.

It’s basically the Emmy’s of restaurants.

“It came out of the blue,” Sabbah said. “It’s pretty much the most prestigious award that every chef and restauranteur aspire to actually be part of.”

It means he’s doing something right.

“It’s always in the mind of every restaurateur, every chef, is where do I stand?”

He doesn’t have to wonder anymore.

Sabbah started Mazza in 2000. It grew to three restaurants in the Salt Lake valley, but the loss of business because of the COVID-19 pandemic forced him to close all of them except for the one on 15th and 15th.

“It was luck that I was able to save this one,” he said. “But it was also a blessing in disguise because I rediscovered my love for being in the kitchen. When I had three restaurants, I was more of a bean counter.”

Sabbah said being able to get back to preparing food, working with recipes, and creating the kinds of unique Middle Eastern dishes Mazza is known for, made him happy.

He said he is also proud to be part of a growing restaurant scene where Utah is becoming known for more than just funeral potatoes and fry sauce.

“We fly under the radar, yes. People think that Salt Lake City and Utah doesn’t have good cuisine. We have amazing cuisine.”

The winner of the awards will be announced in June. Sabbah said it would be amazing to win, especially with the quality of the other restaurants in the finals. Either way, he’s just happy to be along them and back to doing what he loves the most.

“As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing, getting up in the morning and looking forward to doing it, that’s very important,” he said.

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Salt Lake’s Mazza named a finalist for prestigious restaurant award