Zao Asian Café

Takes a mindful approach to eating well

Entering downtown Salt Lake’s Zao Asian Café location, I instantly notice a difference between this quick-serve restaurant and others. It’s a typical weekday lunch-hour bustling with hungry patrons. But amidst the feverish desire to get in and get out is a happiness; a harmony of calm. It’s coming from the staff—smiling, genuine and enthusiastic. This peaceful atmosphere is a direct reflection of Dave Duffin, Zao’s founder and owner. The restaurant’s steady existence is an extension of Duffin’s greater life philosophy: “Eating well is the path to a happier mind and more balanced existence.”


When he opened Zao, Duffin might not have realized that his desire to create local, affordable eateries devoted to serving “a happier life” was a budding food movement. If you haven’t heard of nutritional psychiatry yet, you will. In short, the theory, supported by institutions such as Harvard, states that healthy eating is no longer simply about a shapely physique. Healthy eating reduces free-radicals in the brain and lessens the risks of depression and anxiety. Nutritional psychiatry mirrors Duffin’s Zao restaurant model. “Zao is way beyond a business. It’s about clean, delicious food,” he says. “My focus is helping our team members find happiness, fulfillment and positive opportunities, which I believe has a magnetic effect on our customers and the community at large.”


Fortunately, Duffin found a wonderfully creative and like-minded partner in Chef Mark Benson. Benson is a graduate of Las Vegas’ Le Cordon Blue Culinary Arts Program. Upon graduating, Mark worked at Bradly Ogden at Caesar’s Palace. In Salt Lake City, he fanned the flames at Forage. Adopting the mantra, “fresh, simple, Asian,” Benson and Duffin work closely together to enhance Zao’s offerings.
For the menu’s proclaimed simplicity, the dishes have a focused attention to detail and presentation as well as a bold collection of Asian influences and flavors. Bowls, bahn mi sandwiches, Asian tacos and salads make up the restaurant’s offerings. Customers are invited to choose proteins and sauces of their liking. Duffin is partial to the tacos, which are admittedly scrumptious. For this writer, however, the brown rice bowl with chicken-and-pork meatballs, wok-seared vegetables and chili-lemongrass sauce is irresistible—sweet, savory and spicy with vibrant color and perfectly cooked vegetables.

Zao Asian Café has multiple locations along the Wasatch Front including Salt Lake City, Sandy, Murray, Fort Union and Lehi. Locations, menus and catering information can all be found at 

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