Sapa’s The Mariachi

Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill

Few places downtown can so thoroughly transport diners across time and space as Sapa Sushi Bar & Asian Grill. Its Asian fusion sushi, spice-laden pho and hip cocktails provide ample reason to enter its tall wooden doors. But what keeps you coming back are the terracotta roof, brick walls, carved wooden panels, Asian art, metallic water lilies and rows of Chihuly-inspired hanging red glass lights. Add to that an expansive courtyard filled with plants, sculptures and three wooden tea houses, each 100-plus years old and imported from the mountains of Vietnam, and you can’t help but be bowled over.

“It took a year for us to get clearances to bring the tea houses to Utah,” says Hoang Nguyen, a managing partner for Sapa properties, a growing list that includes not only the flagship Sapa, but also Sapa Lounge (a resurrection and total transformation of the former Burt’s Tiki Lounge on State), Bucket O’ Crawfish and Fat Fish in West Valley City, Lua-O in Fashion Place Mall, Purgatory Bar downtown and even an ownership share in Fillings and Emulsions. Also, a new Fat Fish just opened in Bountiful.

The wood for the tea houses had to be treated and inspected to ensure nothing untoward hitched a ride to the States, Nguyen said. The hand-carved wooden pieces were labeled, taken apart, shipped and reassembled (tongue-in-groove style, sans nails) by Nguyen’s siblings.

The tight-knit family works cohesively. Nguyen’s mother moved her seven children to Utah in 1992 and opened one of the first pho shops on State Street. Oldest sister, Mai Nguyen, worked in her mom’s restaurant and then began opening her own eateries and developing her entrepreneurial skills. Mai’s “keen sense of design,” as sister Hoang puts it, allows each property to keep evolving. “When things get stagnant, she adapts new ideas into what we have, she morphs into new directions to keep things fun and interesting,” she says.

Now, each of the seven siblings has a property to manage (one lives out of state), with Mai in charge of design and Mai’s husband, Son Dang, serving as CEO.

This family of Vietnamese immigrants keeps living the American dream. Set to open in 2019 is Mai’s “Food Alley” concept. Located on 800 South and State, the plan is to bring 17 restaurants together offering specialized menus. The project includes artists working upstairs above the eateries.

All this news leaves little room to describe the spicy off-menu roll we tasted on a recent visit. The Mariachi’s use of tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, yellowfin tuna and julienned cucumber seems typical for a sushi roll. But then came thinly sliced onion, avocado and lime along with finely chopped cilantro. After our sushi chef, Steve, expertly rolled and sliced the roll, he dotted each piece with fish eggs and Sapa’s spicy Mariachi sauce, plating the slices beside ribbons of red Sriracha, white spicy mayo, green jalapeno aioli, and brown eel sauce. Running your sushi bite through the sauces kicks it up a notch, something your lips will remind you of long after you’ve gone home. This zesty take on sushi is not on the menu so remember it this way: It’s not My Sriracha Roll, it’s Mariachi Roll!

722 S. State, SLC

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