A Theory of Hot Sauces, with Recommendations

OK, so one thing I’ve been doing during pandemic era is trying out hot sauces. Like a lot of hot sauces. Like a really unbearably large number of hot sauces. Like setting up hot sauce tastings where lunch is me making sad fish tacos out of my toddler’s abandoned day-old fish sticks but there are 15 different hot sauces to try with it. Like, when I got the new dream job, I was like, “I need to celebrate!” and… immediately went to an online hot sauce store and bought ten new hot sauces. This is apparently how I pandemic when I’m cut off from exploring restaurants and stuff.

I’ve also gone through stages of… Hot Sauce Theory.

STAGE 1: “Boy, these boutique/craft hot sauces are really incredible and complex and full of complicated flavor notes! Not like my old hot sauces!”

STAGE 2: “Boutique hot sauces are mostly a scam. They’re built to taste really good in the store or a tasting competition, on their own, but they totally overwhelm most food. Too much broadband complexity. A lot of the thinner, more traditional hot sauces actually work better to complement a dish without overwhelming it.”

STAGE 3: “Holy shit, overwhelmingly complex boutique-y hot sauces are great to have when half your meals are, like, Annie’s Mac and Cheeses that you’re splitting with your toddler.”

OK, here are my current favorites, after having gone through *a lot* of bottles recently. Sorted from least-spicy to most-spicy, and also vaguely by use-category.




TABASCO-IMPROVED: Louisiana Gold and Slap Ya Mama

The precise vinegar-clean of Tabasco is still one of the most useful and flexible hot sauces. Louisiana Gold and Slap Ya Mama are both old-school Louisiana hot sauces that provide the same balance, but with way fuller flavor. Louisiana Gold is more exactly like Tabasco plus and I use it all the damn time. Slap Ya Mama is balanced away from the vinegar, but towards hitting you with the rich and particular flavor of fermented pepper.


SRIRACHA-BUT-GOOD: Yellowbird Jalapeno

It’s Sriracha, but good.


PERUVIAN WONDER: Chiporro Sauce Co. Rocoto Hot

This is with rocoto peppers, which I haven’t dealt with a lot. Where a lot of the habanero-school sauces have this sharp, scalpel hit, the rocoto gives is a much more broad, rich, low, umami-warming hug, but with a nice bite. I love this. This is one of the newer hot sauces that has completely captured my heart. Works with so much stuff. It doesn’t taste exactly like Tapatio, but it works in the kind of contexts Tapatio does. In the running for Best Sauce Ever.


CHIPOTLE-ISH: Born to Hula Ghost of Ancho
This isn’t a chipotle sauce, but it does what I wish a lot of chipotle sauces did. It’s got that low, toasty, toasty bass-note rumble. Goes with a lot of stuf


TROPICALIA: High River Sauces Tears of the Sun
This is one of those craft-sweet-tropical fruit sauces, with mango and papaya and some habanero. The whole category of sweet-tropical sauces doesn’t work in 90% of applications, but once in a while you find something it absolutely just lights up. This is basically a sweet sauce, with the heat providing just a bit of backbone and balance. It’s power-ketchup.


HABANERO: Marie Sharp’s Belizean Heat
If I could have only one hot sauce, probably the most flexible and usable is Marie Sharp’s – either the Original hot sauce, or the slightly sharper and punchier Belizean Heat. These are in the classic Carribean carrot-and-habanero style. They are at the center of what I mean by “lean, traditional sauces”. The kind you’re more likely to find in a ethnic-y grocery store, and not on some gourmet magazine’s recommendation list. The flavor is precise and narrow, instead of multilayered and complicated. It will never win any kind of hot sauce competition, or impress you in when you taste it, by itself. But it just punches up so many dishes, without interfering. It’s been around forever. And it’s cheap. (PS Marie Sharp’s has pretty much replaced Aardvark’s in my heart.)


FUNKY GHOST: Melinda’s Naga Jolokia
Classic hot sauce, made with bhut jolokia a.k.a. ghost pepper. A lot of ghost pepper sauces have this, like, very bro-styling, where the whole point is to exaggerate the intense knife-burn of the thing. This starts to make every sauce, and every use of the sauce, taste the same. (Kinda like the Great Hop Wars of the Mega IPA Beer era.) Anyway, Melinda’s NJ is instead about the peculiar funky vegetal flavors of the ghost peppers, fermented into extra-richness. Reminds me of certain Vietnamese fish pastes, in their funky splendor. But very hot. Also fantastic: Melinda’s Hot Sauce, which is also a slightly denser-funkier take on the carrot-habanero style.


This is my favorite in a certain modern craft style: loaded with ingredients, super-intense, obvious complexity. Lots of roasted garlic in ones. Definitely one where you imagine YouTube hot sauce reviewers screaming MASSIVE FLAVOR BOMB at the camera or something. It will destroy the natural flavors of any dish – total tidal wave. On the other hand, for like Annie’s Mac and Cheese or tired tired leftovers, sometimes what I want is the tidal wave. This is a really, really good tidal wave.


Really. I think this is my favorite sauce. It’s brutally hot and super-rich, and also a little bit sweet, in lovely singing balance. It’s halfway between the “traditional lean” and “craft rich” categories. And it’s just… amazing. Like, something this full-tasting shouldn’t work with as many things as it does. But it somehow merges with almost everything. It uses Trinidad 7 pot chiles, which I have had no experience before this, but now believe is like habanero but with magical pixie dust sprinkeld over it. (A runner-up in the ultra-hot-but-tasty category is Hellfire Devil’s Own, a searing pineapple-habanero sauce.)



Louisiana Hot Sauce, Rocoto Hot Sauce, Marie Sharp’s Belizean, Melinda’s Naga Jolokia, Bigfat 708.

GAMES: AGENCY AS ART: A Reader’s Guide

Now officially out: my first book, Games: Agency as Art. Thanks to Oxford University for making this all happen!

The book says that games are a distinctive art form — one very different from the traditional arts. Game designers don’t just create an environment, or characters, or a story. They tell you who to be in the game. They set your basic abilities: whether you will run and jump, or move around your pieces geometrically, or bid and raise. And, most importantly, they tell you what your goals will be. By specifying the points and victory conditions, the designer sets the players’ core motivations in the game. The designer shapes our practical struggle by manipulating our practical interests and abilities, and the challenges we will face. Game designers work in the medium of agency itself. Games are the art of agency.


Game designers aren’t just telling stories. Game designers are sculpting a specific form of practical activity. They are deciding what we will do within the game and how we will do it. They do so by designing the basic shape of our agency within the game, and then designing the obstacles that we will encounter. A game designer says, in Super Mario Brothers, your goal is to go right, your abilities are running and jumping — and the world is full of dangers to run past and jump over. In poker, your goal is to get money, and your abilities are strictly limited to bidding and raising, and careful surveillance of the other player’s actions and expressions — and the world is full of other people doing the same to you.

Games, then, have a special place in our ecosystem of artifacts. Games enable a distinctive kind of communication. Every form of art lets us capture a different aspect of our experience and being. Paintings capture sights; music captures sounds; fiction capture stories. And games, it turns out, can capture and transmit different ways of being practical. Games are our technology for communicating modes of agency. And players can use games to try out new modes of agency. Big conclusion: games are a library of agential modes and practical styles, where we can explore and learn different styles of agency.

But if we see why real games are good, we’ll see why gamification should trouble us. Games grant us many of their pleasures by offer us a narrowed, simplified set of goals. They offer us value clarity – a brief respite from real life. In games, for once, we know exactly where we’re going and exactly how well we’ve done it. But to achieve those pleasures in gamified real life, we need to simplify our real life values. And that simplification can be incredibly destructive. It can transform us – as when Twitter changes us from caring about communication and connection, to caring about going viral.


A reader’s guide

Different parts of the book might interest very different audiences. So here’s a chapter breakdown. Different people might be interested in different bits.

1. Agency as Art – An overview of the whole thing. (Currently open access and free online)!


2. The Possibility of Striving Play – An analysis of the motivational structure of games. The book hangs on a distinction between:

-achievement play: playing for the value of winning
-striving play: temporarily adopting an interest in winning for the sake of having the struggle.

Striving play is possible, which means we can enter into a strange kind of motivational inversion, where we pursue a goal for the sake of the experience of going through the struggle. 

3. Layers of Agency – Striving play has all kinds of implications! Like: it turns out that we have the ability to forget our normal values and absorb ourselves in a temporary value-construct.

4. Games and Autonomy – Argues that games are a medium for communicating agency. Thus, playing games lets us explore a library of agencies. Suggests that games help us be more autonomous by giving us access to a larger inventory of practical styles and mental modes. Suggests that often, in life, we need to switch between between differently focused practical modes for cognitive-resource limitation reasons, and that games help us learn these different modes.


5. The Aesthetics of Agency – Argues for an aesthetics of action – for the possibility of aesthetically appreciating our own choices, movements, and decisions. Argues that games can construct such an aesthetics deliberately. Focuses on the possibility of constructed *practical harmony* – of the game designer creating world and agent to fit beautifully, for once.

6. Framed Agency – Extended in-the-weeds philosophy of art discussion about how it might be possible for games to communicate agency. We use the rules and conventions of game-playing to encode actions and practical modes.

7. The Distance in the Game – Every medium of art has its own special difficulty. The characteristic difficulty of the medium of agency is distance. The game designer has to achieve their effects through the free agency of – and often in collaboration with – the player.


8. Games as Social Transformations – Argues that multiplayer games, by working in the medium of agency, are also working in the medium of sociality. Game designers can create temporary social arrangements. It is the original social art. And: Mill thought we needed to have “experiments in living” where we tried out, experientially, life under different conceptions of the good. Argues that games let us do this in a particular, quick, formalized way. They are miniature political experiments.

9. Gamification and Value Capture – Argues that games may be good, but gamification is bad. Discusses the gamification of Twitter – which offers points for going viral – and the gamification of research – which offers a game-like scoring system of citation rates, H-index, REF, etc. Introduces the notion of “value capture”, which is when your rich values get put in a social/institutional setting which presents you thin, quantified, simplified versions of those values – and the simplified versions take over. Suggests that there are epistemic consequences to the value capture of discourse on Twitter, and the value capture of academic research. Argues that it’s OK to accept thin, simplified values for pleasure in games proper, but that it’s terrible to do in a real-world domain. (Currently open access and free online!)

10. The value of striving: Suggests that attitudes of playfulness and aesthetic joy in games may partially protect against value capture and the institutionalization of values.

Interested? Buy the book!


New article: “The Arts of Action”

My new article The Arts of Action is out now in Philosopher’s Imprint!

This article is kind of intensely personal – perhaps awkwardly so, for an academic article. I realized, while I was writing it, that it was distilling basically all this weird stuff I’ve been thinking about, obsessing over, and floundering to articulate for, like, decades. It’s about all this stuff I love that’s at the margins of Fancy Artistic Life. It’s about why I love them, and why they’ve been marginalized. It’s about “process art”.

So: most traditional arts are what I’m calling “object arts”. An artist makes a thing, you appreciate the thing. Painting, novels, theater. The thing the audience appreciates is some external, distinct object. It’s the painting that’s dramatic, thrilling, moving.

The process arts are where the artist makes a thing, and then you, the audience, interact with that thing, and then *you appreciate your own actions*. The artwork helps make *you* beautiful, or dramatic, or elegant – and helps to shape the form of your beauty. Examples include: games, the act of cooking, social tango, contact improv, rock climbing, cities, the physical movement that surrounds eating, the social life that arises around hot pots and fondues.

In technical language: in object art, the aesthetic qualities are in the artwork. In process art, the artwork calls forth the aesthetic qualities inside the activity of the audience, for the sake of the audience’s appreciation of their own actions.

I think process arts are everywhere, but we often ignore them or misunderstand them, because we’re caught in this object art paradigm. We try to turn process arts into object arts, and in so doing we often drain the life out of them. And we suppress process-art qualities in many of the traditional arts. So the point here is not to force process arts into an object art frame, but to to try to appreciate them for how they do their own thing.

This is my attempt to give a Theory of the Process Arts, and answer a lot of the basic questions. Who’s the artist – the designer of the object or the active appreciator? Why call it an art, and not just freeform everyday aesthetic appreciation? And why have the process arts been so neglected? The answers are variations on a central theme: The object arts typically concentrate aesthetic responsibility in the artist. The process arts often *distribute* them, in a complex way, between artist and audience.

And it’s an attempt to find as broad a variety of examples as I could, and be true to the practitioner’s self-descriptions of those arts. My favorite parts of this aren’t the philosophy, but all the stuff I dug up about how cooks and tango practitioners talk about the inner feeling of their practice.

(PS: the article started its life as a couple of pages in the games book about the core nugget of the idea – the object arts and the process arts – and a bunch of unanswered questions. I wrote those parts of the book 3 years ago. I then spent another couple years trying to expand the theory beyond games and answering those questions, and that’s where this article comes from. It’s much expanded and improved from the original seed in the book.)

The article is online and free and open access to all.

Teaching trick: the emotional sanity break

This is among my stupidest, but perhaps most spiritually effective teaching tricks. I teach these huge intro ethics classes. Many of the students find the process really really emotionally intense, and some report getting deeply freaked out by certain questions. (Context: I teach deep in conservative Utah.) Also sometimes they just get tired.

I started offering the class a right to call an “emotional sanity break” once a week. Somebody can propose, and if the class mostly nods, we take a 3-5 minute break to look at stupid Internet memes, or cat videos, or a clip from Adventure Time, or I play them some classic hip hop that none of them know about or something like that. Then we go back.

First, they only use it like 2-3 times a term. (Sometimes I have to remind them it’s an option). And every time it happens, it was obviously necessary. The class goes better afterwards every time. Students know when they’re freaking out. And sometimes, they’re just TIRED – they often call a break in the middle of my (admittedly packed) Kant lectures just to have a moment to breathe. And I don’t notice their exhaustion because I’m in the throes of philosophy teaching ecstasy or something.

And I think the whole thing gives them some sense of control and freedom and not being just trapped there being steamrollered by a lecture, which I think they like.

Salt Lake City: food favorites, 2019

This is my food recommendations for Salt Lake City list, updated for 2019!

I arrived in SLC seven years ago in a tumble of culinary sorrow. I’d been writing food for the LA Times during graduate school, and I had to give up that half of my life in order to stay on the academic track.

Except, as it turns out, Salt Lake is actually kind of great. There’s more weird little ethnic neighborhoods and hidden communities entangled into the Utah Suburban Monolith than you might think. And every year I live here, the streets get a teeny bit more diverse, and the food scene gets a little bit better.

So, here’s my best of, as of right now:



Alas, Hot Dynasty, I loved you well. You had godlike Sichuan. I was perceptually shocked that you managed to exist in Utah. Turns out, you were too good for this world. Now you’re dead, and we’ll have to content ourselves with merely quite good Sichuan: Sweet Ginger. It’s legit, though, numb-tingly flavors and all. Order your heart out – it’s all good, and way better than you’d think Utah capable of in the Sichuan department. All the fish boiled in hot chili oil and the masses of chicken in pickled pepper and dried chiles and fresh chiles and more piles of chiles. Definitely hit the cold tray for all the weirdo Sichuan cold snacks, like husband-and-wife slices and seaweed. (WARNING: Comment from Stuart, below, indicates that the good chef might have left. I will check soon. Please hold.)

There’s a lot of good Taiwanese in this town. Best choice: Mom’s Kitchen. It’s even better since they made, like, a real picture menu for all us non-Chinese speakers. It’s stuffed with all the Taiwanese comfort food favorites. The beef roll is, like, jellied sweet beef rolled in an onion scallion pancake with plenty of raw cilantro and crispy green onion. Dumplings are fantastic, boiled or fried. Freshly made noodles in all the soups – I particularly like the subtle, rich sourness of the sour mustard and ground pork soup. The leek pancake turnover thing is a wonder – the soft leeks and the wiggly vermicelli and that lovely near-crumbly texture of finely chopped filling inside a crispy, crispy, chewy, crispy shell. Eat this and think of what a pathetic thing the Hot Pocket is, that tried to be this leek turnover and failed.

Also: super-special Taiwanese bonus: Sasa Kitchen! A tiny menu, but they’re specialists! Most important thing: the “shaved noodles”, which are fresh made, sliced thick and full of chaw, and have just that right mouth-filling heft. Noodles this good would be like $30 if you were in an Italian place, but since it’s Chinese, it’s like $8. My personal favorite: the clean, subtle, fragrant, warming lamb and shaved noodle soup. Also, get the hot and sour dumpling soup if they have it.

SLC now has a spectacularly good fresh-made Chinese noodle house in One More Noodle. The best noodles, as noodles, are probably those thick, dense ones that come with the braised beef soup, all full of chaw and noodle-y vigor. But the best gestalt dish is the dan dan mien. Peanut-y sauce, Sichuan tingle, thin little wiggly noodles, and pure raw goodness. Best in its beef incarnation, but the veggie version is also deliriously good.

Also: best dim sum is probably Red Maple House. Definitely go when it’s busy for freshness – Saturday and Sunday brunch time. They nail those gossamer-bouncy textures.



For my first two or three years, I just mostly ate at the taco trucks – the two clustered around the Ocean City Market at State and 9th are probably still my favorites. I eventually found Victor’s Restaurant, the well-known tamale specialist inside Victor’s Tires. They’re awesome for many standards – their menudo and their chilaquiles are particular favorites).

Incredibly good tacos at Mi Carmelito. If this place were in East LA, I would probably still hit it up on the regular. It’s a little weird if you’re not used to this style of place – there are different lines for different kinds of meat. Al pastor is great, tripatas is perfect for those of you that dig that dig that kind of thing. But their true excellence is in their soft beef dishes. Cabeza, definitely. But if they happen to have cachete – beef cheek – when you’re there, then you are truly blessed.

But the real magical winner for Mexican in SLC is Mi Lindo Nayarit. It is a Nayarit specialist, and once again, HOW THE HELL DOES THIS EXIST IN UTAH? Nayarit is a region in the Central Pacific coast of Mexico. Nayarit food (and the food of neighbor Sinaloa) is completely distinctive, especially if you’re used to the kind of northern Mexican food that suffuses the American imagination. Nayarit food is seafood, in a thousand subtle variation, balanced right on the edge between crispness and hyper-complexity. Even in Los Angeles, Nayarit and Sinaloan places were rare finds. I have no idea why there’s one way out here in Utah. Things to try: the empanadas, which are stuffed with ground shrimp, deep-fried, and topped with an avocado. The dozen variations of shrimp, all delightful. The fish ceviche, which is unlike any other ceviche I know. It’s a mixture of citrus-soaked fish and finely shredded carrots and lots of other raw bits of veg, and it’s like a raw fish carrot slaw, and it’s totally awesome. (Beware: as with other raw fish, much depends on your relationship to market-day. I wouldn’t get this on a Sunday.) And the fish chicharron, which is small pieces of fish fried so deeply and intensely that they take on the heft, crunch, and chaw of fried pork rinds. Special bonus: they make the best michelada in town, which is kind of like a beer bloody mary served in an enormous stein rimmed with chile powder.

Best Oaxacan in town: the tiny, delightful La Oaxaquena. Great mole, but their true speciality is the tlayuda – which is basically a super crispy thin Oaxacan pizza. You have not lived till you’ve hit a tlayuda with real hunger in your heart. La Oaxaquena also shares a kitchen with my favorite Salvadorean place, discussed below, so you can actually order from both menus from either restaurant. Also, really good mole at the chicken specialist Don Pollo.



The whole Wasatch area has freakishly great Peruvian all over the place. I’m not going to list them all – just go and try any you can find. They’re everywhere, and they’re mostly all great. The fanciest and finest is Del Mar al Lago, which is another “WTF is this doing in UTAH?” kind of place. High end, pretty, immaculate Peruvian. Beautiful and zippy ceviche, excellent piles of fried seafood, and all that stuff. Definitely the more future-facing, more inventive, and more respectable place. It’s fantastic.

But if I had to be honest, in my heart of hearts, my absolute favorite Peruvian out here is the Bountiful branch of El Rocoto. It’s just more heart-felt. I never know exactly what that means, and why certain food feels merely clinically perfect, but other food feels full of love and life. But El Rocoto has that mysterious perfect hunk o’ soul. The stuff all feels just the right amount of chunky, hearty, and chewy; all the flavors are full-throated. Things to try: the platter of fried seafood. The ceviche. Lomo saltado, that glorious Peruvian stir-fry of french fries and beef in red wine, soy sauce, garlic, and tomato. Pretty much anything.

2019 update: El Rocoto has a challenger, which is even homier and even more heart-felt: Rubi’s Peruvian! I would go here just for the hot crispy fried hominy bits they bring out for you, which are the true version of what Corporate America would destroy and then call Corn Nuts. But the ceviche is great here, as are the saltados and the huge pile of fried seafood. Completely soul-satisfying.


Middle Eastern

Afghan Kitchen is spectacular. It is unnervingly good. Salt Lake City has no right to have an Afghani place this good. Actually the best Afghani mantu I’ve ever had – dumplings, with these astonishingly fresh, delightful wrappers, topped with yogurt and sauce, stuffed with your choice of beef or pumpkin. Everything I’ve had here has been pretty much perfect, but I remember most the Kubali Palow – a chicken pilaf dish studded with little bits of carrots and raisins and pure goodness.

Karim Bakery: WTF is this?! Salt Lake City now has an incredibly good Arabic bakery, which turns out absolutely delightful fresh lavash and pita? And they make baklava and other bakery treats that are completely perfect and full of bakerly love? And you can get an absolutely excellent lemahjun – a flatbread topped with a thin mix of ground meat and spices – for two bucks? Or an even better zataar flatbread for a buck-fifty? Rolling fresh out of the oven every day starting around 11 AM?

Mazza is well known and good, especially if you need things to look fancy. 15th and 15th branch is a little better and cozier. Excellent Middle Eastern groceries at Black Cherry. O Falafel is great at a lot of things, but, perversely, least at falafels. Look to the cooked entrees, like moussakka, chicken banana squash, mughrabiya, and my very favorite, makshi – gorgeously soft eggplant in a yogurt tomato beef gravy sauce thing.



Probably the most important Hipster Culinary Experience in SLC is Cafe D’Bolla, which is one of the very few genuinely world-class culinary experiences in Utah. It’s a coffee bar. I mean, let me say this again, it is a Motherfucking Coffee Bar where you are going to go and pay a lot of money for a Coffee Motherfucking Experience. It has extremely good espresso at a decent price. But the thing you’re really here for is to have the hands of the master make you an earth-shatteringly superb cup of vacuum press siphon coffee, for which you will pay a modestly princely sum. I mean, like, $8-$12 or something. (Though it perpetually irritates me that people will slap down that much for a glass of wine without even thinking about it, but then proceed to loose their collective gourds over the idea of paying that much for a cup of coffee.)

It’s worth it. He knows what the fuck he is doing. He will do you a full process and ritual with explanation. Perhaps too much explanation. He roasts all his own coffee to spec (and he thinks that it’s crucial, if you’re brewing at SLC elevations, to roast with that in mind.) He gets weird coffee rarities. He brews them superbly. He will also, unless you ask firmly, loom over you and shout at you all the tasting notes that you’re supposed to be tasting. He also won’t let you sip the hot cup of coffee because he’s going to tell you that it’s much better after 5 minutes of cooling – and it turns out he’s COMPLETELY RIGHT. He also serves his coffee in these very specific antique Japanese tea cups that he decided give the best aromatic experience and, once again, he is COMPLETELY RIGHT.

So: it’s weird. Also only for the kind of fanatics who like light roast, high acid, very sculpted coffee profile. But if you are, this is totally a pilgrimage worth making. Taste at the feet of a true master.



Salt Lake City is strangely blessed with what, as far as I know, is the best Jewish deli west of the Rockies: Feldman’s Deli. Highlight: maybe the absurdly good, perfectly textured knishes? There’s manner of deli delights, from traditional stuff to more gonzo inventions (potato latkes smoked salmon benedict?). They make a tiny batch of perfectly fluffy bagels each morning, though they run out fast. These are also, without a doubt, the best bagels I’ve had outside of the Northeast. Deli meats are flown in from NY, and they truly understand the essence of the pastrami sandwich.


Other White People Stuff

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here because my favorites are well-known and well-covered elsewhere. Tulie has impeccable croissants and other Euro pastries. If there’s a criticism of them though, it’s that they’re a little cold in their version of impeccable, professionally crafted, and perfectly French-correct bakery arts. My deepest affections have lately shifted to the new Amour Cafe, from those people that brought you that shockingly good jam you bought in the farmer’s market. Homey, deeply felt, subtle and soul-punchingly good baked goods. Among the best scones I’ve had in the States. Also, sometimes, they have the most magical thing: a beet walnut cake, which is basically like a red velvet cake, but profound. And the single best baked good in SLC is Eva’s Bakery’s kougin amann, which is a godhead baked good. It’s often available at a few other places around town, like our branch of Campo’s Coffee.

Most expensive and also best place for super-boutique groceries is Liberty Heights Fresh. Most importantly, they are home of the best cheese counter in town. (Caputo’s is also very good, but they’ve lately gotten really into their ultra-funkifying cheese cave thing. I suspect they’re beginning to proceed down the More Funky Than Thou path which reminds me, worryingly, of the Late Stage Craft Beer Quadruple IPA Bitter Fuck You Manly Arms Race of Doom.)

Salt Lake is also, importantly, home to like the second best butcher and charcuterie in all of America, as far as I know: Beltex Meats. Ungodly good classic cuts and oddball cuts and all kinds of glorious in-house pates and charcuteries and headcheeses and blood sausages, all with that deep profound modulated wild funk that I crave. This place is a treasure, and when I have friends coming back to visit me from the culinary hotspots of the world, what they demand, perpetually, is to gorge themselves on Beltex shit. (My very favorite charcuterie maker in America is Fatted Calf in SF, and it turns out some of the Beltex gang trained there.)

Best tea selection in town: Tea Zaanti, without a doubt. Nice places to spend medium to large amounts of money on conventionally nice food in a setting with “service”: Manoli’s, Provision, Veneto’s.

There are two excellent cocktail bars in SLC: Water Witch and The Rest. Water Witch is the kind of place where they’ll chat you up and make you a cocktail to your weirdo requests, and they’ll nail it. The Rest is a speakeasy hidden oh-so-adorably underneath The Bodega, where you have to, like, call ahead and speak the secret words and be lead to a secret passageway in the back. The Rest is fancy and very I-dream-of-New-York and has quite good food. The Water Witch has a much more half-drunk bartenders ranting about their lives and shout at the audience vibe. The Rest offends some people with it’s excessively twee preciousness (it does feel a little bit like somebody ordered an interior decorator to “Make me feel like I’m drinking in a Wes Anderson film!”). Water Witch offends some people for its hipster-bro man-ergy. I go to both, because I’m a terrible person, and I just like drinking. (For the true cocktail fiend, though, I give a definite edge in pure cocktail craftsmanship to Water Witch.)



There’s not a huge amount of Korean in this town, but what there is, is surprisingly great. Far and away my favorite is Jang Soo Jang. Superb homey-style Korean food that would hang with some of my favorites in LA’s Koreatown. Favorites: spicy squid, sundae gook (blood sausage soup with bits of offal, shockingly clean and deep), spicy goat soup, spicy rice cakes, Korean dumplings, kim chee pancake. Super spread of lovely homemade Korean pickles, brimming with fresh ferment-y life. But: if you go here and only order Korean BBQ because you think that’s the beginning and end of Korean food, I will personally hunt you down and shoot you in the head with a pickle.

Other good choices: Myung Ga is pretty good and more conventionally “nice” location, with a bigger menu with pretty good versions of all the standards. For some reason, the name It’s Tofu! subtly creeps me out on like five levels that I don’t fully understand, but they have a pretty nice dol soat bi bim bop – that’s bi bim bop in a hot stone bowl that you mix up and let crisp.



There’s a huge Vietnamese population in SLC, and tons of great Vietnamese. A few favorites: Pho Thin for pho, with that radiant, subtly sour clean-quiet tang of a really well-executed beef broth. Pho Tay Ho, set in just the kind of chilled out remodeled house that reminds me of Vietnamese joints from my San Jose childhood, for heart-warming pho with really nice noodles. Little Saigon for excellent Vietnamese sandwiches, vermicelli noodles, and bun bo hue, the heartier, beefier, spicier soup of central Vietnam.

And, from left-field, there’s an excellent Viet-Cajun crawfish boil place! It’s called Bucket o’ Crawfish. You can get all manner of seafood – including crawfish, clams, and crab legs – boiled in anything from the Vietnamese take on Cajun spice mix to Chinese black bean sauce. Don’t go and tell me it’s not genuinely Cajun. Because it isn’t, and it never claimed to be. It’s goddamn Viet-Cajun, and you’ll enjoy it for being the heartfelt representative of this new gorgeous melting pot world, you motherfuckers!



Japanese in this town is currently suffering, ever since Naked Fish died. The best we have is probably a pair of tonkatsu ramen joints: Tosh’s and Jinya. If you haven’t had tonkatsu before, it’s nothing like the standard thin Tokyo-style ramen. It’s this mega-long cooked, ultra-rich bone-and-meat-fat, like, velvet or something. Both places are quite good, but I’m going to give a slight edge to Jinya, for getting just the right profound velvety-ness in that rich, rich, bone-mineral broth. I particularly like the ones that mix their pork broth with their chicken broth.

One sneaky surprise, though: Kobe. It is in the middle of a completely white mall complex, so you might not be willing to believe in it. And it’s one of those places that clearly is serving both a clientele interested in Americanized Japanese food, and a more savvy clientele. Here’s the big secret: they have two sushi chefs who are amazing, and they get a special box of sushi delights flown in from the Tokyo sushi markets every Wednesday or Saturday. Get a seat at the sushi bar, make it known that you’re interested in the Real Stuff, ask about that specials box. Also, very very important – do not assume that a white person cannot be a godlike sushi sushi chef. You’ll know who I’m talking about really, really quickly.



I used to live in the Salvadorean part of East Hollywood, where I acquired an undying hunger for pupasas that can never be adequately quenched. I think I have tried every Salvadoran place in Salt Lake City. For me, there is only one choice: Fernando’s Cafe Guanaco. Everything else there has been great too, especially the beef soup.



Imagine my total mind-melted surprise when I found out that the greater SLC area actually has a genuinely great place for chaat. It’s Turmeric Indian Cuisine. Chaat, if you don’t know, is Indian street food. All the chaat here is absurdly good – fresh and vivid, like little spikes of clean brilliant freshnesses shooting through your skull. In its previous incarnation, as “Pastries ‘n Chaat”, this place was all chaat, all the time. Now it’s transformed itself into a fancier sit-down place, cut its chaat menu in half, and added an array of really stunningly good curries. Try any of the goat curries – especially the ones you’ve never heard of. Fantastic biryani, too. (The Avenues branch of Saffron Valley also has extremely good chaat and dosas.)



There were once two utterly fantastic Ethiopian places in SLC. They both closed. Sad face. I have some new possibilities though. Watch this space.


Best rotating stand to watch out for

Spice Kitchen Incubator is this great non-profit thing that helps immigrants start up restaurants. They have a stand at the farmer’s market that rotates through new start-up food gigs. Often, they’re fantastic. Best West African food I had was from one of their gigs. I’ve also had super nice Indonesian, and good Filipino. Always try whatever’s on offer.



New paper: “Games and the art of agency”

My paper, Games and the art of agency, is now forthcoming at Philosophical Review. The paper argues that games are the art form of agency. Game designers don’t just create worlds, or stories. They tell us who we will be in the game. They design for us an alternative agency, which we submerge ourselves during the game. Games work in the medium of agency.

The big outcomes: first, we learn about the fluidity of our own agency. We can take on the ends of a game temporarily. We can care about things we don’t normally care about, for the sake of having the struggle. Second, games turn out to be a distinctive form of art. Game designers are sculpting forms of activity for us. They are designing structures of practicality, so that we can enter into them, and experience beauty in our own actions. And third, games turn out to be our technology for recording agencies. Narrative lets us write down stories, paintings let us record sights, and games let us record forms of agency. Games, then, let us explore new forms of agency.

This paper was the seed that grew into my forthcoming book, Games: Agency as Art. Incidentally, this paper was written first. But it turns out that the review process for a philosophy paper can be so long, that you actually might be able to expand a paper into a whole book before the original paper finally gets accepted.

The book will expand a bunch on the major themes of this paper, spending a lot more time on the aesthetic theory and my worries about gamification. The book also spends way more time on the discussion of how games let us explore alternate agencies, thus forming a library of agencies, which we can use to develop our own freedom and autonomy. The book is also written in a more accessible way, with lots of long, loving discussions of specific games.

This paper version is more compact, more scholarly, and hits a lot of the key points much faster. If you want all the ideas really fast, read the paper version. It also contains some very technical stuff that won’t appear in the book. There’s a discussion of why game desires don’t count as fictional, on Kendall Walton’s theory of fiction. And there’s a discussion of why games break certain traditional arguments that you can’t desire at will, from the literature on practical rationality. I argue that taking on a game goal temporarily is a kind of desiring at will. And games expose some crucial lacunae in traditional theories of practical reasoning. As it turns out, lots of traditional models of rationality don’t make room for play.

New paper: “Monuments as commitments: How art speaks to groups and how groups think in art”

My new paper, Monuments as Commitments: How Art Speaks to Groups and How Groups Think in Art, is forthcoming in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly.

The paper argues:

1. That there are some kinds of art that primarily *address groups*, rather than individuals.

2. That monuments are an example of such. And that they are often made by groups to address *themselves* – to commit themselves to a value. Monuments aren’t just memories, they are collective value commitments.

3. This has consequences for the “tear down the monuments” debate. Because if a monument isn’t just a historical memory, but the live commitment by a community to a value, to guide itself by…

4. That art makes it possible for groups and communities to commit themselves to subtle, emotional values.

5. That art is often a better vessel for collective value than shitty mission statements, explicit “learning outcomes”, and crappy corporate value statements.

6. That, in this way, art makes deeply emotional group agency possible.

Echo chambers as trust manipulators

My analysis of echo chambers as trust-manipulators is now available in two exciting different versions! First, there was Escaping the Echo Chamber, the short version written for a general audience. And now, fresh off the presses, there’s Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles, the long scholarly version written for philosophers and social scientists, full of citations and more careful versions of all the arguments.

In Escaping the Echo Chamber (published in Aeon Magazine), I claim that the whole discussion about this stuff has been confusing two very different social phenomena. An epistemic bubble is a structure that limits what you see. When all your friends on Facebook share your politics, and you don’t get exposed to the other side’s arguments, that’s just a bubble. An echo chamber, on the other hand, is a structure that manipulates trust. Members of echo chambers are taught to distrust everybody on the outside. An echo chamber functions more like a cult. It isolates its members, not by restricting their access to the world, but by alienating them from the outside world.

In epistemic bubbles, other voices are not heard; in echo chambers, other voices are actively undermined.

This is crucial, because you have to know the disease to pick the right cure. Epistemic bubbles can be broken by simple exposure. But echo chambers cannot; members of echo chambers have been prepared to resist exposure to evidence from the outside. This radically overinflated their trust for insiders.

Crucially, this thing that people are calling “post-truth” – where people just ignore the outside evidence? Epistemic bubbles can’t explain that. Only echo chamber effects can explain it. And if that’s what’s actually going on, then the solution isn’t just to wave “the evidence” or “the facts” in an echo chamber member’s face. They’ve been given a basis for rejecting such outside evidence as corrupted, malignant. The only way to fix an echo chamber is by repairing the broken trust at its root.

In Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles (published in Episteme), I offer extended versions of all of the above arguments. This is the scholarly director’s cut. The definitions are more carefully fleshed out (and, admittedly, much longer and uglier and less memorable). The arguments are laid out in more detail, with citations. There’s also an extended discussion of the social science literature, where I point out a lot of places where people have conflated these concepts. I target a lot of recent papers which claim to have disproved the existence of echo chambers and epistemic bubbles, and point out that they’ve studied only exposure, and not distrust. Finally, there’s a much longer discussion of who’s responsible for the beliefs of echo chamber members. I take on Quassim Cassam’s story about epistemic vice and laziness in conspiracy theorists. He thought that, basically, all conspiracy theorists were just lazy and corrupt. I argue the opposite; the echo chambers story shows how a person could be blameless, because they were caught in a bad social network.

If you’re really interested in going all the way down the rabbit-hole, my analysis here is based on some earlier work. In Cognitive Islands and Runaway Echo Chambers, I analyze those domains where you need the help of experts, but you can only find experts by exercising your own abilities. This opens the door to a harmful sort of runaway bootstrapping, where people with bad beliefs use them to pick bad experts, and this only compounds their error. In Expertise and the Fragmentation of Intellectual Autonomy, I lay out the case for why we have to trust in experts, and why perfect intellectual autonomy is no longer possible, given the massive sprawl of scientific knowledge.

A preview of my book, Games: Agency as Art

My book, Games: Agency as Art, is now forthcoming from Oxford University Press! Oxford has given me permission to offer the first chapter as a preview. Now available for pre-order!

The book is a sustained defense of the value of games and game-playing, from several perspectives. The book says that:

  • Games are the art form of agency. Game designers don’t just create environments and obstacles. They set our goals in the game and our abilities; they create the agency which we will inhabit in the game.
  • Games can work in the medium of agency to create aesthetic experiences of acting and doing. They can offer us crystallized, designed, and refined versions of our everyday experiences of practicality.
  • One way that games are satisfying: they let us inhabit a world that’s easier to make sense of, one in which the values are clearer, simpler, and easier to apply. Such games offer us are rare experience of clarity of purpose. They are an existential balm against the rest of our lives, which are full of a plurality of subtle and competing values.
  • This also leads to a danger: games can seduce us into expecting that simplicity elsewhere. They can serve as a morally problematic fantasy of clarity. 
  • The fact that we can play games teaches us something remarkable about ourselves. We have the capacity submerge ourselves in alternate agencies, to slip in and out of temporary agencies. We can take up ends that we don’t usually care about and dedicate ourselves to them, for a time. We can adopt different modes of thinking, acting, and deciding. And then we can put them all away when then game is over. Games teach us that our agency is notably fluid. 
  • A big bonus: it turns out that stupid drinking games and party games are incredibly important to understanding the nature of our own practical rationality and agency.
  • Just as narratives are a technique for writing down stories, games are a technique for inscribing and preserving modes of agency. With them, we can create an archive of agencies – we can experience different ways of being an agent. Games are a technology for us to help develop each others’ autonomy.
  • The book offers a unified account of the art form of striving games. It discusses, under a single conceptual umbrella, computer games, board games, card games, party games tabletop role playing games, live action role playing games, and sports. (There are many other sorts of games besides striving games, however, and the book doesn’t purport to cover them all.)
  • Also: discussions of the aesthetic ontology of games, the nature of interactivity in games, a taxonomy of game types, and a comparison of games to contemporary practices of relational aesthetics and social practice art.

What’s Missing From Cookbook Reviews

My post at Aesthetics for Birds on What’s Missing From Cookbook Reviews:

“Read enough cookbook reviews, and you’ll start to notice a curious gap. Cookbook reviews mostly focus on how the recipes turn out — how tasty the dishes are, or how authentic they are. Sometimes they’ll also talk about the quality of writing, or how much you learn about some region’s culinary history  or food science or the author’s childhood or whatever. But usually they leave out what it feels like to actually cook the goddamn things…”

Later, it talks about how we ignore how food makes us move:

“Why do we legitimize aesthetic commentary, in conversation and reviews, on the taste, smell, and look of food, but refuse to legitimatize aesthetic commentary on the quality of the physical movements that food urges on us? The movements you make on the plate with your fork and knife are a tiny little dance, and dances can be graceful and awkward, and choices that a chef makes about how to plate will push on you more awkward or more graceful forms of dance.”

Keep reading it at AFB.