But first, can we dispense with Red Iguana? It goes without saying that this perennial Best of Utah winner would surely make my list. But really, is there a sentient being in Utah that isn’t already aware of the outstanding Mexican fare there? So, let’s move on.
A place not so familiar is Julia’s (51 S. 1000 West). It’s so low-profile there isn’t even a phone. But it’s worth seeking out for authentic homestyle Mexican cooking. In particular, the stewed chicken in rich broth with potatoes and veggies is out of sight. Another smallish mom & pop place I recommend—just a few doors down from Trails Gentlemen’s Club—is Taqueria Lolita (909 S. 300 West, 801-364-4123).
Everything here is mighty tasty, from the street-style tacos and moles to the fried ice cream. But one dish I can’t get enough of is the incendiary camarones el Diablo—large shrimp bathed in a fiery red-chile sauce.
I’m not exactly sure of the genealogy for a gaggle of popular local Mexican restaurants, but I think it goes something like this: La Frontera (multiple locations) begat La Puente (multiple locations), which in turn spun off Lorena’s (2477 S. 800 West, Woods Cross, 801-295-2441). At any rate, the food at each is similarly delicious: California/Colorado Chicano cuisine that is as plentiful as it is irresistible. I inevitably order the same thing no matter which of these restaurants I visit: the awesome bean and cheese burrito smothered with orange-hued chile verde, along with Mexican rice and scrumptious refried beans on the side. It’s a meal I never, ever tire of.
For upscale Mexican fare, a couple of restaurants spring to mind: Frida Bistro and Sonora Grill. At Jorge Fierro’s Frida Bistro (545 W. 700 South, 801-983-6692), you won’t find standard tacos, burritos and enchiladas on the menu. You will find complex regional Mexican dishes such as pescado a la Veracruzana, stuffed calabazitas with huitlacoche and, my favorite, chile en nogada. It’s a chile pepper stuffed with picadillo—an intricate combination of organic Utah beef, peaches, apples and various spices and seasonings. The pepper is then drizzled with a beautiful walnut-cream sauce and topped with pomegranate seeds. Chile en nogada is a special holiday dish in Mexico, but you can have it anytime at Frida Bistro.
At Ogden’s Sonora Grill (2310 S. Kiesel Ave., 801-393-1999), it’s the ceviche that beckons me back again and again. Well, that and the vibrant, classy atmosphere. Sonora Grill sports Utah’s first ceviche bar, where you can enjoy a variety of seafood—mahi mahi, shrimp, scallops, tuna and other fish specials—ceviche-style, which is to say chilled and “cooked” only by the acidity of lime and lemon juices. Bonus: The housemade salsas here are some of the best around.
Another great option for seafood, Mexican style, is Miramar (342 W. 1300 South, 801-484-2877). Like Sonora Grill, there’s good ceviche at Miramar, along with a tasty seafood stew, various shrimp and fish dishes, fresh oysters and shrimp fajitas that kids will enjoy. My favorite dish, though, is one of the simplest: a whole fish (tilapia), fried, which I like to top simply with Miramar’s smoky-tasting red-chile salsa. And don’t even think about leaving Miramar without a serving of the fabulous flan.
Let’s talk tacos. Naturally, most of the best ones are found at various taco carts around town. However, if you’d like to enjoy your taco off the street, I suggest paying a visit to Tacos Daniel (1017 N. 900 West, 801-521-9404), where you’ll find tacos of every stripe, including shredded beef, carne asada, chicken, fish, lengua (cow tongue) and a real treat: bone marrow. In Park City, El Chubasco (1890 Bonanza Drive, 435-645-9114) fills the taco needs of locals and visitors alike, with an awesome salsa bar for fixins, terrific carnitas tacos and my favorite, tacos de birria (stewed goat). A bit beyond Park City is Midway, where Tarahumara (380 E. Main, 435-654-3465) is located. The barbacoa tacos (herb-braised leg of lamb) are unbeatable. And if you’re in the mood for something more contemporary, seared sea scallops in tomatillo and passionfruit sauce is just the ticket. Tarahumara also makes Mexican pastries and cookies from scratch, so be sure to pick up some conchas, polvorone or quekis.
Even if they didn’t offer $1 margaritas, I’d drop in to the Armenta family’s Mi Ranchito Grill (3900 S. State, 801-266-3007) for parrillada, a self-heating platter piled high with grilled jumbo shrimp and chicken breast, carne asada, jalapeños and onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, nopales (cactus), avocado, sour cream, guacamole, rice, beans, tortillas and the kitchen sink. A similar dish—the molcajete—is found at Mi Ranchito Grill and also at Nuestra Cocina in the West Valley City Rancho Markets (2470 S. Redwood Road, 801-972-8800). It’s basically the same mélange of ingredients as the parrillada, plus Oaxacan cheese, served in a molten-hot lava molcajete. It’s big; plan to share.
I like to hit La Macarena (4700 S. 900 East, Murray, 801-262-1300) in the morning, when they serve up machaca con huevo, which is tender shredded beef scrambled with eggs, tomatoes, onions and peppers—a perfect start to any day. A great second choice is their chilaquiles con huevo—strips of tortillas scrambled with eggs. And, finally, La Hacienda (1248 S. Redwood Road, 801-973-0738) has the best tortilla soup with chicken I’ve tasted outside Mexico, along with really good carnitas and highly addictive chile verde cheese fries. But my favorite time to visit is during chile season in the fall, when you can purchase fresh-roasted Hatch green chiles at the restaurant.
Happy Cinco de Mayo!