Tomatillo, Crazy Chile Pepper & Nacho's Libre | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Tomatillo, Crazy Chile Pepper & Nacho's Libre 

Three On Third: Three different Mexican eateries on 300 West.

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In recent months, three new Mexican restaurants have opened on a section of 300 West, between about 1800 South and 1000 South—convenient places to nosh if you happen to be headed for restaurant supplies at Bintz or shopping at the new wine store.

The first of the triplets to arrive was Tomatillo, located in a shopping center with Scaddy’s, Teppanyaki and Mo’ Bettah Steaks. It’s a bright and uncluttered space decked out in lime green and lemon yellow, where customers make selections at the counter from a big menu board (complete with photos) and the food is delivered to your table. There’s also a self-serve salsa bar, but I’ve found most of the Tomatillo salsas to be thin and watery.

Machaca—normally one of my favorite things on the planet—was a disaster at Tomatillo. It showed up as pretty much a one-piece “pancake” of dry, stringy, shredded beef scrambled up with equally dry eggs, onions and green bell-pepper slices ($7.25), with dry refried beans and Mexican rice on the side. Not recommended. However, a carnitas taco was as delectable as the machaca was detestable. Be forewarned: Tomatillo’s tacos ($2.20) are not taco-cart size; they’re big—one taco per serving—a large corn tortilla piled with, in this case, gloriously greasy roasted and shredded pork, with a side of guacamole and topped with pico de gallo. Now we’re talkin’. You can also get your carnitas fix in the form of a torta sandwich or burrito, which is massive. Unfortunately, a huge chile verde burrito ($3.99) was very average. And, I’d have to counsel customers to skip the enchiladas and fish tacos, as well. Bottom line: This is the place for carnitas.

Crazy Chile Pepper couldn’t look less like its former incarnation—Todd’s bar—than it does. Bright, festive color (anathema at Todd’s) and intricate handmade chairs and booths give this sprawling restaurant, complete with a bandstand and stage, an oceanside feel. And, the pounding Top 40 Mexican radio station adds significantly—if that’s your sort of thing—to the south-of-the-border vibe. Like just about every Mexican eatery these days, portions are huge. A “Crazy Mole Verde Burrito” ($4.99) was large enough to feed me and City Weekly reporter and food maven Eric Peterson both, for lunch. It’s a very large flour tortilla stuffed with small pork bits, rice, refried beans, asadero and panela cheeses and smothered in a green mole sauce which imparted, interestingly, a hint of curry flavor. Odd, but delicious nonetheless. Much less so was the Colorado burrito ($3.99) which, again, was ginormous—a big tortilla filled with small bits of grilled steak, rice, cheese, frijoles, and, sadly, doused in a very fiery red sauce that tasted suspiciously of canned enchilada sauce. No dice.

Tortas at Crazy Chile Pepper come on big round sandwich loafs similar to the type of bread used for muffalettas. Which is to say that the tortas, too, are massive. In ordering the torta Cubana ($6.50), I was hoping for a south-of-the-border version of a classic Cuban sandwich. What I got was different, but not disappointing: A kitchen-sink sammy of breaded, fried pork leg Milanesa, ham, chorizo, panela cheese, greens, tomato, refried beans, avocado and, unexpectedly, hot dog slices. By the way, you can add a fried egg to this monster for an extra 50 cents, so why not? Wash it all down with licuados—fruit-water drinks which come in avocado, strawberry, mango, papaya, banana and guava flavors ($2.75).

The newest kid on the 300 West block—and still getting its feet wet—is Nacho’s Libre, a place, during my visits, where I’ve been the only customer. It’s a sit-down restaurant with full table service. But, a word of advice: Don’t do as I do and try to pay for your meal with a credit card. I was informed after my first meal there to head next door to the check cashing shop and use the ATM. Given the exorbitant ATM fee, I couldn’t help but wonder if these folks were in cahoots with one another.

The sliced avocado that adorned my seafood ceviche was exactly the same color as the interior of Nacho’s Libre, which is an avocado lover’s wet dream. The ceviche ($4.99) was small bits of shrimp, mahi mahi and tiny bay scallops with diced onion and cilantro in a large cocktail glass filled, appropriately enough, with what tasted like bloody Mary mix. It’s a lot of ceviche for $5, and plenty to share. An odd detail: I was given Tabasco with my ceviche, not Mexican hot sauce. As I suggested, this restaurant still seems to be finding itself. Advertised as “authentic Mexican cuisine,” the menu includes atypical “Mexican” fare like chicken Caesar salad, pea soup and hot chicken wings. On the more Mexican side, an order of fish tacos ($6.99) is two flour tortilla tacos filled with battered and fried mahi mahi, accompanied by creamy refried beans and Mexican rice.

The “Lupita” main course ($7.99) is a plate of sliced, grilled carne asada, with just a hint of spice, served with a shredded chicken enchilada (topped with cheese, but not warm enough to melt it), a deep-fried chicken taquito (spelled “takito” on the menu) slathered with too much sour cream, and rice and beans on the side. It’s a lot of food for $8, although not a dish I’d return for.

Although I root for these independent, family-run restaurants, for now, I’d have to say that the new Mexican fare that I tried on 300 West remains a work in progress.

1051 S. 300 West

1280 S. 300 West

1830 S. 335 West


Ted Scheffler:

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