Late afternoon dinner review
A recent conversation over at Chow Hound brought up a terrible truth, the fact that I had never ever stepped foot into Red Iguana. Being a self-confessed foodie, this glaring dining omission could be considered sacrilege to to some I would imagine. My excuse? Simply put, I had heard that wait times for tables could get to be 45 minutes and beyond. And as most of friends will attest, I’m not a very patient man. (Wen’s note – I attest!)
I idly mentioned this conversation to Wendi, and before I knew it, a plan was hatched to try Salt Lake City’s most lauded Mexican restaurant. The theory was that we would plan our visit for a time between lunch and dinner on a Saturday afternoon. We conjectured that 3 p.m. was ideally placed between lunch and dinner and therefore, could possibly yield a quiet break from the famously long lines. We planned to sneak in and check the food out without the bustle of the crowds.
The plan failed almost immediately as we arrived to find a queue of about 15 people milling outside. Oh well, lesson learned, Red Iguana is probably packed from opening to closing time on the weekend. We ventured inside to put our names on the wait list, 20 minutes was the estimated wait, all in all not too bad. In fact, a good number of the people waiting seemed to be there for take out, which was brought out at regular intervals and whittled the waiting down to about eight people just as a huge rainstorm hit. Luckily, there was room for all of us in Red Iguana’s small main dining area, which also serves as their indoor waiting area.
We probably waited no more than 30 minutes, and finally our table was ready. We were led through the busy and cramped main room, past several smaller quirky side rooms, until we finally reached the back of the restaurant. This back room seemed to be a little less packed and featured four bigger tables for larger groups. As we sat, the first thing we noticed was the music. Unfortunately the background music was anything but, being played at such a volume as to make conversation a shouting match. The vividly red, yellow and green painted walls were decorated with the odd photograph and piece of memorabilia.
The drinks menu was pleasingly cheap. I went for a very drinkable Malbec ($5.00), our guest a glass of Iced Tea ($1.99) and Wendi the Pipino Margerita ($6.25). A cucumber-flavoured margarita was an instant hit, but Wendi said next time she would order it with salt.
Overwhelmed by choice, but knowing she wanted a combination plate, our guest was steered towards the Poblano Plate ($11.75) by our very accommodating waitress:
The plate was comprised of one sour cream chicken enchilada, a beef tacquito with sour cream and a beef tostada with side of guacamole. Three staple items, each of which impressed our guest.
Both myself and Wendi had seen Red Iguana on TV only a week prior, courtesy of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive In’s and Dives” show. Consequentially, we both had a good idea of what we wanted to taste on our first visits. Wendi wanted to see how Red Iguana’s mole fared and chose the Mole Verde ($14.95):
The menu described this light green sauce as “Fresh Poblano, Chile Guero, Jalapeno blended with Pepitas, Sesame Seeds, Basil, Onions, Zucchini and Avocados”. Chicken was Wendi’s choice of protein. A fairly standard side of rice and beans also accompanied the plate.
The mole was surprisingly rich and much more delicate than I would have thought, none of the flavours were overpowering. I recall mentioning the taste as “almost flowery”. Wendi enjoyed the mole, but as her tastes run to the spicy when it comes to Mexican food, she is going to try something different next time. The peppers in this particular blend definitely took a back seat to the rich nuts and avocado.
The menu offers seven distinct moles, from the lighter through to heavier Mexican chocolate flavoured varieties. I would love to try them all, which makes the lack of a mole sampler plate a bit disappointing. I guess it would be possible to make your own tasting menu, as the menu does offer separate 3oz portions of mole at $2.25. I’d bet you would get a few curious glances from the staff when you ordered all seven though.
Going back to the TV show we watched, If I recall correctly we watched the present proprietor (Lucy Cardenas) make the delicious looking Tacos Don Ramon ($9.00). Three tacos of top sirlon tips and house made chorizo looked heavenly to me. The show demonstrated how the taco’s were slightly basted with the Chorizo “juice” before frying on the hot plate, for a delicious crunch. Spice, sausage, grease, tacos, I had to try them:
and on the inside:
Probably the best taco I have had in as long as I can remember, probably even tastier than they looked on TV. The home made chorizo had an enjoyable spicy bite that never threatened to become overpowering. The meat was juicy and oh-so greasy, in the good way. Every bite of the fresh and light side of Pico de Gallo was needed to balance the grease.
All three of us largely agreed it was the best Mexican meal we had eaten in some time. Not exactly light years beyond competitors, but considerably ahead of them I would say.
So the big question, would I wait for 45 minutes for dinner at Red Iguana? For me personally, no, but I should expand on that. The food was great, there is no doubt about that, but not so out of this world impressive that I would turn up and queue for a long period. I also can’t comment on what wait times are like mid-week, hopefully someone will clue me in? (Wen’s note – I have been craving Red Iguana like crazy since we went, and would definitely endure the wait again in a heartbeat. There are plenty of benches out front to make the wait more comfortable, and I’m dying to try the fish tacos.)
That said, I can’t think of any restaurant where I would wait for nearly an hour to be seated. If Red Iguana implemented a reservation system, I’m sure I would be there often. I also think we will be grabbing the odd take-out order as well in the future. Wendi has already mentioned on more than one occasion, her hankering for another bite of their delicious chorizo filled tacos.
Now here’s a thought for the owners, constant queues out of the door? Maybe it’s time to open a new location. May I suggest Sugarhouse?
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Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you! I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune. I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.
I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand. I ate all the pies.