Red Iguana (Salt Lake City, Utah)

I’ve always enjoyed my trips to the Salt Lake City area. The scenery is generally quite impressive, the area has a lot of interesting destinations (including Park City and Wasatch Brewery, of whom I’ve long been a fan), and the area includes several very good restaurants (such as Bambera). Included in this list, however, is one place that definitely counts as “offbeat eats”, and that’s the Red Iguana.

Located on West North Temple in a slightly-less-than-desirable neighborhood next to a now-defunct motel, Red Iguana is definitely a “joint”. However, the place is almost always packed and most of the time there is a line out the door of people waiting for tables.

Why? The answer is simply some of SLC’s best Mexican food. And not just your standard burrito, taco, and enchilda fare (although they have those as well). The real feature here is, well, the sauce. Both the actual salsa that they serve with the chips, and, more important, the array of Mole sauces they have.

There are few things I enjoy, food-wise, as much as a well-done mole sauce. Alas, at at typical place the mole sauce is often a slightly spiced chocolate-based mole that, while often pleasurable, is nothing earth-shaking. Indeed, I’m pretty sure you can now get generic mole sauce from the Sysco truck (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that). However, Red Iguana takes it to the next level (and then some). They make their own mole. Actually, the have seven of them on the menu, all assembled from a dauntingly complex list of ingredients. Ranging from the hot and sweet (such as the mole amarillo) to bold (mole negro) to classic (mole poblano), they cover the entire range of moles.

This trip I opted for both the mole amarillo (raisins, yellow tomatoes, yellow zucchini, guajillos and dried seasonal yellow chile peppers) over shredded chicken, as well as the mole coloradito (your classic “red brick” mole with pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, dried guajillos, poblanos, and chocolate) over pork. (Yes, I went there twice in the same day, with a heavy workout in between!) Both of these were extremely good moles, and while I liked the mole amarillo slightly better, I preferred the actual coloradito dish a bit better, since I was more impressed by the pork than the chicken.

For both of these dishes, the resulting mole was sublime, with a complexity in each mole (spice, heat, sweetness, and savory notes) that you can taste in every single bite.

To be fair, the times I’ve had “standard” Mexican fare at Red Iguana (tacos, enchiladas, and the standard combo plates, I’ve been satisfied but not wowed, but the moles and chilaquiles are where the action really is here.

Over the last few decades, good Mexican cuisine continues to be more and more common in the US, and it’s less often I find myself giving a “must try” recommendation to a place, but for anyone that finds themselves in Salt Lake City, Red Iguana should be on the short list if you are looking for an informal dinner. And it’s right by the airport.

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