Review: Red Iguana Restaurant, Salt Lake City
I found myself in Salt Lake over the weekend, so I asked some of my friends that know the area well where they’d recommend eating. Red Iguana was mentioned by all of them, so I grabbed my camera, my notes binder, my appetite, and headed in.
There’s no mistaking Red Iguana from the street. It is vibrantly red and yellow, and says “killer Mexican food” right on the building. Lines of people were waiting outside, and the place was packed inside. The locals love their Iguana it seems, and for good reason.
Upon entering, we were greeted promptly and taken to our seats. The staff was very friendly and handled the herds of people very well. Our server, Junior, was great, and made some excellent suggestions on the extensive menu. When we told him we had never been there before, he offered to bring us a sampler plate of their 8 different mole sauces. Good man. The moles are what Red Iguana are known for, and I was excited to try them.
Red Iguana’s Mole
The menu said that these moles are Iguana’s interpretation of the traditional Mexican sauce. They were definitely different than any mole I’ve had before. Some were really good, and others were not. Only two were made with chocolate, but all were made with the traditional chilies, seeds, and fruits. Clockwise from 1:00, we have:
This mole was exceptional! Amarillo means yellow. It was made with golden raisins, yellow tomatoes, yellow zucchini, chili guadillo, and dried seasonal yellow chilies. Those seasonal chilies turned out to be habaneros, which made this mole scorching hot. It was far to hot to enjoy, and they really need to leave them out of the dish. But the rest of the flavor combination was so exceptional that I couldn’t stop eating it. It had a great subtle squash savoryness from the zucchini. But the secret was really the golden raisins. They just elevated the whole dish to a realm of tasty perfection that I couldn’t stop enjoying, even though I was sweating from the chili burn.
This mole had a strong cumin flavor. I love cumin, but it only just worked in this mole. The mole was very thick and had a mealy texture from all the ground pine nuts, almonds, and peanuts. But it was good and would be great on the right thing, which I’m sure they know and serve appropriately.
This mole was made with dried and fresh Pablano peppers, ground nuts, and plantain bananas. It was very sweet from those bananas, but also had an odd bitterness, I’m guessing from the same bananas. Because of this, I just couldn’t like this mole. Pass.
This excited me when I saw it. It was a thick, creamy, salsa verde paste, or so it seemed. But upon tasting it, it was made with basil, and from what I could discern, dried basil. What an odd choice to put basil in Mexican food. I did not feel that it worked well at all, but my girlfriend liked it and ordered some enchiladas smothered in the stuff, and once mixed with everything else in that dish, the basil mole was fine and fairly tasty. But I would have rather seen this green mole made with cilantro and some tomatillos.
Mole Negro is often referred to as the king of mole. Not so at Red Iguana. It was very similar to the mole poblano, and had the same sweet bitterness from the bananas. Maybe they just had a bad batch of plantains today?
This was a good mole. It was lightly sweet, and had a strong pumpkin seed flavor. I love pumpkin seeds, and they used them right in this sauce. This would have been very nice served over chicken, which is how they offer this treat.
Good heavens! This was their special for the night, but they should really stick it on their standard menu. It was very sweet, and had a very pronounced mango flavor. It was being served over a pork loin for the night, which I’m sure was perfect. But it would also be great served over chicken, peppers, and pineapple. There’s a lot you could do with this delicious sauce Red Iguana, so I hope you add at least one offering with it on your permanent menu.
Red Iguana Serves Sour Cream Enchiladas
If you know anything about the Mormon food culture, you will know that they seem to be the kings of casseroles. And when it comes to making enchiladas, they almost always make them with shredded chicken mixed with sour cream, rolled up in flour tortillas, and covered with cream of chicken/mushroom soup. This is what was going through my mind when I saw the several different sour cream enchiladas on Red Iguana’s menu. That and the thought, “would I find these at any other Mexican restaurant outside of the Mormon Capitol of the world?”
But my girlfriend thought the sour cream Enchiladas Verde sounded good and ordered them. These, at least, we’re rolled in traditional corn tortillas. To my surprise, the enchiladas were actually quite good, and the basil mole that I thought was so gross on the sampler plate actually worked well with the sour cream chicken. I still think it would be better with cilantro though, but to each there own I guess.
Red Iguana’s Beans, Rice, and Salsa
This may seem stupid, but I put a lot of my Mexican restaurant scoring weight on how well the restaurant does with their beans, rice, and salsa. I figure that if they can’t get these basics right, there’s a good chance the rest of the food isn’t going to be any good either. Red Iguana is pushing it a little.
Their beans were pretty lame. Not much flavor, bad texture, and an all around disappointment. Their rice wasn’t much better, but at least it was fluffy and orange colored. But their salsa was very nice. It was made with canned tomatoes rather than fresh (at least from what I could tell), garlic, fresh chilies, onion, cilantro, and some undefinable delicious spices. It was very spicy but very good.
Salt Lake City has Decent Mexican Food
Red Iguana has been voted Salt Lake’s best Mexican for several years running, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not nearly what Mexican food is in higher density Hispanic population areas, but it will meet most of your Mexican food cravings, and introduce you to some new dishes you may not get elsewhere. Give it a try on your next visit to Salt Lake. You’ll probably be pleased you did.
The Bald Gourmet has some decent Mexican food while dining in Salt Lake City, and discovers a new mole creation.