Dining out: Gual Berto's

Published: Friday, Aug. 19 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

A reader recently alerted me to the presence of Gual Berto's in the extreme south of the Salt Lake Valley.

The location has seen a few eateries come and go, he wrote, and it would be nice if this particular restaurant found staying power in Draper.

After a recent weeknight visit, I'm inclined to agree. Despite its fast-food looks, Gual Berto's takes time with the things that matter in Mexican food: fresh, bright-green guacamole; pico de gallo with onions that taste like they'd been cut about a minute before; chewy, fresh-browned, placemat-sized tortillas carefully wrapped to retain their warmth.

Gual Berto's has been hastily remade from a bakery, with a big, open eating space full of wooden tables, decorated with blankets, wreaths and sombreros. There's a tall, iced jug of water on the counter for anyone who wants some. Plus, at least half of the customers on the night we visited spoke Spanish. In other words, it's pretty authentic.

The menu is huge and lacks description, so I didn't know, for example, the contents of a "California" burrito. Sounds interesting, though. I initially ordered the chili verde special but, when it was unavailable, decided on the carnitas.

I got a huge, tender, browned mound of diced pork surrounded by fixings: pico de gallo, guacamole, refried beans, Mexican rice, lettuce and tomato, as well as two enormous tortillas. It makes a fine, filling meal. My one quibble is that the refried beans and rice, being rather standard, don't seem quite up to the quality of everything else. They're not bad; just average.

I also ordered a tamale on the side and got a firm, slightly crumbly and meat-filled one ladled with red sauce. It was good, but because of the enormousness of my carnitas portion I had to let my husband finish it.

He was more than happy to do so, despite enjoying his "big plate," another special at Gual Berto's. It features a bean tostada in the middle of a plate, topped with and surrounded by two rolled tacos (you might know them as taquitos) and a beef taco. Everything was good, and I was charmed by the extra effort required to make the beef taco: it's a soft-flour tortilla filled with tender shredded beef and deep-fried to make it crispy.

My brother got his usual Mexican staple, the super nachos. The version at Gual Berto's is long on rich, varied ingredients and short on cheap filler like the processed-cheese sauce that usually passes for nachos. Everything was carefully made, from the shredded beef and tender seasoned chicken on top to the cheese melted over all, the sauteed green and red bell peppers and more of that fresh, garlicky guacamole. The plate also featured tomatoes, refried beans and sour cream, so every bite offered a new taste.

For dessert, I tried the flan, though I must admit I'm not a huge fan of this classic Mexican dish. I'll just say that, if you're a flan fan, you'll probably find nothing to complain about at Gual Berto's. I had much more fun with my horchata, the rice-and-cinnamon drink that's one of three traditional Mexican beverages available. It's frothy, milky and spicy, and is surprisingly refreshing.

As I said, I hope Gual Berto's lasts. I've seen some of my old favorites close their doors, and I've heard from many readers about places they miss. I'm planning a future column on these onetime culinary treasures, so if you miss Boston Market or hanker for Ding Ho, drop me an e-mail. I'm especially interested in whether fans of bygone restaurants have found good substitutes elsewhere.

Breakfast $3.10-$4.99, combos $5.49-$6.25, other specialties $1.99-$5.65, sides 99 cents-$5.49, Mexican juices $1.35-$1.75.


Gual Berto's

Rating: ***

Where: 478 E. 12300 South, Draper

Hours: Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Payment: Checks, credit cards accepted

Phone: 576-4296


Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret Morning News. E-mail: skratz@desnews.com

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