Dining out: Pistol Pete's Mexican Grill

Published: Friday, Oct. 13 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

All this time I've been reviewing places like Bajio, Barbacoa and Costa Vida — those fresh-made-giant-burrito-type places — not knowing that what could be the granddaddy of 'em all is just down the road from my Midvale home.

Pistol Pete's Mexican Grill has been around longer than most, if not all, of those other fast-Mexican places now thickly scattered across Utah. It sits in a neighborhood that must like its tacos, with fellow old-timers Lone Star Taqueria and La Cocina nearby. Each of them seems to have its own niche, with Pistol Pete's being the fast, inexpensive, good-quality and personable kind.

My friend, Brenda, and I visited Pistol Pete's on a recent weekend for dinner. This is a cavernous space made more intimate with soft lighting, dark colors and dividers that break up the dining room into smaller sections. Rather than taking a seat, patrons order at the counter first, and the food is delivered to the table by servers.

We started with the chips and salsa bar, an all-you-want offering that is a cut above that found at many other Mexican eateries. The chips are thin, warm, crisp and lightly salted and arrive with a bowl of "Pistol salsa," which is delicious: smoky, tomato-sweet and with a little kick going down. It reminded me of Chili's salsa, but with more texture. We also could make trips to the restaurant's salsa bar, which features the Pistol salsa plus various picantes from mild with a spicy finish to eye-watering hot, a tangy tomatillo salsa and fresh pico de gallo.

Brenda had her Mexican usual, the chicken chimichanga. Pete's chimi is large (but not intimidatingly so), crisp and filled with moist chicken, Jack and Cheddar cheeses, guacamole and sour cream. If you like chimis, this is a great version to try, at a good price.

Unlike my friend, I dithered for a while over the menu choices. I tend to get combination plates at Mexican restaurants, and Pistol Pete's offers three that are all intriguing. I also was interested in the restaurant's "tortas," Mexican sandwiches featuring chicken, breaded steak, shredded pork or shredded beef on a homemade bun with mayo, cheese, guacamole and the usual fixings.

I'll have to save that one for next time. Instead, I had the chili verde "burro," Pistol Pete's version of those overstuffed Mexican entrees so popular these days. Like its cousins at other restaurants, this one approached the size of a loaf of bread and was packed with absolutely lean, sweet shredded pork and topped with chili verde sauce. I liked it very much, but I have to admit, I find the size of these burrito-type things a little daunting. A couple of much smaller rolls would have let the very good verde sauce really shine. I saved more than half of mine to take home to my husband.

We enjoyed our meal and Pete's attentive service, but the crowning glory of the evening was the flan. I'm not a huge fan of flan, preferring such relatives as creme brulee and panna cotta, but I'll make an exception for the glorious creation that Pete's offers for only $2.87. A silky-smooth cake of amber custard covered in thin, milky-sweet caramel and topped with whipped cream and enough strawberries to both cut and highlight the sweetness, this was, hands down, the best flan I've ever tasted.

Appetizers and salads $2.98-$7.98, combination plates $6.78-$9.66, burros $7.98-$8.98, enchiladas and tacos $5.98-$7.98, fajitas and ribs $9.98-$14.98, tortas $5.98, kids' meals $1.98, desserts 97 cents-$2.87.

Pistol Pete's Mexican Grill

Rating: ***

Where: 2477 E. Fort Union Blvd., Cottonwood Heights

Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sunday

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Phone: 944-1833

Wheelchair access: Easy


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