El Chihuahua Mexican Restaurant is not named after the tiny, perky Mexican dogs so beloved by commercial makers and Hollywood debutantes.
Instead, it's named for the Mexican state of Chihuahua, homeland of this superior Holladay eatery's owners, the Quinonez family. Happily for diners, that means that, instead of some kind of Mexican-themed gimmickry, diners get tasty food with some unique flourishes that is a cut above your typical local Mexican fare.
We had dinner at El Chihuahua with some friends who live nearby. They'd heard from other friends and neighbors who enjoyed the place, so we all figured it was worth a try.
Our booth was a little cozy for four people, but the dining space overall is comfortable and unpretentious, with a bar at one end equipped with lots of flat-screen TVs for those who like to consume sports with their enchiladas.
We started with chips, salsa and a bowl of some of the most interesting queso I've ever had. The creamy cheese sauce was full of tomatoes and big chunks of chile verde, and it had a significant kick to it — so much so that my husband didn't eat more than a bite or two scooped onto the accompanying crispy chips. I basically had it all to myself, and I had to be pretty self-disciplined to avoid eating too much and spoiling my appetite for the rest of the meal.
The men, predictably, both had chicken chimichangas, a nicely done version of the classic with a crisp tortilla shell enclosing gently seasoned, juicy chicken, with plenty of savory toppings. With it they had typical, but tasty, Mexican rice and beans.
As for the ladies, we went with the veggie fajitas and, in my case, a two-tamale dinner. The fajitas, a pretty mixture of bell peppers, onions, tomatoes and potatoes, were surprisingly seasoned with a light, almost lemony flavor that played well with their grilled-brown tenderness. They were accompanied by the traditional fajita fixings.
My tamales were great, juicy pork surrounded by tender masa dough that had a nice just-sweet flavor of its own, topped with red sauce and cheese. They, too, had a kick that I enjoyed very much.
With them, rather than beans and rice, I had El Chihuahua's alternate side dish, called "zucchini with cheese" on the menu. But that doesn't do it justice by a long shot. The fresh zucchinis were sliced and served in a milky broth of melted Mexican cheese with diced tomatoes and onions. I thought they were fabulous.
For dessert, my husband had the fried ice cream, vanilla with a crisp, sweet coating of cornflakes and honey, while I had the flan. I kind of go back and forth on flan, sometimes enjoying it and sometimes finding it too cloying, but the flan at El Chihuahua is a great balance of sweetness, cool and creamy custard and silken texture.
Soup and salad, $3-$11; platters and combinations, $10.50-$16; single items and sides, $1.50-$10; kids' meals, $5.50; desserts, $5.
El Chihuahua Mexican Restaurant
Address: 3926 S. Highland Dr., Holladay
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday noon-10 p.m.; Sunday 3-8 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Access: Easy, but crowded
Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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