"If you're going to be in this parking lot," my husband said as we drove away from La Frontera, "you should be going to Pounders."
He was referring to the Polynesian restaurant, reviewed by me last year, that's part of a retail mix that includes a trio of restaurants at this smallish Fort Union shopping area.
And he's right. Pounders has a welcoming vibe, good service and super-tasty, reasonably priced food.
La Frontera ... well, I won't say it's bad, but it's not exactly good, either. It's pretty telling that the best thing on our table was French fries.
We started with crispy spice-dusted chips and a squirt bottle of fine-textured picante sauce that reminded me of fiery ketchup. The two daughters with us ordered burritos filled with plain refried beans and cheese and unadorned on top, with more of the same beans and cheese on the side.
Our son, not the family's most adventurous eater, insisted on the cheeseburger and fries, and we were glad once we saw the long, hand-cut and crisp-fried beauties La Frontera served up, sprinkled with the same salty spice mix as the chips. The cheeseburger was decent as well, a thick patty simply presented with cheese on a bun — very kid-friendly.
My husband had the two-chimichanga meal with rice and beans, and we were surprised upon trying them to find that they were not crisp, just tortillas folded over chicken in a rounded chimichanga shape. Puzzling.
The chimis were smothered in mild orange sauce, as were my chile verde enchiladas. These were tortillas scantily filled with chile verde that was tender and tasty but hard to find in the mélange of tortilla, enchilada sauce and scads of melted cheese. There's something amiss when an assertively flavored dish, like chile verde should be, tastes mainly of cheese.
La Frontera demonstrates exactly why I'm sometimes reluctant to try new Mexican restaurants. It's not so much that I fear the food will be nasty, as that I get tired of the experience, possibly even more dispiriting than out-and-out bad food, of a restaurant that doesn't seem to be trying very hard.
Here in Utah, we don't have the variety of good Mexican or Tex-Mex places that you find in, say, Texas or New Mexico. But we do know what good south-of-the-border food tastes like. It tastes like Red Iguana. Frida Bistro. Café Rio. Heck, even Taco Time experiments with new and authentic flavors, and I am a longtime fan of their verde sauce.
Good Mex is never bland. If I want a burrito that tastes canned, I'll buy a frozen one for a tenth of the price and eat it at home, snuggled in a blanket, while I watch "NCIS."
Appetizers $2-$8.75, breakfast $3.75-$7, entrées and combinations $6.75-$14, a la carte and sides 75 cents-$5.25, kids' meals $4-$5.50.
Where: 764 E. Fort Union Blvd. (seven other locations in northern Utah)
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Wheelchair access: Easy
Also: One guest check per table; $2 charge for refill chips; daily specials served 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Stacey Kratz is a freelance writer who reviews restaurants for the Deseret News.
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