Utahns have always had a taste for Mexican food. Along with Chinese and Italian, it's been Utah foreign favorite.
Until now.Scratch the word "foreign."
With a population of 83,000 Hispanics, Utah can now start looking at Mexican food as just another form of "old fashioned home cooking."
And some of the best "old fashioned Hispanic cooks" are coming to the fore now, preparing meals just the way Mama made then.
Tony Trujillo, for instance, moved in when the New Orleans Cafe moved out and brought with him years of experience. He was Utah's "Chef of the Year" a couple of years ago when he worked for La Morena. Now he has his own place - Chef Trujillo's - and the chile verde's never been less chilly.
La Frontera, another authentic eatery, now has almost a half-dozen outlets. And several other high-minded Mexican restaurateurs are planning to corner a share of the "native Hispanic" market here.
But, truth be told, the hot spot for hot food that diners are talking about is the new Guadalajara Grill downtown across the the ExpoMart. The understated Yellow Pages ad bills the place as the home of "original and authentic Mexican food," but it's much more.
It's a stylish restaurant, cantina, dance and social hall. Probably 80 percent of the clientele is Hispanic, but the managers stress that everyone's welcome. The attire ranges from casual to some of the most stunning and flashy pieces of apparel in the valley.
"Basically, Javier Armenta - the owner - and I decided that Latin American atmosphere is very festive, and we wanted to provide that festive atmosphere for Salt Lake City," says Mike Blosser, the Grill's general manager. "We tried to make it seem as if each nationality - the Peruvians, the Mexicans, the Cubans - would somehow feel we were catering to them. But we get - and welcome - all races."
The success of the Grill has been remarkable. Out-of-state Hispanic bands play every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. A recent show and dance featuring a band from Mexico City created such an authentic Latin feel that people felt they were at the Copacabana.
Says Blosser, "The only thing permanent about the Guadalajara Grill will be change. We hope to offer something original every week.
Naming all the small businesses and diners that are now trying to court Hispanics would be difficult. Attitudes and tastes seem to be changing daily. A small restaurant owner that kept his or her food from getting too spicey one day, will decide the next day that, what the hey, let's dump some "picante" in the stew - like back home.
"Mexican restaurant owners used to cater to the tastes of Anglo Americans, but I think more and more they're trying to please Hispanic tastes," says Maria Ortiz, director of the Governor's Hispanic Council. "They seem to be more aware of what they are really able to do: cook authentic Mexican food." If you don't believe it, drop by some weekend morning at Piedras Negras on State Street. It's a small, genuine Mexican diner that - word has it - specializes in "menudo."
And if you don't know what menudo is, it's a Mexican delicacy, a meal that many true Mexicans miss when they come north to Utah.
Menudo is tripe - the internal organs of animals.