Pistol Pete's Mexican Grill
2477 E. Fort Union Blvd, Cottonwood Heights ; 801-944-1833
Casual restaurant with above-average Mexican cuisine at seriously reasonable prices.
Cuisine: Mexican, American
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Recommended Dishes: Chile verde "burro," fish tacos and hot and salty tortilla chips.
September 10, 2008
Pistol Pete's hits the target
By Lesli J. Neilson
Cottonwood Heights » Finding Pistol Pete's Mexican Grill was tricky. Just when I thought I'd gone too far east on Fort Union Boulevard, I spotted the restaurant, tucked back from the busy road.
The canvas umbrellas on the patio beckoned, but upon entering, I was surprised to see this was an order-at-the-counter place. The immense space is done in dark wood with big signs that say "burros," "tacos" and "margaritas." These "decorations" and a torn banquette seat that had been duct-taped made the place feel a tad worn down.
But my favorite Mexican restaurant has a similar set-up, so I was willing to set aside the décor -- especially if the food was good.
Much has changed since The Tribune last visited in 2003. "Bistro" became "grill" in the restaurant's name. Families and casual diners have replaced sports enthusiasts with the removal of two of three televisions. And a limited liquor license now allows for margaritas and beer with a meal.
The menu covers the basics -- enchiladas, burritos, chiles rellenos and tacos -- which top out at $11.98. Kids can choose a quesadilla, bean-and-cheese burrito or ground-beef taco with dessert for $1.98. Baby back ribs ($16.98) and "Judy's" hamburgers ($3.55-$4.95) round out the otherwise Mexican menu.
If you start your meal with chips and salsa, take note that Pete's aren't gratis. An order of chips costs $2.98, and they arrive hot and salty but with salsa that tastes of canned tomato sauce. The other three salsas, tomatillo, hot red chile "puia" and pico de gallo at the salsa bar, are much better.
As for entrees, the chile verde burro ($8.98) is a behemoth soft-flour burrito filled with delicious kicky chile verde. The accompanying black beans are well seasoned, and the light green-hued rice is accented with green chiles and cilantro rather than the ubiquitous red rice.
I wish the kitchen would give the same care to its cadillac and mango margaritas ($6.30). They came in kitschy cactus-shaped goblets that were leaded.
Enchiladas ($8.68-8.98) come with myriad stuffing options -- cheese, chicken, pork or beef (ground, steak or shredded). Choose either Nogales style (rolled) or Arizona style (layered). The three rolled shredded beef enchiladas, coated in a tomato-based Nogales sauce, were just OK compared to the fish tacos.
Pieces of battered and deep-fried tilapia (or shrimp, $7.98) are nestled in two double-wrapped warm corn tortillas. I found myself scooping up every last bite of the chunky, creamy salsa-y sauce that is heaped atop the fish.
For the undecided, there are three combination platters ($7.78-$10.68). My dining companion and I shared the No. 1 with two Nogales tacos, one chile relleno and one chicken tamale with rice and black beans.
The relleno, though well prepared, is made with a jalapeño. Talk about incendiary.
The tender baby backs come with a side of sauce, a plain green salad with great-tasting jalapeño-ranch dressing, a flour tortilla and a baked potato half. The dry ribs and potato were lukewarm, the sad products of reheating.
I am glad I kept searching for Pistol Pete's. I can't rave about the atmosphere, but the above-average fare -- and my fish taco cravings -- means I will return.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.
April 4, 2003
By Nancy Hobbs
When it comes to Mexican food, Pistol Pete's is a rebel, unwilling to cook like all the others. The differences may be what makes this outlaw a survivor, although first impressions could create confusion. Tucked off Fort Union Boulevard, Pistol Pete's Mexican Bistro looks like an ordinary restaurant.
The "bistro" implies it is similar to a pub -- an impression easily reinforced by a marquee that advertises three TVs for sports enthusiasts.
None of this is quite true. Diners quickly discover the restaurant is more fast-food than sit-and-be-served, though it's a little of each. A microphone-adorned cashier takes orders at the counter, repeats them to the kitchen staff behind her and collects the money. After you choose a booth along the windows (or a table for better television viewing), an employee delivers drinks (nothing stronger than Jarritos soda pop), returning soon afterward with your food.
Other than being a little unexpected, given the restaurant's outward appearance and moniker, there is nothing wrong with the system. It is quick and efficient, and once owner Wally Peterson explains that he and business partner Phil Arlt used to own dozens of Wendy's restaurants throughout Utah, it makes sense. The partners sold most of their franchises back to the corporation, but still own three in St. George.
Of course, food is the real draw or flaw of a restaurant, and Pistol Pete's unique variations are welcome fare. Pete's Favorite, also known as "The Pistol," is a thin patty of ground chuck deep-fried between two corn tortillas, garnished in the center, as usual, with lettuce, cheese and tomato. Other taco varieties, including steak, chicken and fish, are offered on soft or deep-fried corn or flour tortillas, "however the customer wants it," Peterson said.
Enchiladas are served "Arizona-style," or the way Peterson ate them growing up in the Grand Canyon State: with flat, soft tortillas, rather than rolled.
If you order "chips" for $3, what you get is five flat corn tortillas, deep-fried and sprinkled with a not-too-hot chile powder, along with a side of pico de gallo, full of fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions and cilantro, and a side of "mesa" beans. The beans, which also come as a side dish with full meals, are tender black beans, slightly mashed and well seasoned with garlic and onion.
The beans are especially good mixed with Pistol Pete's green chile rice, which is how they are served in many of the "burros," or extra-large burritos, also filled with steak or chicken, lettuce and cheese. Choose from any or all of the restaurant's four salsas, in varying heats, to season your meal.
Whatever you order, quantities are generous, especially for the price. To facilitate carting home leftovers, Peterson said, everything is served in takeout packaging. It is a sign of success and good value, he feels, for customers to be seen leaving with cartons.
With prices starting at $3 for a taco (which includes tax; $6 for a meal with rice and beans), Pistol Pete's is definitely reasonable. The most expensive thing on the menu is the shrimp taco meal for $9, which is served with battered and deep-fried butterflied shrimp, cut up and served in a double soft-shell tortilla and garnished with cabbage, cheese and a creamy salsa-based sauce. If you like seafood tacos, the fish taco made with cod fillets is the better choice at about half the price.
Pistol Pete's Mexican Bistro is casual and inexpensive, with fast-food service of tacos, burritos and enchiladas that are out of the ordinary.