1890 Bonanza Drive, Park City ; 435-645-9114
This Mexican restaurant, in the resort town of Park City, offers seriously good food that's affordable to boot.
Hours: M-S, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Su, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Reservations: Not accepted/necessary
Recommended Dishes: Chiles rellenos, fish tacos, salsa bar, horchata.
May 13, 2009
A true Mexican hot spot, without Park City prices
By Lesli J. Neilson
PARK CITY » I have complained in these pages many times about the steep prices at several Park City restaurants for less-than-mediocre food. It's as if some restaurateurs are in a sort of "resort bubble" and feel justified to charge outrageous amounts for food that is often not worth the price.
There's even a "club" for some of these restaurants: "The Independent Republic of Park City." Though it's actually another name for the Park City Restaurant Association, a name like that pretty much aims to justify that "resort bubble" moniker.
What if I told you that cheap -- and delicious -- eats can be found in Summit County? Locals and visitors-in-the-know know where to go: They head straight for El Chubasco Mexican Grill.
Though the 12-year-old restaurant has changed hands three times, current owners Craig Weaver and Jill Dunlap and their staff are doing a great job keeping up with the throngs of diners eager for good, affordable Mexican, as nothing on the menu is over $8.95.
Located in Prospector Square away from the main drag, the casual restaurant is in a strip mall. The décor is simple, yet adequate, done in hues of maize with a cobalt blue-tiled bar that holds a dozen freshly made salsas at the restaurant's center while Mexican beer signs and flags add flashes of color.
Newcomers will quickly pick up the ordering protocol. First, peruse the menu of combo plates, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, specialties, salads and sides on the wall behind the register. Next, stand in line, order and pay. Then, receive a number, cups, beers and tortilla chips and go find a table. (Non-alcoholic beverages are self-serve and utensils are at the salsa bar.)
Efficient and friendly servers quickly deliver food, so don't dilly-dally at the salsa bar -- though it's tempting. There you'll find a dozen salsa offerings along with limes, radishes, and house-pickled jalapenos, serranos and onions. (See box below.) My favorite salsas are the mild and smoky chipotle crema (and apparently the "gringo" clientele's favorite) and fiery and sweet Manzana mango.
That creamy chipotle, along with a squirt of lime and a radish slice or two, are perfect accompaniments to the exquisite fish tacos (two for $5.45). Chunks of cod are lightly battered and fried to crunchy perfection, with the lot tucked in a double layer of corn tortillas.
Equally as good are the chile rellenos ($3.65 each, $7.25 for two). I'm wild about gooey, melted cheese and El Chubasco uses two cheeses, mozzarella and ranchero, in their rellenos. Once the poblanos are filled with cheese, they receive a dip in a light egg batter, are fried and then slicked with vibrant red ranchero sauce.
The kitchen also excels at carnitas (combo with rice, beans and tortillas, $7.45). The long-cooked and shredded pork butt is moist and not oily like other versions I've eaten. That incendiary Manzana mango salsa is a great match with the pork, and sips of soothing, cinnamon and Mexican vanilla-spiked horchata ($1.85) cut the heat.
Not every dish on the menu was flawless. Crimson-colored hominy and pork stew (pozole, $5.95) had great flavor but arrived barely tepid. The steak in a fajitas combo ($8.45) was overcooked, as was an order of flan ($2.65), which tasted grainy.
But these minor quibbles don't detract from all the other positives about El Chubasco. It's refreshing to see a Park City establishment outside the "resort bubble" making great food at affordable prices.
Salsas offered at El Chubasco
Pico de gallo » Traditional salsa made with jalapenos. (medium heat)
Chipotle crema » Sour cream-based with chipotles (smoke-dried jalapenos). Goes well with fish tacos. (mild to medium)
Salsa di arbol » (medium)
Manzana mango salsa » Goes well with pork dishes. (hot)
Salsa serrano » Goes well with red meats. (hot)
Salsa arbole aciete » Chile oil that goes well with soups. (medium)
Salsa habanero » (hot)
Salsa morita » Smoky, barbecuelike flavor. Goes well with pork or red meat. (hot)
Salsa mexicana » Best for novices. (mild)
Tomatillo tomate e arbol » Sour cream-based with arbol chiles and tomatillos. (medium)
Jalapeno rojo » Red Fresno-based salsa. Goes well with chicken. (medium)
Salsa verde » Best for novices (mild)
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.
May 13, 2005
By Nancy Hobbs
PARK CITY -- As a resort town, this community can be divided largely into two camps: those who pay to be served, and those who serve in order to be paid. Their social spheres seldom overlap, with the notable exception of El Chubasco Mexican Grill, where construction workers, teachers and housekeepers find themselves shoulder-to-shoulder at the salsa bar with multimillionaires and Hollywood celebrities.
The casual dining spot is the melting pot of Summit County, a fact that delights one of the business venture's earliest skeptics -- its current owner.
When El Chubasco's doors opened for business almost eight years ago, Andy Woodard told the proprietor, his brother, it was a "stupid" idea.
"Four months later," Woodard said with a laugh, "I ended up taking it over."
He maintains the original concept, described as "authentic Mexican," with no Southwest or Tex-Mex compromises, and uses the talents of local Mexican chefs to ensure quality and consistency.
The casual restaurant is set in the center of a strip mall in Prospector Square, with orders placed at the counter and the piping hot meals delivered quickly to diners' tables.
Each order comes with a side of tortilla chips, which sends people hustling to the centerpiece salsa station -- the point where El Chubasco regulars can be most easily picked from the novices.
First-timers (myself included on the first of two recent visits) tend to look over everything and pick or choose a few based on the brief descriptions -- "very mild," "spicy hot," "extremely hot" -- then return a couple of times for more samples, perhaps even daring to amp it up a notch.
Regulars seem to know exactly which of the dozen salsas they want and don't dally. Often it is the sultry, sour cream-based chipotle salsa. If not that, it's likely the sweet-and-hot mango salsa, given its zing with fiery manzano peppers. Those two are easily El Chubasco's most popular salsas, Woodard says.
"If people show up and we don't have [the mango salsa], there's hell to pay." He's actually had people leave before ordering on the rare occasion the chipotle salsa wasn't available.
But creating those salsas -- each showcasing a particular pepper or two -- is contingent on Woodard's ability to secure the vegetables. In the case of the pricey manzano (also known as peron), that can be difficult.
As intriguing as the salsas are alone, they shine most when paired with a strong foundation: a bulging carne asada burrito, for example, or an order of tender fish tacos.
All of the more common items we tried, including burritos, tacos and enchiladas, are consistently delicious at El Chubasco. But so, too, are traditional Mexican specialties that are less common in the states. The pozole, a hearty soup of hominy, onions, chunks of pork and a generous garnish of shredded cabbage, is delicious, as is the albondigas (meatball) soup, made with a spicy broth, chopped vegetables and generous, flavorful meatballs. We ordered "small" bowls of each, thinking they would be nice precursors to our entrees. I'm guessing the "large" would feed a small army. Still, we managed to eat most of the soup and our dinners, though we were sated for the day.
The chile relleno, made with a tender poblano chile, also tastes fresh with its light tomato-based sauce, and the mole poblano, served over the best part of a chicken -- the leg and thigh -- was rich and delicious.
El Chubasco has the usual soda fountain as well as some Mexican beers and bottled Mexican juices. But best of all is the homemade horchata, a chilled milk and rice drink sweetened with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. It is the perfect antidote, Woodard says, to a mouthful of too-hot chile.
The food at El Chubasco would be delicious no matter the price, but its affordability helps make it an unpretentious, friendly gathering place. Nothing on the menu is over $6.25, which is about as un-P.C. as one can find in Park City.