342 W. 1300 South, Salt Lake City ; 801-484-5737
Glass-walled, individual dining rooms add to the kitsch of this so-called seafood restaurant. Stick to standard Mexican dishes.
Hours: M-Th, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Corkage: $ 0
Recommended Dishes: Enchiladas, chicken quesadilla, flan.
December 1, 2010
A roundup of Mexican flavors
By Lesli J. Neilson
I recently ate at three Salt Lake Valley Mexican restaurants, which hadnít been visited by The Tribune for more than five years. While I didnít find the overall dining experience out of this world at any of these places, I did discover some excellent menu items along the way.
Since 1995, La Morena Cafť has been housed in a nondescript building in the Fair Park neighborhood near North Temple and 1400 West. The signage is so simple itís easy to pass it by.
I think owners Maria and Manuel Ramirez must have the right idea, as the restaurant has some peculiar hours: Itís open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. I imagine this allows the family to have a life outside of the restaurant business.
The white-walled restaurant is decorated with colorful Mexican blankets and pictures of local Latino dignitaries, and the Ramirezes keep the 27-seat place virtually spotless. The two-page menu offers the greatest-hits of Mexican cuisine: tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, chimichangas, tamales and flautas.
Rice and decent-tasting refried beans accompany nearly every dish, including a big carne asada burrito with rather tough, diced steak, lettuce, avocado and pico de gallo ($9.10), whose flavors never really seemed to come together. Iíve tasted lighter, fluffier masa that holds proteins such as pork, beef or chicken in the tamales (one for $7.45; two for $10.10).
But the real gems on the menu are the chile verde (side for $3.25; bowl for $6.25; and topped on just about any dish) and cheese-stuffed chiles rellenos, which, though fried, are light (one for $8.20; two for $11.50). Tender bits of pork mingle with onions, spices and habanero chiles, which give the chile verde its heat.
Iíve thought about that sauce more than once since my visit to La Morena. I might consider picking some up for dinner, and then heading to Hectorís Miramar to purchase some absolutely delicious flan.
Some people have a love-it or hate-it opinion about the dessert, which used to be a textural challenge for me, but not anymore. When itís done poorly, it can be rubbery and tasteless. But when itís done well, itís a tender, caramel-coated wedge that easily gives to the slice of a fork and can be devoured in minutes. Such was the case at Hectorís Miramar.
Situated just west of Nightmare on 13th, this restaurant was once a car lot. Glassed-in sales offices now serve as individual dining rooms ó perfect for families with young diners. The giant posters of commercial beer bottles on some walls arenít, however. Letís just say dťcor is not this restaurantís forte.
Hectorís Miramar may be known for its seafood. But in several of the fish dishes I sampled, I found the cod to be watery, in the case of the ceviche, and tasteless, in the case of the fish tacos, as well as the shrimp and octopus in an appetizer cocktail. With all the fresh fish thatís available now in Utah, thereís no excuse for using frozen.
Instead, diners would do better to stick with dishes such as the enchiladas and chicken quesadilla, which come with great-tasting refried beans. Beans and rice accompany nearly every dish.
At Sandyís Mi Ranchito Grill, youíre better off steering clear of Mexican standards such as the chiles rellenos, quesadilla and enchiladas. Instead, turn to dishes such as costillas de puerco (pork ribs), calabacitas a la Mexicana (squash Mexican-style), nopales a la Mexicana (diced paddle cactus) and soups such as caldo de res (meatball soup).
All of these dishes were offered at a Saturday buffet ($11.99 for adults, $3.99 for children). Thereís only one problem, which is a big one: The restaurant has stopped offering the weekend buffet. Mi Ranchito Grill is the only local Mexican restaurant Iíve ever heard of offering a buffet ó complete with made-on-the-spot, steaming tortillas. Perhaps the restaurant could pare down its buffet offerings to not take such a loss or offer the buffet at one of its other locations in American Fork, Salt Lake City or Orem.
Itís a shame, really, because my tastes have gone beyond burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas. Instead, I crave more traditional home-style Mexican cooking or cocina casera. And Iím sure others do, too.
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 8, 2005
By Nancy Hobbs
We all have seen it happen: A restaurant works hard, gets popular and then, somehow, starts falling short. Is it complacency, and letting slide the attention to detail that made the restaurant successful? It might be new management that doesn't learn about the clientele, or old management that fails to recognize deteriorating physical surroundings and cleanliness, which influence customers' first impressions.
Though not all of these factors plagued Miramar in recent years, and other neighborhood issues had an impact, there is no denying that the reputation for superior Mexican food, music and ambiance took a nose dive.
So a recent e-mail from Gene Linder of Salt Lake City was intriguing. He suggested we revisit the restaurant and see if we didn't agree with him and his wife that it has been rejuvenated under new ownership. It turns out the "new" owner isn't all that new, but things appear to be on the upswing.
Hector Duenas, the chef at Miramar since it opened a dozen years ago, recently bought out the former owner and has been working hard to spruce up the place and pay closer attention to cleanliness and management.
But his love is cooking, he said, and he doesn't want to stop doing what he enjoys. Though the restaurant's appearance hasn't changed much since my last visit several years ago, there is a small, new logo on the door indicating that the official name is now Hector's Miramar Restaurant, with a cartoon image of Hector in his beach regalia.
Inside, you will still find the small, glassed-in rooms that were initially built and used as squeeze chambers for car salesmen back when the site was an auto sales lot. They still serve a purpose, allowing diners more privacy, but giving servers a view so they can swoop in as needed. The black naugahyde-upholstered booths and tablecloths, though dated, add to the diner's charm.
One thing that separates Miramar from some of the valley's other Mexican restaurants is its inclusion, as the name implies, of fish and seafood on the menu. The options are many, from shrimp and octopus cocktails or fresh oysters to seafood stew or a steak and shrimp dinner, the most expensive item at $15.
We started with a tostada de ceviche, which our server quickly delivered along with two ice-cold beers. With only a couple of minor details in our way -- no white sand, no 90-degree temperatures, no view of the ocean's surf -- we could have been on a beach in Mexico. The flaky, white fish "cooked" in lime juice (a little less juice would have been better) was mounded generously on a crispy tortilla, whetting our appetites for more.
Fajitas sizzling on a cast-iron serving dish are always impressive, and certainly are at Miramar, with the onions sweet and caramelized, the beef tender and the strips of sweet pepper plentiful.
The real "wow," however, came with the presentation of the whole, deep-fried tilapia, which Duenas douses heavily with salt, garlic and a couple of varieties of ground pepper before frying to give the skin a flavorful crispness. Inside, the meat was creamy white and tender.
The more traditional fare didn't disappoint, either. From chiles rellenos to enchiladas and tacos, everything was nicely spiced and delivered hot. With the exception of a forgotten coffee to go with our flan, service was prompt and friendly.
The flan itself deserves special mention. It is not a unanimous favorite -- a lot of people tend to be put off by its texture, a problem that can be compounded it lacks flavor or is too gelatinous. But Miramar's flan is some of the best around, with a deep, caramelized flavor and firm texture.
Whether you're looking for traditional Mexican fare or special treats served in Mexico's coastal towns, Miramar has the variety to satisfy. With new management and closer attention to detail, it seems to be enjoying a revival.