Go For the Food: A taste of Mexico in Salt Lake City
By ANNIE KNOX The Associated Press August 5, 2014 11:30AM
In this July 31, 2014, photo, Concepcion Flores, owner of Panaderia Flores, holds a gelatina cake on Salt Lake Citys west side. Panaderia Flores offers sweet breads, pineapple or pumpkin empanadas and tamales. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
If you go ...
CHUNGA’S: 180 S. 900 West, Salt Lake City, www.chungasmexican.com or (801) 953-1840.
PANADERIA FLORES: 1625 W. 700 North, Salt Lake City, panaderiafloresutah.com or (801) 533-0211.
Updated: September 7, 2014 6:18AM
SALT LAKE CITY — In a west side Salt Lake City neighborhood known for tire shops and taco joints, a pineapple turns on a spit over layers of smoky, marinated pork.
The dish is called al pastor, and the place is called Chunga’s.
Cooks shave the meat seasoned with chipotle and guajillo peppers, pile it into warm corn tortillas and top it with onion, cilantro and matchstick slices of fresh fruit.
Few spots offered the specialty in Salt Lake City until owner Roberto Contreras opened the restaurant about seven years ago. But customers “know al pastor now and they know it’s good. It’s something special,” he said of the signature street snack of Mexico City, where he’s from.
Contreras mans the register as cooks zip between salsas and tortillas on the grill.
In the evening, families gather outside under umbrellas; on weekdays, the place draws office workers. On sunny days, the line stretches into the parking lot, where a cartoonish sign of a hulking pig in sunglasses with a pineapple in his grip warns: “Do not underestimate the power of the taco.”
A waitress weaves around the line with plastic trays of those tacos with rice, black beans and queso fresco, along with other items: chili-smothered burritos, crunchy corn quesadillas and tortas layered with Oaxacan cheese — reminiscent of a smoky-sweet meatball sub. Other options include gorditas and enchiladas. Most of the offerings range from $5 to $8.
And it’s not all about the pork. Chunga’s also offers chicken, steak and chorizo. And there are a few (rotating) vegetarian choices, sometimes including zucchini flowers, cactus and mushrooms.
The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, but you can cool the heat from spicy salsas with frozen mango, strawberry or pineapple shakes.
The location also offers a view of northern Utah’s signature mountain range, the Wasatch, that’s particularly nice on summer evenings.
A few blocks away, there’s a better-known Mexican restaurant, Red Iguana, where locals often bring visitors fresh off the plane for a half-dozen moles over stuffed enchiladas.
Chunga’s, a bit farther from downtown and its towering Mormon temple, is among a few lower-profile favorites. Others include bakeshop Panaderia Flores, which offers sweet breads, pineapple or pumpkin empanadas and tamales.