Gather together the experts and ask the question “What is the best restaurant in Salt Lake City?” It won’t matter what type of food you like, that conversation would have to start with Red Iguana. Red Iguana has been open since 1985 and has won award after award after award. Urbanspoon rates it #1, Trip Advisor rates it #1, Yelp rates it #2, and Zagat has Red Iguana in its top 10 best places to eat. Red Iguana has also been featured by Guy Fieri on “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”. I really doubt by writing this blog post it will do much to help the already much heralded Mexican establishment. However, I do want my blog to be complete with all the best places to eat, so I feel an obligation to write this post. Recently I posted on my Facebook page that I was going to be reviewing Red Iguana and Blue Iguana back to back and asked the question what place people enjoyed most. The results were 7 votes to Red Iguana and only 2 votes to Blue Iguana. For me personally, I enjoyed Blue Iguana, but I will be the first to admit, there is something special about this place. Red Iguana may just be in a class of its own.
First the restaurant itself. Probably the most common complaint in the past I have heard about Red Iguana has been the wait times. That is usually a good problem for a place to have, and a key indicator of the quality of food. Red Iguana has taken steps to address those issues over the past few years. For starters, the original restaurant on North Temple expanded their dining room in the back to offer more seating. Additionally, Red Iguana 2 opened just a few blocks away on South Temple, then finally when City Creek Center opened downtown, “A Taste of Red Iguana” opened with it in the food court. Even with these additions, you might be looking at a wait during peak hours, so be prepared, and don’t be discouraged with waits of 30 minutes or more. Your wait will be rewarded with awesome food. Inside, you have authentic decor you would expect from a fine establishment like this one. Apparently the founders of Red Iguana are big Frida Kahlo fans, because you can find images of the Mexican artist everywhere inside. I love eating here.
One question I like to ask my waiter when I visit a place for the first time, is to recommend me that one plate that will make me want to come back. For Red Iguana, their speciality is the mole. Mole (pronounced MOH-lay) is a sauce made of dried and fresh chiles, nuts, spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables. Each mole at Red Iguana is named after a color or a key ingredient. The sauce is then served tossed in either pork, chicken, or turkey. Now if you want to go with a mole dish, you really can’t go wrong, but with 7 different choices, you will want to be sure to get your favorite. Ask your server to bring you a sampling of each of the different mole sauces, and they will bring you a small saucer much like the one shown above. You can use the awesome tortilla chips provided by Red Iguana to sample the mole. This is one of my favorite parts of coming here. I already know my favorite mole flavors, but trying the sauces with the fresh chips cannot be missed, even for the seasoned Red Iguana veteran.
A plate I had not tried previously was recommended to me by my good friend Brad Gagon. He told me these tacos may very well be the perfect taco. Well Brad, if you are reading this, while this may be my first time eating the Tacos Don Ramon, may the Virgin of Guadalupe be my witness, it will NOT be my last time. These tacos, made me want to dress up like one of the Three Amigos, and ride down North Temple on a horse singing “My Little Buttercup” at the top of my lungs. Yes in the words of the immortal Monkeys, “I’m a Believer”. Brad – THANK YOU! These tacos were fried crispy, and filled with tender sirloin tips and grilled pork chorizo. Then they were garnished with pico de gallo and Cotija queso. Any place that gives you Cotija cheese on your tacos, not only knows what they are doing, but they mean business too. See that little side cup of green guacamole sauce? Yeah, you know I drenched eat bite with that stuff too. There was no shame in this plate’s game. I love these tacos!!
You can find all the great Mexican dishes that you have come to know here at Red Iguana including the above Carne Asada burrito, as well as enchiladas, tostadas, tacos, chimichangas and more. One of my all-time favorites that I passed on this time is something you can find in the Speciality Dishes section, and that is the Puntas de Filete a la Nortena. This dish is basically sirloin tips sautéed with bacon, jalapeno strips, onions, and tomatoes, served on top of the almond mole. If you need “that dish” to really sell you on Red Iguana, this plate would do it, because you can taste one of their best mole sauces, along with juicy sirloin, tortillas, and rice and beans. Delicious!
I’ve said this before, but if you go to Red Iguana, and want the full experience, I suggest going with a tall glass of ice-cold horchata. Horchata is a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, cinnamon, sugar, and milk. It is delicious! Don’t play it safe with a Coke. Just don’t. Finally, our waiter today was Walter, and he was EXCELLENT! I’ve never had bad service at Red Iguana, but Walter was great. My mother in law doesn’t like spicy food, and the carne asada burrito that she ordered enchilada style was a little too spicy for her taste. Not only did Walter replace her meal right away, but he also saved the carne asada burritos for me in a to-go box. What a guy right? Plus, when I mentioned I had a food blog, Walter arranged for me to go back into the kitchen so I could take a picture of some mole sauce cooking. I remember seeing Guy Fieri’s show where he got to see the mole and how it was made, and I wanted that same chance. The below picture is a huge cauldron of green mole sauce simmering. I should have put my hand or something in the shot, so you could get a sense of how big this pan was. There must have been at least 20 gallons or so of mole sauce. It smelled awesome!
Red Iguana has been around Salt Lake for close to 30 years now, and I’m sure it will be around for another 30. People who travel to Salt Lake make it a point to come here, and now it will be even easier with the Airport Trax being constructed right in front of the restaurant. Red Iguana has earned a lot of recognition for great food, and in this foodie’s opinion has the taste to back it up. If you already love Red Iguana, then this is not news to you, but if you have not been here, I’m here to tell you believe the hype, because this place is legit!
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