A tale of two igunas: Former sister restaurants fight for the title of best Mexican food in Salt Lake City

Walking through a sticker-covered door, no one would expect to have the keen pleasure of dining at one of Utah’s most well-known, and highest quality, Mexican restaurants.

In a state with a sizeable Mexican population, no Utahan can go without being influenced by the diverse flavoring of Mexican life. As such, a plethora of different restaurants serve a wide variety of quality Mexican food for reasonable prices.

The most notable of these restaurants is The Red Iguana, established in 1985. The restaurant has been serving the Salt Lake Valley with delicious Mexican food for 20 years now, maintaining a distinct flavor and style all its own. It is this individuality and quality that has made The Red Iguana one of Utah’s most famous Mexican dining locations.

The Red Iguana has been honored by such awards as the Top Mexican restaurant in Utah according to the Zagats Survey, and countless others from local publishers. Check out the awards at the restaurant or online at www.rediguana.com.

Being a favorite restaurant in Salt Lake City for many celebrities, including Elvira, Los Lobos and Colin Edwards (yes…I am officially a celebrity, sucka), the restaurant walls are covered with many famous pictures and signatures-a small feature that adds a great deal to the restaurant’s ambiance.

Maintaining a diverse menu, including everything from basics like tacos and enchiladas to more complex dishes like the house-specialty Mol, The Red Iguana also serves daily specials and secret family recipes sure to delight the taste buds of any visitor.

If you are in the mood for some spicy food, it is well worth your time to try Cochinita Pibil-shredded pork basted with achoite, delivering a smoky delicious piquancy. Served with a side of rice and beans and two tortillas, the tenderness of the pork only adds to the sublime feeling of eating a dish almost too good for words.

A strong local reputation has been the cornerstone of the Cardenas family’s (which owns The Red Iguana) success since opening day.

With the Red Iguana and its sister restaurant, The Blue Iguana, competing for the reputation of the best Mexican food in Utah, its best to go out and eat at both restaurants and then determine for yourself.

Open till 11 p.m. on the weekend, 11 p.m. during the week and 9 p.m. on Sundays, there is plenty of time to head down to the Red Iguana and grab some good old home-style Mexican food.

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The Blue Iguana, touting prime downtown location and suitable ambiance, would seem to be a likely candidate for superb food and attitude to match.

Sometimes, however, assumptions are wrong.

Located at 165 South West Temple in Arrow Press Square, The Blue Iguana offers mediocre food, made even less spectacular by the lack of originality in both recipe type and demeanor.

Formally a part of The Red Iguana family, The Blue Iguana’s menu is compiled with strikingly similar recipes to that of The Red Iguana, though the food itself lacks the authenticity and flavor of its former sister restaurant.

The atmosphere of the Blue Iguana is piled high with cheesy pictures, and the interior’s lack of sunlight sets the mood for a depressing evening with deficient food.

An exploding gastrointestinal feeling “complimented” the taste of the chile verde chimichanga, served with almost-Asian fried rice. The rice heavily loaded with green peas and carrots seemed better suited for Little World’s brand of fast Chinese cuisine (Local Chinese restaurant, 1300 South State St.) than The Blue Iguana’s faux-authentic Mexican fare.

The Pipian Mol was supposed to be comprised from the flavor of pumpkin and guajillo chiles, but seemed to be more peanut flavored. The menu is piled high with eight different versions of Mol -much like Red Iguana, the house special.

Vegetarians should not shy from heading down and checking out a large portion of the menu dedicated to veggies-all vegetarian dishes are priced nicely under $8.

As a little consolation, where The Blue Iguana lacks in food, it almost makes up for in drink-the restaurant has been awarded Utah’s Best Margarita for years on end, and the alcohol menu is comprised of many different tequila and rum drinks moderately priced. Also serving Negro Modelo, Negro Especial, and of course Corona Extra, be prepared to dish up close to $5 for these drinks.

With prices changing from lunch to dinner, it is best to head down to The Blue Iguana midday, or possibly around early dinner. If you are interested in heading down for a late lunch, it might be best to call ahead due to the fact the management has failed to inform their customers via Web site what time prices go up.

Parking for The Blue Iguana is available at 175 S West Temple, with validation. Also make sure to bring either cash or a card-while the UCard is accepted at The Blue Iguana, checks are not accepted.

With standard hours of operation, you can head down to The Blue Iguana to eat and check out a lacking punk show at the Lo-Fi Caf with the rest of Salt Lake City’s screaming 12-year-old soccer moms-just like The Blue Iguana’s food, the scene is sure to give you a little indigestion.

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