Categories: Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Review: Rio Grande Café steams back to life

By Joshua Jones and Steve Finau

Rio Grande Café feels like home. The familiar tunes on the jukebox, serene patio, mysterious taco lady (spoiler alert — in case you want to figure her out for yourself after a few Slurpee margaritas — “Chick-In-Taco”) and electric train ever-hovering overhead — it’s very comfortable. When we first moved to Salt Lake City, it was a gay staple on Friday nights. The bartenders loosened us all up for the nearby clubs with mysteriously-powerful margaritas.

However, in the last few years, it has kind-of been forgotten by the LGBTQ community, and a Rio Grande Café deathwatch had been ticking. Largely due to one factor — the city and county’s ongoing inability to manage the rampant drug culture around the homeless services facilities in the Rio Grande neighborhood.  The restaurant languished while Iggy’s, Vivance, Dojo, and Ekamai disappeared, leaving the rest in critical condition.

When The Salt Lake Tribune announced that longtime owner, Pete Henderson was closing the restaurant in March, things didn’t look good for the venerable restaurant. Luckily, Byron Lovell and Brian O’Meara, owners of the Dodo and Porcupine restaurants swooped in to rescue the place. A month-long closing for a deep-deep clean removed the rotating art gallery (to be edited and revived); lovingly restored the neon signs; and updated the kitchen.

Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Yes.

Now, let’s remember, Rio Grande Café’s cuisine was always, and continues to be, Mexican food in the most comfortable-sense of the word. It is not Red Iguana — nor are their knives pointed in that direction. There is much more cheese, sour cream, and a warm, welcoming service. Moreover, the salsa and guacamole are tremendous, and the margaritas are intoxicating. Just like they should be, right?

A recent trip found that two house margaritas over several songs of Jimmy Buffett, Sinatra, and Eric Clapton on the jukebox made us perfectly happy and still able to drive home. Halibut tacos, one lightly breaded and fried, and one grilled were straight-out-of Santa Monica with a nice crunch of cabbage. The fajitas had a nice char to the vegetables with homemade tortillas and nicely seasoned, moist chicken.

Cheese enchiladas smothered in pork chile verde is renowned, but also off-menu (be a rock star and order it). Other favorites include the vegetable enchiladas and the pollo cilantro. Sit at the historic counter and enjoy the service of Drew, another entrée to feast your eyes upon (also off menu).

Rio Grande Cafe
270 S Rio Grande St
Salt Lake City
801-364-3302

0

Joshua Jones and Steve Finau

Share
Published by
Joshua Jones and Steve Finau

Recent Posts

  • The Perils of Petunia Pap Smear

The tale of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas

The road to Las Vegas is fraught with danger and excitement. So, one morning last month, I was comfortably ensconced…

2 days ago
  • Sex and Salt Lake City

‘Tis the season

Several years ago my partner and I were enjoying a quiet house. All the kids were out with friends and…

2 days ago
  • Gay Agenda

Tony’s Gay Agenda

ANNUAL EVENTS The Salt Lake Men’s Choir presents their 37th annual Christmas concert: Remembering Decembers. Awww, it's all about me!…

2 days ago
  • Save The Date

Free pet adoption event on Black Friday weekend

The Humane Society of Utah and Mountain America Credit Union have teamed up to present the “Fall in Love Adoption…

2 days ago
  • Gay Writes

Dear Kid who Played Joseph in the Christmas Pageant

You remind me of myself, and I hope — well, how should I say this without being condescending — that…

2 days ago
  • National

Pres. Chad Griffin to leave HRC in 2019

Yesterday, after a progressive seven-year tenure as the Human Rights Campaign president, Chad Griffin informed HRC's Board of Directors he…

2 days ago