Midvale » In the restaurant universe, there are stars you make a point of visiting. Grand affairs involving careful planning, a reservation and great anticipation for the kitchen theatrics. Then there are the less-assuming places that fill the gaps between weekend chores or the hour you have to walk away from your desk.
Often, it's the latter that gets me most excited about food. Let's face it, eating out is often a gamble and when the stakes are high, the disappointment of a bad meal is depressing. Casual, less expensive places require less anteing-up and create a bolder sort of diner, willing to risk a meal at an unknown hole-in-the-wall versus a glossy hub of culinary action.
Taking a risk on El Taconazo, I realized the pay-off is pretty good. From this classic hole-in-the-wall, you get bold flavors, generous portions and a different dining option than the chain eateries that dominate this stretch of the Midvale/Sandy border. There's often a misconception that "hole-in-the-wall" usually means "dirty." It's not the case. El Taconazo, here and in its second West Valley City location, offers the Mexican equivalent of a diner. Quick, affordable comfort food. No frills, but plenty of flavor. One of the things I love about diners is that many serve breakfast all day. El Taconazo does the same. Look under desayunos and see why I like to sop up the warm pico de gallo with the fresh corn tortillas.
Booths and tables stick to one side of the open dining room. All have a good view of the TV playing the latest Latin American soccer match or the hottest telenovela. In front of the television set is the counter where you order take-out, the window from which platters of food appear, and the small salsa bar where patrons can load up on their choice of sauce for their meal.
Habla Español? » You might be the only non-Spanish speaker in the place. I happen to dig being such an anomaly but I'm aware of those who are uncomfortable at the idea. But to allay any fears, yes, most of the servers speak perfect English. During one lunch, I observed a group of office-types discussing what to get with the server.
"I've had just about everything, and it's so good," one fellow murmured. "So what do you think I should get?" The server steered him to the Bistek Asado ($10.95). By the end of his lunch, he seemed more than pleased, and his huge plate was practically empty.
But really, if you can't get by with a menu written in English and with the accompanying photos of various dishes, then I suspect understanding Spanish isn't the problem. If you have an index finger and an appetite, you'll do fine at El Taconazo.
Well done » There's no such thing as medium rare, medium or medium-well at a Mexican diner like this. Instead, the meat is sizzling through and through in its well-done goodness. The Bistek Asado is one of many platillos that come with rice and beans and tortillas. Some are familiar and delicious, such as the asada , as well as the Bistek Encebollado (beef with onions, $10.95) or Bistek a la Mexicana with its colorful strands of peppers, tomatoes and jalapenos. It's what commercial fajita platters dream of being.
Most unique is the alambres ($11.99), which combines steak, chicken, bacon, shrimp, cactus paddles ( nopales ) with hot dogs. Franks. Wieners. Chopped, the franks blend with the other meats and offer another salty note, and surprisingly, it works.
Familiar, too, are the nachos appetizer ($6.99), enough for one as a meal or up to six people to share as a starter. Try it with the diced carne asada (the same used for the tacos, $1.50 each). The sturdy tortillas chips can handle the heft. Enchiladas ($6.99) here are more Technicolor than others you may have had. It's a simple assembly of cheese or chicken or beef in a tender corn tortilla. First-timers should try it topped with both the spicy green sauce and the red to see which they prefer. I can't decide, so I stick with a multicolor enchilada platter.
The menu is large enough to accommodate both cautious and adventurous diners. Whole fried fish ( mojarra fritta , $12.99) is a way to assemble your own fish tacos with the accompanying corn tortillas ($3; there are fish tacos, too). Caldo de Camaron or shrimp soup ($9.99, $11.99) is a lighter option amid the heft of platillos.
Weekends are primetime for menudo ($7.99, $8.99) lovers. Both it and the birria de res (shredded beef or goat stew $7.99, $8.99) feature a translucent red broth that along with the temperature of the liquid is warming, calming and restorative. Offal, innards and even flesh meat from goat aren't popular here, I know. But dishes like these menudo are classics integral to weekend family meals or hang over remedies in cities stateside and abroad.
It's the type of food that literally soaks into your bones and fills the gut with fire, good flavor and sustenance. Think of it as a new definition of comfort food. Only El Taconazo offers it with a refreshingly different inflection.
Bottom line » This hole-in-the-wall's tortillas are delicious as is, or in enchiladas with vibrant verde or red sauces. Sizzling platillos of Bistek Mexicana and other variations are always satisfying. Weekends are the perfect time to check out soups such as menudo and birria.
Location » 7962 S. State St., Midvale; 801-563-5196
Hours » Monday to Sunday 10 a.m. at 10 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » No
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » No
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » VISA, MasterCard