Dining Out: Lone Star Taqueria was taco pioneer
Cottonwood Heights » Long before places like Café Rio and Barbacoa asked local patrons "mild, medium or hot?" Lone Star Taqueria was making burritos and tacos just the way Lone Star Taqueria thought it best.
It's one of those places where you can be confident that your meal will be quick, a good value, warming and filling. You can get a movable feast via the drive-through (which is perpetually busy) or you can eat in, taking in the full festivity of Crayola-hued walls and chairs, brushed-metal tables and the loud holas from the counter guy who is inexplicably always in a good mood.
Sometimes, it's OK not to be consulted on how your carne adovada taco ($2.69) should be spiced, because the spice marinating the pork is more aromatic and smoky than piquant. If you want to up the spice factor, you gotta head to the salsa bar, amigo.
Pinto beans are the only proper option for the hefty pescado burrito ($7.09). In Lone Star's universe, black beans don't exist. And in the off-chance you don't want any of the fillings (rice, beans, lettuce, sour cream, cilantro, tomato, onions and cheese), it's up to you to speak up. Otherwise, the traditional burrito ensemble arrives in the pie-tin trays, unapologetically complete.
Lone Star refers to that fiercely independent state known for everything bold and big. The restaurant plays off the moniker with cowboy boots nailed to posts outlining the outdoor dining area, an abundance of meat, like the tender carne asada, and a color scheme mostly preferred by designers of Mexican haciendas and Dallas heiresses.
But more than anything, it's an independent flair that sets Lone Star apart. Whether that can be considered uniquely Texan is arguable. Nevertheless, Salt Lake City has loved Lone Star Taqueria, mostly unconditionally, and always for its fish tacos ($3.29 à la carte; $6.49 with rice and beans).
The restaurant's claim to fame is a simple -- and good -- concept. Two soft corn tortillas are overlapped to create more surface area for the shredded cabbage, onions, cilantro and fish. Batter-fried nuggets don't exist in Lone Star's kitchen. Instead, tender morsels of the fish of the day (one day mahi mahi, another red snapper; check the chalkboard to see) get a turn on a hot surface with bit of oil and seasoning to lend some burnished tone. Topped with the house "fish sauce" -- jalapeño, cilantro, lime and mayonnaise -- and a squirt from the lime wedge, it's one of the best fish tacos around. Carne asada, desbrada (shredded beef) and pollo asado ($2.69 each) are equally satisfying, but lesser known.
Still, Lone Star is on many people's radar. The new guy working in one of the office parks up the road will undoubtedly be initiated into the Lone Star lunch ritual of the fish taco combo. Software geeks will be there for their usual shrimp burrito ($7.39). The little crustaceans seem the least likely to stand up to the heft of a Lone Star burrito. But when they're small, tender and properly salted, they hold their own against the fillings.
There are those who come for the chile verde ($2.69 taco; $6.49 burrito) because the cubes are tender, the sauce is vibrant with astringent tomatillos and spicy jalapeños, and the overall effect is deliciously warming. With a Modelo Especial ($3.25), it does a fine job replenishing the glucose stores of snowboarders or skiers weary from a day of powder up one of the canyons.
Otherwise, the rejuvenating chile verde comes in a taco ($2.69) or a deeply satisfying burrito ($6.49) or as the foundation of a recent special, María's Plato ($6.49), which is advertised in bright marker on a brown paper bag, hanging below the standard menu. The chile verde comes also as a small side for Lone Star's delicious hand-made tamales ($3.20 à la carte; $5.99 with rice and beans).
The Food Network recently stopped by to shoot a segment for the show "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," where Guy Fieri sampled the no-nonsense cookery that has kept Lone Star Taqueria going for so long. I just hope that within the show's frenzied edit cuts there's this mention: Despite the name-state affiliation, we Lone Star fans will always claim it as our own.
E-mail Vanessa Chang at email@example.com.
Bottom line » This long-popular taquería is known for its succulent grilled fish tacos. Carne asada and pollo are also good options. Shrimp burritos sound odd, but make sense just after one bite. Great eccentric atmosphere and casual service near the ski canyons.
Location » 2265 Fort Union Blvd., Cottonwood Heights; 801-944-2300
Hours » Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » Beer
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair accessible » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major