PARK CITY » I have complained in these pages many times about the steep prices at several Park City restaurants for less-than-mediocre food. It's as if some restaurateurs are in a sort of "resort bubble" and feel justified to charge outrageous amounts for food that is often not worth the price.
There's even a "club" for some of these restaurants: "The Independent Republic of Park City." Though it's actually another name for the Park City Restaurant Association, a name like that pretty much aims to justify that "resort bubble" moniker.
What if I told you that cheap -- and delicious -- eats can be found in Summit County? Locals and visitors-in-the-know know where to go: They head straight for El Chubasco Mexican Grill.
Though the 12-year-old restaurant has changed hands three times, current owners Craig Weaver and Jill Dunlap and their staff are doing a great job keeping up with the throngs of diners eager for good, affordable Mexican, as nothing on the menu is over $8.95.
Located in Prospector Square away from the main drag, the casual restaurant is in a strip mall. The décor is simple, yet adequate, done in hues of maize with a cobalt blue-tiled bar that holds a dozen freshly made salsas at the restaurant's center while Mexican beer signs and flags add flashes of color.
Newcomers will quickly pick up the ordering protocol. First, peruse the menu of combo plates, tacos, enchiladas, burritos, tostadas, specialties, salads and sides on the wall behind the register. Next, stand in line, order and pay. Then, receive a number, cups, beers and tortilla chips and go find a table. (Non-alcoholic beverages are self-serve and utensils are at the salsa bar.)
Efficient and friendly servers quickly deliver food, so don't dilly-dally at the salsa bar -- though it's tempting. There you'll find a dozen salsa offerings along with limes, radishes, and house-pickled jalapenos, serranos and onions. (See box on C2.) My favorite salsas are the mild and smoky chipotle crema (and apparently the "gringo" clientele's favorite) and fiery and sweet Manzana mango.
That creamy chipotle, along with a squirt of lime and a radish slice or two, are perfect accompaniments to the exquisite fish tacos (two for $5.45). Chunks of cod are lightly battered and fried to crunchy perfection, with the lot tucked in a double layer of corn tortillas.
Equally as good are the chile rellenos ($3.65 each, $7.25 for two). I'm wild about gooey, melted cheese and El Chubasco uses two cheeses, mozzarella and ranchero, in their rellenos. Once the poblanos are filled with cheese, they receive a dip in a light egg batter, are fried and then slicked with vibrant red ranchero sauce.
The kitchen also excels at carnitas (combo with rice, beans and tortillas, $7.45). The long-cooked and shredded pork butt is moist and not oily like other versions I've eaten. That incendiary Manzana mango salsa is a great match with the pork, and sips of soothing, cinnamon and Mexican vanilla-spiked horchata ($1.85) cut the heat.
Not every dish on the menu was flawless. Crimson-colored hominy and pork stew (pozole, $5.95) had great flavor but arrived barely tepid. The steak in a fajitas combo ($8.45) was overcooked, as was an order of flan ($2.65), which tasted grainy.
But these minor quibbles don't detract from all the other positives about El Chubasco. It's refreshing to see a Park City establishment outside the "resort bubble" making great food at affordable prices.
Pico de gallo » Traditional salsa made with jalapenos. (medium heat)
Chipotle crema » Sour cream-based with chipotles (smoke-dried jalapenos). Goes well with fish tacos. (mild to medium)
Salsa di arbol » (medium)
Manzana mango salsa » Goes well with pork dishes. (hot)
Salsa serrano » Goes well with red meats. (hot)
Salsa arbole aciete » Chile oil that goes well with soups. (medium)
Salsa habanero » (hot)
Salsa morita » Smoky, barbecuelike flavor. Goes well with pork or red meat. (hot)
Salsa mexicana » Best for novices. (mild)
Tomatillo tomate e arbol » Sour cream-based with arbol chiles and tomatillos. (medium)
Jalapeno rojo » Red Fresno-based salsa. Goes well with chicken. (medium)
Salsa verde » Best for novices (mild)
Description: This Mexican restaurant, in the resort town of Park City, offers seriously good food that's affordable to boot.
Location » 1890 Bonanza Drive, Park City; 435-645-9114
Hours » Monday to Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Children's menu » No
Prices » $
Liquor » Beer
Reservations » No
Takeout » Yes
Wheelchair access » Yes
Outdoor dining » Yes
On-site parking » Yes
Credit cards » All major