I am constantly surprised by the benefits of branching out. Stepping outside of the norm is frightening, especially when both money and food are on the table, but it’s necessary if you want to stop eating at the same four restaurants for the rest of your life.
This happened for me one provident evening late last summer. My wife was out of town, and as such, I got to try a place all for myself. For those of you who aren’t married, I want to try and impress upon you the importance and rarity of this event. I got to choose where I wanted to go for dinner, independent of anything my wife wanted! This was not only an exciting opportunity, but a rare one. You may think that this sounds like some form of culinary cuckoldery, but I assure you it’s not. Wait until you’re married, and you’ll see. This will become a sacred event.
I chose, with my dining sovereignty, to try a place I had driven past every day on my way to the train. Chunga’s Mexican Food sits a block away from West North Temple. This is a particularly diverse part of Salt Lake, which means two things: First, there are many ethnic cuisines to sample, and not all end up being good. Second, North Temple is one of the more dangerous parts of Salt Lake. While ethnic establishments tend to be wholesome, the 7-Eleven down the street had what seemed to be a prostitute deal going on under the blessing of homeless man with a Glock.
Everyone knows that trying a new restaurant is always a crapshoot, especially one that claims to make authentic Mexican food. Some restaurants try and pawn off glorified Taco Bell as authentic Mexico City-style cuisine. I walked into Chunga’s hoping that I had made a right decision.
Oh boy, did I ever. You see, the next hour is what I imagine it’s like to achieve enlightenment. I’ve had Mexican food my entire life, and thought I knew what it was, what quality Mexican dishes tasted like. I did, but never like this. Chunga’s blew the ceiling off of my understanding of what Mexican food should be.
Chunga’s is famous for their Tacos el Pastor. This dish is made by slow-roasting a pork thigh on a spit, but I’m sure you’ve had something like that before. The thing that makes this unique is that perched atop the pork is a fresh pineapple, like a delicious star on a definitively non-kosher Christmas tree. Both are slow-roasted to a sweet and savory perfection, unlike anything you’ve ever tasted before. Fry the pork, toss it into a taco tortilla, and top it with cilantro, onions and some of that roasted pineapple, and you’ll see that this is a nirvana-like dish.
Providently, my wife eventually consented to trying their food. She ordered the grilled chicken burrito, a safe bet for a new restaurant, because what can they really do to make a chicken burrito all that different? They can make it with fresh produce, tomatillo sauce crafted in house and marinated chicken cooked to order. There is no line of employees waiting to scoop out “fresh” food into a tin. They don’t move until you’ve ordered, and the food tastes like it.
Since our loyalty started, I’ve tried many different concoctions that Chunga’s has to offer. Among my favorites are the chorizo burrito, a spicy Mexican sausage that bites back with savory heat and paired with that same delectable tomatillo sauce to wake up the heavy meat. One of the more interesting dishes I’ve tried anywhere was their grilled cactus tacos. Cactus is much like a sweet green bell pepper, and when paired with pico de gallo, it’s a savory-fresh treat.
If you’re down in Salt Lake, look no further for outstanding Mexican food than Chunga’s. That corner is far enough away from North Temple that you shouldn’t run into any armed homeless men, and even if you do, you’ll turn their life around by sharing some Tacos el Pastor.
For more foodie chatter, check out my page at Algerrish.yelp.com.