Regular readers know that I enjoy great food. And I always make it a point to share great food finds from along my journeys in this blog. But what about when I’m at home? There are a lot of great places to eat in Salt Lake City, but for me, one stands out above the rest. Red Iguana.
Red Iguana is a Salt Lake City eating institution. It’s also a popular stopping point for regular out-of-town visitors, both famous and not. I have attended many concerts where the singer refers to the band’s great pre-show meal at Red Iguana. During COVID, it’s one of only three Salt Lake City restaurants approved by the NBA for its visiting teams, due to its long-time popularity with NBA players combined with its strict pandemic safety protocols. I truly consider it a must-visit for Mexican food-loving Salt Lake locals and visitors alike.
Red Iguana serves a great variety of outstanding Mexican food, but it is most renowned for its many different kinds of mole – a traditional Mexican sauce. Moles are complex and each recipe contains a vast number of ingredients including things like chiles, herbs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, and other various spices. It’s not unusual for a mole to contain 20-30 different ingredients. The flavor profile is equally complex – sweet, savory, and spicy all in one bite.
I don’t often see mole on the menus of Mexican restaurants in the United States, despite the fact that Mole Poblano has been called the national dish of Mexico. But at Red Iguana, they celebrate this wondrous creation. In fact, they have 11 different kinds of mole!
First-timers should always ask for the complimentary mole sampler. Your server brings a plate with dollops of 8 different moles to try. Dip your tortilla chips into each mole and appreciate all the different flavor profiles.
I’ve tried most of the mole dishes at Red Iguana over the years, and each is delicious. Some of their moles are served with a pile of meat – each protein chosen to match the flavor profiles in the mole – served alongside rice, beans, and house-made fresh tortillas. Other moles are served on top of various types of enchiladas. You can even order pints of mole to go (something I’ve done many times).
In terms of heat level, most of these moles are fairly mild. I personally find that only the Mole Amarillo is spicier than I want to handle. This certainly has something to do with its habanero chiles. It’s really good though. I wish my ability to tolerate spicy heat wasn’t diminishing as the years pass by.
A Tour of Red Iguana Deliciousness
Here are some of the great mole dishes at Red Iguana:
Sour cream chicken enchiladas topped with Mole Verde. If forced to choose, I would have to pick this as my favorite menu item at Red Iguana. Mrs. Thorough Tripper loves it so much, she orders it every time we go. The Mole Verde includes avocados, zucchini, basil, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, chile poblano, and jalapeños.
Red Pipian Mole
The Red Pipian mole is served with shredded chicken breast. Pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, peanuts, onions, and dried guajillo chiles are among its ingredients.
Puntas De Filete a la Norteña
This is reportedly their most popular dish. It features sirloin tips served on top of an almond-based mole. The almond flavor really shines through in this mole.
Pork carnitas enchiladas covered with a tangy mole made from mangos, yellow raisins, and yellow chiles.
Pork Tamales with Mole Poblano
This was the daily special on this particular visit – they don’t always have tamales. I was able to chose which mole I wanted to top my tamales with. I chose Mole Poblano – their version of Mexico’s most beloved mole with ingredients including dried chiles, chocolate, bananas, walnuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, and raisins.
Two is Better than One
Red Iguana has always been very popular. I remember standing in a long line to get in for my first visit 30 years ago. A few years back, the owners opened a second larger location just two blocks away from the original. We usually chose the larger Red Iguana 2, and generally go for an early weekend lunch. The wait isn’t typically as long then – we often walk right in. During COVID, they are accepting and strongly encouraging reservations which is even better. I’m hoping that they continue to offer reservations after the pandemic. But if not, I’ll resume standing in line if necessary for mole nirvana.
Both Red Iguana locations are located just west of downtown Salt Lake City. For visitors, they are easy to reach via light rail – just a few stops from downtown on the Airport line.
Because Red Iguana is located just few miles from the airport, Mrs. Thorough Tripper and I have a regular tradition of stopping there every time we return home from a trip. No matter how much good food we ate while traveling, we always look forward to a mole welcome home.
For other Utah food recommendations, check out my Favorites of 2020. Plus, another favorite Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City is just a block away from Red Iguana. Check out my post showing you the great Birria Tacos at Los Tapatios