Before you open the door, you can see there's been a style change—ZY was a low-key urban wine and cheese bistro. Now there's a glaring all-caps neon signing: ALAMEXO. And what's a Mexican restaurant without a little neon?
Or vividly painted walls? Or Mexican folk art? Alamexo has all these requisite features, plus food that ranks up there with Frida Bistro and Red Iguana. Although it's not really like either one of those except in its irrepressibly cheerful south-of-the-border vibe.
Alamexo deserves to be mentioned alongside these local south of the border stars: I've been there several times and been happy every time. Guacamole is made tableside in a molcajete by your server and it tastes like fresh avocado,
a flavor lost in pre-made preparations.
I would add a squeeze of lime if I were making it at home, but a dollop of the house salsa adds the missing acid.
Speaking of salsa, this thin, green tomatillo concoction is unlike any other salsa in town and it's entirely addictive, which good salsa should be. You can judge the quality of a salsa by how hard it is to stop eating it. Several baskets of chips later, we called a halt.
You could call Alamexo upscale, but only in comparison to most Mexican restaurants. Zy's white tablecloths are gone, the walls have been painted purple and orange and hung with Aztec masks and photographs of candelaria, the music has a Latin beat and the whole place feels livelier.
You know I have a soft spot for Mexican food, but that just means I am more bitterly disappointed when it's awful as it unfortunately so often is. Alamexo makes me happy. Funny, but that's what Chef Matthew, who was working a station in the kitchen on our last visit, says. "This food just makes me happy. I don't know why."
Part of the reason might be a full dining room. Add the likelihood of it remaining full, because the food here is excellent.
The list of tacos includes pork cooked in banana leaf Guatemalan style, as well as more usual beef or chicken available in crisp or soft tortillas. A great deal is the flautas plate, chicken-stuffed fried tortillas with cotija and salsas verde and guajillo, for seven dollars. The enchiladas suizas are folded, not rolled, and if you don't think the picture below is beautiful, it's because you haven't been conditioned properly. Enchiladas taste beautiful, they don't look beautiful, unless you've tasted them so often that a picture can make you salivate.
and there is an enchilada del dia—crab-stuffed on one visit. Full entrees of salmon, shortribs, bone-in chicken and steak are hefty and well-seasoned and sided with chilies (an intelligent use of many types), corn, cotija and plantains in coastal and inland Mexican styles.
And every dinner ends with complimentary churros.
I haven't talked about the margarita list or the queso fundido, but there's only so much room. Literally and figuratively. So bienvenidos, Alamexo. I'll be back. 268 S. State Street, SLC, 801-779-4747