Utahns have a complicated relationship with Mexican food, in that generally, we don’t like actual Mexican food. Instead, confused by early school lunch encounters with gloppy, cheese-laden tortillas and the prevalence of big platters of three-enchilada combos smothered in cheese, many have no idea what Mexican food is. (In Mexico, they just call it food.) So imagine when I discovered, hiding in plain sight, a 17-year-old, family-run restaurant called El Meño’s on 1700 South. And while El Meño’s dutifully provides a gringo menu of combo platters—even the vaunted Red Iguana has to do the same—its specialty is Michoacán style seafood with a dash of flavors from Puebla. The Puebla style comes from Manuel, the Michoacán from his wife Hortensia, the mom and pop of this particular mom and pop.
“My dad and his brothers started as chefs in Mexico,” says daughter Anayeli Dadal. “They brought those authentic plates and inspiration here.”
The Paz family moved to Utah from Los Angeles in 2005 and opened El Meño’s soon after. “Our parents moved here for the family to have a better future,” Anayeli says. “It made a huge impact on lives.”
To enjoy the vast menu at El Meño’s (“I keep telling my dad there’s too much stuff on the menu but he can’t help adding new ideas,” Anayeli says) go straight to the house specialties. There you’ll find a dizzying array of seafood/meat preparations from the massive parrillada de mariscos (seafood mix) designed to feed a large crowd (very large) to authentic molcajete mixes served in traditional lava (think mortar and pestle) bowls. On the opposite page, you’ll find seafood cocktails. These are not dainty country club cocktails. They are large schooners filled with shrimp and octopus (either or both) swimming in spicy red salsa that is Manuel’s special sauce that appears across the menu.
El Meño’s survived the lockdown with takeout going to a loyal crowd and has since reopened. The large space (and large portions) make for a good and unique option for a small crowd, order up some cocktails (full bar) and house specialties, and pass and share.
Read more on where to eat and drink in Utah.