Alamexo has recently opened in the space previously occupied by one of my favorites, ZY. In fact, Alamexo has the same owners, staff, and even the same chef: Matt Lake.

Matt moved to Utah a few years ago from New York, where he worked as chef for one of New York’s premier Mexican restaurants. After a few years operating the contemporary American restaurant, ZY, Chef Lake decided to go back to his culinary roots and switch to Mexican.

After an incredibly quick menu and restaurant decor switch (Lake didn’t want to close down for three months and have to lay off staff) which took only a few days, ZY has now transformed to Alamexo. And while I’m sad to see ZY go (Lake was adamant that we will see ZY once again in Salt Lake), Alamexo is a very welcome addition to SLC.

You won’t find any other Mexican food in Salt Lake in such a contemporary, modern environment. But don’t equate “contemporary” and “modern” to “expensive.” Entrées range from $13-$25 with sides and appetizers filling in the $3-$12 range.

Go with the guacamole, made tableside by your server in a molcajete. For $10, it’s a little on the pricey side for one avocado’s worth of guacamole, but worth the show.

My favorite side dish was the Mexican corn. Sweet, fresh corn accompanied by hints of chile, lime, and cotija. My mole poblano enchiladas were rich, complex, and the pork was cooked perfectly. Lake has always said the he doesn’t choose his signature dishes; his customers do. And I have a feeling that these will be on the menu for a while.

A dining companion’s steak dish was equally tasty and cooked spot-on.

As we went during their soft opening week, desserts were not on the menu, however, the kitchen brought out the best churros I’ve had. Don’t leave Alamexo without ordering some.

I’ve always viewed Matt Lake and ZY as a bit of a sleeper in the SLC dining community. I attribute part of this to Lake’s low-key demeanor. He is a guy that cooks because he loves to cook. He’s not in it for the fame. But if he keeps doing what he’s doing, he won’t remain a sleeper for long. Salt Lake’s lucky to have him.

Mountain West Burrito: A Lesson in Blandness

I’ve wanted to check out Mountain West Burrito ever since they were acquired by the Heirloom Restaurant Group, who also own Communal and Pizzeria 712. Heirloom is doing such great things in the Utah dining scene, I was excited to have a little piece of Heirloom closer to home.

I was thrilled to hear that they opened a new Mountain West location near Thanksgiving Point in Lehi, which is a short 10 minute drive from my home. Draper isn’t exactly what you call a food mecca, and choices for quality Mexican-American is limited.

So is Mountain West my new go-to for a tasty burrito? In short, no. In fact, my trip to Mountain West this week was a lesson in blandness. Everything throughout my experience was the epitome of bland.

The location is tucked in next to a Firehouse Subs. The interior space is completely unremarkable. The space is filled with long, communal tables as well as a windowside bar with stools, little to no decor, and no personality. I’m no fan of Cafe Rio’s ridiculous over-the-top decor, either, but putting a little effort into creating a more welcoming environment wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

If you’ve ever been to a Chipotle, Barbacoa, Cafe Rio, or the like you’ll be familiar with Mountain West’s menu. The restaurant offers a variety of burritos, tacos, nachos, and salads. The $14 price for a burrito shocked me, until I realized how large the “giant” size is. Stick with the $7 “regular” size and you’ll have plenty to eat. So, while it offers a solid selection, the menu is rather, well, bland.

Service was vanilla as well. While I appreciated not being constantly yelled at military-style, which is my typical experience at places like Cafe Rio, the person working the counter didn’t seem particularly happy to see us or engage us about the food. We had numerous employees walk past us as we ate, and a little check in (“How is your food?” “Can I get you anything else?”) would have gone the extra mile and would have been appreciated.

Although I certainly appreciate Mountain West’s focus on local, organic, fresh (did I miss any buzzwords?) ingredients, those things are all good as long as the food tastes good. We started with an order of chips and guacamole. The chips were fresh, crunchy, made in-house, and perfectly salted. I ate more than my fair share of these. The guacamole was a disappointment. I would have appreciated some more zip and personality. Maybe some lime juice to add some acidity and offset the creamy avocado. Or perhaps some chopped onions to add some brightness. Cilantro, cumin, cayenne…anything to add some more dimensions other than just avocado.

I tried the half and half burrito. Half steak and half carnitas. The burrito come wrapped in foil and is a bit smaller (although still plenty big) than competitors’ similarly-priced burritos. They steam their tortillas, which adds a certain gumminess to the texture. The meat was tender and perfectly cooked. I had a few crunchy bits of undercooked rice, and the unremarkable guacamole made another appearance. And that’s about it for burrito fillings. In fact, I scanned the dining room looking for a fixings bar, desperate for some onions, cilantro, lime, or even some hot sauce. Nothing was in sight. I asked a dining buddy what flavors he was picking up on with his burrito. “Salt,” was his reply. I couldn’t agree more.

So, all in all not a very good experience at Mountain West. I plan on visiting again and will update this post when I do. But at this point I don’t think I would recommend Mountain West.

What do you think? Have you been to Mountain West? Did I just catch them on a bad day? Let me know!