Spirit of the Southwest
I can’t really say that I’m too fond of shopping centers like City Creek in SLC or Farmington’s fairly new Station Park. The commercialism of those places is smothering to me. However, I decided recently after shopping at Harmons in Station Park to bite the bullet and check out a new restaurant there. I’m glad I did.
Farmington is the second location of Tortilla Union Southwest Grill, the original one being in Spokane, Washington. And make no mistake, this is definitely Southwestern cuisine. Don’t go, as I did, to Tortilla Union looking for Mexican fare as there is pretty much nothing authentically Mexican on the menu. But that’s OK, as long as you know what you’re getting into.
Tortilla Union is a snazzy place indeed. It’s very upscale in decor and ambiance, although not in price. Its sister restaurant next door – Twigs Bistro & Martini Bar – is much pricier.
Upon being seated by a hostess, my wife and I were handed four menus: a main menu, a cocktail/drink menu, a “Fresh Sheet” which describes weekly specials, and a flyer explicating “Happy Hour” apps and drinks pricing. No sooner had we begun to peruse the menus than our server asked if we’d like any drinks or appetizers. Service is not slow. “Give us a minute,” I said. “We’ve barely sat down.”
Looking over the selection of starters, we decided to order the Tortilla Union Trio ($9.99), thinking that since guacamole alone is priced at $7.99, for two more bucks we could enjoy guacamole and charred tomato salsa and Manchego cheese dip. The Trio came with two baskets of freshly fried tortilla chips and when we ran out of those, they were replaced, gratis. The guacamole and charred tomato salsa were good; the Manchego cheese dip was great. I wish Tortilla Union served that dip all by itself.
Southwestern Nachos ($9.99) is a towering place of fresh corn tortilla chips with Manchego-poblano cheese sauce, Cheddar-jack cheese, pico de gallo, house-pickled jalapeños, and black bean corn salsa, topped with Cotija cheese and cilantro, and served with guacamole and sour cream on the side. Options to add carne asada, green chili chicken or barbacoa beef runs an additional $4-$7. For a whopping $8.99 I’d suggest skipping the Campfire Cornbread starter, however.
There are six different salads served at Tortilla Union, and although we haven’t tried all of them, the ones we sampled were excellent. My wife’s favorite is the Smoked Watermelon Salad ($9.99) which is a huge bowl of arugula, shaved jicama, chayote squash, Feta cheese, sliced cucumber, and toasted pumpkin seeds – all tossed with a citrusy vinaigrette and cubes of applewood-smoked watermelon. The missus added Tequila Orange Agave Shrimp to her Watermelon salad for a $5 surcharge. It’s probably great all year ‘round, but is an especially refreshing and delicious summer salad.
The Southwester Caesar Salad ($9.99) and California Cobb ($13.99) are also very appealing, but my favorite salad – in fact, one of my favorite dishes at Tortilla Union, period – is the Carne Asada Salad ($14.99).
It’s essentially a Southwestern Caesar salad with a zingy chipotle-ranch dressing: charbroiled, thin-sliced strips of carne asada beef with toasted pumpkin seeds, pickled red onions, diced avocado and queso fresco. The salad is garnished with Cojita cheese and fried sweet potato crisps. These salads are meals in themselves, so order accordingly. I had plenty of salad leftover for lunch the next day.
There is a very attractive bar area at Tortilla Union and a full selection of beer, wine, cocktails and more. A bottle of Elysian Space Dust IPA was an excellent partner for the Carne Asada Salad and the Union Margarita – their house Margarita – is also a winner. The wine selection, however, is a tad skimpy so if you’re a serious wine lover you’ll probably want to BYOB.
Tacos & Tortas
There’s a section of the menu called “Tacos & Handhelds” with tacos, burritos and a torta. I have to say that the Grilled Chicken Torta ($11.99) is nothing like any torta I’ve ever eaten in a Mexican restaurant. It’s a grilled chicken breast on toasted ciabatta bread with guacamole, pico de gallo, lettuce and cheese. Most tortas, in addition to avocado, have a black bean spread that this one was missing, plus the bread was all wrong. They should be using a Mexican-style bolillo. Oh well, like I said, Tortilla Union is not authentically Mexican, even when it comes to something as Mexican as a torta.
The tacos, too, are Americanized, but have their own appeal. Not loving cilantro, I just wish most of them (and many other dishes on the menu) didn’t come with a cilantro-lime emulsion, as do the Fried Shrimp Tacos ($10.99/2 or $14.99/3). Buttermilk-fried shrimp are served in your choice of flour or corn tortillas with shredded Napa cabbage, pico de gallo, Cotija cheese, cilantro and the aforementioned cilantro-lime emulsion. To get away from that emulsion, you’ll need to opt for the Barbacoa Tacos which come with sliced avocado, jicama “slaw,” and chipotle crema. The slow-braised guajillo chile-infused beef brisket used to make these tacos is absolutely killer.
Mains & More
For main dishes, the Union Ribs are a smokin’ deal, priced at a mere $16.99 for a half rack or $21.99 for full. And that includes a side of smoked watermelon salad and whipped sweet potatoes. The pork baby back ribs are cooked with brown sugar and Hatch green chiles, then finished with a chipotle-citrus BBQ sauce.
There is a kids menu at Tortilla Union, but kids of all ages will enjoy the Southwestern Mac and Cheese ($15.99): shell-shaped pasta in Manchego-poblano cream sauce and topped with tortilla crumbs.
For dessert, Sopapillas ($6.99) with chipotle-honey and chocolate ganache dipping sauces are a good choice. But the most interesting “Sweet Ending” is the Ancho-Agave Creme Brulee, for sure.
Culinary quote of the week:
There are some things that sound too funny to eat. Guacamole! That sounds like something you yell when you’re on fire.
— George Carlin
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.