At the helm of the grill is Steve Ballard, a fifth-generation Ogden native who has deep roots in the community. When he was a teen, Ballard handed out chicken nugget samples in the very place where Sonora Grill now stands — the Ogden City Mall.
As he grew up, Ballard’s passion for the restaurant business took over his life and he found a love for dining. The issue? He felt too many restaurants were buckling to American tastes and not honoring traditional Mexican cooking the way they should. When he was served cheddar cheese on a burrito while visiting San Diego, he said enough was enough.
“When I opened Sonora, one thing that was big for me was that we use all Mexican cheeses,” Ballard said. “We source ingredients from Mexico or locally first.”
Since its inception in March 2008, right before the financial crisis, Sonora Grill’s journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
“Those first few months were really, really hard,” says Ballard.
Instead of buckling under the pressure, Sonora took feedback and ran with it, refining its offerings and keeping things fresh, recreating the menu 45 times over the years. At times, Ballard had to find a middle ground between tradition and the American perception of Mexican food, not providing rice at first — then finally, after daily pressure — adding it to the menu. Through every iteration the restaurant’s core mission remained: deliver authentic and fresh Mexican flavors.
At the heart of Sonora Grill’s success is attention to detail and Ballard’s passion for fresh produce.
During the pandemic, Ballard realized the vulnerabilities that existed in the food supply chain.
“We were spending time just finding the food we would then serve to people,” he said.
Determined to find local solutions and close the loop on sustainability so he wasn’t relying on produce that was shipped to the US, Ballard turned to his love of gardening for inspiration. After repurposing a shipping container and a lot of videos and instruction manuals, Ballard says the restaurant now grows a lot of its own fresh greens, ensuring a predictable and sustainable supply.
“We get 1,000 heads of lettuce every week, guaranteed,” Ballard says.
On the other end of the consumption chain, Ballard says he works to make the restaurant as waste-less as possible, composting hundreds of pounds of material per week in his state-of-the-art composter behind the kitchen.
Staying up to date on Mexican food, and learning more about the vast cuisine is a priority for Sonora Grill and the menu they offer. Every year, Ballard goes to Mexico to check out popular restaurants and gain inspiration for new menu items and preparations.
Beyond the food, Sonora Grill has a full bar and rotates through monthly drink specials. The crown jewel, according to Ballard? The Seafoam Margarita, inspired by the ocean with a layer of “seafoam” sweet bubbles and ocean-blue liquid, made with only the finest tequila and flavors.
The vibe at Sonora Grill is more than just a restaurant; it’s an experience that Ballard deliberately creates. Each server is trained on the food and seasonal items, and is a walking dictionary when it comes to beverages and margaritas. And with a dedication to community initiatives like the Sonora Grill Dining for Dollars program, your visit could also be impactful in a young student’s life.
“If you want to beat out generational poverty, one way to do that is through education,” Ballard says. “That’s why we do our scholarship program every year.”
Sonora Grill stands as a model of authentic Mexican cuisine, sustainable innovation, and unwavering community spirit. At its core, it and Ballard symbolize a perfect blend of tradition and innovation, creating a project that’s unforgettable, and most importantly, delicious.