Frida Bistro restaurant review

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Evening dinner review

For as long as I can remember, I have regaled friends and colleagues with what I call my “Salt Lake City Restaurant Wish List”. Close to the top of my list was a Mexican restaurant “taken up a notch”. I admit to being a relative newbie to Mexican food. Where I come from, there are a handful of mediocre Mexican eateries in an area comparable to the SLC valley. So, when I came to Utah, I was excited at the prospect of the sheer number of Mexican food-related pleasures that awaited me. As I began to work my way through the city’s most popular Mexican restaurants, I noticed a few seemingly ever-present similarities. The huge combination plate is an example, another is the ubiquitous presence of the often bland side of rice and beans. I have absolutely no qualms when it comes to value for money, but my “wish list” longed for something a little finer, a place which explored the unique flavors of Latin American cuisine in a more elegant and beautiful setting, and most importantly, someplace with a wine list! I guess simply put, as great as they are, I wouldn’t go to La Frontera or Red Iguana for a romantic dinner, regardless of how much I was craving a smothered enchilada.

So, the idea remained in my head, seeming shockingly obvious, but no one in the valley was willing to take the jump from cheap and plentiful to refined and complex when it came to our beloved Mexican cuisine. And then, one day I received an email from Frida Bistro Manager Stephanie Bailey-Hatfield (formally of Wild Grape Bistro) and from what she was saying, it seemed my wish had been granted. To say I was excited when I first got word of the concept behind Frida Bistro would be an understatement.

I’ve mentioned Frida Bistro a couple of times previously on this website. To recap for those who haven’t heard yet, the restaurant is owned by Jorge Fierro of the local Rico Foods brand. Rick Bruno (last seen at Meditrina) is in charge of the kitchen. The restaurant is attached to the Rico’s warehouse and production facility in SLC. Being located in the warehouse district, approaching the restaurant is an odd experience as the surrounding neighborhood is nearly deserted at night. I don’t think we saw many other cars in the area, but it made for very easy parking.

The restaurant’s interior is a treat for the eyes. The potentially drab exposed brick and steel space of what I’m assuming was once the front of the warehouse has been splashed with bright colors. Vibrant artwork adds even more energy to the space (we were delighted to have Jerry Garcia looking down on us enjoying our meal). Lightning is also spot on too with hanging drop lights adding the perfect amount of warm light. The whole affair is conducted with a cool understatement, what sounds like it could be hard on the eyes is actually done in a very elegant and sexy way at Frida Bistro. (Speaking of sexy, Wendi said that I should tell all the ladies to be sure to use the restroom while at Frida Bistro. I’m not sure what she means when she says it’s the sexiest bathroom ever, but I’ll just take her word for it and make the mention.) Attention to detail is obvious and there was even a small image of Frida Kahlo (the restaurant’s namesake) stamped on the paper tablecloth.

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Knowing the Manager’s eagerness to explore South American wines and considering our longtime love of the same, we eagerly tackled the wine menu. The wine list isn’t huge by any means, but did offer a nice selection. We started the meal with a bottle Dona Paula Estate Shiraz Malbec, Mendoza 2006 ($42), which was on the higher end of the markup scale. An amuse was served up while we took in the menus:

frida bistro amuse

The amuse was two small dense corn-based cakes with a creamy filling and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds, but for the life of us, we can’t remember what the server said it was. With my cheese aversion, I figured the filling contained cheese of some sort and opted not to try it, but Wendi really enjoyed it. I wish I could tell you more.

We decided to kick things off with a shared appetizer, and a special of the evening was the Duck Empanadas (fig-chipotle marmalade, cotija cheese $11):

frida bistro duck empanadas

I’m pretty sure every cuisine has a take on meat filled pastry, but I think this is the first time I’ve experienced duck as the filling in question. The empanadas were a little dry in the final analysis, yet we didn’t leave a morsel. The entrees were what we were really looking forward to, and with the menu’s exotic sounding selections like Chiles en Nogada sitting next to ingredients such as Nopal Cactus, we had a really hard time making our selections.

In the end, Wendi selected the Chile Relleno con Plátano Macho (Plantains, Panela Cheese and Piloncillo, Tres Verdes Rice, $20):

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This was a major step up from your run of the mill Chile Relleno for sure. The spicy punch of the Poblano chile was taken down just a notch by the sweetness of the plantain, making for a very interesting taste combination. The Panela cheese was used sparingly. I was very intrigued by the tres verdes rice accompanying the dish. It didn’t look like the usual sometimes bland off-pink rice I’m used to seeing at other local Mexican restaurants. It was a vivid green and appeared to have actual bits of spices and herbs in it. My suspicions were confirmed when I tasted it. It was delicious green goodness, extremely flavorful and a very welcome change.

I went with the Carnitas de Puerco (Fried leg of pork, Sweet Citrus Glaze, Chipotle Mashed Potatoes, Salsas and handmade corn tortillas, $21):

frida bistro carnitas

frida bistro salsa

The leg of pork was was thoroughly tender and juicy. It instantly took me right back to my childhood evoking memories of my parents cooking; this was a cut of meat I know served up in a completely new way. The flavors were rich and complex. Any dish that can push all those buttons, well, I’m sure you know what I mean! It was really quite fantastic.

The salsa’s accompanying the dish were great, one a creamy avocado, the other spicy and smoky . The chipotle mashed potatoes weren’t exactly what I expected, but served their carby purpose just fine.

Not featured in the photos were the sides of freshly made corn tortillas, which were served warm and as expected of a venture having to do with Rico’s, amazing.

We capped off the meal with ‘The Frida by Dough Girl’ ($8):

frida bistro cookie

I hadn’t heard of this local brand until our meal at Frida Bistro, but you can read more on Dough Girl here. The Frida was a rich chocolate cookie with hints of cinnamon, chili, and salt. The cookie was served warm topped with spiced pumpkin seeds and vanilla ice cream. I recall the battling of spoons over who would get each and every delicious bite of this cookie/ice cream combo. A really top notch end to the meal and a must if you do visit Frida Bistro.

If you hadn’t noticed, I have been totally swept away by Frida Bistro. Sure I have only been once, but I just love the place. I know we will be going back countless times. It’s largely what I had in my mind’s eye for all those years of wishing. I almost don’t want to let the cat out of the bag on Frida Bistro, it’d be great to keep it our little secret, but alas, they deserve to thrive and hopefully they will.

Frida Bistro
545 W 700 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84101
(801) 983-6692

Website: www.fridabistro.com

Stuart avatar

Hi, I’m Stuart, nice to meet you!  I’m the founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review; I’m also a former restaurant critic of more than five years, working for the Salt Lake Tribune.  I’ve worked extensively with other local publications from Utah Stories through to Salt Lake Magazine and Visit Salt Lake.

I’m a multiple-award winning journalist and have covered the Utah dining scene for more than a decade.   I’m largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words I don’t understand.  I ate all the pies.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Stu, what is the focus of Frida, Mexican, Central American, South American? I have to admit, I’m having a bit of a hard time getting excited about Frida. For example, when we went to Fronterra Grill in Chicago one of our friends ordered the tamales. Although they were good, really good, a notch better than most tamales, they did not knock the socks off the tamales I bought off a guy selling them in the Walmart parking lot. What is it about Frida that gets you excited. Do they serve ingredients you’ve never tried or is it more the flavors and atmosphere? Ingredients like cactus and plantains are not super rare. Do they have unique dishes or combinations that one does not find here? I’m talking about things like pig heart tacos (kidding, sort of). Heck, we had heart meat at a local Peruvian restaurant a couple weeks ago. The Iguana of course has their niche of moles. It is incredible to serve seven different types of moles, and all so unique from one another. What is Frida’s angle? I’ll be interested in your response as it will help me determine whether or not to drive out there and slap $100 down on food and wine. In the meantime I still want to try to get you and Wen to try El Paisa in 3200W. The atmosphere is certainly not romantic and they do not serve wine (although I think they have the best margarita in town, not sweet, not sour, just right). On Monday and Tuesday nights $14 will get you a half priced molcahete suprema which has tomatillo sauce, beef, chicken, shrimp, veggies (no cheese) – smoldering in a molcahete vessel (enough to feed 2-3), homemade corn or flour tortilllas, flavorless rice and beans (easy enough to skip although they may serve black beans too), great salsa and homemade chips – yummm! Their guac is super yummy too with a little salt added. I also here they have good soups and other items. Not super gourmet but the flavors are there and the price is right. Please report back, maybe we need to have a price to flavor (we can throw atmosphere in too) comparison between Frida and El Paisa. I respect Frida’s approach, but what makes them so gourmet? Please help me understand. Thanks!

  2. I really think a great meal, or dining experience as it were, is the sum of more than the food itself. Now of course the food is paramount, bad food, bad experience. But so much more adds up to a great memorable restaurant meal. The ambiance, food presentation, restaurant approach, service, lighting/mood etc. I think you get the idea. For me Frida Bistro nails everything, it is a more refined dining experience than somewhere like a La Frontera.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I love a smothered enchilada, or mom and pop joint, as much as the next guy; fancy most certainly does not equal great. But some evenings do call for something a bit more special, and I think Frida Bistro has the qualities for those evenings in buckets. They’ve also since announced a regularly monthly dining club, with small style tapas plates. And I believe the upcoming one, features a tequila pairing and tasting too. I think all of these elements make it unique to SLC.

    While plantains and cactus aren’t super rare, they aren’t incredibly common at the vast swathes of Mexican restaurants across the valley either. I don’t recall the last leg of pork or boiled beef round I had in a Mexican restaurant. Frida certainly isn’t trying to go too exotic, at least not yet, theres no tripe, pigs feet or hearts. What Frida Bistro does is to take many of the familiar flavours of Mexican cuisine, amp up the presentation and quality, throw in a decent wine/liquor menu all whilst doing it in a wonderful atmosphere. This won’t be for everyone, but I have yet to hear a bad word yet. From the Salt Lake magazine to the City Weekly people seem to be enjoying Frida. $100+ is a lot of cash, maybe give them a spin for lunch, check out their menu on the website, you could do lunch for under $20.

    El Paisa does sound really great, it is definitely on the to do list as it were. Are you able to email me any more info like opening hours, website, when to go etc?

  3. Yea, I think we are going to check Frida out. I will try to keep an open mind. I don’t know what it is about me and Mexican food. I tend to have extremely high expectations for anything with Mexican and gourmet in the same sentence. Perhaps this is because the best Mexican food I’ve had has always been in Mom and Pop places. What I hope is that Frida does something unique really well. I also hope that Mexico is not lumped together with Central American and South American and Spanish cuisine. These different areas all have foods distinctive to their respective geographies. Ok so I’ve said my peace. Let Frida rise to the expectations and exceed them. If they can pull it off I agree that Frida would be an incredible addition to the SLC food scene. I can’t wait to discover for myself! Thanks for the review!

    P.S. El Paisa 3200W 2126S (P.S. they answer the phone in Spanish, half priced molcahetes supremas Monday and Tuesday nights, live music every night except Monday, dancing on weekends, no website, and they put cactus in their molcahetes supremas). Happy dining! -M

  4. Frida’s blew us away…and that was during lunch. All I can say is, “It’s about time (for SLC).”

    Mexican fusion by the hands of a talented chef is an amazing experience. Frida’s menu equalled what we have enjoyed in San Antonio, San Diego, and Cabo San Lucas, and with a lower bill.

  5. I look forward to meeting you Muncher! Hopefully we will exceed your expectations of what a mexican restaurant should be. Mexico City was considered the “Paris of the West” throughout the 20th Century and was know for it’s haute cuisine. What we are trying to do is provide approachable and yet unheard of dishes outside of what American perceive as “Mexican” Thank you for the review, we are honored.

  6. Thanks for the comment Stephanie. We are taking my Mom to Frida in celebration of her trip out to Utah. Can’t wait for the experience!

  7. […] Gastronomic Salt Lake “Frida Bistro Evening Dinner Review” City Weekly “Dining in the Rough: Jorge Fierro’s Frida Bistro delivers unique Mexican flavor.” […]

  8. I think it is wayyyyyy over priced for what it is. Try it once, I doubt you’ll go back to drop another $100 on okay Mexican food. It was cold in the restaurant and our food was cold. If their prices were even slightly more reasonable I’d go back. It’s not worth it. Go to the Paris for the same price and way better food and atmosphere.

  9. Heather,
    We are soo very sorry you had a poor experience in the restaurant. We hope you provided this feedback to your server.

    I would love to make it up to you!
    Stephanie

  10. We had a great experience at Frida Bistro. The food was delightful and delicious. The presentation was lovely. Service was excellent. What an fun option for Salt Lake City. We’ll be bringing our friends and out of town guests. It is a tad pricey, but appropriate – even a deal! – for the quality and experience. If you want something different and special, choose Frida Bistro!

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