When I first wrote about Alamexo for the Salt Lake Tribune, the central theme of my story was pricing. Writing for print always has inherent limitations (space being just one) which in turn tend to amplify the focus of any single point; and if there was one thing I was certain of, Alamexo’s price points would be a stretch for some Utahns.
In re-reading that first article, I was semi-surprised to see that more than two years have since passed, but equally happy to see that owner and chef Matt Lake’s business is blossoming. Lake’s former restaurant, Zy, lasted just 18 months. While Zy was a fine restaurant in many respects, I always felt there was something ever so slightly measured and clinical about proceedings.
As I listened to Lake explain his love for Mexican culinary traditions at a recent media event, it’s clear to see why Alamexo has by far and away eclipsed Zy – Lake’s passion for Mexican cuisine is palpable. In Lake’s own words, “this is the only cuisine I can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner”.
I’m genuinely thrilled to see Salt Laker’s embracing Alamexo’s vision. It means as a city we’re increasingly capable of hosting serious, more conceptually elevated restaurants. It also means diners are starting to see beyond price and understand – value – hallelujah.
What print has always limited me from screaming from the rooftops, but obviously understood by SLC’s savvier diners: “Don’t be a goddamn rube, the type of cuisine is irrelevant, do you not understand the operating costs for a high end restaurant in any major downtown city”.
One of my favorite dishes at Alamexo is a downright steal. The Cochinita Pibil Tacos use pork shoulder that’s slow roasted for hour upon hour in achiote and bitter orange. Plated picture perfect, like all of the food at Alamexo, the price is just $17.95. I defy you to find a better tasting or better value entree among Alamexo’s downtown peers – and lets name them so we’re very clear here, businesses like Copper Onion, Bistro 222, Martine, Eva and so on.
If you’re still adamant that tacos should never cost more than $1.50 each, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point completely: please move along, don’t pass go, don’t collect $200. And shut the hell up.
Back to Lake’s passion though, which as in many kitchens, drives an almost obsessive fixation on quality. Whether its the plush, napkin-wrapped tortilla with those tacos or a rich and complex mole, everything at Alamexo is made from scratch using traditional methods passed down from abuelitas for centuries.
Ingredients are sourced locally when possible and Niman Ranch meats and sustainable seafood are order of the day. When possible, Lake even concocts his own fermented pineapple vinegar, impossible to source locally, oftentimes used to to marinate just one small part of a larger dish.
That’s not to say there still aren’t a few personal tweaks I’d make. Translating Lake’s passion and the hours of deliberate, precise effort in every dish onto the menu and into every diner’s experience is still a challenge (but hey that’s why you read GSLC right). And for the market Alamexo operates in I’d still love to see a broader depth of beer selections as is de-rigeur these days. I’m also certain an early evening happy hour, perhaps for appetizers for example would double bums on seats. But maybe, that point isn’t lost on the business brains at Alamexo.
Late this year, possibly sliding into 2017, Lake’s next business – Cantina Del Alamexo is set to open in the trendy ninth and ninth neighborhood. The restaurant will offer a pared down, no reservation, more casual take on Lake’s love for Mexican cuisine. There will also be a focus on plating that supports sharing and what’s surely set to be a lively atmosphere.
268 State St #110, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Disclaimer: Before writing this article I was an invited guest of the restaurant at a media event showcasing Alamexo’s cuisine and development.
Founder, writer and wrangler at Gastronomic SLC and The Utah Review. Former restaurant critic at the Salt Lake Tribune. Stuart is largely fueled by Uinta Cutthroat, alliteration and the use of too many big words he doesn’t understand. Ate all the pies.