My dear friend Helen called me from her office in Manhattan. She was frustrated that there is so little good Mexican food in the Big Apple! She had just lunched at a new place that promised the flavors of Mexico and delivered frou-frou nothingness on a plate. "Could you, please, just overnight some Mole Poblano from the Red Iguana" --- she cried over the phone. It was her plea (albeit tongue in cheek) that prompted me to think about my attachment to the Cardenas family and the Red Iguana.
My love of the Red Iguana began decades ago with the first location on 3rd West in Salt Lake City. Ramon Cardenas Jr. served patrons, while in the kitchen, his parents Maria and Ramon Sr. conjured their signature dishes. Sadly that restaurant burnt to the ground but precipitated the move to the current flagship location on North Temple. I met Ramon Jr. in the studios of community radio station KRCL above the Blue Mouse Cinema where we both were DJs in the ‘80s. I subsequently met Lucy Cardenas, his sister, on the campus of the University of Utah. She was then and still is incredibly vivacious and dynamic.
My family, the Huertas, and the Cardenas family would go on to become friends. Over the years, we have shared many experiences and have many tales to tell. They range from Ramon Jr and my brother Roberto traveling with me through Mexico by bus; to making and eating Pizza Neapolitana with Lucy and her husband Bill in the home of my brother Joe; to the Red Iguana Employee Halloween Pumpkin-Carving Contest where I was the judge for years. The contestants took part in an activity that (unbeknownst to everyone) was part of their cultural acclimation to the USA; or watching the Oscars with Lucy and Ramon Sr. at the old Cardenas family cabin. The evening punctuated by catered foods and margaritas from the Red Iguana.
All the stories flavor our past and our present. And I just don’t know how to separate the people from the food. Passion, big flavors, wonderful aromas and careful the plate is hot! I believe the adjectives qualify both, the food and the people. I will always enjoy the Red Iguana #1 at 736 West North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT, where after their respective shows we hung out with Santana, Los Lobos and the Paladins. Yet I’ve come to love Red Iguana #2 at 866 W South Temple, Salt Lake City, UT, same great food but a Choo-Choo Train runs through it or rather right outside the front door. Just like the little boy at the next table who asked; “Daddy, when’s the train coming?” I have the same sense of anticipation while I have a meal and wait for the train. I made a point of going to the "Taste of the Red Iguana" at 28 South State Street, Salt Lake City, UT. The menu is shorter and the food faster but it redefines having something quick to eat in a mall. Nothing better!
Family, food, friends and fun - These are the things I associate with the Red Iguana. Pick a location. Bring your friends and family and expect to have fun. Make some memories of your own. You’ll not be disappointed! Unlike dear Helen in NYC (who does have the Red Iguana 1,2,3!).