Whatever you do, don’t touch the red button. That’s the ejector seat.” Thus ended the safety orientation for our holiday helicopter ride.nn
Of course, helicopters don’t actually come equipped with ejector seats. But my honey didn’t know that and studiously avoided the red button throughout the entire flight. That part of the safety lecture was just a little yuk from our witty and unimaginably friendly Kiwi chopper pilot James Brown. And yes, that’s his real name.nn
We’d met Brown in November when he chauffeured me by air to Deer Valley Resort for its annual Beaujolais Nouveau festival. Normally, I don’t get to ride to Deer Valley in a chopper, but I’d been asked on behalf of a local wine broker to escort Utah’s first cask of Beaujolais Nouveau 2006 to Deer Valley because it’s technically illegal here for wine brokers to deliver their wares personally to restaurants and such. Being a civilian, it was perfectly OK for me to schlep the vino'and I sure wasn’t going to pass up a free helicopter ride to do so.nn
Well, as soon as I was a few feet off the ground, I knew that our kids would be stoked riding in a helicopter. But I certainly don’t have the $900 or so it normally costs to rent a ’copter for an hour. As luck would have it, though, during the flight to Deer Valley, our pilot mentioned that throughout the holiday season, his company Classic Helicopters was doing short evening flights over downtown Salt Lake City for passengers to view the Christmas lights at Temple Square and around the city. The cost: a mere $37 per person. Cool, sign me up!nn
By now, you’re probably wondering what this all has to do with food and restaurants. I’m getting there. You see, Classic Helicopters operates out of the small Skypark Airport in Woods Cross. After our Christmas lights tour, I decided to take the family'plus Spencer, the foodie-to-be kid from next door'to Lorena’s for supper. Lorena’s Mexican Restaurant is located right off the Woods Cross exit on Interstate 15, just about a mile from Skypark Airport and Classic Helicopters. So, in a way, I guess you could say I choppered to the best chile verde I’ve ever eaten.nn
Yup, it was that good. I’d been hearing from the wife about Lorena’s chile-verde burrito for quite some time but didn’t really believe her. “What does she know about chile verde?” I thought. Quite a lot, as it turns out.nn
It’s not much to look at'a few Christmastime piÃ±atas and colored lights notwithstanding'but this Mexican restaurant is always packed. Lorena’s has been around for many years, and folks in the North Salt Lake/Bountiful/Woods Cross corridor long ago sussed out the good food and cheap prices there. Happily, the restaurant is roomy enough that there’s usually not more than a wait of a few minutes for a table. It’s a sprawling three-room restaurant that I suppose must have once been a steakhouse, since the restroom signs read “Mr. Tenderloin” and “Mrs. Tenderloin.” Normally, restroom doors wouldn’t have registered with me, except that I spent time on guard outside Mr. Tenderloin concerned about Spencer, who was feeling a tad queasy after his inaugural chopper ride.nn
Seated at Lorena’s, a free bowl of freshly cooked tortilla chips and salsa arrived rapido. The chips are virtually grease-free, light, crispy and delightful. The simple, unchunky red salsa'no cilantro, onions or jalapeÃ±os'is absolutely superb, and even better when washed down with a bottle of Dos Equis Special Lager ($2.60). It’s nearly impossible not to fill up on bowl after bowl of those championship chips, but I advise at least a tiny bit of chip decorum, because the portion sizes at Lorena’s are mui grande. I can’t imagine that anyone has ever departed Lorena’s restaurant hungry.nn
Let’s get to the chile verde. First, it’s not what you might normally think of as chile verde. It ain’t really a green-chile stew with large chunks of pork like you’d get at, say, the Red Iguana. The chile verde at Lorena’s is actually more akin to green chile gravy'and that’s the way I like it. The best way to experience Lorena’s chile verde is via the chile platter ($5.75), which includes a hefty serving of green (or red) chile, beans, rice and a couple of warm tortillas (corn or flour). The thick chile verde is perfectly spiced with a hint of cumin and a blast of Anaheim chilies and sprinkled throughout with small morsels of tender pork.nn
Another way to get your boca around Lorena’s gravitas green chile is to order a bean and chile-stuffed burrito ($3) smothered with that great green gravy. However, I can’t really recommend ordering the burrito Ã¡ la carte, because then you miss out on the sensational sides at Lorena’s. The Mexican rice is very good, but the frijoles are outstanding. I’ve only tasted beans as heavenly as these at one other local restaurant: La Macarena. Unlike the stiff, dry, icky refried beans you’re probably accustomed to, these beans are silky, rich and creamy in texture and flavor, thanks (I’m guessing) to the generous use of lard. However they’re made, these are seriously bodacious beans.nn
Since breakfast is served all day at Lorena’s, I’d also point you towards the authentic Mexican menudo ($5), a classic morning-after dish in Mexico. And you can get it, for an extra quarter, con pata'that is, with a pig’s foot. You show me another restaurant with Godly green chile and pig’s feet for a quarter, and I’ll phone James and have him chopper me there tomorrow.nn
LORENA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT
n2477 S. 800 West
nSunday & Monday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
nTuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.