One of the planet’s most prolific film stars is also a Utah restaurateur, and I’m not talking about Bruce, Arnold, Sly or Whoopi. If you walk into Layton’s Taco Taco Mexican restaurant, chances are good you’ll get a glimpse of Leon Barroso, a dapper, warm gentleman who has made the transition from the big screen to restaurateur with great success. That is, if authentic Mexican flavors count for anything.
Barroso has appeared in more than 150 films—most of them made in Mexico—from Carta Brava in 1949 to 1971’s Rosario. He made 10 movies with Cantinflas, Mexico’s beloved court jester, and produced Spanish versions of Shakespeare plays in Mexico City. But based on its title alone, my favorite of the Barroso opus would have to be 1960’s El Supermacho. Not content to rest just on his movie laurels, Barroso also has numerous television and theater appearances in his extensive vitae.
Given my preference for food over film though, it’s Leon Barroso’s talent at putting delicious home-style Mexican food on the table—”comida Mexicana estilo casero”—that is most impressive. Taco Taco is a midsize restaurant on Layton’s Main Street (he also owns the Taco Taco on Washington Boulevard in Ogden), with enough tables and booths to accommodate large parties or small. Plastic flowers are abundant as are framed photo stills from Mr. Barroso’s movies. It’s a comfortable, no-nonsense eatery that couldn’t be more different from Planet Hollywood. It’s not meant to be a shrine to Leon Barroso’s movie career, but rather a friendly, unpretentious place to feed your family.
And friendly it really is. I’ve never had warmer or more accommodating service anywhere, and Leon Barroso himself is often on hand at the restaurant, always dressed crisply in a suit and tie with his gleaming movie-star smile and silver-screen elegance.
Chances are good at Taco Taco that your server will be one of Mr. Barroso’s granddaughters or grand-nieces, since the restaurant is a family-owned and -run place where everyone pitches in. Taco Taco table service isn’t exactly what I’d call “professional”—it’s better than that. You don’t get a canned “Hello, my name is Julia and I’ll be your server tonight; can I interest you in a drink or appetizer?” sort of presentation at Taco Taco. Rather, customers are treated like family members who just happened to drop by for dinner.
There’s flexibility at Taco Taco, too, that you don’t always find at more formal restaurants: Just ask the persnickety kids I sometimes dine with. Taco Taco has been more than accommodating at creating customized kids’ dishes like crispy tacos with cheese, hold the lettuce, tomatoes and meat. And if your children haven’t yet developed a palate for Mexican flavors, no problem; they can always order pancakes from the Taco Taco kids’ menu.
Sit down to peruse the menu at Taco Taco, and a server will bring you a bowl of chips and salsa. But be careful, because the chips and salsa are freshly made, and the tortilla chips literally go from the deep fryer to your table, still sizzling. Burnt lips are a worthwhile risk for those fresh, crunchy chips and exceptional salsa.
As I do in most Mexican restaurants, at Taco Taco I zeroed in first on the chile verde burrito platter ($7.75), and I’m glad I did. It was a large flour tortilla stuffed with tender, roasted pork chunks smothered in a vibrant, fresh green chile sauce and topped with shredded lettuce, sour cream and cotija cheese. Alongside were wonderfully creamy fresh-made “frijoles refritos” (refried beans) and Mexican rice. If you prefer your chile verde in nonburrito form, Taco Taco also offers a chile verde platter with fresh corn or flour tortillas on the side. No matter which version of chile verde you choose, a cold Corona flanking your plate is a good idea.
I’m not usually a big fan of enchiladas in Mexican restaurants because what usually appears is a big, greasy mess of melted cheese on a plate, with tortillas that have disintegrated into mush. But both the chicken and cheese enchiladas ($6.95) at Taco Taco were terrific with wonderful texture as well as flavor, and not cooked to death as is typically the case.
I recommend the enchiladas at Taco Taco highly, but I’m even more enthusiastic about the house specialty called Tampiquena ($9.95). It’s a large plate with a thin charred piece of carne asada (grilled top-sirloin steak) served with an array of fresh condiments like homemade guacamole, lettuce, diced tomato and Mexican cheese, as well as a choice of enchilada, with rice, beans and fresh tortillas on the side. My preference is to slice up the grilled steak and make my own small soft tacos using corn tortillas with a dollop of guacamole, onions and salsa on top. It’s worth spending an extra $1.65 for a bowl of fresh pico de gallo from the Ã la carte menu to add a little oomph to your Tampiquena platter.
Taco Taco also serves breakfast, so if you find yourself in Layton during the morning hours, I recommend stopping in for a plate of authentic “chilaquiles” or the “menudo” that frequently makes an appearance on the menu.
Yes, Taco Taco is owned by a movie star. But it’s a celebrity-owned restaurant that’s more about the food than the celebrity. I’ll take one of Leon Barroso’s “torta” sandwiches over Sly Stallone’s L.A. Lasagna any day of the week.
TACO TACO 22 N. Main, Layton, 801-593-9091. Breakfast, lunch & dinner Monday through Saturday
Eat on your feet! Here are Ted Scheffler’s 10 best foods to eat standing up:
1. Cotton Bottom Inn garlic burger: It’s not just for breakfast anymore! Best consumed with a pitcher of beer and a pool table nearby. 6200 S. Holladay Blvd., 273-9830.
2. Fish & chips from Virg’s: Like in London, the best fish and chips are usually hidden in the least visually appealing eateries. Virg’s British Fish & Chips is no exception. 3150 S. State, 485-5981.
3. A slice of pizza from Nevole’s Pizzeria: It’s not any good unless the grease drips down your sleeve. 51 E. 11400 South, Sandy, 571-5744.
4. State Street tacos: The best tacos in Mexico are devoured standing up, purchased from no-name taco stands that line the streets. Here in Salt Lake City, all you have to do is cruise State and streets surrounding downtown Sears to get your lips around Zion’s best tacos.
5. Philly cheesesteak at Kyle’s Grill & CafÃ©: You’re not eating it right unless you’re doing the “Philadelphia lean.” 9495 S. 560 West, 561-3132.
6. Mazza’s falafel: OK, since Mazza’s refurbishing, it’s now more of a sit-down restaurant, though you can still get take-out orders. And falafel sandwiches are still best eaten upright and on-the-go. 1515 S. 1500 East, 484-9259.
7. Kumamotos at the Market Street Oyster Bar: Belly up to the Oyster Bar and treat yourself to a dozen or so freshly-shucked Kumamoto oysters. Or, go big and upgrade the whole darn deal with a glass of Sancerre. 54 W. Market St., 531-6044.; 2985 E. 6580 South, 942-8870.
8. They’re messy and marvelous—Moochie’s meatball subs, that is. If it ain’t on ya, it shouldn’t be in ya!’ 232 E. 800 South, 596-1350.
9. Barbacoa burrito: The size of the burritos at Barbacoa Mexican Grill might slow you down from their sheer weight. But hey, no pain, no gain, right? 895 E. 900 South, 524-0853.
10. Barbecued turkey leg from Pat’s Bar B Que & Catering: Gripping a caveman-style turkey leg in one hand and a cold beer in the other requires training and dedication. Not recommended for amateurs. 155 W. Commonwealth Ave., 484-5963.
Quote of the week: Manhattan is a narrow island off the coast of New Jersey devoted to the pursuit of lunch.
Send Food Matters tips to email@example.com. Hear Ted over the airwaves on Sound Bites every Thursday on KSL News Radio 1160.