Since my arrival here in Utah I have been on a search for the things that remind me of home. And yes, I am another of those Californians that have made my way to this state. Though it is hard to part from my sunny Southern California ways, Utah has found a place in my heart, corny as that sounds. It’s obvious that the shores of Utah lake can’t begin to compete with the sandy beaches of the West Coast, but Utah carries its weight in many ways that more than make up the difference. One in particular is the Utah cuisine. Now don’t get it twisted — I’m not saying that Utah takes the cake in this category (no pun intended), but what I am saying is that the culinarians here are stepping up to the plate in a world full of gastronomic artistry.
One of the most evident deficiencies I experienced upon my relocation was the lack of culinary diversity. Even though the wide variety of casseroles and funeral potatoes are more than enough to satisfy any hungry person, the real question was what did I have to do to get some good restaurant food in this state? It has been a system of trial and error to find authentic (fill in the blank) food that is affordable, convenient and, well, good. Being a student, dining out is nearly a necessity, so going out and finding good food is a must. One place that I would like to tell you about is Maria Bonita Mexican Grill in Orem. Of course, being from southern California and in a half-Mexican family, my expectations are high when it comes to Mexican food. Taco Bell and Café Rio don’t cut it for me. I wanted the real thing and I found it at Maria Bonita.
Their menu items are an elaborate tour through Mexico, spanning from simple tacos al pastor to mole enchiladas and fajitas. The prices are doable but initially seemed a little on the high side, which ordinarily would turn me off. But that trepidation vanished when my plate arrived. The first time I dined at Maria Bonita I ordered flautas, which are basically rolled tacos larger than taquitos. When I say larger, I mean an inch in diameter instead of a half inch, which is what I have always been presented with at other restaurants. In short, the flautas were so big I could only finish one half of the three I was presented with, and this was only for around $10.
One of their claims to fame is the molcajete. This mound of seafood, steak, chicken and vegetables is served in a heated mortar with a side of tortillas, rice and beans — definitely more than enough to feed two people. Like every other meal there, it is also served (and contrasts sharply) with an unremarkable chicken and rice broth, but the drabness of the soup is easy to forgive when presented with a welcoming smile and beside a flavorful dish like the molcajete.
This restaurant is passion-filled venue. The staff is attentive and obviously proud of their authentic meals. There is only one thing sorely absent from among their otherwise thoroughly authentic offerings: real Mexican soup like Pozole or Menudo. That would complete the menu, but then again, we are in Utah where culinary adventure rarely tiptoes into organ meat territory and tripe stews might not fare well. At this point I take what I can get, and to my excitement Maria Bonita Mexican Grill is one of the best gettings to be got.