Red Iguana: A Salt Lake City Icon

Recently we interviewed local restaurant owner Lucy Cardenas; owner of the Red Iguana, Red Iguana 2, and Taste of Red Iguana. We asked her about the history of the restaurant, the menu that makes Red...

Red Iguana: A Salt Lake City Icon

Recently we interviewed local restaurant owner Lucy Cardenas; owner of the Red Iguana, Red Iguana 2, and Taste of Red Iguana. We asked her about the history of the restaurant, the menu that makes Red Iguana so unique, her recommendations for a day in Salt Lake, and her opinion of the future of the food industry. 

Red Iguana 1

Tell us about the Red Iguana’s History?

So let me just give you a little history. So the restaurant has been here for 35 plus years, right? So we get a lot of tourist destination basically. Yes, we’re in guide books and things like that. I know and I grew up in Salt Lake I grew up in Rose park and I’ve been here for a long time. I’ve seen Salt Lake change so much. The community is very proud. The city is very proud to have us right here right now. And I live in the same neighborhood. Red Iguana is a place to try something new and exciting the Mexico way. And it’s colorful. It’s got a lot of character and really wanted to has a lot of character as you know, that’s newer and it’s only two blocks away. So the fact that we have to build restaurants close to each other is also very very unique. Yeah, and the same reason I wanted to stay in the neighborhood and have us be a destination restaurant have people come to us. Yeah.

 How have you been able to build that reputation?

 I guess what led to the success of today. I just think it’s because of the food, the food speaks for itself and the fact that they’re family-owned. The other family recipes and my brother, who passed away in 2004, he was a big part of our success. So when I bought the business from my parents we all started it when my father opened the restaurant,  people just fell in love with the place.
We’re already well known nationally. So we were on TV. And so people just Google us and they see that we’re one of the most reviewed restaurants in Utah. But you know, 35 years is a long time. So it’s not like it’s as if it happened overnight. It was a lot of hard work that went into making the restaurant was what it is and so I just think that we add a level of flavor to Salt Lake.

What’re your menu recommendations? 

We have a nice little variety of stuff. You can be adventurous or just kind of stick with the basics. I always get the Chile Verde, it’s not very adventurous and that’s just one of your good old, you know, Mexican dishes. And it’s like I said, it’s just something that my father used to make. My father cooked and I loved the way he made it.

Killer Nachos
Enchilada potosinas (Red Iguana is the only restaurant to serve this dish in the state)
Pina colada’s are magical here

They also have adventurous, sporty, gluten-free, vegetarian options

Recommended Activity :

What would you recommend a visiting tourist do after having lunch or dinner at your restaurant?

Well, I would recommend going for a stroll up City Creek and cause I’m a downtown girl. So if they want to come and have a meal five minutes from downtown Salt Lake City, it’s a lovely walk to go take a look at downtown and then take a stroll up to City Creek. I walk up along the creek and everything. That’s because it’s close. Yeah, you know it’s kind of hidden. Nobody really knows. Everybody goes to Park City, you know, everybody goes to the mountains. And so the thing that I like about going up is it’s pretty quick too is if you go on the whole loop if you decide you want to go for a nice walk the walk up by the capital so you get to see the capital of Utah. So I like it up there.

Coping with Covid-19:

You know, a lot of other restaurants aren’t open yet and they’re really struggling to keep even keep the doors open. What do you think the food industry is going to look like after all this stuff is over?

That’s a really good question and I have to tell you it’s very scary right now. It’s really scary. Like my heart goes out to all the restaurants and stores because it’s a tough time. I think in our situation we’re very fortunate because we’ve been in business for so long. So the restaurant has a lot of history and has a reputation and has a following and so on March 16th, when they said we had to close by midnight we immediately decided what we’re going to do. 

So, we offer curbside at Red iguana 2 and this restaurant Red Iguana was closed for a hundred and eleven days. It was close a hundred eleven days and we have a location of Quick Service location downtown Taste of Red Iguana. That was also closed. So things are closed on the 17th.

Wanted to we set up for take-out curbside So people actually would bring the food out to their car. So it was like starting a brand-new business and then we’ve just been waiting to see what the guidelines are for opening. We really based it on that and we only opened one red iguana 2 for dine-in and we found that we could do it in a way that makes sense to us. And so we open dining there and then we opened dining here on July 7. So we haven’t been a month and we were always open six days a week crazy hours. And now we’re old were six days a week. We’re closed on Mondays and we have shortened hours right now. That’s right. It’s been an interesting experience right now, and it’s really great. It’s 1:30.

We’re very fortunate that we can learn a lot. We get a lot of tourists because they’re on their way to town they say where’s a good place to eat look like they searched it and yeah, they find we’re rated #1.

 So do you think people who don’t have to know the history and the following in the  know, and the over 100 menu history behind them. You think they’re going to struggle after?

 It depends I think that there are other restaurants in the valley that have really good reputations and I think that they’re going to be okay.

But I think that there’s also an element to our food that’s kind of comforting comfort food and so people will come to us because they are craving those enchiladas. I really need those burritos are they really need their molé or they really miss what we have. We have a great bar and great beverages, but I think that restaurants have to be I mean I can only speak for mine.

I don’t know but we order takeout quite a bit from the restaurants that we like I’ll tell you. I won’t go into a lot of restaurants because I don’t feel safe. I feel extremely safe in my restaurant, I do because we’re doing really good, my staff is doing an excellent job. Yeah, absolutely staying safe and great airflow. We change the filters.
So they would clean the air filter out. You know, we’re very much community-minded.

Like Stuff like this?

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Article by: Cole Fetzer, David Blaylock, Ben Haggard, and Grant Ekland

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