But all you really need to know is that the entire menu of Salvadoran and Oaxacan choices is available in either location, from the same kitchen. If one location's seating is full, just head around the corner to the other room. Or just pick your preferred atmosphere.
Café Guanaco's calling card has always been pupusas, stuffed with a choice of steak ($2.99), shrimp ($2.99), pork chicharrón ($1.99) or beans ($1.99). You can hear the sounds of the handmade tortillas being formed from the kitchen. Although these pupusas were slightly drier than other versions I've enjoyed, the crunchy curtido a slightly fermented cabbage slaw with chiles and vinegar placed on top added moisture.
The pork tamale (tamal puerco $1.99) here is wrapped in a leaf as opposed to the corn husk we see more frequently and contained a perfectly steamed corn masa exterior surrounding spicy shredded pork.
From Oaxaca comes an iconic dish tlayudas. Resembling a Mexican pizza, the house tlayudas ($14) is a plate-size baked tortilla covered in refried beans like a pizza sauce then topped with cabbage, fresh avocados, tomatoes, Oaxaca cheese and meats including a beautiful chorizo, thinly sliced beef strips (tasajo) and chile powder-crusted pork (cecina).
It's said that Oaxaca is known for seven distinct moles, and the menu here features five (rojo, coloradito, verde, amarillo and negro). I'd put La Oaxaqueña's complex, chocolate-spiced mole negro ($12.99) up against Red Iguana's any day, and I'll certainly test them all in time.
You'll also find breakfast dishes ($9.99) and even nopal zapoteco (grilled cactus, $12.99) on the menu in addition to side order staples of rice and beans ($2 each) that are flavorful and filling.
Make sure to save enough room for a shared order of plátanos con crema ($4.50). Dip the warm and caramelized fried plantain halves into the cool and tangy crema to complete your meal.
Although the restaurants offer a wide selection of Mexican sodas, branch out and try one of the specialty drinks listed on the wall menu boards. Oaxaca is famous for its chocolate, so don't miss the Mexican hot chocolate Oaxaca style ($4.50) this winter, which comes with a slightly sweetened roll for dipping. Horchata ($4.50) is a sweet, almond-flavored milky cold beverage, while those preferring a savory drink can enjoy the atol de elote ($3.50), a hot, corn-based beverage, nearly as thick as a soup.
Service at La Oaxaqueña is friendly, although our lunch order was not exactly what we thought we ordered on the Café Guanaco side. At dinner, the younger servers provided recommendations and answered all of my questions about the history of the restaurants.
In short, this family-owned business in South Salt Lake is definitely one not to miss for an introduction or immersion in Oaxacan cuisine.
Heather L. King also writes for www.theutahreview.com and can be found on social media @slclunches
Café Guanaco and La Oaxaqueña
Food • HHhj
Mood • Hhj
Service • HHhj
Noise • b
Neighborhood favorite Café Guanaco has reopened and is still dishing up Salvadoran pupusas, but the menu has been expanded to include Oaxacan cuisine from the new La Oaxaqueña.
Location • 499 E. 2700 South, South Salt Lake; 801-484-6584
Online • www.facebook.com/La-Oaxaqueña-425924780942328/
Hours • Open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Children's menu • No
Prices • $-$$
Liquor • No
Reservations • No
Takeout • Yes
Wheelchair access • Yes
Outdoor dining • Yes
On-site parking • Yes
Credit cards • all major