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Chile-Tepin is a hot topic on the Salt Lake City dining scene — almost as hot its namesake chile pepper.

The chiltepin is the only wild, native chile to the United States, grown in west Texas and southern Arizona. Its tiny size belies a pungent, smoky flavor and heat scale that's anywhere from six to 40 times hotter than jalapeños. It's sometimes referred to as "the mother of all peppers" and finds its history as a food, medicine and mythic icon.

Chile-Tepin, the newest venture of restaurateur Carlos Rodriguez, is quickly becoming an icon on Utah's list of best downtown eateries. It makes its mark by offering fresh and well-prepared dishes at surprisingly low prices — beginning with complimentary housemade chips and salsa once guests are seated.

An expansive menu touching on all the expected options — appetizers (botanas), house specialties, combination plates and salads — gives diners plenty to choose from in generous portions. Furthermore, diners will find the food freshly made with quality ingredients. In fact, Rodriguez explained to our table one evening that the only things that ever are frozen in the restaurant are ice for the drinks and ice cream for dessert ($4.99).

With this in mind, start with the queso fundido ($7.99) with spicy chorizo to share around the table or fresh guacamole ($4.99) utilizing the aforementioned chips.

Look to the especial de la casa for fried pork carnitas ($12.99), fajitas with a choice of juicy protein (chicken $12.99, beef $13.99 or shrimp $14.99) and sharable feasts such as the molcajetes ($24.99).

An increasingly popular dish in Utah, the molcajete features a large heated lava rock bowl (called a molcajete) brimming with grilled steak, chicken, shrimp, nopales (cactus) and sticks of queso fresco simmering in green tomatillo sauce and topped with charred jalapeños and onion. Sides of rice, a bowl of smoky beans and warm corn or flour tortillas complete the display, which makes a filling meal for two if not three adults.

Individual entrées range from a simple carne asada quesadilla ($7.99) packed with strips of seasoned steak to a complex mole poblano ($13.99) highlighting cinnamon, chocolate and chiles.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and quantity of meaty shrimp delivered in the camarones a la crema ($14.99) that showcased a delicate chile de arbol cream sauce alongside rice and a small salad. A spicy chiltepin diabla sauce or a garlic and butter sauce are additional possibilities.

If you're value-shopping for a lot of food, try the combination plates offering two choices for $8.99 or three items for $9.99 with a side of Spanish rice and refried beans. Two standouts of the six selections available: the lightly fried chile relleno, stuffed with cheese; and a steamed pork, chicken or cheese tamale ($3.99 à la carte) with just a hint of sweetness in the masa.

I immediately dubbed the chile relleno the best I've eaten in the valley due to the firmness and heat of the chile itself and also the crispy outer coating without even a hint of greasy aftertaste. It can be ordered à la carte for $3.99 and has become an appetizer favorite of mine.

Other choices include a chicken, cheese, beef or vegetable enchilada covered in a complementary sauce suggested by your server or a taco, flauta or tostada (all $3.99 à la carte).

Whatever you're craving, the menu at Chile-Tepin is the same during lunch and dinner (with the same prices) and the servers are happy to make detailed suggestions or simply help you translate the menu in between efficiently delivering food and clearing plates to the almost-always-packed tables.

If there is a wait to be seated during evening weekends, you'll likely be entertained by a guitarist who plays and sings to each table throughout the evening.

The only thing I'd like to see change at Chile-Tepin is the glassware. The plastic margarita and drinking glasses give the impression of lesser quality of everything in and around them — including the expertly mixed Sauza Plata margarita ($6) — which is not at all the case in reality.

Together, the entertainment, service, food and hospitality make Chile-Tepin a standout in the downtown dining scene.

Heather L. King also writes for and can be found on social media @slclunches —



Food • HHH

Mood • HHhj

Service • HHH

Noise • bb

Chile-Tepin serves fresh Mexican dishes like the molcajete and chile relleno at affordable prices in the Crane Building downtown.

Location • 307 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City; 801-883-9255

Online •

Hours • Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed Sunday

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $-$$

Liquor • Yes

Reservations • Yes

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • No

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All