Where: 1555 E. 800 North, Orem
Hours: open for dinner and lunch
How much: entrees from $5-10
Mama Chu's Mexican restaurant is tucked near a hillside and so close to the turnoff toward Provo Canyon, it's easy to miss. It has to be taken as a good sign, then, when a casual cantina in a relatively remote spot is crammed with diners during a midweek afternoon. When two friends and I selected Mama Chu's for lunch, we found the last available parking spot and the last open table.
Part of its appeal is the price. Many entrees are priced at no more than $5, and a wide range of less expensive a la carte items — almost all menu items — are priced economically. The most expensive item is a platter of shrimp fajitas, available for $10. Another attraction may be its generous portions, as well as some its specialties.
The chips were served warm with a chunky tomato salsa that registered between medium and hot on the spiciness scale. Its guacamole had a robust texture with pieces of avocado blended in a tomato and onion base. It compared well with the better avocado appetizers in the valley. The refreshing agua de pina beverage featured chunks of pineapple. It was a promising beginning.
The main courses, however, varied extensively in quality and appeal. A superior dish was the poblano sour cream enchilada. Glossy, bright green chilies floated in a delectable cream and cheese sauce that made the enchilada distinctive and enhanced the standard quality rice and beans that flanked the main dish. The poblano enchilada was so appealing, I was sorry I hadn't ordered it. I came close to coveting my friend who clearly relished every bite — and rather reluctantly allowed me to sample it. I don't blame her. I'll be back, and I won't even need to ask for a menu.
The carne asada burrito was loaded with tender, well-seasoned beef and accompanied by onions. Although the meat was flavorful, it would have been nice to have cheese or a savory sauce to accompany the dish. It was tasty, if a bit bland. The real disappointment, however, came with the tacos de carnitas. I expected the pork dish to be as tender as the beef was, but the tacos were dry, dry, dry. In fact, I suspect a stick soaked in water would have had more moisture. It was nearly inedible and a real disappointment, which meant there was plenty of room for dessert.
A velvety texture and light caramel flavor characterized the custard flan, and the fried ice cream had a chocolate swirl that set it apart from similar dishes. They were agreeable enough to nearly forget the tacos. Almost.
Charlene Winters is a freelance writer, former food editor and food judge who — when she's not in the kitchen — works as the director of communications and marketing for BYU alumni. Contact her at: email@example.com.