By Chelsea Warren
In a town overloaded with chain restaurant and fast food heavyweights, the Pantrucas Chilean restaurant offers a break from the ordinary, bringing authentic Chilean cuisine to Utah County.
Located in the Day”s Shopping Center on 3161 N. Canyon Road, Pantrucas is small and unassuming next to an eyesore of a nail salon and dry cleaners. Subtle tan in color, with small windows outlined in flame designs and a small Chilean flag hanging just inside, the exterior of this little caf? does little to hint of the unique, delicious experience waiting those who venture inside.
Yet should a customer walk through Pantrucas” doors, they are instantly transported to a Chilean family”s kitchen, where owners “madre” (mother) Margarita greets you with a wave, bustling away making dishes, while “padre” (father) Ricardo welcomes you with a wide grin.
Ricardo and Margarita Minond moved to the United States eight years ago in order to raise their children in a Latter-day Saint community and worked for several years as agricultural engineers.
“Then one day it occurred to us to have this Chilean adventure,” Margarita said.
They purchased the location, formerly a Lon”s Cooking Shack, and converted it into what Shawn Cates, a grad student from Albuquerque, N.M., called “a little slice of Chile.”
The interior design is homey, colloquial, and sets the customer at ease with warm colors and quaint Chilean souvenirs.
The establishment is small, seating at most 30 people, “if we squish them in,” Ricardo said. While not great for large groups, the restaurant is perfect for an intimate conversation between small groups of amigos.
The menu is constantly changing, written daily in chalk on big tablets on the wall. While the names of the dishes might throw someone not-in-the-know, like mote con huesillo (a drink with fruit and grains) or pastel de choclo (a corn and meat pie with raisins, olives and eggs), the accompanying list of ingredients combined with the smells wafting from the kitchen could inspire the most unadventurous of eaters to take a chance.
The menu appeals to a wide range of diners, with the grab-and-go empanadas as a popular buy for the daily horde of Timpview High students, and fuller meals available to those with time to sit and enjoy.
The most popular dish, a sandwich called churras con palta ($6.49), roughly translating to a fritter with avocado, is made with fresh bread, slices of grilled steak and avocado. The empanadas are a Chilean specialty, with a thin crust wrapped around your choice of cheese or cheese and meats. They are quick to make and less greasy than the Argentine version. The fresh fruit blends are delicious juices that taste just like the fruit, served generously in fluted glasses.
Media music major Steve Cowles, a sophomore who served his mission in Chile, said the food, and sandwiches in particular, offers a way to break the mold and try something new.
“These are not subway sandwiches,” Cowles said. “They are really good; different, and I can”t think of another sandwich like them.”
Also on the menu are a wide variety of soups ($6.49/bowl) stocked up on flavor and big, fresh veggies.
For those with a sweet tooth and a hankering for fruit, manzanas asadas (apples grilled with a walnut filling) are a sweet way to end the meal at a sweet price of $2.50. If you”re in the mood for a classic apple pie, opt for a slice of Kachen de manzana ($2.50).
The restaurant appeals to the niche market of returned missionaries who served in Chile and native Chileans alike with its authentic taste.
“It is nice to go there and share my Chilean experience with my wife,” Cowles said. “It comes as close to the real thing as you possibly can.”
Others disagree about the authenticity of the restaurant”s food.
“It”s good food, and the most Chilean possible in Provo, but just not as Chilean as it claims to be,” said Brook Dorff, a half-Chilean recent BYU alumna from Cupertino, Calif.
While this restaurant aims at the Chilean market, the food and ambiance have great conversion power for any diner who walks through the doors.
“This place is so unknown,” Cowles said. “If people knew about it, it would be loved by everyone.”
One drawback of the restaurant is the location: one must go looking for it. But the homey ambiance and excellent service make the few extra miles well worth the effort.