CLEARFIELD — Running a restaurant is more than just a way to pay bills for Jose Luis Palacios.
“It’s my passion. It’s my vocation. It’s what I like to do,” he said, seated at a table inside his Clearfield restaurant, Argentine Corner, which opened in late 2004.
As near as Palacios can tell, his is one of the few eateries in Utah focused on Argentine food — heavy on meat and pasta, influenced by Italian and Spanish cuisine, he says. But that sort of singularity doesn’t guarantee business.
“Two things can happen. You either like it or you don’t like it,” he said, alluding to the sort of reaction his restaurant typically inspires. Usually there’s no middle ground, he said, noting — on the positive side — the case of a couple visiting for the first time, so impressed by the food that they bought 48 empanadas, one of the locale’s specialties, to go.
“They had never tried Argentine food,” said Palacios.
Accordingly, Palacios — who came to the United States with his wife in 2000 to escape the crime and uncertainty of his native Argentina — works hard at quality control, serving as chief cook in the kitchen. He ran three restaurants in Buenos Aires, the South American country’s capital, before coming here and has around 40 years of experience in the business.
“The same thing we do here, we did in Argentina,” he said.
Empanadas, churrasco, choripan
Empanadas are baked pasties, stuffed, variously, with beef, chicken, ham and cheese or other fillings. Other offerings at Palacios’ restaurant include churrasco, a tenderloin steak; choripan, an Argentine sausage on house bread; and his “House Asado,” a meaty plate consisting of short ribs, flank steak, sausage and chicken. A common theme through many of the restaurant’s plates is chimichurri, a sauce unique to Argentina that’s made with parsley, garlic, red peppers, oil and vinegar.
Reflecting the Italian influence in Argentine food, Palacios also offers pizza — he singles out his dough and tomato sauce — and various pastas, including homemade gnocchi.
Whatever the case, don’t ask Palacios to break down the food of his native country.
“You have to come and try it. I can’t describe it,” he said.
And if you do visit the Argentine Corner, pay close attention or you may miss it. It’s tucked amid a paint store, an auto glass shop and an auto-emissions inspection station at 442 N. Main St. in Clearfield, near where Palacios used to live.
That said, the locale has its faithful customers, with some regulars coming from as far away as Wyoming, Idaho and Utah County — given the dearth of Argentine food offerings in the area. Some order to go. Others dine in, eating in the cozy dining area, still much bigger than the eatery’s early days when it had just three tables. Either way, Palacios hustles in the kitchen, aiming always to keep the offerings uniquely Argentinean, doing the thing he loves.
“It’s not a chain. We’re not doing it to make franchises, become millionaires,” he said.
Argentine Corner also sells Argentine specialties like alfajores — two-layer, chocolate-covered, cookie-like sweets filled with a caramel-like filling — and yerba mate, a South American herb used, with hot water, to make a traditional drink.