Longtime residents of the Idaho Falls area are probably familiar with the restaurant Plum Loco. But for the recent transplant, job hopper or tourist, its notable history as one of the area’s first Mexican restaurants is likely little known. Nowadays, you don’t have to drive far to find a Mexican restaurant, but 36 years ago, when Kurt Johnson opened Plum Loco, cuisine from south of the border was still a novelty in southeastern Idaho. And the way Mr. Johnson tells it, Plum Loco was born out of impulse. But don’t let him fool you. Despite having no previous experience in the restaurant industry, enchiladas, tacos, burritos and the like had long ago become a regular part of his life. At the age of 16, Burt Johnson left home and moved in with the Vasquez family in Phoenix, Arizona. And it didn’t take him very long to learn how to make some tasty, authentic Mexican food. Years later, after taking the plunge into the restaurant business, he briefly returned to Phoenix for a refresher course from the Vasquez family. They graciously obliged. And Idaho Falls has been the beneficiary of great Mexican food ever since.
Over the years, Plum Loco has expanded a number of times. The wide variety of items available on the menu reflects this growth. Kurt’s wife and co-owner, Jana, says the Chimichangas are the most popular dish on the menu. After being stuffed with chicken, spiced or shredded beef or beans, they are deep fried, covered with enchilada sauce, topped with cheese, sour cream and guacamole, sprinkled with tomatoes and green onions and heaped with lettuce. They make for quite a mouthful. Every dinner combo is served with fresh chips and delicious salsa. Their chips are also available for quick take-out and so popular that they sold more than 600 bags on Super Bowl weekend. For only 10 dollars, they also sell a spice bag that makes 3 gallons of delicious salsa, which they have shipped all over the world.
The nachos are another menu item that everyone should give a try. Thick and crisp, the corn chips are buttered with refried beans and sprinkled with jalapeno peppers, cheese and tomatoes. The Mucho Nachos adds lettuce, green onions, sour cream and guacamole.
Asked about the key to their success, Mr. Johnson replies “consistency.” Most of their business is by word of mouth. Customers tend to return time and time again. Plum Loco’s most loyal customers know Norma, the waitress, very well. Kurt shies away from calling her an employee. He chuckles as he notes that the place is just as much hers at this point. In 35 years with Plum Loco she has never called in sick. And during that time, the restaurant has only had 3 different head cooks. Yeah, that’s consistency.
The restaurant also prepares a lot of take-our orders for lunch and parties. The menu covers just about everything: enchiladas, tostadas, fish tacos, tamales and even a few unique items. The Francisco is select boneless chicken sautéed in a combination of butter, garlic, onion, bell peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms all rolled into a flour tortilla, deep fried and served enchilada style with beans. They also sell a variety of Mexican sodas and beers: Dos XX, Tecate, Pacifico and Corona. And for the experimental, make sure to request the Liquid Fire Fajita Salsa!
Plum Loco is also a great place to bring the family. Next to the tables upstairs is a huge 300 gallon fish tank that is sure to keep the kids’ imaginations busy while they eat. And in any case, the food is delicious and the recipes are authentic. If it isn’t already, Plum Loco may become one of your favorite restaurants in town.