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Jan 9, 2004 03:37 PM

Victor's 1959 and Holy Land Bakery & Grocery & Deli, Minneapolis (somewhat long)

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In town to visit some friends, and we ate at a couple places last night and today, one which is well known on this board, one which may not be. Both are decent and somewhat chow-worthy.

Holy Land, for dinner last night, is at Central and Lowry. It's a middle eastern grocery store with a carry-out restaurant area attached. The grocery has a very wide selection of halal and zabiha products, lots of middle eastern spices, a dozen olive and other cooking oils, including coconut, and some prepackaged halal meals. You can also get halal beef bacon, which sounds intriguing.

We ordered a gyro plate, a kefta kabob plate, and shish taouk, and a side of felafel.

The kefta was good, cooked fresh for us. It was not cooked all the way through, which is a little worrisome for ground meat from an unknown source, but I tend to trust beef at halal restaurants more than from elsewhere. It was nicely spiced and juicy. The accompanying yellowish long-grain rice was good, but not spectacular. When you order you can choose either rice or hummus, and you get a free salad, which was not jerusalem, and which I did not try. The hummus looked reasonably freshly made and was tasty as well.

The felafel were recently fried, and were still warm and crispy from the fryer. They did not appear to have been sitting on a steam tray. They were not as good as many places in Chicago, but were still edible. I had 3 of the 7, a friend had the rest. It came with steamed veg, which were blah, although the cauliflower seemed to have been pickled or something. Very strange.

The shish taouk was "good" says my friend who had it, but says "I'm not good at describing food". He's lame. It was chunks of chicken breast, perhaps two whole chicken breasts, marinated and coated with spices and grilled. It was not dry, he says after coaxing, and there was a definite garlicky/lemon flavor. He liked it.

I did not try the gyros, but my friends who shared it have ordered it in the past and like it a lot from them. It came coated in tzatziki, and was sliced off a pre-formed cone, just like you see throughout chicago.

All meals come with salad and your choice of side or sauce, sides are rice/hummus, sauces are tzatziki, tahini, and hot sauce. I do not know what nationality the cooks are, but my best guess is egyptian or saudi. The grocery also had stuff targeted to uzbek and bosnian muslims. It appears to be a catch-all store for the local muslim residents of all nationalities.

The amount of food can be overwhelming. My kefta came with 3 6-8" rolls. The taouk was a full chicken breast (both sides of the chicken). The rice is abnormally large. Ordering one entree for each person may be too much for some people.

Victor's 1959 has been better described, and I am biased against it today because when we arrived (at 2:15, 15 minutes before closing) they were out of cuban bread, so no sandwiches were available. My friends all had breakfast anyway (one omelet, two scramblers) and I had the special (roasted pulled pork loin, black beans, rice, yucca fries).

The yucca fries were definitely not as good as those I've had at Brasa Roja (a colombian restaurant in Chicago) but were heavily doused with garlic and lemon, which helped a bit. My pulled pork was ok, but I wouldn't order it again. It was remarkably dry. The omelet one of my friends had was "nothing to write home about" (he had feta and bacon in it). The orange juice was from concentrate and had ice in it, so was heavily watered down.

The chocolate con leche was good, but also a little more watery than most good chocolate. I did not try my friends scramblers, but one cleaned his plate while his wife did not clean hers (only veggies left).

Perhaps the sandwiches are better, but what we had left a fair amount to be desired. The decor was good, it felt like a classic college-town restaurant. The food, though, was lacking. I did like being able to have yuca fries on my trip up here, though.

-Ed, chicago hound.

Victors 1959 Cafe
(612) 827-8948
3756 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409

Holy Land Bakery & Grocery Deli
(612) 781-2627
2513 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418

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    Adam Antonio

    I have to agree with this review of Victor's. I'm a Cuban guy who grew up in LA and relocated to Minneapolis for a job at Honeywell. When I saw that there was a real Cuban restaurant in Minneapolis, I organized a lunch for all of my work buddies. What a mistake! The food was absolutely inedible! People must be coming here for the pancakes, because they throw out better food than this at the worst Cuban restaurant in Glendale.

    I recommend that anyone looking for Cuban food in Mineapolis try El Meson instead. No, it's not strictly Cuban (it's Latin) but the food is very good to excellent. The lunch buffet always has a great selection of entrees and desserts. Or order off the menu: the lechon asado is tender and juicy the way it's supposed to be. Maybe Victor should stop by for lunch some day and see what real Cuban food is all about!

    El Meson Restaurant
    3450 Lyndale Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55408

    1 Reply
    1. re: Adam Antonio

      I do find the sides at El Meson to be not so good- the beans and rice suffer from a lack of seasoning (like lime, or salt) and the mofongo is so dry the one time I tried it it stuck in my esophagus for hours.

    2. Ditto on both Victors and El Meson. I've tried Victors twice and don't plan a third trip.

      The tamales on El Meson were excellent -- moist, flavorful, with a wonderful tomato sauce and onions on top. El Meson should be congratulated for their wonderful calimari -- tender and fluffy. Most restaurants treat calimari like onion rings and they usually come out tough and dry. My wife and I ordered the seafood Paella (Valencia) and every item was cooked to an optimal level.

      2 Replies
      1. re: discus

        And I have to say ditto on Holy Land- I have never found it to be more than
        adequate- yes there is a lot of food, but much of it seems overly salty. It
        might be authentic but it's not very interesting. I like Abu Nader better.
        And I appreciate the note on El Meson- I love good tamales, and I haven't been
        eating the La Loma ones since reading the ingredients label on their frozen ones
        in the supermarket- not exactly what I would call from scratch homemade .

        1. re: faith

          Holy Land has a really good buffet. I take my brother from St. Cloud there sometime. He can never get over the appeal of all-you-can-eat gyros.