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Sep 27, 2006 10:17 AM

[MSP] Regional Mexican Cuisine in the Twin Cities

In this post on the Manhattan board,
Woodside Al explains that most of the authentic Mexican food in California was brought from immigrants from nearby Northern Mexico, whereas the Mexican cuisine in New York City is brought by Mexicans from the Puebla area. He also describes the phenomenon of "Cal Mex" cuisine and the Mission style burrito.

I've not embraced the Mexican food in the Twin Cities as much I expected, not because I dispute its authenticity, but because it's not the same as I'm used to. I just haven't been able to put my finger on exactly why. When I pop into some of those little shops along Lake Street in Minneapolis or into El Burrito Mercado in St. Paul, it's clear to me that these places are indeed authentic and that they are being run by and for recent Mexican immigrants.

I've been wondering if I've simply become accustomed to "Cal-Mex" cuisine or if I'm used to cuisine from a different region of Mexico. (Likely both, I imagine.) Clearly, Mexico is a huge country with a varied landscape --and a varied immigration history--and is going to have regional variations in its cuisine as a result. Also, I imagine availability of certain ingredients in California vs. Minnesota might play into it for me.

Does anyone know from which part of Mexico most of the authentic Mexican cuisine we see in the Twin Cities derives? Does anyone know of a little Mexican restaurant in the Twin Cities that specializes in foods from the Northern, West Coast part of Mexico? If so, I'd love to go there and test out my theory... I'm not trying to be one of those people who prattles on about the food not being "the same" as where I come from--sameness is not necessarily a value in chowhounding. Really, I'm just on my continuous quest to educate my palate and understand what's going on with the food I'm eating.

As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts.


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  1. Up in Nordeast, we have Mexican restaurants across the street from each other on Central Avenue. One is called Chiapas, and the other was recently sold and renamed Puerto de Veracruz. I've been assuming that the owners were actually from Chiapas and Veracruz, respectively. So far, I've only sampled the tacos and tortas, with uneven results from both. I would like to ask about whether they serve any food native to a particular region, but I have no Spanish, and my servers have little English (I'm just happy that they understand that I want my tacos with only cilantro, and not "american style!")

    If only I could lure Rick Bayless to go in with me...that would be a big help! :>)

    1 Reply
    1. re: FireRev

      Interesting--I wonder if those restaurants are representative of their respective regions in Mexico. Sadly, I don't know what typifies those regions. I'm guessing if the food is really that regional, then Chiapas is too far south and Veracruz is too Gulf Coast-y to remind me of the authentic Mexican food I'm used to from Northern CA. Still, lots to investigate here. Thank you for the tips.


    2. I'm not by any means a specialist in Mexican regional cuisine, but Salsa di la Salsa more closely resembles what I've experienced in California, and Pancho Villa specializes in seafood similar to what I've had on the west coast of Mexico. They're both on Nicollet Ave.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Loren3

        Hmmm...I'll have to investigate those places. I had the impression from what I'd been reading that salsa a la salsa was more Americanized; but Pancho Villa sounds promising. Maybe I'll do a little research and see if I can't find out where the chef is from.


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Pancho Villa on Nicollet is my current favorite of the sit-down variety mexican restaurant. I'm not sure that there's only some one particular region represented there, but everything I've so far sampled--fried snapper, ceviche, shrimp, asada, burritos, enchiladas, etc.--has been just great. Let me know what you think.

      2. TDQ,

        This isn't a wholesale answer to your question but may be of interest:

        Also, pull up this link and scroll to the part about La Perla Del Pacifico. They offer some things (seafoods specifically) that most other Mexican places in town don't:

        1 Reply
        1. re: MSPD

          Goodness, I'm so sorry it took me this long to get to this. I have been so swamped and I wanted to wait to read these links until I had a little more time. I can't believe it's been 2 months.

          RE: the first link. Actually, I love Mercado Central. That whole area of Lake Street is very intriguing and it looks like the construction is finally clearing up (is that for good or just for winter?) which might make it easier to stroll & explore. I, like Mr. Iggers, have never had a bad meal at Mercado Central. I love that place where you can buy a stack of 36 freshly made corn tortillas, still warm, for $1! Maybe I just need to explore this area a bit more once my work schedule eases up and now that the construction has ended.

          But, even more intriguing, is the mention in the second link "a specialty of Nayarit, the region north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast"--this is exactly the type of info I was seeking. And, maybe, the West Coastness of this would be more reminiscent of "home" for me. I think I'm going to have to give it a shot and test my theory.

          Great info.Thank you so much!


        2. I don't know why I think this, but I have the vague feeling that many Mexicans in Minnesota are originally from central Mexico. For example, it seems like we've got a bunch of people from Michoacán (W of Mexico City). Then again, maybe not.

          As far as finding regional Mexican food, I think Twin Cities restaurants are just beginning to have some regional Mexican food. If I knew more state, region, and city names, I might recognize regional dishes and specialities on the menu. (Note to self: learn some Mexican geography!)

          There used to be a place on East Lake Street called Marisqueria el Nayarita. It's possible that they specialize in seafood (mariscos) and dishes from the state of Nayarit (central west coast). I went there a year or so ago, but I just had a torta (it was good) - no seafood or anything regional. And I'm not sure if they're under the same owners or even if they're still there.

          More research is needed. (Additional note to self: Learn enough Spanish so I can chat with the server and ask for regional dishes!)


          1 Reply
          1. re: AnneInMpls

            Thank you, Anne! I'll add Marisqueria el Nayarita to my list of places for me to test my theory.

            Interesting, that the folks you've rubbed elbows locally with seem to be from central Mexico. Perhaps there is something to this.

            Thank you!


          2. One place that advertises its regionality in its name is Morelos - which is in central Mexico. I don't particularly like their resto on 28th, but I do like their taco house on S. Portland @ 494.

            btw - wikipedia has a good entry on states of Mexico


            1 Reply
            1. re: Loren3

              Taco house? Sounds intriguing. Thank you for the recommendation and the neat link!