[MSP] Chowdown Report, Lake Street Taco Crawl, Minneapolis
Today, an adventurous pack of ‘hounds and their chowish friends investigated four taquerias on Lake Street in Minneapolis, all between 2nd and 4th Avenues. We’d divided the Lake Street taquerias up into 3 clusters, but were only able to cover the East-most cluster before we got too full and spent out our shared kitty (into which we’d each thrown $10.00.)
Gorditas El Gordo (between 2nd and 3rd)
~tlaycoyos de frijoles (beans)
~empanadas de pollo (chicken)
~huaraches de chicharron en salsa verde (pork rind in green sauce)
Las Tapatias Cafeteria (in the International Bazaar at 301 Lake Street)
~The group didn’t order anything, but a couple of ‘hounds ordered some beverages they may wish to comment on.
Pineda (@ Clinton)
~platillo de chicken tinga (plate of tinga-style chicken)
~tacos de chicken pica (spicy chicken)
~torta (BBQ pork)
Cocina El Mexicano (@Clinton)
~camarones a la diabla (devil style spicy platter, prawns)
~gorditas de frijoles y queso (cheese and bean gorditas)
~cecina (“Mexican style beef jerky”)
~chips & guacamole
Taqueria La Hacienda (@ Fourth)
~pastel de tres leches
~cebollitas asadas (grilled onions)
~torta de carne asada
~alambres al pastor
~quesadilla de chorizo
Thank you to everyone who attended today—as always, your adventurous spirit and enthusiasm was much appreciated. We’ll have to explore the next “cluster” of taquerias in a Lake Street Taco Crawl Numero Dos.
For those who are interested, here is a link to the chowdown announcement.
Gorditas El Gordo
The huaraches and tlaycoyos at Gorditas El Gordo
The menu at Gorditas El Gordo
More menu at Gorditas El Gordo
Thanks for organizing! In my opinion...
Pinedas - tacos chicken pica was the highlight - fresh and spicy and just what a great taco should be!
La Hacienda was second favorite - with the chorizo quesadilla topping the list (if you can do fried)...it was spicy and crisp, although the alambres pork was also really good and the tres leches finished the meal off great.
I would skip Cocina Mexicana next time - stale chips, tough steak that wasn't very appetizing, and no spice.
I mostly agree about Cocina Mexicana but I think that the shrimp would have been a decent dish for one. There was some heat there.
The rest of your post is spot on.
The tres leches cake at La Hacienda needed work. I wanted it to be more 'wet'. I think that tres leches needs a Chowdown on its own.
I agree that the tacos chicken pica (Pineda) and the chorizo quesadilla (La Hacienda) were fantastic. I would like to go back and try the alambres al pastor (La Hacienda) when I'm not so full so I can really appreciate it. I was a bit burned out at that point.
Cocina Mexicana--I suppose now we know why we were the only patrons!
I was disappointed by the carne asada torta at La Hacienda after Dara raved about their tortas (I think she said they were catastrophically good), although, her review was several years ago, so, maybe things have changed, or, we just caught them on an off day. There just didn't seem to be enough goodies in the torta.
re: The Dairy Queen
I did really like the guacamole at Cocina Mexicana. It was a little salty, and the chips were beyond stale, but that was good stuff.
As for the rest of the food, I enjoyed everything I had (I figured the beef was supposed to be tough at Cocina Mexicana, it was described as "beef jerky") but nothing really stood out as outstanding.
Next time, I think I'd prefer to stay in one place, and try everything on the menu. While I'd go back to Pineda and Gordita again (we had to go before Hacienda), I don't feel like I know what the "must haves" are on their menus.
The beef jerky (cecina) at Cocina a la Mexicana was about as expected for texture, but there was an off flavor that I wouldn't want to taste again.
The chorizo quesadillas at La Hacienda were a greasy, guilty pleasure.
SLBunge, I'm not sure if this is the same thing that you experienced, but the Tres Leches cake was definitely moist and yet seemed a little bit ... bland? Like maybe a bit more salt or vanilla would have highlighted the flavors, or perhaps the poured sauce could be cooked down a little more?
Regarding the drinks, the taqueria stall in the middle of the joyeria (jewelry) and ropa (clothing) stores at the International Bazaar sells raspados and diablitos. A raspado is shaved ice with syrup -- like a sno-cone. A diablito was new to me: shaved ice, something that tasted like unsweetened iced tea, a syrup that looked like fruit but turned out to be tomato, the juice of a lime, sprinkled with ground chilis. Some new tastes are more intriguing than they are delicious. I just didn't know what to make of this, but then wondered this morning: what if that combination were used on a hangover?
My least favorite of the 4 places was Cocina El Mexicano, not so much because the food was particularly bad (though the completely stale chips and oddly flavored beef jerky were perilously close) but more that it was just kind of really bland. Most notable for its blandness, I thought was the gorditas de frijoles y queso which seemed rather dry in addition to bland (or perhaps the blandness was partially a result of the dryness?).
The camarones a la diabla was all right... though I think the shrimp was a bit over-cooked... The rice with this dish was pretty tasty, I thought.
I pretty much liked everything from the otehr three places, but the stand-outs were:
~huaraches de chicharron en salsa verde at Gorditas El Gordo
~tacos de chicken pica at Pineda
~torta (barbq pork) at Pineda - I remember thinking "wow, this is really good bread" when I was eating it, which I did not get with the Torta from Taqueria La Hacienda
~quesadilla de chorizo at Taqueria La Hacienda - this was absolutely delish! Even more-so with the green salsa.
Bummer--I missed the rice at Cocina El Mexicano.
I too thought the huaraches de chicharron en salsa verde at Gorditas El Gordo were interesting--that was once of those dishes I wish I had more of to get a full impression. It seemed like my first bite was completely different from my second bit. I wonder what my third bite would have been like, had there been a third bite!
I also liked the salsa verde at Gorditas El Gordo--as someone at the chowdown mentioned, it seemed to have had some avocado in it that gave it a nice, smooth texture.
FInally, I really liked the chicken empanada at Gorditas El Gordo. It was nothing like the South America empanadas I've tried, almost a completely different thing, but I still enjoyed it. It was chicken, deep fried in a corn masa shell, then griddled. At the end of the griddling they break it open and stuff lettuce inside and drizzle on some crema.
Overall, though, I'd have to rank them Pineda, La Hacienda, Gorditas El Gordo, then, distantly, Cucina El Mexicano. The al pastor huaraches at Taqueria Los Ocampo in Midtown Global Market are still my favorite huaraches in town...
At Gorditas El Gordo, I really enjoyed the tlacoys with beans. The beans were inside the masa and were smooth and rich.
The chicken empanadas were deep fried. It was an indulgence that tasted very good, but more like fair food than I was looking for at the time.
The huaraches were messy to cut and eat, but the balance was nice. There were chewy bits to the pork rind that I liked.
On a personal quest, I ordered tamarindo aqua fresca at each establishment. The tamarindo here was great, fresh tasting and not too sweet.
I got another tamarindo at Las Tapatias in the International Bazaar. This one was much colder, which was nice, and sweeter. I thought I liked it better, but on futher reflection, I think the sweetness made it too much like a soft drink and less like an aqua fesca.
I agree with all comments on Cucina El Mexicano (the only place without tamarindo - I made do with soda version). There was an off-taste to the beef. Like Danny, I liked the guac (which was salty, yes, but very smooth - like pudding, and not the way I usually make mine). No one bought my suggestion that the stale chips added a chewy note to the guac tasting.
Pineda was a hole in the wall taqueria, the kind of place I'd love to hit after a night on the town. My favorite was the pork torta. The pork was so tender and just salty enough - really flavorful. Loved the extra avacado slices on it, too.
The chicken tinga was not as spicy as the chicken taco, or maybe it is just that I was wrapping it with beans and rice. It had a great smoky flavor and lots of peppers and onions.
The chicken taco was lip tingling. It was very simple and every flavor came through clearly.
La Hacienda felt more polished than the other spots. It also had a nice hustle and bustle going on. At this point I was already pretty full, so I think some dishes may have suffered in comparison.
Despite being pretty stuffed, I would have tried to eat a whole chorizo quesadilla. Too delicious. Lots of cheese taste, but every bite with bits of chorizo or just the red fat rendered from the chorizo. Must have that one again.
I liked the alabres al pastor. Adding bacon to al pastor meant I couldn't stop picking at the leftovers. Not the best al pastor, but a good dish.
The torta de carne asada was just not memorable. And I agree with djohnson22, the bread at Pineda was good enough to notice. Here, not so much.
The tamarindo here tasted a little "muddy" - the tamarind flavor was not as clear as at the first place.
The tres leches did not bowl me over. I like mine wetter, too. And I agree it was missing a note.
Thanks again for planning, TDQ. I rolled home very satified and better aquainted with a portion of Lake Street.
Uisage, thank you for that photo of the empanadas (photo #2 of your first post)--mine was completely washed out. I think I need to learn how to use the white balance setting on my camera. Nice shot of the torta at Pineda, too.
I too loved the bacon in the alambres al pastor. And, astonishingly, neither that dish nor the chorizo quesadilla seemed too greasy, which is a triumph, really, given how rich both of those dishes were.
Another thing about La Hacienda is that it is huge (and it was packed--even at 2pm on a Sunday) and has a parking lot. Gorditas had small parking lot, too, although, you kind of have to know it's there to find it. I couldn't tell whether Pineda had a parking lot; perhaps around to the back?
I think I need to learn more about the "ideal" for tres leches cake. To me, the texture was plenty wet--especially, say, the bottom inch of the cake--, but I think that's in comparison to normal cake. I just can't really imagine what it would be like if it were wetter. Would the top inch be wetter, too, or, would the bottom inch of the cake be even more soaked?
re: The Dairy Queen
I'm not sure that what I like is either the "classic" or the "ideal" at all. But I do like more soaking liquid. My favorite restaurant version and my favorite recipe both are more wet than the version at La Hacienda. In fact, I knew that before taking a bit because there was very little soaking liquid in the bottom of the container that the cake was in. Normally it would be a sizable puddle of liquid. For my money, the bottom inch should be more pudding than cake and even at the top the cake should be moist enough that you know it is a soaked cake. I want to see standing liquid in the pan when they cut and scoop the pieces.
Your mileage may vary.