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MSP - Al Pastor tacos

I was at the Midtown global market looking for some authentic tacos (I lived in SoCal and worked in Santa Ana for a period so I consider myself to know what good authentic mexican is). I tried a variety of different styles but I didn't think too much of any of them, just average.

Any suggestions for a solid Al Pastor Taco? by chance anyone who'd eaten at Taqueria de Ande in Orange County (there are several locations) have any suggestions?

Love the forum by the way...

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  1. Hey baba,

    I love Al Pastor. If you were at the Midtown Global Market, you were probably pretty close to some of the best Al Pastor we have in MSP -- all the taquerias along Lake Street are good candidates. What I've found around town is that Al Pastor, like gyros, can all be hit or miss, and often focus on some restaurant supply grade meat on a spit. Too often they lack the balance of crispy outsides and juicy/fatty insides and/or have either too much or too little pineapple flavor (some even hold the meat that has been cut off the spit in pineapple juice then finish on a griddle...yikes).

    Taqueria La Hacienda, just west of MGM on Lake Street is often mentioned here as the best in MSP. They are very consistent and it's the first place I send people looking for decent Al Pastor tacos. That said, there's just a "rusticness" that's missing in Al Pastor in this town, including La Hacienda, that you may be looking for.

    They have another location in the Mercado Central (Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue, the other way from Midtown Global Market on Lake). Mercado Central is a neat place you should check out even for non-Al Pastor Mexican outings.

    Another place that's good is Gorditas El Gordo (across the street from TLH on Lake).

    I haven't eaten at Taqueria de Ande but my best Al Pastor experience in the U.S. was in one of the seediest parts of Dallas out of the side of a mid-70s van (with custom-made spit/griddle apparatus) in a vacant lot a couple years back. Unfortunately, I've had no experiences here in MSP that come close in either style or quality of the food. Yeah...I measure every Al Pastor by that yardstick...unrealistic I know.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MSPD

      Taqueria La Hacienda also has a 3rd location in Burnsville. Southwest corner of 13 & 5. The Al Pastor has, on occasions, been pretty good and just OK.

      1. re: shinmn

        Wow, I had no idea. That's great news.

      2. re: MSPD

        I haven't had tacos al pastor in a long time. One Mexican restaurant (as opposed to New Mexican or TexMex) in Albuquerque (where I used to live) served those for awhile. They got successful, moved to a nicer restaurant, and dropped tacos al pastor from their menu.

        I'm also looking for real TexMex (not the kind that's smothered in chile con carne) or New Mexican food (red or green) in the MSP area. Failing that, can I find frozen green chiles somewhere and good red chile powder so I can cook my own New Mexican food?

        1. re: paoconnell

          Now, a local source of frozen New Mexican hatch green chili would be a thing of beauty. There was a thread bouncing around on the general topics board this past fall asking for mail-order sources of fresh green chili, and if I hadn't been so swamped at that time I would have honored my off-and-on tradition of ordering a box of the fresh and roasting and freezing it myself to cook with until next season. That would bring a little heat into your winter, eh?

          I'll keep on the look-out for you, and, if you, or anyone else finds a local source, that would be fantastic. I guess I'll start exploring my grocers' freezers...

          ~TDQ

      3. the al pastor at the st paul los ocampos is generally quite good, with good crispiness-pineappliness ratio. omg i am so tired-- hopefully that last sentence is vaguely comprehensible. . . and i have not tried the same dish at the mpls locations so do not know how to compare them

        1. I have to defer to MSPD's list. I love the al pastor huaraches @ Gorditas el Gordo. At least the last two times we've gone the pastor was crispy and smoky and melted like good fat should.

          Pinedas (a block down from hacienda and gorditas) also has al pastor, though I cannot recall seeing it on the menu board. I think I just asked for it and they had it. Of all the taco places in town, this is the one that most reminds me of joints I've been to on Pico.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Foureyes137

            The problem with Al Pastor at Pineda, although it might not be the case at all locations as I'm most familiar with the S Robert St one and the one that used to be on Lake at Hiawatha that is no longer, is that most of the time the Al Pastor was already cut from the spit and sitting in a steam tray in the same way all of their other taco fillings are. They would just lift the lid and stick the meat in the tortilla...there was no crispiness or "sizzle" that you get from sliced-to-order Al Pastor. (Although in general, I like Pineda).

            "Pineappliness"...huh. I'll have to work that into a sentence some time. Right after I figure out why I'm always compelled to capitalize Al Pastor.

            1. re: MSPD

              You're 100% right about the steam table. Last time we went, we were on our way back from MOA, late, after some xmas shopping and they had started closing-up so they had to make everything from scratch. Lenuga, puerco, carnitas and barbacoa are fine from a steam table...but yeah, you have to have that crispyness to truly enjoy pastor.

          2. The La Hacienda at Mercado Central is better than the stand alone. Also Tacos Blass on 38th and Nicollet Ave. is recomended.

            9 Replies
            1. re: fishface

              La Mixteca if you are in the Bloomington area

              1. re: dave43

                I had Al Pastor tacos at La Mixteca a few weeks ago. Tasty! The meat was rich and had definite pineapple overtones.

                But note that they meat was already cut and sitting in a container - there wasn't any rotating meat in view - and was heated on the grill when I ordered it (mid-afternoon on a Saturday). I thought the taste was fine, but I suppose it would make a difference in a side-by-side taste test.

                Come to think of it, I prefer the cut-when-ordered Al Pastor at La Hacienda. But La Mixteca is just fine if you're in the area.

                Anne

                1. re: AnneInMpls

                  Anne!

                  I just had La Mixteca's tacos al pastor for lunch today. You're right.. it *is* super tasty. They re-fry it on their range top for you and it turns out really juicy and not greasy at all. I had it at La Hacienda#2 a while back and thought the grease was far too overwhelming such that I couldn't enjoy the meat. At La Mixteca it was just plain tasty.

                  SOrt of sad, but there was soo much filling in my 1 order of tacos that I wasn't even able to start my ceviche (my fav thing there, tied w.their guaraches). I packed it up separately in a big cup.. hope it stays all right marinated in our fridge for another meal soon.

                  1. re: reannd

                    I tried Mixteca on your suggestion. I did enjoy it. like you said not greasy but very flavorful. They warmed up the meat with white onions and some actual pineapple chunks. I tried the ceviche as well... It was good portion but I didn't taste much of the fish in there, the salsa was the main flavor working there... I'll give the guaraches a try next time I go back.

                    Also they had FANTASTIC horchata!

                    1. re: babaoriley7

                      We've split a discussion "What is an al pastor taco..." to the General Chowhound Topics Board. Please carry on that discussion here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/491522

                      Thank you.

                      1. re: babaoriley7

                        What a coincidence--Sunday night I had the same two things at La Mixteca: al pastor taco and tostada de ceviche. Both tasty!

                        I also had tepache, which is a kind of semi-fermented pineapple drink. I like it!

                        I am very happy with this place. It is difficult to choose between Mixteca, Kabob's, and India Cafe when we head to this strip mall.

                        1. re: EarlOfSandwich

                          hmmm, tepache!? that sounds quite intriguing. I should've mentioned in my earlier post that the pineapple was of the canned variety not fresh. Still I enjoyed it but I would like to see it made from fresh pineapple... I'll have to check out Taqueria La Hacienda next

                          1. re: babaoriley7

                            did you end up trying taqueria la hacienda? that's the first place i had al pastor and was turned off because of all the GREASE. their veg burrito was awesome, though.. so i'll take another trip back if you can conifrm the grease to pork ratio has improved. otherwise this post just made me want to go back to la mixteca. gosh it's so good.

                            ps i brought cupcakes once.. they couldn't care less =)

                          2. re: EarlOfSandwich

                            I agree on the hard choice...Last time we got some samosas and naan at Kabobs and went to Mixteca and oredered a meal and ate there. Is this in bad taste? We spent around $25 at La Mixteca so I would think they would rather have our business even though we brought some outside food.

                2. I am thinking (almost 95% there) about relocating to MSP area as my brother and nieces live in Hayward, WI and I want to be closer to them. The two biggest things that are making me hesitate is the weather in winter (I currently live in Pasadena, outside of Los Angeles), which I am sure I will survive and the food (which, judging by what people have told me, I may not). Especially the ethnic offerings.
                  I cannot tell you how happy I am to hear that there is good AP and Ceviche (do they have fish ceviche?) there. I am trying to talk my favorite taqueria guy out here to move there with me so I can eat his AP whenever I want)!! Yes, APs can vary so much. It is amazing. And really good ones can be hard to find.
                  Now I just have to find out about Ethiopian, Thai and Vietnamese (Pho) and my bags will be packed!! Thanks! ;-)

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: WildSwede

                    Meaning, you're wondering if we have good Ethiopian, Thai and Vietnamese food here? Answers: Pretty good, not a ton, and absolutely. The Twin Cities has a couple of fantastic pho and bahn mi places. We also have some pretty decent Ethiopian places. The Twin Cities has accepted a pretty large influx of Vietnamese, Hmong, Somali and other African immigrants in the past, say, 30-20 years (depending on which population). We also have a pretty thrving Latino community. I'll link a couple of threads for you.

                    Recent thread on Thai. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/492750
                    Not so recent thread, but one that might give you an idea of some of the places along Lake Street in Minneapolis (things change quickly though so there are a lot of new places). With photos: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/384857
                    And , just for more local flavor, older thread (with photos) of the Hmong market in St. Paul http://www.chowhound.com/topics/318303 Recent post about expansion of Hmong Market and "new" Golden Globe Market in St. Paul http://www.chowhound.com/topics/49439...

                    General thread on "ethnic eats" from about a year ago. Again, lots of new stuff since then, but this one touched a lot of points http://www.chowhound.com/topics/362320

                    Finally, tvdxer, our Duluth 'hound, has compiled this fantastic list of restaurants in the Twin Cities. Every time he's in town, he tries another one. This list isn't a list of recommendations, because he hasn't necessarily tried them all, and of course, places close and new ones open all the time, but this might give you a flavor... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/41220...

                    As far as weather, I'm new'ish to the Twin Cities. You can email me if you want to hear about my weather experiences, but, suffice it to say that though it's "cold" for several months of the year, the bitter cold period of the year late Jan/early Feb is really quite brief. From a chowhounding perspective, the main impact of weather is its impact on locally grown produce. The growing season is much shorter than you're used to. Locally grown produce is only available here May'ish-October'ish and, as you can imagine, certain things simply won't grow in this climate. Still, what grows here (honeycrisp apples!) is wonderful.

                    ~TDQ

                    1. re: WildSwede

                      I'll give you my take the Chowhound consensus in six words:

                      Ethiopian: OK
                      Thai: Eh.
                      Pho: Outstanding

                      Post your question separately and you'll get the full story.

                      1. re: bob s

                        Hi Dairy & Bob~
                        Thank you for your replies. I was going to post my questions but thought I would do some searches and I am certain that these have been posted before (I can't tell you how many posts we get for NY Style Pizza on the LA Board). I try to extinguish all my options before I post. Thank you for the links. You should see the list I am compiling of places to seek out/try once I get there. I am really excited about relocating. I have found the MN/WI people to be so wonderful and friendly. Also nice to see Scandinavian/European names on the streets vs all the Hispanic names on ours out here!!
                        I am a Pho freak (eat it at least once a week here) and would not be able to live without it!! ;-) I am sad to hear about the Thai, but cheese curds will make up for it!!! ;-) We tried apples called Sweet Sixteen which we purchased last year at an orchard somewhere around Harmony, MN and they were phenomenal. Do not have those here, unfortunately, although we just started getting honey crisp!
                        Are there any farmer's markets that are open year round, or are they more seasonal? Also, are there small dairys around that I can get fresh milk? We found one near where we tried the sweet sixteen apples and it was on the honor system with those glass bottles. Best milk (outside of Sweden and Norway) that I had ever had. If I move there, I will DRIVE to get some of that milk. You could taste the grass in it. The cows were right there eating in the pasture!! That was what we drank/ate whe whole trip to my brothers - milk and apples!!

                        1. re: WildSwede

                          Many farmer's markets are closed in winter, but some (St. Paul, for instance) are open year-round, but, obviously, don't offer a lot of options in the way of fresh locally-grown produce in winter. (St. Paul's farmer's market specifically requires that everything be produced within a 75 mile radius of St. Paul.) When I want fresh dairy, I go to the St. Paul Farmer's market, personally, of "Farm in the Market" in Midtown Global Market in MPLS, but I know there are lots of little dairy farms (including some with wonderful cheeses) nearby'ish for you to visit, but I just don't know them well enough to recommend. I wish you'd make an outside post with that question specifically so you can get the full range of replies. (Speaking from my own experience, people on this board are very welcoming and knowledgeable. They don' mind answering multiple posts from the same person as long as they are sincere inquiries.)

                          There's also the UofM of dairy program (St. Paul campus) that you must check out. They also have a meat program, that is a kick.

                          Also, really, we have a fantastic co-op culture in the Twin Cities. You'll really want to get to know the Wedge, Seward, (Mpls) and Mississippi Market (St. Paul) co-ops.

                          I was in Harmony last spring for the first time; what a kick!

                          ~TDQ

                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Thank you, thank you!
                            I like that FMs have that rule about how close things need to be grown to sell there. Will definitely check them out.
                            I will post asking about dairies. I know, everyone on the Midwest (and Chicago) board is so fantastic and helpful! I will definitely put everything on my to try list. I am going to be one busy girl!!
                            We try to get to Harmony every time we visit (about 3x/year). There is an Amish woman, Ida Herschberger, and we stop at her home every time and get honey, jams, candies. They also have a furniture shop and ship across the country (didn't I think it weird standing in her kitchen (she invites us into her spotless home!!) and seeing a UPS truck pull up!! ;-)
                            Will definitely check out the co-op places. I am so excited! Thank you again!!

                          2. re: WildSwede

                            Not to get too off topic, but:

                            1) I don't think the Thai food is horrible, but it's all a matter of expectations. Common complaints from those in the know (and I'm not one of them - having only really had Thai food in the Midwest) is that the food here is too sweet.

                            2) I'm not certain about the raw milk/local milk scene here, but have been happy with Cedar Summit Farms milk which is down in New Prague, but has retail outlets at several co-ops and Whole Foods in the Cities. (Their website - cedarsummit.com - says they have 80 outlets.)

                            1. re: bob s

                              Bob, yes, that's the one I like, too--Cedar Summit Farms milk--it's at the St. Paul Farmers Market and Farm in the Market in Midtown Global Market in Mpls and a couple of the co-ops.

                              RE: Thai food--it's not only that it's too sweet in the Twin Cities, but it's as if the Thai food here only has two facets--sweet and spicy, when, in reality, it should have a full range of flavors working in concert within a single dish including also sour, spicy and (I think) umami (the fish sauce). It should also have a variety of textures. EDIT: this is why I am very interested (when I get a break from my diet) to try HuaGung's "like Bangkok" tip at Krua Thai on University Ave in St. Paul. I have very very high hopes!

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Do the Thai places at least offer fish sauce with Thai Chiles on the side? I dump that wonderfully salty/spicy concoction on almost all my Thai food. Yes, Thai food should be an even blend of salty/spicy/sweet/sour - that is what I love about it. Even here, though, you may go to one Thai place for their Larb and Pad Thai, but would never thinking of eating their Moo Yang or Pla Lard-Prik. Specific Thai restaurants for different dishes.
                                We have a Krua Thai here in North Hollywood. Wonder if they are related. This one is known for their KT Pad Thai (I get it without the dried shrimp) and is very popular (that may also have something to do with the fact that they are open til 3am!). What is the HuaGung's "like Bangkok" tip at KT? Sounds intriguing! Thank you again!

                                1. re: WildSwede

                                  In the Thai link I provided above (and in other posts, too), a poster named HuaGung tells us that at Krua Thai if you tell them to prepare your meal "like Bangkok" they'll bring you great chow. I haven't tried his tip yet...

                                  ~TDQ

                                  1. re: WildSwede

                                    If they don't, you can probably buy some at one of the gazillion Asian markets we have around MSP. Even here in the heart of suburbia, I have a Thai market within walking distance of my house and at least a half dozen other Asian markets within five. It's really uncanny how many we have.

                                    If you're down this way:

                                    Rearn Thai Market
                                    County Road 11 and County Road 42 (Behind Blue Max Liquors)
                                    Burnsville, MN