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Mexican Restaurants in the TwinCities

AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 07:39 AM

Hello all fellow Chowhounders!
I'm looking to try new Mexican restaurants in the TC area. I did a search and there are so many out there...ahh! There are so many places to choose but where to start? I prefer more of a sit-down style restaurant rather than a market setting.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. m
    magz0r RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 08:00 AM

    Just out of curiosity, where have you been already?

    Barring the Midtown Global Market, my standbys are Los Ocampo's on Lake & Chicago, Las Teresitas off of 62 & 34th Ave (killer salsa bar), and Pineda Tacos in West St. Paul for burritos. Both Los Ocampo's and Las Teresitas have a pretty decent menu, so if you are looking to go beyond typical tacos and burritos there are plenty of choices.

    1 Reply
    1. re: magz0r
      mitch cumstein RE: magz0r Jun 1, 2012 08:06 AM

      Most places do some things better than others, too. I would go to Gorditas el Gorda for all things masa, but la hacienda for torta milanesa, and la loma for chilaquiles.... Not really one stop shopping imo...
      Senora grill has lengua and shrimp tacos that are pretty untouchable...
      I fantasize about cataloging what is best at what place all from east to west on lake street, but alas, not yet...

    2. Db Cooper RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 08:42 AM

      I'd recommend starting on Cesar Chavez Drive in West Saint Paul at Boca Chica. That's probably the most authentic Mexican sit down that I can think of. Fantastic Mole sauce too.

      There are a lot of other Mexican joints on CC Drive there too. Start at Boca Chica and then work your way through them.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Db Cooper
        kevin47 RE: Db Cooper Jun 1, 2012 01:10 PM

        I really dislike Boca Chica. I find their food desperately bland.

        For sit down, I like Pancho Villa on Eat Street. Otherwise, Los Ocampo, La Loma, La Pineda and Sonora Grill are all very good.

        1. re: kevin47
          Db Cooper RE: kevin47 Jun 1, 2012 01:18 PM

          To each their own. No hurt feelings here. I know we disagree on things from time to time. I think Saffron's food is akin to Kibbles and Bits and their staff has the manners of the Assad regime while you think it can be argued as one of the best restaurants in town. Different stokes for different folks. I do know most of my Mexican friends on the East Side of the River prefer Boca which is why I suggested it.

          Some of my golf buds were talking about a place across the street from Boca that is supposed to be really good, but not sure about the name.

          1. re: Db Cooper
            getgot211 RE: Db Cooper Jun 1, 2012 02:10 PM

            I think they settle for Boca Chica, and likely just don't want to go far. My father was good friends with the original owner(I think one of his kids or grand kids owns it now) and way back when would frequent it quite a bit. now a days, its just not worth visiting other than for nostalgia.

            1. re: getgot211
              Db Cooper RE: getgot211 Jun 1, 2012 02:28 PM

              Sad to hear. I went last year and it was actually pretty good. But to be fair, it was a Sunday night, it was quiet, and not very busy. I may have just lucked out.

          2. re: kevin47
            tart1 RE: kevin47 Jul 3, 2012 12:36 PM

            I never liked Boca Chica either. I'd suggest El Burrito Mercado instead, and it's on Cesar Chavez.

        2. drew13000 RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 10:11 AM

          I agree with many of these - the Gorditas, Quesadillas and Sopes at Gorditas el Gordo are the best! Almost anything at Los Ocampos and Sonora Grill is great. I love Las Teresitas for their tacos, burritos, and chilaquiles. The chilaquiles and tamales at La Loma are great. I'll add one more - I really like the enchiladas and seafood tacos at Dominguez Restaurant.

          1. MSPD RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 11:57 AM

            I enjoy the hell out of Andale in Richfield. I had three sets of 2 tacos last night -- lengua, al pastor, and suadero (beef brisket). Normally at Ocampos, Taqueria La Hacienda, Gorditas el Gordo, and even previous visits to Andale, 6 tacos is a "right sized" supper. The guy last night absolutely loaded mine...I was stuffed to the gills. Enjoyable from a quality perspective in addition to quantity. Their tortas are massive and fresh...my current favorite in MSP.

            That said, (and continuing into my next recommendations) I'm not sure to what degree you mean "sit down". Andale is "sit down" in the same vein as a McDonald's. There isn't table service.

            El Burrito Mercado is a go-to spot for me as well, and they do offer table service (I haven't tried it) as well as cafeteria line.

            I had good food at Gorditas el Gordo the other day including sopes. Unfortunately this time the masa on the sopes was a little too heavy. First time I've experienced that there though. The masa is all prepared to order, so it is more prone to error.

            Masa on Nicollet Mall is the upscale version. If you're expecting Topolobampo/Frontera Grill innovation, you won't like it (I was the first time based on the press and was disappointed). I've had some good meals there though. Their $10, three-item weekday lunch special is a steal if you work downtown.

            1. s
              ShinyCake RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 02:49 PM

              I highly recommend Taqueria Los Ocampos. I've tried their location at Lake & Chicago as well as inside the Midtown Global Market, and I've gotten consistently delicious sopes and tacos at each place. I think they have a sit-down restaurant in St. Paul.

              I also really like La Loma's tamales, especially the Oaxacan and sweet corn ones. I don't know if they have a sit-down location.

              Los Arcos in West St. Paul is excellent, too. It's sit-down, but I can't think of anything good to say about the atmosphere in there. Boca Chica is sit-down, but the food is pretty bad - more like an American chain version of Mexican food, in my opinion.

              14 Replies
              1. re: ShinyCake
                semanticantics RE: ShinyCake Jun 1, 2012 06:59 PM

                I've been a fan of Los Ocampos since the Midtown Global Market days, pretty sure it was their only location. Then the Chi-Lake (right across the street). I've been to the sit down in St. Paul (right off 94 / White Bear) and it was excellent. I had a Huarachazo (masa cake covered in stuff) that was covered in baby squash blossoms! Madness. I need to go there more.

                1. re: semanticantics
                  getgot211 RE: semanticantics Jun 1, 2012 07:06 PM

                  Los Ocampos started in Lake Plaza, they've lost a little in expanding as would be expected, but they are still my favorite for the basics.

                2. re: ShinyCake
                  diesel RE: ShinyCake Jun 3, 2012 12:17 AM

                  Shiny cake said all I was going to (plus the bit about La Loma).

                  Piling one more rec on for Los Ocampo in St. Paul (Suburban Ave. sit down location) and Los Arcos in West St. Paul.

                  Beware Los Arcos' karaoke, though - went there on an early Sunday evening and, although the place was nearly full of families trying to have a conversation, compared to approx 4 karaoke participants, the karaoke was blasted so loud that I could't hear a word that was said at our table. Even the server was obviously irritated by the karaoke! Unless that appeals to you, I'd strongly recommend calling ahead to check whether karaoke is going on.

                  1. re: diesel
                    Seige RE: diesel Jun 4, 2012 02:53 PM

                    And I'll subtract one for Los Ocampo in St. Paul. Went there this weekend for the first time. Not good. Not good at all. Not inedible, but we won't be back. Of my list of issues -

                    1) What Spanish rice has canned mixed vegetables in it? I have never seen peas or carrots in my Spanish rice before dining at Los Ocampo.
                    2) Parmesan cheese (as in, Kraft grated parmesan cheese) on my refried beans and my enchiladas? What? I felt like I was at an Olive Garden.
                    3) Hubby ordered the spiciest chicken enchiladas on the menus and they weren't remotely spicy. In fact, very little of what we ordered had any flavor at all.
                    4) My pastor enchiladas were meh at best. I don't like a ton of spice, but SOME flavor would have been nice.

                    In all honesty, the best thing I had was the Jarritos. I was really disappointed as I've heard such good things about this place, but it was a real bust for us. Too many good places to eat in the Cities to go back there.

                    1. re: Seige
                      jaycooke RE: Seige Jun 30, 2012 10:52 AM

                      I'd venture to say you missed ordering the best things at Los Ocampos -- sopes, huarachazo, and the regular tacos (I like the carnitas and tinga de pollo, personally).

                      At the Suburban Ave location, they often won't give you the spiciest of salsa, but they have a green one that has quite a kick. You have to know to ask for it.

                      1. re: jaycooke
                        The Dairy Queen RE: jaycooke Jun 30, 2012 12:30 PM

                        I agree that the best items at Los Ocampo are the antojitos which are, by definition, snack food. Something about a sit-down restaurant steers one away from "snack food" and, unfortunately, away from what they do best. I love Los Ocampo, but I recommend skipping the "meals"...


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          diesel RE: The Dairy Queen Jun 30, 2012 08:39 PM

                          Agree, esp. if antojitos includes posole. If not, then I'd add that their posole is pretty boss.

                          Oh, those sopes. . . so nummy.

                        2. re: jaycooke
                          BigE RE: jaycooke Jul 2, 2012 06:16 AM

                          That green salsa is no joke. I got some with my meal and assumed it was a normal salsa verde. Lucky for me, my tolerance for spice is quite high, because that stuff would blow away your average Minnesotan.

                        3. re: Seige
                          mtullius RE: Seige Jul 1, 2012 06:15 AM

                          1. There's nothing strange or inauthentic about having veggies in your arroz.
                          2. I seriously doubt it was parmesan cheese. But sometimes cotija could look like that?
                          3. As others have said, if you're looking for spice, ask for salsa. Some of theirs is killer spicy.

                          Sorry you had a bad experience... I assume you were at the sit down location near Target?

                          1. re: mtullius
                            Seige RE: mtullius Jul 5, 2012 09:47 AM

                            Yes, it was the sit down location near Target.

                            As for missing apparently what they do best, that's unfortunate because we asked the server what their specialities are and she directed us to the enchiladas.

                            I'm glad you've all had great experiences, but as I've said. We won't be back. Too many other good restaurants in the Cities to waste time at this place.

                          2. re: Seige
                            Fudist RE: Seige Jul 3, 2012 08:17 PM

                            Most great authentic Mexican restaurants incorporate peas and carrots into the rice. You must have went to Don Pablo's and mistaken it for Los Ocampo because the experience you describe sounds like some made up nightmare and could not possibly happen there. The quality has been far too good for far too long. Kraft Parm really? Not likely.

                            1. re: Fudist
                              The Dairy Queen RE: Fudist Jul 3, 2012 08:24 PM

                              I found my one sit-down "dinner" at Los Ocampo rather ho hum, too. I don't even remember what I had, it was so unremarkable. I don't recall thinking the cheese was Kraft Parm, but I did think the rice was blah and I wish I'd just ordered a huarache instead.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                Fudist RE: The Dairy Queen Jul 4, 2012 11:50 AM

                                As a general rule unless you are eating Risotto or Rice Soup, it tends to be dry and bland.

                              2. re: Fudist
                                Seige RE: Fudist Jul 5, 2012 09:44 AM

                                I can assure you it was Los Ocampo, not a Don Pablo's or any other type of Mexican restaurant but thank you for assuming I don't know what I'm talking about.

                        4. j
                          JimGrinsfelder RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 04:40 PM

                          Sonora Grill is, IMO, the best Mexican food in Minnesota.

                          I like Los Ocampos for tacos and Sopes. El Burrito gets some of my business too.

                          What's up with Taco Taxi? Are their tacos as good as their brand design?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JimGrinsfelder
                            Seige RE: JimGrinsfelder Jun 4, 2012 02:54 PM

                            Despite my recent bust at Los Ocampos, I would agree with the others that Sonora Grill is top-notch. Very good chow!

                          2. AnneInMpls RE: AKWfoodie Jun 1, 2012 09:03 PM

                            Many of the places mentioned above aren't "sit down," but rather are places where you order at a counter and then find a table. But I love the food at Los Ocampo, La Loma, La Hacienda (great tacos el pastor!), and El Burrito Mercado, which is a cafeteria line rather than a counter - and has table service as mentioned by MSPD (I haven't tried that, either).

                            My current favorite in this genre is Sonora Grill, which has awesome food in a less-than awesome location (much as I love the Midtown Global Market). If only Minneapolis didn't have such archaic liquor laws - if you could order a beer with your food here, I'll bet this place would be mobbed all evening.

                            As for great-and-authentic sit-down places, I can't immediately think of any. The inexpensive places are nice, but not fabulous. The expensive places are more fusion-y than classic Mexican.

                            In the former category, my favorite is Los Ocampo in East St. Paul. (But do they have table service? Or just a counter?) Other places I like are El Paraiso (good but not great), Adelitas (adequate but great drinks), and El Nuevo Rodeo (basic but tasty). I haven't been to La Teresita's or Andale or Dominguez yet, but suspect that they're a step up from the ones I listed. Another place that gets good chowhound reviews for certain dishes (like the chilaquiles) is Homi on University Ave. in St. Paul - another place on my list to try.

                            In the upscale category, I like Barrio (been to the St. Paul location), which has great food, much of it more-or-less Mexican, and good tequila; great non-alchoholic drinks, too. I went once to La Chaya, and liked the food, but it was REALLY expensive, and was more "fusion" than Mexican (it's billed as a "Mediterranean-Mexican restaurant"). The upscale neighborhood bistro environment is very nice, but isn't my style (I'm an order-at-the-counter kind of gal.) For the money, I'd rather go somewhere else.

                            The other place that comes close is Cafe Ena, which does "South American fusion" with some Mexican flavors (been there once, loved the food but not the crowds). I need to try it again to see if it's still as good.

                            But for jaw-dropping regional Mexican food (with table service), I go to Chicago. I wish I could steal one of their restaurants and bring it up here - it's not fair that they have so many great places and we have only one or two.

                            In my opinion, Sonora Grill is solidly in the "jaw-droppingly good" Chicago class, though it is counter service in a very casual atmosphere. I have my fingers crossed that their MidGloMa debut is just a start, and a world-class sit-down restaurant will follow. Or at least a food truck!

                            P.S. For more about the casual places, check out these threads:

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: AnneInMpls
                              The Dairy Queen RE: AnneInMpls Jun 2, 2012 12:53 AM

                              The Los Ocampo on Suburban in St. Paul has table service and a full bar. I can't put my finger on what that building used to be, a Denny's or a Perkins or something like that? Here's a photo of the building http://www.twincitiesfun.com/Taqueria...

                              HEre's the restaurant's website: http://www.losocampo.com/location.php

                              Sonora Grill gets my nod too for best Mexican food (even though it's only counter service, not table service), except that be forewarned that it's Mexican plus Spanish plus general Latin American and a little chef driven. Still, everything's made from scratch and delicious.

                              Barrio Tequila Bar has good hipster-bar food, but it's pricy.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                semanticantics RE: The Dairy Queen Jun 2, 2012 05:09 AM

                                I am pretty sure the big Los Ocampo was formerly a Baker's Square. I grew up out that way and that was our Target store.

                                I was going to mention Adelita's in my earlier post as the worst restaurant experience of my adult life. The food was terrible but the ambiance was worse. One side of the restaurant had "Blade 3" playing on the televisions, and on the other side a Spanish-language version of "America's Most Wanted" featuring mutilated dogs from a dog fighting ring. Really appetizing.

                                1. re: semanticantics
                                  The Dairy Queen RE: semanticantics Jun 2, 2012 07:12 AM

                                  Ah, yes, I think you're right. It was a Bakers Square. http://www.google.com/imgres?q=bakers...

                                  I'm glad it's now Los Ocampo!


                                  1. re: semanticantics
                                    JimGrinsfelder RE: semanticantics Jun 3, 2012 04:08 AM

                                    They are usually playing mexican soccer matches when I stop in. I don't eat there, I pick up tacos al pastor to go. And those have generally been superior to what I've been able to find elsewhere. Did you try the tacos?

                              2. h
                                Haricotsv2 RE: AKWfoodie Jun 2, 2012 02:57 PM

                                I have been to Nuevo Rodeo on Lake Street twice, and been thrilled with the menu and happy with the food I ordered, especially the posole.

                                1. b
                                  Brad Ballinger RE: AKWfoodie Jun 4, 2012 11:49 AM

                                  I also have to give a plug for Andale. I've only had the tacos, but they are truly excellent. $1.89 for a wide variety of protein options. The only thing missing from Andale is beer to go with the food.

                                  The mercado next door is okay. It doesn't have the square footage of some others in town. And the deli counter has limited options (although I do want to take home some of the briased goat one of these days). The desserts look fantastic, and are both larger and priced better than those at El Burrito Mercado.

                                  1. s
                                    semanticantics RE: AKWfoodie Jun 4, 2012 02:18 PM

                                    Ate at the big Los Ocampo last night. Sat out on the patio and ate myself stupid with a huarachazo.

                                    1. r
                                      Reneezd RE: AKWfoodie Jun 30, 2012 10:36 AM

                                      Did you find your favorite Mexican sit down yet? I am curious as to if there is a place in the "Boca Chica" area with a good food that you can get table service? It seems that most do not care for the Boca Chica Restaurant?
                                      Looking for somewhere to take a friend for his birthday, not loud, but with great food!

                                      1. k
                                        kolgrim RE: AKWfoodie Jul 1, 2012 08:39 PM

                                        I am a big fan of La Poblanita at 17th and Lake. It is a hole in the wall but the food is great and they are quite generous.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: kolgrim
                                          SmartCookie RE: kolgrim Jul 2, 2012 06:21 AM

                                          I'm pretty sure La Poblanita has been closed for several months now - I'll drive by there today to double check.

                                          1. re: SmartCookie
                                            discus RE: SmartCookie Jul 4, 2012 02:01 PM

                                            A plug for Pancho Villa on Eat Street. Their whole Red Snappers are wonderful.

                                            I also question the credential of any Mexican restaurant that do not have a mole dish and a seafood soup on the menu.

                                            Just a food snob talking...

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