Top 10 taquerias in the Twin Cities
Here in Minnesota, we're much closer to the land of elk burgers and Molson beer than the land of tamales and Tecate. We're never going to have the abundance of killer taquerias that pepper Los Angeles or Dallas. Nevertheless, we do have a handful that come close to conjuring a balmy Mexican breeze even on the darkest, coldest Minnesotan night. Here are our top 10 picks.
It's taco time
10. Taqueria Los Paisanos
A burst of color marks Taqueria Los Paisano's place on a hilly street in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood of East St. Paul. Its small parking lot is host to all manner of creative parking jobs by those looking for a quick taco fix. The space is clean, bright, and festive, with friendly counter service that's more menu-based than the typical point-at-the-meat-that-looks-yummiest method of taco construction found at many taquerias. The pollo (chicken) taco is juicy and vibrant, the al pastor and carnitas (pork) are solid and robust, and the beef head and tongue give adventurous carnivores something to sink their teeth into. The rice and beans are straightforward, and the horchata is icy cold. Each table has its own mini fixings station, with a couple kinds of salsa in squirt bottles and spice shakers to allow heat lovers to adjust the kick to their liking. (825 Seventh St. E., St. Paul; 651.778.8062)
9. Andale Taqueria & Mercado
This Richfield restaurant and market has attracted glowing reviews from diners and critics alike since it opened its doors on Nicollet Avenue in the summer of 2012. The tacos, like the rest of the menu, are traditionally prepared with authentic ingredients and techniques. From marinated pork to slow-cooked roast beef to house-made chorizo, they do all the standards quite well, but they don't stop there. Lengua (beef tongue), cabeza (beef head), buche (pork stomach), and tripa (beef tripe) tacos are also available, all for less than $2 a pop. I don't think we're at Taco Bell anymore, Toto. The space (a former Embers), looks like it could just as easily double as a church of Scientology, with its extreme angles and glass front wall. Parking is plentiful, and the attached market has everything you need to open your own taqueria at home.
(7700 Nicollet Ave. S., Richfield; 612.259.8868)
What if your corner taqueria had not just flavor but high style? What if each plate were composed to look as if it were the many-colored, multi-textured creation of an upscale chef? What if the tomatillo salsa, a Mexican standard for generations, mijo, were a little sweeter and a little more vividly green? What if the tacos came arrayed on a white rectangle of china and were served up in a techno palace of glass and tile? Accompanied by a thoughtful wine list, a long list of top-shelf margaritas and sangrias, and exotic fruit juices? If your corner taqueria were as stylish as all that you'd have Masa--where homey cooking and familiar flavors are gussied up with elegance, forward-looking design, and margaritas fit for a weekend on the yacht off the Acapulco coast. The downtown location makes it a perfect destination for everything from after-work happy hours to pre-show dinner dates. (1070 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis; 612.338.6272)
7. Pineda Tacos
There's an old adage about taquerias: The worse the joint looks, the better the food must be. None of the four Twin Cities Pineda Tacos locations offers a white-tablecloth experience, but they do provide the best excuse for a food coma this side of the McDonald's-owned Chipotle behemoth. The tortillas are soft and chewy and are wrapped around a hearty mound of your choice of wonderful: chicken tinga, all smoky, complicated, and full of the dusk of spice; chicken or pork in salsa verde, green and tart; beef all kinds of ways, including well married with onions or soaked in a smoky blend of deep chile splendor; rich roast pork carnitas; double-fried pork skin of chicharron, and much, much more. One Spanish dictionary translates the word pineda into English as "a kind of linen garter." Rest assured you'll bust yours after a Pineda platter of tacos. (1304 Robert St. S., West St Paul; 651.455.6833. 2150 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.729.5320. 311 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.825.7466. 60 Nathan Ln. N., Plymouth; 763.545.1977)
6. Sonora Grill
The Midtown Global Market is home to several Mexican restaurants, but Sonora Grill distinguishes itself by adding influences from Spain and South America and submitting traditional dishes to a gourmet chef's makeover. Around these parts, expressing a preference for Mexican food topped with sour cream or cheddar inspires mocking--there goes another Midwesterner bastardizing authentic cuisine. But in Sonora, Mexico, such pairings are common enough that there's a term, caramelos, for a taco served with melted cheese. The tacos may be ordered with pork, chicken, and beef, as well as tempura shrimp, mild and meaty slow-cooked tongue, and crispy, breaded eggplant. The heaviness of the taco fillings is tempered by their delicate toppings, including salsa, cilantro, and cabbage. Sonora's aioli is made every morning and blended with various chiles and herbs. The cilantro aioli is an ultra-creamy mayonnaise with a raw garlic bite and a fresh grassiness that adds an extra layer of richness and flavor to the tacos. (920 E. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.871.1900)