The Spicy Side of the Street

A tour through five of the best taquerias on East Lake

Taqueria La Hacienda
211 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
1515 E. Lake St., Minneapolis (In Mercado Central)

José's Mexican Foods
730 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

La Mexicana
1522 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

Taqueria la Hacienda’s giant spit roasting pork for "catastrophically good"  tortas al pastor
Raoul Benavides
Taqueria la Hacienda’s giant spit roasting pork for "catastrophically good" tortas al pastor

Location Info


Jose's Mexican Food

730 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Powderhorn

Carne Asada

809 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Powderhorn

Pineda Tacos

2150 E. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Powderhorn

Carne Asada
809 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

Pineda Tacos
2150 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
311 E. Lake St., Minneapolis

I witnessed a stellar bit of one- penny opera and graft the other day in a taqueria on Lake Street.

See, it was twilight, and raining. Out the window, in the dark sky, the old Sears tower loomed with all its melancholy weight and gothic height. Inside the taqueria, Baby considered the glory days of tacos, which are now upon us. The only other folks in the joint were a gaunt, tall, gazellelike man lurking by the trash cans and an agitated man in a nice wool suit--one of those suits with large gold buttons, the kind yacht captains wear. It was double-breasted, and the rain frosted the outside of it in a jaunty way; he looked for all the world as if he had just leapt off something with a teak deck. Or he would have looked that way, if only he hadn't been clutching a thin grocery bag holding a rain-wet box of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

As he stood behind me in line, he took out his wallet, which held at least $500 in twenties. While I took my numero and awaited my tacos, the yachtsman explained his plight to the guy behind the counter. Desperately, he wished to use the taqueria's phone. No, said the taco guy. Yes. No. Yes. Look, explained the yachtsman, you'll make a lot of money if you let me use the phone, I'll give you $5. The yachtsman took out the five and waved it around.

Needless to say, that changed things. Give me the $5 first, said the taco guy. No, I'll give you $1, said the yachtsman, changing his mind, and taking out a dollar to wave around. One now, and $5 later. The five and the one flashed. Voices were raised. Both the gazellelike man and I watched very closely. I was musing on the way cell phones have changed the world, and I was noting that until this resolved there would be no tacos for Baby.

Suddenly, the chicken entered the equation.

I don't know why, but the chicken was now being shoved back and forth between the taco guy and the yachtsman. As is usual when wet fried chicken is at issue, yelling ensued. The yachtsman took his chicken and stalked back out into the rain, but not before suggesting unusual uses that the taco guy might find for his close female relatives.

With that, the gazellelike man sought to make peace, and rushing to the door, recalled the yachtsman to the taqueria. He asked the yachtsman something I couldn't hear, and the yachtsman took out his $1 bill, and his $5, and waved them around, recounting the argument for the gazellelike man, who seemed to assure the yachtsman that he could make the taco guy come around.

The gazellelike man took the bills. He approached the taco counter. Oddly, he seized hold of a duplicate printout that had spooled out of a little receipt printer on the taqueria counter. He brought the printout over to the yachtsman, and, with the theatrical display of a magician, held the printout out in front of his head, and crumpled it into a ball.

He showed the ball to all of us. The paper ball, he seemed to say. He balanced it on the back of his hand, and then flipped his hand over, balancing it on the palm of his hand, as if he would close up his hand and open it again to reveal a dove. He threw the paper ball high in the air, and, as it climbed toward the ceiling, as it turned and twirled, he left.

Lake Street, regulated by the pattern of stoplights, was momentarily clear, and the gazellelike man loped gracefully across the rain-wet street, with the long-legged, easy gait of a natural athlete. As we watched, a burst of cars appeared, their headlights tracing glittering arcs in the rain. As the cars came, the gazellelike man turned into a misty alley, vanishing. We watched the paper ball on the floor.

Later, I got my tacos. The yachtsman returned to the ever-chilling rain. The taco guy cackled with glee.

Why do I tell you this? Is it merely to brag about the homemade horchata I got that evening, which was thick and full of just- grated cinnamon? Is it because I am trying to foment even greater divisions between taco guys and yachtsmen? Is it because I am on the payroll of the cell phone cartels? Perhaps. But more importantly, I want you to know that all over Lake Street there are now tacos worth committing petty crimes for. Clearly, the gazellelike man knew that six bucks was the only thing separating him from some of the best Mexican food Minnesota has ever seen.

Personally, I have spent the last four months trying to find the best, the definitively best, reliably best tacos on East Lake Street, in that sweet and spicy corridor that stretches between I-35 and Hiawatha. I tried and failed. It is impossible: Great taquerias on Lake Street have lately made up their minds to come and go as quickly as wildflowers. However, I can tell you that, as I type this in the last bit of October 2004, each of the following places is a hall-of-fame favorite, for the following reasons.

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