The Spicy Side of the Street

A tour through five of the best taquerias on East Lake

 

Taqueria La Hacienda: If you only veer from your regular rut one time this year, veer to Taqueria La Hacienda. This light- filled, high-ceilinged, tangerine-tinted little restaurant just off the highway in that weird building with the outdoor chandelier specializes in the street foods of Mexico City, and especially in catastrophically terrific "tortas." At La Hacienda these aren't just sandwiches, these are hot, griddled, baroquely filled sandwiches the size of footballs. Eating one is kind of like getting hit by a wonderful, wonderful bus. (Most cost $5.96; the place is open till 11:00 p.m. every day, and until 3:00 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.)

The al pastor is the must-order: You see it the second you walk in the door; it's that psychedelic orange spit of spiced, barbecued pork that's topped with a pineapple core and spins like a gyro cone. (Legend says that this style of al pastor evolved when Lebanese immigrants settled in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico.) Order it any kind of way and you'll revel in the sweet, rich, spicy purity of the thing. It's everything you like about meaty baby back ribs, given a little tart spice.

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

Map

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

However, if you order the al pastor alambres you may never recover: For this, they take the spicy meat and put it on the griddle with onion, bacon--yes, I said bacon--and green and red peppers, and fry the whole thing until it's a roasty lace of barbecue and bacon. Then they throw cheese on it-- heavens to murgatroid. If the al pastor is like getting hit by a wonderful bus, the al pastor alambre is like getting hit by a wonderful bulldozer. This is the best thing to happen to the after-bar experience since the invention of the remote control.

 

José's Mexican Foods: I've been to José's at least half a dozen times, and feel I have only begun to scratch the surface of the wonderful cooking here. José's is the least typical of all the Lake Street taco joints. It's got a sweet, homey, rural, small-town feel--it reminds me of an out-state, farm-country café. Actually, it feels more Zumbrota than Minneapolis, if you know what I mean. This vibe might come from the way the large room is filled with widely spaced secondhand kitchen tables draped with cheerful oilcloth toppers, or it might come from the way everything that issues from the kitchen here is gorgeously home-style and hand-done.

I've had tamales ($1.50) here that were as light and loose as matzo balls, the corn meal so buoyant it barely held together around the fillings. Each bite contrasts the rich and fluffy tamale outside with the vibrantly spiced fillings. I've had a lovely tomatillo chicken tamale, the citrus pop of the tomatillos energetic against the broth-cooked sheets of chicken meat, and a feisty cheese-chorizo one, in which the corn sheltered fiercely spicy, colorful layers of chewy cheese and finely ground sausage.

The tacos at José's are lovely. I especially like their al pastor, in which the barbecued pork comes with itsy-bitsy squares of pineapple, which adds a certain festive air and brightness of flavor. I also love their tinga, here chicken stewed with well-grilled onions in a not-too-spicy but very flavorful chipotle tomato sauce. Oh, I almost forgot the fried chorizo and egg plate! And the savory picadillo taco filling! Well, suffice it to say that José's has a solid dozen options to fill your taco, and I've never had anything that was less than excellent. (Tacos here are $1.39 Mexican- style, or you can add 11 cents and have them American-style with cheese, sour cream, tomato, and lettuce.)

I did once have a bowl of pozole ($4.99) that almost made me cry: The broth was that kind of thick, flavorful, dense but clear joy that comes from a day simmering on the stove. This broth was loaded with pulled chicken meat and tender bits of chopped-up pork shoulder, and every time I sank a soupspoon into the bowl, bits of pork and soft, perfectly resilient islands of hominy jumped into the bowl of the spoon. Every bite was like being well cared for by your new Mexican mom. If you've felt lately like no one cares about you, José's pozole begs to differ.

 

Carne Asada: The most restaurantlike of the Lake Street taquerias, Carne Asada is a newly built spot on the corner of Chicago and Lake that is filled with attractive Mexican tile work and industrial- architectural copper and steel accents. They serve beer; they have nice new wooden chairs and tables. They also have some of the best horchata on Lake street-- homemade, thick, rich with rice and freshly grated cinnamon.

As you might expect, the carne asada is the specialty here, and the stuff is addictive. Imagine everything you like about a hamburger that came off a perfect grill--the char, the well-fried onions, the savor, the smell you can bite into. Now imagine it in the form of steak. That's the carne asada here, and brother, it's good. The pierna, thinly sliced pork stewed in a savory tomato-chile sauce, is also good.

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