The Spicy Side of the Street

A tour through five of the best taquerias on East Lake

Whatever you get, though, I highly recommend--no, strike that. Whatever you get, I violently, I wildly, and I almost hysterically recommend that you get your topping on one of the homemade, griddled- while-you-watch masa forms that Carne Asada specializes in, be it gordita, sope, itacates, tlacoyos, or dobladas. For any of these a Carne Asada cook will take a kind of half-cooked corn pancake and sear it until it's crisp and crackling without, and steamy and creamy inside. If you get the combo platter number three ($6.95), you can get a gordita, a doblada, and a sope, and then fight it out with yourself over which version is your favorite.


La Mexicana: Across the street from Mercado Central, in that big, terra-cotta painted building that used to hold the antique mall, is now a huge Mexican grocery store that I think is probably currently the best Mexican grocery in Minneapolis. It's got three great qualities: One, the dazzling butcher shop, full of everything you need to cook real Mexican, or, for that matter, real French or Spanish, food: pork in a hundred forms, pre-chilied steaks, head-on blue shrimp, pork feet, skin, blood. If you have ever thought about trying your hand at pâté or cassoulet, put La Mexicana on your short list.

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

Two, La Mexicana has a snack stand right inside the front door that is ideal for picking up a quick addition to dinner: Quarts of fruit salad ($4) which they will garnish with chile powder and freshly squeezed limes, hot tamales ($2), and sometimes cups of hot corn called elotes. These elotes are great-- they grill corn on the cob, cut it off, toss it with leaves from a fresh, lemony herb called epazote, and, when you order it, ladle it into a cup for you, squeeze fresh lime juice over it, add grated cheese and, if you want, mayonnaise. Rich, sour, sweet, savory--it's everything you like about au gratin potatoes, in another culture's vernacular.

Finally, the last reason to love La Mexicana is that, toward the back of the store, there is a little cafeteria counter that serves some great grub. The first thing to know about the counter at La Mexicana is that there is sometimes a gigantic glass jug on the main counter full of agua fresca. Order whatever is in it. Sometimes it might be a juice made with watermelon purée, sometimes it's homemade jamaica, a light, tart kind of hibiscus tea. It's always good. Ask about the Oaxacan tamales (pronounced "hwa- hocken," or, in Spanish, oaxaqueño, generally, "hwa-keenyo"), in which sections of pork rib are wrapped with masa and a spicy chile sauce inside giant banana leaves and steamed until they're as tender as jelly--eating one is like swimming in a dream of a jungle.

One time at La Mexicana I had the tacos de asada ($1.49), beef and onion griddled together until they were as dark as coal and as potent as thunder, and I thought they might have been the best thing I had ever tasted. However, I've been back since then, and it hasn't been as good. I'll keep at it though, because when chasing the dragon comes with guaranteed quarts of fruit salad, it just seems worth it.


Pineda: The first of the great Lake Street stand-alone taquerias, Pineda remains a treasure for anyone looking to eat on the fly. It's certainly not the ambience that does it--the place retains the uncomfortable look of an abandoned Pizza Hut--it's the food. Last time I was in, there were fully a dozen different stews on offer for filling your taco, torta, or burrito. I especially like the chicken tinga for its smoky and complex, almost mushroomy edge of vegetal dusk. For a lark, though, I ordered something I hadn't ever tried before, the alambre de res ($8.25). Holy buckets. They start with fajita steak, red and green bell peppers, and clumps of chorizo, just fry and fry and fry the stuff until the peppers are charred, the chorizo is crisp, and the steak is plump, greasy, and delicious. Then they load it up with cheese and serve it to you with fresh slices of avocado, tomato, and lettuce, alongside a pile of hot tortillas, beans, and rice. Load up as many sliced radishes, pickled jalapeños, onions, and piles of cilantro as you can handle from the fresh garnish bar and prepare to know what it means to be full, and fully flabbergasted.

The only problem with Pineda is that they've had too much success with the native Minnesotan community, which means that now the counter guys generally assume that if you don't speak real Spanish you probably want your taco with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and tomato. So you gotta watch 'em. I mean, nice work, Dara-of-two-years-ago! Why don't you screw up somebody else's tacos instead of your own? I mean, just watch this paper ball here. Watch it very carefully. I'll be right back.

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