New Twin Cities tacos and bar food to fall for

A taste of Minneapolis burger joint Zeke's Unchained Animal and St. Paul taqueria Tacos, Nachos, and Beer

Zeke's menu focuses on pizza, burgers, fried appetizers, and an apparent lack of fear of calories or cholesterol, as evidenced by the "basket of bacon," which is literally a basket of bacon, cooked until crisp and served with seasoned cream cheese. It's bar food mostly: mozzarella sticks, veggie ragout-stuffed mushrooms, and naked but well-seasoned chicken wings with a range of spicy sauces, but Zeke's team — a foursome of friends and culinary school grads and students — throws in plenty of housemade components. Instead of opening up a bag of Old Dutch, they make their own salt and vinegar potato chips (which didn't taste strongly of either ingredient but were still wispy-thin, crisp, golden brown, and properly drained) and corn chips, as well as their own sauces and hand-tossed pizza crusts. Zeke's pizzas are plate-sized and described on the menu as thin crust, but the result was more like a pita, with heft and stretch but no cracker-like or crisp character at all. The toppings are kept simple and spare — a little crushed tomato here, a little Andouille sausage there, a sprinkle of feta cheese — which is smart on a small pizza, but without a successful supporting crust, toppings are really a moot point.

Much better were Zeke's burgers, especially the signature lamb burger, which was cooked through but still just a little pink, full of that sharp, slightly gamey flavor and dressed very simply with some caramelized onions and a slice of cheese. No aioli, no pickled things, no chutney, no pork belly, and still a really enjoyable burger. Take note, local establishments: Sometimes meat, bun, and cheese really is best.

Pastor and steak tacos — you add the toppings
Alma Guzman
Pastor and steak tacos — you add the toppings

I can't say that either of these places, whether totally transparent in title or shrouded in mystery, is worth going out of your way for, but in the case of TNB I'm glad to see something resembling a true taqueria in this part of downtown St. Paul (there are some other notable ones scattered throughout nearby Payne-Phalen and the West Side), and as for Zeke's, the pizza needs some tweaking — possibly just more time in the oven — but Longfellow should be very happy to have a friendly neighborhood bar with a good burger and a decent beer list.

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