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BEST MARGARITA Minneapolis 2003 - Margarita Bella

The Ecuadorian immigrant somehow manages to smile as she tells her sad tale in quiet, lilting Spanish. She came to Minneapolis three years ago, by herself, leaving her five-year-old son behind with relatives. In five more years, she says, hopefully she will have saved enough money--more than $9,000, she believes--to bring him to the United States to live with her. The United States is beautiful, she says. In Ecuador, you work all day for a dollar; here you can make six dollars in an hour. Then she carefully sets up another round of margaritas. There's nary another soul in the joint on this Saturday afternoon, just the company of the three televisions tuned to a Latin video channel. The bright sun coming through the full-length windows facing the street makes it feel like any sleepy cantina in South America, right here just off Central Avenue, on the southern edge of Northeast Minneapolis. In the five years since it opened, Margarita Bella has been overshadowed by the outbreak of flashier Latin-flavored bars and restaurants, but there's something decidedly low-key and working-class about this place. The mix for the margaritas comes out of the gun, but it tastes homemade (with care) anyway. More important, the drinks do the trick--and inexpensively, at only $3.75 a pop. There's also a menu full of cheap eats, and a spacious dance floor that fills up on karaoke nights. In other words, it's a welcome fit in the neighborhood, as the ethnic face of Nordeast changes with a new wave of immigrants.

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