BEST FOOD COURT - 2004
O, woe is the food court, that bizarre union of cheap commerce and gluttony, hurry and rest, which really gained footing around these parts, mostly in shopping malls, in the 1980s. It's not so much that the food court was a bad idea at the time, it's just that as time marched on, the food court became so corporate, so staid, so uniquely American. And the food almost always sucked. Enter Mercado Central, the little business incubator on the southeast corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue. Conceived in 1997, El Mercado has become ground zero for Minneapolis's Latino boom, and a welcome revitalization in a long-depressed area for native borns. Though it's home to jewelry and clothing shops, music and book stores, and any number of little artisan outlets and food markets, the real staying power of Mercado Central is its half-dozen food vendors. You can get the best burritos, tamales, tortillas, and pupusas in town, and for little more than it costs you to do your laundry. As if that weren't enough, you don't take this food to go and slop it all over your car while weaving through traffic. No, you get to stay and eat it right there, in the heart of a bustling indoor bazaar. It's really the best local example of what a fresh wave of immigration can do to a tired old cow town--not to mention its concept of food courts. Oh, and did we mention the food doesn't suck?