Maybe it's not fair to judge two Latin American restaurants -- both with an emphasis on Ecuadorean food -- on the merits of their tacos, a distinctly Mexican dish. But if you consider tacos kind of the Latin American version of the hamburger -- ubiquitious, with many suitable, delicious interpretations, it sort of makes sense. (Many, if not most, Latin American restaurants also serve burgers actually.) It's kind of like how if a place can eke out a decent burger, you sort of feel better about everything there. Tacos, like burgers, are a kind of bellwether. So, in the name of, ahem, judiciousness, we bring you Food Fight: tacos.
Cocina Latina has taken up shop at the former home of Tacos Blass on the corner of 38th and Nicollet. The space is clean, the menu expansive, and man, the dramatic music videos on the bigscreens, with their plaintive, keening lyrics and choreographed dance moves courtesy of bikini-clad women and dudes in faux-silk, are alone worth the trip. The restaurant's $6.99 tacos are in true Mexican style, arriving with three soft, doubled up corn tortillas filled with small bits of charred beef topped with onions and cilantro. Simple, no fuss. Could have used one or two more limes on the side, and had to ask for the salsa -- thin but tasty, and orange sherbet colored -- but once things were in order, they were definitely in order.
Guayaquil's sort of one of those easily overlooked spots, tucked as it is so close to Midtown Global Market and Los Ocampo as well as directly across the street from Mercado Central and a stone's throw from a number of other small restaurants offering up various Latin American cuisine. Four healthy-sized tacos come with an $8.99 order (you can easily save two for another meal). More Tex-Mex than purely Mex, they come topped with sour cream, lettuce, red onion and a pico de gallo-type salsa on the side. You can also get them "dorado," or fried, which seems to be the default preparation-style for tacos here, so pipe up if you want them "normal."
The Winner: Cocina Latina's straightforward, no-frills tacos take all. While Guayaquil's tacos contain more robust, flavorful servings of meat, the whole package is what matters. Kind of like it might not matter how good Vincent's gouda and short rib stuffed burger was if the bread it came on was dry or the other condiments incongruous in any way. Cocina's tortillas were warm and soft, the cilantro and onion piquant and fresh, and the salsa a tangy, bite-y complement. Plus they're cheaper.
Cocina Latina 38th and Nicollet (northwest corner) Minneapolis
Guayaquil 1526 E. Lake St. Minneapolis 612.711.2344