When coveted real estate at the southwest corner of Lake and Lyndale became vacant this past January, chef Alejandro Castillon Prieto and company swooped in with a straightforward plan: tacos and drinks, but done better than Lyn-Lake’s weekend antics deserve.
The first step to winning over the hordes involved repurposing Hasty Tasty’s giant smoker for Castillon’s deceptively simple, meat-centric menu. The second relied on finding the right team to execute his vision of conjuring everything from scratch -- packing each crushed ice cocktail to-order and making each tortilla by hand -- yet maintaining an air of chill to the endeavor.
To be clear, what he’s created is not street food. Prieto serves dishes that tip, teeter, and fall toward the upscale. Plated and presented as such, no excessive garnish clutters the experience of each item ordered (usually a la carte). Though I do love them, Prieto’s not wasting grilled green onions by tossing them on the side, nor adding errant cilantro sprigs and lime wedges purely for show. Prieto’s food is meant to stand on its own -- and, for the most part, it does.
The feeling inside the crisp, tiled interior is one of airy, cheery mayhem -- echoed nicely in design by the vibrant wall of trompos (vintage Mexican toy tops). You’re welcomed as a family friend. If glasses break – as they will when running a busy, young restaurant with much-better-than-average cuisine at the epicenter of disorder in Minneapolis’ party-est neighborhood – rather than get flustered, Prieto’s people understand few crises are worth ruining an evening over. They clean up, shrug and move on without a second thought, as if we all went way back anyway.
Besides, those things they’re churning out from the spit are impressive. Lengua might feel like a hard sell three doors away from Up-Down, but hear me out when I say it’s jaw-droppingly good. For anyone squeamish about eating beef tongue, if I didn’t tell you what you were eating, you’d just think it was melt-in-your-mouth tender dark meat. Little slivers of cabbage lend texture and an avocado drizzle pops with acidity. You’ll want three.
The only item we tried that missed slightly was the shrimp taco, which crumbled under the weight of its generosity -- not taste. Dressed with a bed of slaw and pico, the airy, crispy shrimp had been butterflied and doubled in quantity compared to the necessary taco filling. Thankful as we were for the finger food, it wasn’t a well-executed taco.
Instead you’ll have to settle for the ungodly good Tostada al Pastor, which arrives with pork cubed and skewered from the spit. Fools like me believe this demands a fork, but at barely a touch the meat falls away onto the crisp-fried tortillas below, with just the right amount of salsa verde, gooey queso, and roasted cornlets to compliment. The Mexican Corn side dish is also not to be missed despite its simplicity, arriving over a bed of rice split into two half-ears, and prepared elote-style.
Drinks at Prieto flow freely, and in inventive iterations. Minneapolis’ only slow-burn Prince drink, the Palomas Lloran, comes in the form of a you-don’t-know-this'll-be-purple-until-it-arrives paloma-style margarita, served in a vela, packed with pellet ice, and decked out with enough salt it appears to be… llorando-ing. I laughed when it was placed in front of me, because it may just be the most thorough cross-cultural joke-tribute beverage I’ve ever seen. Meanwhile another cocktail, the Facu’s Libre, is more of a deep-cut play on Argentina’s love for Fernet-and-cokes, tweaked with a little mezcal and vermouth for good measure.
No matter how you cut it, what’s coming out of Prieto is better than anything Lyn-Lake saw coming, without being so serious about it that they alienate the very customers who’ll become their regulars. Honestly: What more could you possibly want from an taco/cocktail bar plopped at corner of chaos and mayhem?
Prieto Taquería Bar
701 W Lake St., Minneapolis