It’s been a wild ride for Los Ocampo Mexican Restaurant these past couple of years.
In August of 2018, the authentic and always bustling restaurant stationed at the corner of East Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis abruptly closed (albeit promising the move would be temporary) to make way for a five-story apartment building in its place. At that time, owner Julian Ocampo promised the community his family’s restaurant would return as the gleaming tower’s anchor business.
*Ponder, for a moment, how much has changed since the summer of 2018.*
Devotees of the joint waited with bated breath and growling stomachs as renovations and updates on the ground floor of Chicago and Lake crawled along. Options for solid tacos at midnight on a Thursday remained meager.
Then COVID-19 descended upon the land. Like so many bars and eateries, Los Ocampo’s family of restaurants – which includes two locations in St. Paul, an express outpost in Minneapolis’s skyways, taquerias inside Midtown Global Market and Allianz Field, and a sister restaurant in Woodbury called Machete Cocina Mexicana – buckled down and weathered the early stages of the pandemic as best as possible.
Of course, just as things at the new location (and dining options across the state) were looking and opening up, it was seriously damaged in the unrest following George Floyd’s death.
“It was hard to see it get hit,” said Ocampo, via statement. “But our family pulled together and brought it back to life.”
Julian's father, Armando, pitched in behind the scenes with maintenance and equipment replacement help, though longtime visitors of the old taqueria at Chicago and Lake will be most impressed by the shiny and vibrant impression left by the new location's aesthetics on the front end.
Neon signage guides visitors from a sleek stainless steel ordering counter to colorful, padded booths or new patio seating. This Ocampo menu has also been supplemented with a “build-your-own” option, in addition to the traditional items we’ve always loved.
Quieter elements of the business still haven’t changed much over the years, even if the world can feel like it's spinning ever faster. Since it first opened in 2008, Los Ocampo’s menu has brimmed with recipes that were handed down through the family for generations. At the heart of this is Lilia Zagal, Julian Ocampo’s mother, who continues to oversee the kitchen and food, ensuring that everything exceeds family standards.
Speaking of that: Part of weathering this rough patch meant keeping the greater Ocampo family (not only in name) intact while they were unable to serve guests. On June 1, the day after this location sustained damage, Dulce Ocampo and three other individuals launched a GoFundMe to help provide relief for staff impacted by the closure to rebuild the restaurant. So far, they’ve raised just over half of their target goal of $10,000.
It’s never too late to chip in for all those times you wish you could’ve had their tacos a couple months ago… eh?
Los Ocampo Mexican Restaurant
801 E. Lake St., Minneapolis