La Huasteca opened sometime in 2014. It first flashed on my radar in the early part of the summer of 2015 as a birria (a lamb stew) and barbacoa de chivo (slow cooked goat) specialist. I put it on my list but then we went off to L.A and I forgot about it. Thanks to reports on Chowhound it came back on my radar and recently I pulled some friends together so we could go out and sample a goodly portion of the menu. And we did. And man, was it good! I’m tempted to say that it’s the best Mexican food I’ve had in Minnesota, but I need to renew my acquaintance with a number of the other local luminaries. For what it’s worth, it blew our recent meals at Maya Cuisine out of the water. Not just because they have things on the menu here far beyond what’s on offer at Maya, but because even the things that are similar are better here, and the preparation on everything was top-notch. If you haven’t been you should go. And you should go this week. Do it.
And if you do go, here is a guide to a large part of the menu. This is almost everything that is listed on their website (and also on the large menu posted on the wall above the cashier’s desk) but you should know that the paper menu available at the restaurant includes many other things, including more familiar taco and burrito options. You should also know that the restaurant, located at 2738 Nicollet, is a bit hard to spot. It’s in the strip mall, roughly opposite Quang, that is anchored on one end by Marissa’s Supermarket. Go into the parking lot and you’ll see it. I’m told parking is an adventure in the evenings and especially on weekends due to the presence of karaoke in the vicinity.
We, however, were there on a Saturday morning and parking was fine. The restaurant itself is tiny. There are five tables that seat four people each and there are also a couple of bar stools. If you’re in a group larger than four you have to hope that contiguous tables are available. In our case they weren’t (there were nine of us) but we staked out a couple of tables and when the opportunity arose we managed to swap and put two tables together. It wasn’t a pain in the ass, really, but it’s probably not the best place to go in a large group.
It is a very good place to go if you want to be happy though. The food is great, the genial co-owner (Jose Gonzalez; I’m not clear if he also cooks—it seemed while we were there that the chef proper is his wife) is up and around and happy to chat, and both he and the young woman serving the food have plenty of English (in case your Spanish is as non-existent as mine). And in any case the paper menu has English translations (see below).
What should you get? Well, as noted above, they are specialists in birria and barbacoa de chivo. As the owner will tell you, most places that offer one or both of these dishes do so on the weekends; they, however, have them on the menu all the time. And you’d be foolish not to get them. The missus and I also recommend highly their caldo de borrega (listed under Consommes), a soup with lamb (you can also get it with chivo/goat), chickpeas, carrots, spiced with the mild guajillo pepper. The best soup I’ve had in a long while (full disclosure: not everyone in our group was quite as enthusiastic about it as the two of us were). Also excellent: the tamales Oaxaquenos, cooked not in corn husks but in banana leaves, and much larger than the more familiar variety. Mr. Gonzalez told us that while he is from the vicinity of Mexico City, his wife is from Oaxaca. The restaurant, however, serves a mix of regional styles. Their birria is in a Veracruz style and their barbacoa is in a Morelos style. I am not in a position to comment on whether they are good exemplars of the style but I can tell you that they are very good indeed.
We also enjoyed the tacos de canasta. Literally “basket tacos”, these are apparently pre-assembled tacos, stacked in baskets, sold by in Mexico by street vendors on bicycles. Consequently the tortilla and the toppings steam/fuse together, but the results are very good (they’re also quite small). Less exciting were the tacos al vapor, which were hard to tell apart from regular tacos. I was expecting the tacos as a whole would be steamed but it appeared that only the meats that went on them (cabeza/cow head and cachete/cow cheeks) were steamed (the tacos de canasta were what I expected the tacos al vapor would be). But despite not being particularly novel they were very, very good. Also very good, if excessive if eaten by less than nine people, was the chicharrones preparados. This was a large sheet of fried pork rind topped with a variety of things including cueritos; these are pickled pig skin—this may or may not sound appealing but if you’re queasy about the notion you should know that before we figured out what they were, even the most squeamish in our group had gulped a lot of it down under the impression that they were pieces of some sort of neutral jelly.
Pictures of the restaurant and almost everything we ate follow (with detailed captions). Please click on an image to launch the slideshow.
What else is left to say? Oh yes, it’s an incredible value. Everything above plus one more order of the tacos de canasta, two more tamales, another taco and three orders of their very good flan (which I did not photograph) plus tax and tip came to $110 (for nine people). Oh right, the owner also told us that they’d been featured relatively recently on the show Cheap Eats on the Cooking Channel. We were not surprised that they’d received the recognition but we were surprised that there wasn’t a larger non-Hispanic crowd there as a result. We got there at noon and left an hour and a half later and there was only one other non-Hispanic table there during that time—but perhaps this is not representative. And I should note that a number of the Hispanic customers were getting food to go—and indeed I think the odds of our stopping there on a regular basis on our way out of the Cities to get an order of the caldo de borrega and the birria or barbacoa to go are very high indeed.
So again: go.