Homi has been around on University Avenue in St. Paul for seven years now. Friends who work and live in the area had been telling me about it for some time now but somehow we didn’t get around to eating there until earlier this summer. This is largely because we are creatures of habit—when food shopping in St. Paul we’d eat at On’s Kitchen or Bangkok Thai Deli; our Mexican eating would happen on the way to and back food shopping in north Minneapolis—at Los Ocampo or Maya or, for a brief, glorious period, at La Huasteca. After the demise of the original version of La Huasteca, however, we were in need of a place that would fill the soulful hole in our Mexican food world (neither Los Ocampo and Maya quite fit that description). And so we finally ended up at Homi. And while I am not quite ready to say that it has helped me come to terms with the disappearance of Jose Gonzalez’s birria and barbacoa (and much else), I will say that Homi comes pretty close.
This report is taken from about six different meals eaten over the course of the summer—they have a very large menu and I wanted to sample more of it before writing them up, both for my own sake and also because I wanted to be able to offer more of a guide to it to people who have not yet been. The restaurant is named, by the way, for the owners, Hortencia and Miguel, and they serve a pan-Mexican menu. We have not by any means eaten most of that menu so if you are someone who has eaten there a lot, please let me know if there are particular standouts that we have missed.
For those who have not yet been: you should know that while Homi is a sit-down restaurant with table service you should not expect much by way of frills; nor should you expect prompt service. This partly because the food is mostly made to order, and partly because the main server spends a lot of time helping out in the kitchen as well. What I am saying is you shouldn’t go there hoping to eat a meal in a hurry. You should go there if you want to eat good food though.
When you sit down you will be given a basket of chips with some salsa. This salsa is usually red but they also make a very good green salsa that you can ask for instead—both have a nice, subtle burn. You will also be asked if you want some guacamole; the correct answer is “yes”—this is good guacamole. All of this will happen pretty fast (relatively speaking); after that you’ll have to wait a bit. But that’s okay because you’ll need some time to go through the menu. Yes, they have tacos and tamales and burritos and empanadas and enchiladas but they also have a whole lot of other stuff that you’ll want to think about—helpfully, they have a picture menu at the back as well so you can see what some of the less familiar items look like. Or you can just go by my descriptions of the things we’ve eaten there so far:
- Tacos: Their tacos are pretty good but aren’t really the reason to go there. This because you can get as good or better elsewhere. I’ve had their carnitas (decent), their chicken (very good and similar to Los Ocampo’s “Mexican chicken”, i.e. looks mild but is pretty spicy), and their picadillo (ground beef, and nothing special). I’ve not had tried their al pastor or their lengua—this because to get these you have to order three tacos with the same filling; the others can be got as a mixed order of three. This is annoying but not as annoying as the fact that you can only order tacos as an order of three—there’s no single taco option. (You can also get three tacos plus rice and beans.) Why this should be so I’m not sure, but it’s also the case with their sopes: so if you’re eating alone you can’t get one taco, one sope and something else. But as I say, their tacos are not the reason to eat there.
- Tamales: Also three to an order and available both in corn husks and, as at La Huasteca, in banana leaves. We’ve so far tried them with chicken with a mildly spicy green sauce and they were quite good.
- Birria: Alas, not made with goat as at La Huasteca; but the beef version here is pretty good. You will be asked if you want it spicy (true of a number of other dishes as well): spicy here can be quite spicy so maybe try it at medium and see how you feel. Served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Pollo En Pipian Rojo: This classic dish of chicken cooked in a sauce made of dried chillies and pumpkin seeds is not something you will see everywhere in the Twin Cities and is very good here. It’s a large dish with two plump chicken drumsticks. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Camaraones a la Diabla: They’re not kidding about the hell part; if you get this spicy you will sweat. You have the option of getting it with shelled or shell/head-on shrimp. There’s rather a lot of shrimp, by the way. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Nopales con Carne de Puerco: De-quilled and chopped-up cactus paddles with strips of pork in a green sauce that will also be quite spicy if you ask for it that way. Quite nice, especially on a hot summer day when it feels nice to walk out with a sheen of sweat on your brow. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Costillitas de Puerco en Adobo: But if you really want to sweat ask for these delectable pork ribs in adobo to be made spicy. You will feel some pain but you will love it. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Mole con Pollo: Black mole served with two drumsticks again, this is decent but lacked some depth on the occasion we tried it. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Pollo en Estofado: One of the mildest dishes on the menu, this is just excellent. A simple dish of chicken stewed with potatoes, tomatoes and onions. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Posole; Also very good, and if you ask for it spicy it will be quite spicy. But you don’t need to ask for it spicy. Also served with tortillas and rice and beans.
- Sopa de Fideo: This is from the side orders section of the menu and is a small bowl of tomato soup with noodles. Not a must-eat.
They also have a kids’ menu with Mexican and non-Mexican items on it. This is a godsend if you have picky kids; on the other hand, while ours aren’t so very picky it’s hard to get them to consider anything else if corndogs and chicken tenders and fries are possible—so a bit of a mixed blessing.
You can wash all this down with a selection of Jarritos or with their horchata, which is pretty good.
What else is there to say? Oh yes, there’s some parking in the rear, in a very tight lot, and you can enter the restaurant from the rear as well—street parking on Victoria is not hard to find either. If you’re a local you also have take-out and delivery options. As for price, it’s not the cheapest Mexican food in town (though it’s not expensive either) but you’re not going to mind paying what you will for the quality of food you will get. So, if you haven’t gone, go and support a very good family-run restaurant that offers soulful takes on classic Mexican dishes. They’re good people who care about the food they’re serving and they could use the support.