Something that a lot of people in other parts of the US don’t know about Minnesota is that we have a large Hispanic population here—and following that, a pretty good Hispanic food scene. Mexican food dominates this scene, predictably, but there’s also good food to be had from elsewhere in Latin America. Hell, I’m not sure that a lot of people who live in Minnesota are as aware of this as they should be. Sadly, the local professional food press barely highlights any of this, just as they barely highlight any restaurants serving the food of recent immigrant communities. Their attention seems to be almost entirely taken up by p.r-driven restaurants of the kind that get nominated for James Beard awards. Now, I like eating at some of those restaurants too but they’re only a small part of the larger food scene in the Twin Cities metro. Those who have anxieties about the Twin Cities not being seen as cosmopolitan enough by coastal observers might consider that cosmopolitanism is not experienced only at the high end.
Anyway, both Minneapolis and St. Paul both have large Hispanic populations and both have neighbourhoods where large numbers of Hispanic businesses can be found. East Lake St. in Minneapolis, from Hiawatha to Highway 35 is one of those corridors, filled with Latinx-owned businesses of all kinds, including markets and, yes, restaurants.
Mercado Central, which opened in 1997 at the intersection of Lake St. and Bloomington Ave., is home to 35 such businesses. Like a number of other buildings in the area, it’s done up with striking murals on the exterior of the building—and there’s a lovely one as well in their food court, where you can eat very well with very little effort. (It’s a little less easy to find a spot in their parking lot in the back.) It’s not the most sprawling space—Midtown Global Market, a little down the road, is much larger—and there aren’t that many restaurants but they’re all choice. No matter which counter you pick up food from and take to the lively seating area you are likely to be happy. I met a couple of friends there for lunch a couple of weekends ago and we were all certainly very happy.
My friends got a quesadilla and some tacos from the wonderfully named The Best Tacos Del Sol. I got a couple of tacos from Cocina San Marcos and a pupusa from Restaurante El Rincon, a Salvadoran specialist. I thought my tacos—made with freshly patted out masa—were very good but really loved the pupusa, which I got with revueltas: chicharron, beans and cheese. The curtido (a tangy cabbage slaw) on the side was excellent as well, as was the salsa. My friends enjoyed their food a lot too. I had also wanted to get a tamal from La Perla but the lines were too long.
The setup at all the counters is very casual. You get to the front and you order. And then you check every once in a while till your food is ready, pay and take it to a table in the food court. Unless you’re an idiot like me who has ordered food from two non-adjacent counters, this is a fairly simple operation. I, however, had to bounce back and forth between El Rincon and San Marcos. You can make make your life simpler by ordering from one place and standing in front of it till they tell you it’s ready. However, you do it, remember that these are small operations making food to order in small kitchens: patience is a virtue.
After eating we wandered the market a bit, successfully dodging some Scientologist outreach before getting some sweet bites for later: churros and a pineapple muffin/pastry thing. I was also tempted by the carniceria but our freezer at home is full of meat and so I resisted.
For a look at what we ate and for a walk through the mercado, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see what’s coming next from the Twin Cities.
Oh yes, as you can make out if you squint at the menus in the slideshow, the food is all very well priced for the quantity and quality. Even though there are a lot more restaurants on Lake St. that I want to get to there’s a pretty good chance I’ll go back with the family at some point and eat more from El Rincon and, hopefully, also from La Perla.
What’s next from the Twin Cities? I”m really not sure. This past weekend was a rare one when we didn’t go out to eat at all—and I have a work dinner this Saturday. Will we get it together to go out on Sunday? Let’s see. If we do, there’s a good chance we’ll head back to St. Paul for more Southeast Asian food.
A few weeks ago I had a couple delicious tacos at the “opposite corner”, Las Quatro Milpas, original outpost, famous for the birria taco. I want to go back. I perused the market you did but didn’t eat – but it sure looked like awesome food. It’s been there forever.
Opened in 1997. Which is forever in food terms, I guess.
The tamales at El Rincon are also very good. Perhaps even better than their outstanding pupusas.
That’s high praise—that pupusa was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while.