The quality of the Twin Cities’ Mexican food scene seems to still be more of a secret than it should be. Inside and outside the state, I suspect this largely stems from stereotypical ideas of who is recognized as Minnesotan. Now, it’s true that Minnesota is still overwhelmingly white and that of largely northern European extraction. But non-white populations are rising steadily—and Hispanics in general, and Mexicans in particular, are a large part of that. As per the 2020 census, there are now >340,000 Hispanics in the state, making them the third-largest racial group in the state (African Americans are in second place); the growth in this population has accounted for >25% of the entire population growth of the state in the last 20 years. (And keep in mind that it is believed that the 2020 census may have significantly undercounted the Hispanic population.) With this growing population it is hardly surprising that the number of Hispanic and, in particular, Mexican restaurants is also steadily growing. There may not be huge regional variety yet in the food that’s available but much of what is now available is really quite good. That’s certainly the case at El Itacate, which opened in Maplewood just about three months ago.
I’d been hearing about them for a while on the excellent Twin Cities East Metro Facebook group—if you live in the Twin Cities metro and are interested in food, you really should join that group. And this past weekend we finally made it out to Maplewood to try their food for ourselves. We were a group of nine: the four of us and some friends we dine out with often. Here is what we found.
They are located a bit out of the way on Century Ave., in a fairly nondescript strip mall. And from the outside the restaurant appears somewhat nondescript as well. But when you enter you will find a very attractive space. It’s not terribly large but it’s not cramped either. The decor is attractive and the whole has a pleasant, open feel. We grabbed a couple of adjacent tables (the largest seats six) and got down to ordering. There’s a QR code menu but there’s also a large menu on the wall next to the kitchen counter where you order. You’re then given a number which you bring back to your table and your food is brought out to you when it’s ready. When you’re done, you bus your own table.
While not a massive menu, it is not small either. On this occasion we stuck largely to the taco/sope/huarache end of things, sampling a large number of their meat topping options in the process. A few of us also shared a bowl of their red pozole (they also have white pozole on offer) and one member of the group with a wheat/corn allergy got their burrito bowl, which features rice but not corn or wheat. I can tell you that we were all very happy with what we got.
At our table, the pozole arrived first and it was really very good—the best I’ve had in the Twin Cities in a long time. It had wonderful depth of flavour and texture. With all the toppings and extra heat via chilli oil added and lime squeezed over, this was as good a weekend brunch dish as you could hope for. I could have happily eaten the whole bowl by myself. But then I would have missed their sopes and tacos. The sopes were also excellent with crisp bottoms that didn’t get soggy or fall apart after a few minutes. And the member of the party who got a huarache reported that his was very good as well. The corn tortillas in the tacos were more standard-issue but they were carried—for the most part—by the quality of the toppings.
Our boys got two tacos each, with toppings on the side. The older boy got the lengua (which is not on the takeout menu) and the al pastor; the younger got the carne asada and the chorizo. I sneaked tastes of all four and thought they were all very good. The missus and I split two sopes and four tacos. We got the sopes with carnitas (very good) and buche/pork stomach (excellent); and the tacos with cochinita pibil, tripa, cabeza/beef head meat, and suadero/moist chopped skirt. The tripa was excellent and the cabeza was very good too. The cochinita pibil and the suadero didn’t do very much for us, however—both seemed somewhat under-seasoned and needed lashings of the excellent salsas.
Another friend got the taco combo which gives you three tacos, rice and beans. He also had the al pastor and asada on two of the three; the other was topped with tinga de pollo, which he pronounced to be excellent as well. To be safe he got one tripa taco too and loved it too. The friend who got the huarache also had it topped with al pastor, and so did the friend who got an order of alambres. The last member of the group got the birria tacos trio, which he liked very much too. The huarache came with a side of rice and the burrito bowl came with chips and salsa. Rounding out the meal were an order of fried plantains (I didn’t try these but the person who ate most of them seemed to like them a lot), and an order each of churros, flan and tres leches cake. The flan and the tres leches were nothing very special; I did not try the churros. And yes, a few Jarritos and a Diet Coke as well.
For a look at the restaurant and what we ate, click on an image below to launch a larger slideshow. Scroll down for price and thoughts on the meal as a whole.
Service was excellent. The staff member who took our order was patient and very friendly and the general vibe of the place was very good. As you can see from the menu pictures, the prices are very reasonable as well. I cannot tell you what the total cost was because people ordered separately and not everything at once. I can tell you though that it all seemed like very good value for what it was. Indeed, we liked the pozole and the sopes and many of the taco toppings so much that, if we only lived closer, we’d be back pretty soon to try more from their menu. And we’ll probably be back anyway before the year is out. I’m particularly interested to see what their tortas, tamales and other caldos/soups are like.
Tamales are not on the menu, by the way, but I have heard from one person who has eaten them there.
If you’ve been and have dishes you’d recommend, please write in below. If you haven’t been, go.
(And if you have any word on the Vietnamese restaurant next door to them, I’d be interested to hear about them as well.)
Alright, next week’s Twin Cities food report will also be Mexican but from the opposite end of the price spectrum. Before that I’ll also have another New Jersey Indian report and another Seoul report. Plus reviews of more whiskies from Benromach.
Correction: Tamales are on the menu. They’re the last item in the Platillos section, on the part of the menu above the counter where you order.
I live down the road from this new amazing gem!!! I absolutely love the tortas! I’ve had steak and the hawaiian…both were amazing and big enough for me to enjoy leftovers. My toddler loves the Quesadilas, rice and beans. The salsa is delicious yet quit spicy but honestly doesn’t stop me! The staff is friendly and prices are super reasonable!