El Itacate (Maplewood, MN)

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. Continue reading


Los Ocampo Restaurant and Bar, Suburban Ave. (St. Paul, MN)

As I’ve said before, when we first arrived in Minnesota 15 years ago, Los Ocampo’s outposts—first at their counter in the Midtown Global Market and then at Taqueria Los Ocampo across the street on Lake St.—were among our Mexican mainstays. We also ate occasionally at the Taqueria Los Ocampo location on Arcade St. in St. Paul. All of these locations are casual, counter-service places. Somehow, however, we never ended up visiting their more formal restaurant and bar which opened on Suburban Ave. in St. Paul in 2011 (they’ve since opened another sit-down restaurant on University Ave. in St. Paul). That finally changed this past weekend when we descended on the Suburban Ave. location with a couple of friends we dine out with often. Here is what we found. Continue reading

Orale (Minneapolis)

A month and a half ago I took the boys up to Fridley for taekwondo belt testing (yes, I know it’s a bad idea to get them training in how to beat us up). I’d wanted to stop at Tangletown Gardens on the way back to buy some vegetable seedlings for my community garden patch. We ran away screaming when we saw the prices but didn’t go very far. Just around the corner is Orale, a casual Mexican restaurant that was our port of call for a quick lunch before heading home. I’d heard up and down things about its likely quality but based on the options in the neighbourhood it seemed like the best bet for us. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Grand Central Market (Los Angeles, July/August 2014)

Grand Central Market, Los AngelesGrand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles received a major (ongoing) facelift a little over a year ago, consonant with the ongoing gentrification of downtown in general. The entire area has been transformed utterly from what it was when I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1993, right after the riots. Then, the “fortress” of the financial district, as Mike Davis memorably describes it in City of Quartz, was largely deserted after the close of business, and the experience of the rest of downtown was in stark contrast to the gleaming skyscrapers and business hotels that had been constructed in the middle of it, a “self-referential hyperstructure”, to once again use Davis’s language. Continue reading