Chino Latino: Dangerously trendy, definitely worth it during Happy Hour

By Amy Ledig

Chino Latino is one of those places that seems trendy and expensive from the get go. The outside is covered in strands of shiny bronze colored disks, drawing in passers by. The impression only gets reinforced once you get inside: the first level had dark wood floors, colorfully back-lit bars, and a young, fashionable clientele. A glimpse down to the lower level reveals a more club-like atmosphere, with booths illuminated with red lights. As the name suggests, it’s a Latin-Asian fusion operation, which almost always equals pricey. Play it right and go during Happy Hour, though, and you’ll be able to have the experience without having to part with as much cash!Chino Latino offers two happy hours: the Hot Zone running from opening at 4:30 p.m. through 7 p.m. and the Late Night happy hour running Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 p.m. until Midnight. The Hot Zone looks fine, but it’s the late night menu that keeps me coming back for more. My friends and I get out of Geocinema at 10 p.m. on Mondays, so Chino Latino has become a favorite late night haunt of ours. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to start off the week than with $1 tacos.

Yeah, that’s right. I said $1 tacos. The selection varies from day to day, but if the Tacos de Tinga are on the menu, look no further. The small tacos, with the legit double tortilla base, are piled with shredded chicken simmered in chipotle chiles, chopped onions, and roasted tomatoes. The barbacoa tacos – braised beef covered in picked jalapeño and cabbage – are another good call, as are the Tacos de Crunchy Carne – beef, peppers and onion covered in delicious guacamole. For a dollar, everyone can afford to try a couple.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Pizza Bel Grande Supremo ($3) is billed as a “Mexican style pizza” – a crispy base covered with shredded chicken, pico de gallo, and cilantro, which is all smothered in cheese. As with everything at Chino’s, it’s got a kick. There’s little on the menu that doesn’t pack a punch spice-wise, but maybe that’s what you need to kick your week up a bit. Señor Itchy’s Crab Balls ($1 each) appear to be relatives to the hush puppy and may not be much to look at, but they have chunks of crab and a bite to them, and the fruity/spicy sauce they come with is a perfect accompaniment. And don’t worry, it’s not all heat: the French Toast of the Dead ($3) is several slices of french toast drenched in a caramel rum syrup and banana slices.

If you’re of age, the drink specials aren’t bad for this type of joint. With $3 house wines, $3.50 tap beers and $4 punch, there’s something for almost every taste. I think the Dos Equis is a perfect accompaniment to the mostly Latin happy hour offerings, but you can pick from a variety of both Asian and Mexican beers, as well as some American standbys. There’s a respectable sake list, and while the cocktails are priced more for the East Coast than the Upper Midwest, the ones we have tried have been excellent. The House Margarita ($10) is classic, the perfect combination of tequila, triple sec, lime and salt. The martinis are good, and as a Chile study abroad alum, I can’t help but get excited when I see pisco on the drink list!

The majority of the regular menu is too pricey for a normal outing. If the parentals are in town and you want to take them somewhere hip, this would be a good option, and if you’re looking to splurge for a night on the town, this is the kind of place where you can come to see and be seen. If, like the rest of us, you don’t have the cash for that and want the glitz and glamor and still be able to buy groceries, hit up the happy hour to live it up for less!

Chino Latino is located at 2916 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN. Open from 4:30 – 1 a.m. Sun- Thurs. and 4:30 – 2 a.m. Fri – Sat.