Mexican Food…in Minnesota?

By Julia Quanrud

Every time I hear the phrase “there’s no good Mexican food in the Twin Cities,” I die a little inside. If I weren’t a passive-aggressive Minnesotan, I’d very dryly respond, “I think what you really mean to say is that there is no good Mexican food within a mile of Macalester.”Of course the neighborhood isn’t completely devoid of Mexican restaurants. Everyone knows about Chipotle, and La Cucaracha is located nearby at Grand and Dale–but for real Mexican food, you’ll need to venture just a bit outside the Macalester area.

Hands down, the best Mexican food in St. Paul can be found in District del Sol on the West Side (which is not the same as West St. Paul, a suburb on the border of the West Side).

If you’ve got money to burn or your parents are in town, head to Boca Chica on Cesar Chavez St. You can’t go wrong with any of the entrees, especially if you pair your order with one of their margaritas. That said, the wide selection doesn’t stop me from ordering chile relleno con queso every time I go.

Just a bit further down the street on the West Side is El Amanecer, a cheaper but equally delicious option. El Amanecer isn’t exactly a hole-in-the-wall, but it’s not as “discovered” as Boca Chica. Across the street is El Burrito Mercado, a Mexican market where you can find some quick, tasty bites.

The West Side can be reached by taking the 63 bus towards downtown St. Paul and getting off at 5th and Robert to catch the 68 toward Oakdale. Or if you’re so inclined, ride your bike-you’re going to need the exercise after dealing with the enormous portions at these restaurants.

If you’re more of a Minneapolis person than a St. Paulite (for shame), Lake Street is Minneapolis’s answer to District del Sol. A several mile stretch between the river and the Uptown neighborhood plays host to the best array of south-of-the-border food in the Twin Cities. If you’re a commitment-phobe when it comes to your dinner, drop by Mercado Central or the Midtown Global Market. Both house several small restaurants, including taquerías, pupuserías (technically Ecuadorian, and also very tasty) and dulcerías.

My favorite Lake St. spot is Manny’s Tortas, which actually has three locations on the street. A torta is a type of Mexican sandwich, and Manny Gonzalez makes them hot with chipotle sauce, avocado, chiles and plenty of meat and vegetables (or just vegetables if you prefer). In second place is La Loma, a tamale shop with locations in Mercado Central and the Global Market. They make just one variety of Mexican food, but they make it well.

Both La Loma and Manny’s Tortas are reasonably priced, as are most of the places on Lake St. Take the 21 bus, which runs along Marshall Ave. toward Minneapolis’ Uptown. Eventually you’ll notice a long strip of businesses with signs in Spanish, and you should get out near one of these places and explore. Mercado Central is located near Lake and Cedar and Midtown Global Market is just before Lake and Chicago. Lake St. is also easily reached by bike, and the Minneapolis Greenway (a nice bike path) conveniently runs just a couple blocks parallel to Lake St.

So, my dear Macalester friends, if you’re longing to substitute sopa and queso fresco for your tater-tot hotdish, grab one of those nicely-discounted bus passes from the Info Desk and take a trip outside the Mac-Groveland neighborhood before you dismiss the Twin Cities’ culinary selection. It’ll save you a lot of subtle Minnesotan aggression.