Tucked into neighborhoods all over the Twin Cities metro area are Mexican restaurants serving freshly roasted meats, tender strands of nopales and unimaginably moist milky cakes.
It's nearly impossible to capture the full breadth of Mexican cuisine found around us — from small storefronts to suburban destinations, great food is just waiting. On Cinco de Mayo, a day to celebrate Mexico's 1862 victory over the French Empire in the Battle of Puebla, it's also an opportunity to celebrate the abundance of incredible food that Mexican Minnesotans have contributed to our culinary landscape.
Here are some of our favorite Mexican dishes and the restaurants that make them a must.
Arabes tacos: El Travieso Taqueria
Taco has more than one meaning at El Travieso, Hector Ruiz's casual remake of his formerly fine-dining spot Don Raul. There are the familiar crisped corn tortillas with a small pile of flavorful meat and crunchy fresh veggies on top. And then there are the Arabes-style tacos ($7), which hail from the state of Puebla, where Middle Eastern settlers put their stamp on the taco. They can almost resemble shawarma in a pita, but Ruiz rolls up any of his long list of proteins (lamb might be the most traditional) in flour tortillas and drizzles it with a sweet chipotle sauce.
4953 Xerxes Av. S., Mpls.; 17623 Minnetonka Blvd., Wayzata; eltraviesotaqueria.com
Taquitos: MB Foodhouse
Founded by the band Moody Black during a pandemic hiatus, MB Foodhouse is devoted to the comforting cooking that co-owner Kristen Martinez grew up with. The taquitos ($12) are a specialty. Beef and potatoes are cooked with Hatch chiles and spices, including curry powder, until caramelized. The mix is rolled up in a corn tortilla, baked, then flash-fried until crisp. Finally, it's smothered in cheese and a deep red chile sauce, then brightened with cabbage slaw, roasted poblano crema and queso fresco. It's inspired by a dish at Chico's Tacos in El Paso, Texas, that's "really dirty — in a really good way," Martinez said. "We zhushed it up a bit."
729 Washington Av. N., Mpls., mbfoodhouse.com
Aguachile verde: Las Islas
This South St. Paul restaurant dives into the cuisine of Acapulco, which means there is no shortage of fresh seafood options. Start with the aguachile verde ($19.99), a spicy and succulent mix of chopped shrimp, lime juice and that fresh, green heat from jalapeños.
600 N. Concord St., South St. Paul, lasislasstp.com
Birria: Las Cuatro Milpas
Birria has been having a moment on menus all over town, but before sampling the birria-come-latelys, lay down a foundation layer with Las Cuatro Milpas' rich and succulent stewed beef. Order it loaded into corn tacos on the flat-top, covered in cheese inside a quesadilla, packed into a hearty burrito or swimming in a cauldron of broth.
1526 E. Lake St. Mpls., 415 E. 78th St., Bloomington; taqueria-y-birrieria-las-cuatro-milpas.business.site/
Elotes: El Burrito
It's the smell of roasting corn that welcomes visitors into the parking lot at El Burrito Mercado. In 1979, Tomas and Maria Silva opened what began as a tiny grocery store for Mexican immigrants' taste of home. It has since blossomed into a landmark business that's a part of the vibrant fabric of St. Paul. But the first and last bite at El Burrito always has to be the elotes, fresh-roasted corn slathered in mayo, cotija and chile powder.
175 Cesar Chavez St., St. Paul, elburritostp.com
Del Gordo burger: Hamburguesas el Gordo
The burger is massive. Once you commit to the first bite, it's probably best not to put it down until the deed is done. Constructed like the over-the-top burgers owner that Claudia Gutierrez remembered eating in her northern Mexican hometown, the beef patty is enshrouded in toppings: cheese, lettuce, peppers — even the occasional hot dog. The result is the kind of dish that becomes an ever-present craving once experienced. Start with the original Del Gordo burger ($10) and proceed from there.
1731 S. Robert St., West St Paul; 4157 Cedar Av. S., Mpls.; 161 N. Victoria St., St. Paul; gordoburgers.com
Built upon the most flavorful tortilla on the market locally, these tostadas are crunchy, savory superstars inside Nixta, a small Northeast storefront. Chef Gustavo Romero imports heirloom corn from Mexico and uses nixtamalization to build a better tortilla. From there it's fried and adorned with whatever wonderful and savory toppings Romero conjures up.
1222 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., nixtampls.com
Baja fish taco: Prieto
Chef/owner Alejandro Castillon, originally from Sonora, first built his reputation for inspired tacos inside a stand at Midtown Global Market. He has since expanded his menu and opened a full-service restaurant in Minneapolis' Tangletown. One of the best fish tacos in town is made Baja-style ($4.95), with fresh slaw and beer-battered fish. The flavorful crust crackles with each bite as it melts into the tender fish beneath.
4751 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., prietotaqueria.com
Alambres: El Taco Riendo
As if surviving the pandemic weren't hard enough, El Taco Riendo was dealt a seemingly catastrophic blow in spring 2020 when fire destroyed the building housing the restaurant. But with help from the community, owner Miguel Gomez rebuilt, and we're now able to feast on a satisfying array of Mexican fare. Order the alambres ($12.85), an abundant plate of tortillas covered in carne asada, al pastor barbecued pork and sautéed peppers and onions. Everything is smothered with a gooey coating of mozzarella cheese.
Two locations — 2412 Central Av. NE., Mpls.; 5101 36th Av. N., Crystal — plus a food truck; eltaco-riendo.com
Pozole: Salsa a la Salsa
Inside Midtown Global Market, this full-service Mexican restaurant is a fantastic spot to grab a meal and warm hospitality from a place that's been serving Minneapolis for 20 years. Start with a bowl of pozole ($6). Hominy bobs up and down between hunks of chicken inside a bowl of crimson-colored broth. Owner Lorenzo Ariza has had this soup on the menu since the earliest days of the restaurant, and it's a warm cup of comfort on even the darkest, coldest days.
920 E. Lake St., Mpls., salsaalasalsa.com
Al Pastor taco: Taqueria la Hacienda
When Maria and Miguel Zagal first opened inside Mercado Central in 1999, the idea of serving al pastor shaved straight from the spit was far from commonplace in the bold north. Their stand quickly grew in popularity as fans discovered the beauty of this marinated, stacked, shaved meat ($6). The Zagals now have three locations.
334 E. Lake St., Mpls.; 1645 E. 66th St., Richfield; 2000 Williams Drive, Burnsville; taqueriaslahacienda.com
Asada Nacho Fries: Tavial Grill
This is straight-up munchie food at its finest. Asada fries delve into decadence when there are no thoughts of tomorrow. French fries are topped with thinly sliced, griddled carne asada and coated in a healthy pour of nacho cheese sauce and a scoop of sour cream ($8.50). Plus, they can be ordered at the drive-through up till closing time.
1199 W. 7th St., St. Paul, tavialmexicangrill.com
Enchiladas Zacatepec: Boca Chica
The enchiladas Zacatepec ($13.95) are absolute comfort food, corn tortillas filled with shredded chicken and smothered in green sauce. Rich and hot, lush and hearty, they're an outstanding example of the homey comforts that Boca Chica has been serving for 58 years. The restaurant has become a St. Paul institution and a beacon of the community.
11 Cesar Chavez St., St. Paul, bocachicarestaurant.com
Tortas: Manny's Tortas
It's a sandwich so emblematic of E. Lake Street and the food served inside this restaurant that we called it iconic. Owner Manny Gonzalez's hospitality and passion for this perfect sandwich is stuffed into every one served at the Midtown Global Market stand he runs alongside his sister, Victoria. Crusty bread houses griddled crisp meat with creamy beans, spicy adobo mayo, pickled jalapeños, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese (from $8.99). It's decadently hearty and a delightfully fun mess of a dish to eat.
Sope con Chicharrón Prensado: Los Ocampo
Los Ocampo is a family-owned chain with taco stands and full-service restaurants across the metro. The sope with chicharrón prensado ($8.99) is a singular bite of rich, porky glory that's available at all of them. A fluffy but crisp masa cake is topped with rich pork that's been stewed in brick-colored sauce from guajillo peppers. The toasty spice is tempered by shredded lettuce, crema, crumbly cheese, coin-sized slices of radish and lime wedges.
Oaxacan tamale: La Loma Oaxacan
A tamale's greatness can be judged by the quality and texture of the masa. Steamed in emerald-colored banana leaves, the tamales here ($4.75) contain a rich and luxurious masa mixture, supple and protective of the juicy, red-hued chicken tucked inside. That slow-roasted meat is enlivened by smoky chile spice, and just one tamale is hearty enough for a meal. Find them hot inside Mercado Central or order a package frozen as a gift to yourself.
1515 E. Lake St., Mpls., laloma.com
Shrimp tempura taco: Sonora Grill
Now with two locations, on Lake Street and near Loring Park, Sonora Grill began as a small stand inside a larger market, selling inventive takes on Sonoran-style tacos. One of the earliest hits was the tempura battered shrimp taco ($5). The light and fluffy orange-red batter encases tender shrimp that's served in two tortillas with shredded lettuce, jalapeño and a zesty crema. It's crusty, spicy and succulent — and the sort of thing that disappears in just two bites.
1414 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls.; 3300 E. Lake St., Mpls.; sonorampls.com
The machete: Machete Cocina Mexicana
When you're so hungry that it borders on unbearable, it's time to call up the big guns. It's time to order a machete ($18.99). This massive dish takes up a lot of real estate — the thin, corn-tortilla quesadilla is basically the size and length of an actual machete, but fatter. Go full-bore and order three meats to get the full — and we mean full — experience. Stuffed into the lengthy masa, the meats are topped with lettuce, avocado and radish.
803 Bielenberg Drive, Woodbury, machetecm.com
Carne Tampiqueña: Andale Taqueria & Mercado
This perpetually busy market and taqueria has been serving Richfield for more than a decade. The butcher on duty processes meat for both the market and the restaurant, including an 8-ounce rib-eye that is the centerpiece of the carne Tampiqueña plate ($14.99), an internationally popular dish inspired by the city of Tampico, yet rumored to have originated in a Mexico City restaurant in the 1930s. The plate is piled high with the marinated steak, rice, refried beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, a whole jalapeño, onion, lime and, best of all, a chicken and cheese enchilada that's been smothered in a deeply savory mole sauce.
7700 Nicollet Av. S., Richfield, andaletaqueriaymercado.com
Tres leches cake: Pasteleria Gama
The cakes inside this family-owned bakery are so vibrant and alluring that it's tempting to invent an occasion just for the excuse to order one. Order ahead for a customized treat or stop in for a slice ($5.99) of the ultrarich tres leches cake with just the right amount of squoosh to fluffy cake ratio.
1703 E. Lake St., Mpls., pasteleria-gama.business.site
A margarita on Centro's patio has become a summer rite of passage, but this Northeast restaurant also boasts an astounding array of agave spirits worth exploring. Maybe start with a margarita ($9), poured on tap for quick service, and take the party to Escondido, the adjacent agave bar. Inside is a master class in this highly regional liquor that moves beyond tequila and mezcal into the personal stories and techniques of those who make these small-batch spirits.
1414 NE. Quincy St., Mpls., centrompls.com
Conchas: Panaderia El Rey
Round pillows of soft bread are topped with a vibrantly colored cookie crust and are a decadent, just barely sweet treat. At this little bakery in a Nicollet Avenue strip mall near Lake Street, you can smell the conchas before entering the store — the yeasty promise of carb comforts calls to visitors out in the parking lot. The cases are filled with other Mexican baked treats, but the conchas demand immediate attention.
3041 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-827-2730