October 23, 2018

Mas Tequila, Por Favor! (Twin Cities Best Tacos)

Sing it with me - I say (One shot... Hey!) Mas tequila, Two shots... Okay I won't make you sing the entire song, but I will say this, it would take a couple more in order to enjoy some of the Mexican food being prepared in this state. Question - is anyone else getting sick of the Americanization of cultural food? I sure am!

At every corner, it seems you can find a restaurant that claims to be "Authentic Mexican Food", but is it really? My wife and I have traveled to Mexico several times and walked the streets of some of the smallest and poorest villages and towns in the world. Most people wouldn't even come close to considering eating the food at some of the little hole-in-the-walls that we have been to, but that's exactly what I'm looking for when we travel. I don't want Senior Frogs, Margaritaville or some other restaurant owned by a millionaire American when I'm traveling!

Unfortunately, most Mexican Restaurants around the Twin Cities are just that, Americanized renditions of Mexican food. Places like; Teresa's Mexican Restaurant, El Loro/El Toro, Acapulco Restaurante Mexicano and many others - but what for? You're making it taste terrible, not better! So, the search is on for the best and AUTHENTIC Mexican Restaurants in the Twin Cities. We'll keep this list to a top 10 places that you should check out. The list may change as recommendations come our way, so stay alert...

1. Andale Taqueria & Mercado
I want to continue to seek out places that are truly authentic, but if I'm ever in the Richfield/Bloomington area, this will most definitely be the place that I'm stopping at. The carnitas is spot on perfection and the pollo Mexicana was easily one of the best, if not the best pollo I've had. Too many places over-cook their chicken and dry it out or forget to put some seasoning into their meat. Not here! Do not pass this place without stopping if you're hungry or in the mood for some authentic cuisine. Can't wait to go back and try some other items off the menu!

2. Las Tortillas
If you're looking for one of the most authentic street tacos typically found in little hole-in-the-walls or a little cart on the streets of Mexico, look no further than Las Tortillas. Their taco's are insane and this place could be teaching some of the other restaurants around town how to cook a taco worth eating! Their burritos are just as amazing (yes, just a tad Americanized), but 10 times better than any burrito even at Chipotle!

3. El Taco Riendo
Decided to check this place out by doing a little searching on the old Google map and being in the area. Read a few reviews and decided to stop in and I'm glad I did! So I could get a good grasp of what they had to offer and explore some flavors, I ordered their Tinga, Asada and of course, some Carnitas. Some of the best Tinga I've had in the Cities - most places dry it out. The Asada was flavorful and tender - often times it's tough. And, the Carnitas was awesome! Salsas are very good and spot on. Mild provides just a tiny amount of heat while their hot can bring it for the faint of heart. If you're ever in the Nordeast neighborhood, this is the place you should be stopping by.

4. Taqueria La Hacienda
With three locations to choose from, this place should be on your list of places to try. Sure they may not be int he top spot, but the food is authentic and delicious. I went with my typical carnitas and their meat is cooked really nicely. Some really good flavor and the salsa is definitely a must add toy our tacos. I'm thinking my next trip with my brother in Christ, I'll try some of their other meaty offerings.

5. Catrinas Grill
With three locations to choose from throughout the Twin Cities, there's definitely a Catrinas near by and should be on your list to check out. Delicious street tacos, great tasting burritos and the salsas are excellent. I'm a big carnitas guy (as my blog probably reflects), but you can't go wrong with any of their meat options.If you see a Catrinas, don't pass it by for the next guy...

6. Taco Loco
This one is a bit of a drive for most people I know, but if you're in the area, you should check it out for sure. I love the carnitas and steak tacos and the salsa is a great addition. Not too spicy for the mild, while the hot can bring it! So, if you're heading through Shakopee and you're starting to feel hungry, stop by Taco Loco for a quick fix!

7. Casa Lupita
A small little hole-in-the-wall serving up some half way decent tacos and Mexican food. Went for the carnitas, pollo and asada and enjoyed each of them. While certainly not my favorite pick, decent spot for the north metro. Not a whole lot of other options worth stopping at in White Bear Lake and nearby communities besides Casa.

8. La Palma
This was one of my first places to visit when I wanted to start this whole top 10 list based on a recommendation. I went with some carnitas and tinga tacos and they were absolutely delicious. I still by from time-to-time and also get some delicious fried plantains while I'm there. Easily one of my favorite things to eat!

9. La Costa Mexican Sports Bar + Grill
Situated in the heart of the West Side food scene sits this sports bar themed spot. Their tacos and fajitas are tasty. We tried the Tinga, Carnitas and Asada tacos and all were a hit with my tummy and the fajitas won't be found anywhere else. Try a Tacos La Costa (Tacos De Discada), tacos that you won't find anywhere else in the state (well maybe in a home) and a traditional meal found throughout the northern state of Chihuahua. However, this once top spot location has been struggling with consistency as of late and nacho cheese sauce out of the can isn't what I crave when I'm at a Mexican restaurant.

10. El Super Taco
Taking over an old Jimmy John's location sits this new favorite of mine! This place is serving up some tasty authentic street tacos. While the meat was pretty tender, it was the salsa that was amazing and I could have just sat there and drank it. This is a must try place for anyone who loves a decent street taco, but they took the carnitas off the menu so I probably won't be making too many returning trips...

Places that couldn't make the cut that we've visited:

- El Tequito Taco House
- Los Ocampo's
- Machete Cocina Mexicana
- Pinada Tacos

I would much rather be enjoying my Mexican food way down south where the big blue agave grows, but unlike Sammy, I'm just a blue collard worker and can't afford to go whenever I want to. If you know of a place that is serving up some amazing authentic Mexican - truly authentic, please let us know, we would love to check them out!

October 19, 2018

Bugs’ Cousin, Red Rabbit!

Since hearing about the opening of a new restaurant by the same ownership as Red Cow, I’ve been very much interested in wanting to check this new venture of theirs out. And, while I was hoping that this place would be a little slice of heaven, I felt more like Bugs Bunny when he said, “Don't think it hasn't been a little slice of heaven...'cause it hasn't!”

Red Rabbit, a nice spin off from their Red Cow movement, opened its first location in the North Loop district in 2016 with a focus on delivering “craveable authentic Italian” dishes and thin crust, wood fired pizzas. And, just a short time ago, the addition of their St. Paul location. Unfortunately for this huge fan of the “Red” movement, I did not leave Red Rabbit craving more. No, for my first trip, I was instead craving other Italian dishes and pizzas found elsewhere. 

The evening didn’t start off the best way… A 30-minute wait turned into about an hour wait and with 2 littles that were getting antsy and hungry. To top it off, a group of “dressed to the nines” elders came in and immediately requested to speak to a manager about a table not being ready for their group of 6. So, a manager, feeling the pressure, made every effort to seat this group and overlooking the rest of us on the wait list. Unacceptable. 

Once we were finally sat, we quickly made our decision on what we wanted to order since we had plenty of time to review it. We wanted to share a couple of items and make sure out 4-year-old could eat as well. The Red Rabbit has no children’s menu. We went with a cheese pizza; a classic spaghetti & meatballs and a pizza dubbed, the Family Favorite. And, for our troubles of waiting, an appetizer arrived called Burrata which by the way, is nothing to really brag about and we’ll start there…

The Burrata, a mozz. ball on the outside with stracciatella and cream on the inside. This was accompanied by heirloom tomato, broccoli pesto, lemon and evo. Again, nothing really to brag about, but certainly edible. And, out came our meals and this is where I started to feel just a little like Bugs Bunny… 

We’ll start with our pizzas. The cheese pizza was a cheese pizza. You can find it anywhere! As for that Family Favorite, prepared with pepperoni, house sausage and green olive. I’m not at all an olive guy so those went on half the pizza so my wife could enjoy them. If you can’t handle any spices, you won’t like the sausage here. I love spice, but it’s a bit much if you want to market to a broad group of people. As for my overall thought, I have plenty of Neapolitan style/wood fired pizzas in my day and I often find the centers to be nothing, but a soggy mess!  However, I have had some that I crave and craving even while I write this, unfortunately, Red Rabbit’s isn’t one of them. Not even close! 
Moving on to the spaghetti that came out looking like a kid’s meal in a large bowl. No, seriously! Where did the rest of it go before it made it to our table? My wife took a bite, shrugs her shoulders and says, “It’s not the best!” As I started to take some bites, my thoughts were the same. Pretty bland and I was thinking about other dishes I would have much rather had. Again, not inedible, but nothing I would consider “craveable”. What am I craving right now? Young Joni, Boomers for some pizza or Inonni and Buon Giorno for my pasta fix.
All-in-all, not the best experience for what I have known from ownership and Red Cow. However, this was location number 2. Typically, in my experience, the flagship location is usually more superior until the kinks are worked out and all staff are on the same page at all locations, delivering consistency. So, I’ll have to check out the North Loop spot and see if I will indeed, crave Red Rabbit. 

October 18, 2018

Everything That Glitters Is Not Gold

The attractive external appearance of something is not a reliable indication of its true nature. And, when it comes to food, that can definitely be the case. That was absolutely the truth with our most recent visit to a place called the Citizen which is located inside the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

Restaurant Week was in full swing and my wife and I always enjoy trying new things. After having a pretty mediocre experience at this year’s Burger Battle with Citizen’s creation, they were hoping I would make a trip to their restaurant to see if they could redeem themselves. This was the perfect time to see if they could do, just that!

For $20, Restaurant Week patrons could choose from 3 courses; starter, entree and a dessert. As to better provide us with a wide range of dishes, my wife and I picked different items from each list so we could have a broader sampling of Citizen’s dishes. Just one problem to start this lunch date…. Super slow service especially with only about 7 or 8 tables sat…. And, it goes downhill from here and they were unable to redeem themselves.

For our starters, we went with their Tomato Bisque and Deviled Eggs. Entrees were the Citizen Burger and Walleye Tacos and our dessert was a Carrot Cake Verrine and an Apple Buckwheat Cake. All sounds delicious, does it not? Yeah, we thought so too, but that whole glitter is not gold thing presented itself quickly…

Out came our apps, about 20 minutes or so from placing our order and my wife and I looked at each other with grins. While my wife enjoyed her bisque, I thought about the tomato bisque my my mom makes and craving that instead. As for those deviled eggs, that great aunt on your moms side that you only see once a year at Christmas, yeah, she can make them better! Seriously, it looked like a high school student in home-ec. class was in the kitchen preparing dishes. Not something I would order again - ever!
Now the service starts to get exceptional (insert sarcasm). Before we could even finish our apps, like literally just minutes later, our entrees were arriving to our table. My wife wasn’t even half way through her bisque! My wife took a bite of her burger and says, “I already know what you’ll say about the burger.” That’s not a good thing… I took a bite of my tacos first though. While they were certainly edible, they were just another fish taco. Nothing special! Nothing to brag about! As for that burger - although it was too well done, it wasn’t dried out. But, ZERO flavor! I looked at my wife and said, “Well, I know why they didn’t win the Burger Battle!” Then I said, “Be honest, my burger is better?” She again chuckles and agrees.
So, now my wife has an appetizer and an entree in front of her and oh look, here comes dessert! It’s like they were trying to rush us out of there - because it was so packed! Seriously, let us finish one course at a time… What my wife was hoping was an actual carrot cake was not so much. This was the best thing I consumed the whole time. Definitely unique to say the least, but super delicious. I kind of felt like it had subtle hints of rice pudding meeting carrot cake ingredients meeting a mousse. As for that apple thing we got, I sure am glad they put that nice gold flake on my dessert, but the title speaks volumes. Make it look as nice as you want, if it’s not good, it has no value.

No, the Citizen definitely did not redeem themselves and no, I wouldn’t recommend this place nor return again. I have to agree with my wife when she said, “I am not satisfied!” and as we’re walking to our vehicles and walking by a Subway, “Should have just gotten a sub!” HAHAHAHA! 

The Citizen
11 Kellogg Blvd East
St. Paul, MN 55101

October 16, 2018

More Cheese Please!

Some people like it on a string, some folks prefer it grilled - pass me some Gouda, I'm always in the mood-a, I can never get my fill - talkin' 'bout (cheese, please) that's what I love to eat (Cheese, please) the taste that can't be beat! Yep! We’re talking about cheese and we thank Chris Stapleton for his inspiring cheese song which you might find on Ratatouille, but I’m not confirming nor denying.

I like all of that right there and I definitely like my cheese on a solid burger creation as well. And, thanks to our friend at Jersey’s Bar & Grill, you can have the all new Cheesiest Burger in Minnesota! Jersey’s Bar and Grill has been known for making monthly Juicy Lucy creations, evolving their menu to meet the needs of their patrons and providing live music all weekend long as well. Heck, they even won the Red Bull Flugtag Title back in 2010 with a flight of 207 ft. and was the world record distance for several years. They’ve gone through some very nicely done remodels over their 10+ years of being in the community and their latest is probably my favorite. But, what’s even more awesome was this latest addition to their menu.

A photo of this cheesy creation was posted on their social media pages and I immediately had to try it. All I saw was cheese, cheese and more cheese. Maybe that scares some of you, but not this guy.  So, how’s this bad boy created? Oh, my cheese loving foodie friends, it goes like this; 2 quarter pound patties topped with American, swiss, pepper jack and cheddar jack, then smothered in queso, then served between rosemary sliced Tuscan flatbread. 
Seriously! This thing was awesome! I’ll be honest though, the Tuscan flatbread kind of threw me for a loop, but after taking this thing down, it’s an awesome and unique addition to this burger creation. You see, I’m into taking something pretty traditional and finding ways of making it different and unique without compromising on the integrity of the dish and this was a perfect example.

The next time you’re heading down to Jersey’s to check out one of the local bands and needing something to eat, make sure one of you orders the Cheesiest Burger in Minnesota. You won’t regret it! 

6449 Concord Blvd.
Inver Grove Heights, MN 55076

October 15, 2018

I’m Going Back To My Roots!

Another day, another door, another high, another low. Kind of seems like a battle cry for a lot of restaurants no matter what you’re attempting to deliver to the masses and sometimes you even hit rock bottom, rock bottom, rock bottom! And, while I would love to have dinner with the fellas of Imagine Dragons, I’m really glad that one of my favorite places didn’t hit rock bottom.

Back in 2009, a couple of pals decided that it was time to enter the culinary scene in White Bear Lake and I thank them for that decision. They called it Manitou Station and they offered some delicious Irish pub grub and even offered what I consider to be the most important and best created appetizer item to ever be created – Scotch Eggs! 

When I first went to this place with a native Laker and co-worker of mine at the time, I immediately fell in love with the food, especially those darn Scotch Eggs. Sausage wrapped around a hardboiled egg, baked and deep fried to perfection and served with some spicy mustard. Seriously, who thinks of amazing things like this? 

Then, some identity changes came. They decided to re-brand under The Station and to be more of a white linen restaurant, but dropped several of their key menu items. And, while I understand that you have to keep it fresh and new, they removed too many comfort food items, including the Scotch Eggs and customers weren’t returning. Items that made them who they were. Items that drew people back for seconds, thirds, fourths… But, it all came to an end finally when new owner Brian took over and deciding to go back to some of the roots of what made Manitou what so many of us enjoyed about it. The all new Manitou Grill and Event Center was born and today, they’re doing fantastic. 

They brought back all those great comfort food items that were enjoyed by the community. They brought back the Scotch Eggs that I love so dearly. They added some new items and even added something that is a MUST TRY! Brian took a trip out east and during his travels came across a little street food vendor serving Lobster Rolls. He decided to grab a sack and immediately fell in love and wanted to make it a feature on his menu at the Manitou. 
Today, his Lobster Roll, the same one he fell in love with walking down the streets of New York is now one of the best selling items on the menu and is definitely a must try if you’re a seafood fan like myself. Seriously, it’s one of those items that will definitely have you returning for seconds, thirds or fourths. And, on Wednesdays, they run a dinner special on their Lobster Rolls. 

It appears that Manitou Station had to lose its way to know which road to take and Brian and his talented chef, Andrew are definitely on the road to success! I applaud them for what they are currently presenting to us patrons. 

2171 4th Street 
White Bear Lake, MN 55110