Taco Review: La Huasteca

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With its obnoxious flashing neon lights, La Huasteca is a small family run taqueria off South Nicollet across from the infamous Quang’s and behind Shuang Hur Asian market. I’ve been to both Quang’s and Shuang Hur more times than I can count but overlooked this remarkable taco spot until some amazing Tacopalooza2015 followers and Redditors recommended it to me. After doing this blog thing for a year now, I had still not heard of this place but after it was recommended 3 times in 1 week as one of the best authentic places in Minneapolis, I knew I could not hesitate in tasting it for myself.

Best decision ever.

Not only is La Huasteca incredibly authentic but they have goat and lamb options which I have yet to see offered anywhere else. I got one each of goat, lamb, and chorizo tacos with a pork tamale on the side. The pork tamale did not look incredibly appetizing but it was served in the banana leaf in which is was steamed so that is a positive sign. My first cut into the tamale did not seem hopeful as it was all masa but I was pleasantly surprised once I got to the pork. The pork was insanely tender and juicy and once you eat it with the masa you realize that its thickness compliments the meat of the tamale wonderfully. I personally could have used a bit more chile rojo sauce on/in mine but the tamale was still one of the best I’ve had. I wonder if I can buy a catering sheet of them?

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The chorizo was pretty average: not overly greasy but a tad on the salty side. The goat and lamb tacos were definitely the stars of my meal. Moist, chunked goat meat in a (I’m guessing) mojales sauce was served on a taco. The meat plus sauce combo was a gorgeous deep red color and actually sort of sweet. Sweet and savory is how I’d describe it. And mouth-watering. My favorite though of the meal had to be the lamb taco. Moist, tender, shredded lamb graced the corn tortilla with a spicy orange sauce and traditional cilantro and onion garnishes. I don’t really know what was in the orange sauce on the lamb but I know my tongue liked it. Spicy and light, a perfect compliment to the delicate gamey flavor of the lamb.

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From left to right: chorizo, goat, lamb (I botched the photo by not arranging the tacos better, sometimes I just get too excited and want to eat rather than take photos.)

 

Taco Rating: 5 out of 5! I’m for sure going back to try the stews they make… and for tacos again… and probably a tamale… don’t judge me. I have to eat all this for science.

Mission Accomplished: The Final Taco! (And Senor Wong’s Review)

It’s the fi-nal tac-o! dun nah nah nahhhhhhh…. dun nah nuh nuh nuh!

Well kids, mission accomplished! Many doubted… many have been proven wrong. I officially ate 365 tacos in 2015. While I wanted to celebrate my final tacos at Catrina’s in Oakdale, they were unfortunately closed for New Years Eve. So we moved our taco party to Senor Wong’s – a Latin Asian fusion craft bar in downtown St. Paul. Initially I was intrigued by the menu, with offerings such as pork belly ramen, k-pop burger, and tortas de carnitas. But of course the reason why I was here was for the tacos.20151231_134440

I am glad however that I did not get ONLY tacos (for which I will explain why later). My friends and I ordered kalbi short ribs with kimchi, firecracker shrimp, and egg rolls for the table as appetizers. All of which were good but not spectacular. Better than a grubby Chinese take out but not nearly as good as some of the Asian joints I’ve frequented. But again, I am not here for the appetizers. I’m here for the tacos!

20151231_134458_HDRI was extremely hungry by the time we got here. As stated earlier, I was expecting to eat at Catrina’s and judging by the pictures from their website, their tacos looked quite hefty. Senor Wong’s however had very small tacos. Not small to the Mexican world, but small for more Americanized joints with tacos I’ve been too. I guess I just expected more. The taco platter I ordered are as follows: carnitas taco with guacamole, pickled red onions, and oaxaca cheese; spicy mock duck with habanero pico de gallo and guacamole; and tilapia with purple cabbage, aji-amarillo aioli, and habanero pico de gallo. Being a platter I assumed there would be a side dish as well…

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… I guess pickled jalapenos count as a side dish. [looking back at these photos the plating is really terrible too, not that plating is usually a thing I care about but SW has the atmosphere of having ‘put-together’ plates and dishes. Missed the mark on that one.]

Not only was I disappointed with portion sizing (really paying $10.50 for 3 small tacos is over priced, especially with no side) but the tacos in general were very lack luster. Any fish besides tilapia would have been better but I was pleased with the fish taco dressings. There was just no flavor to the tilapia, I mean it’s tilapia, is there ever any flavor? The mock duck overall had bad flavor. And the large dollop of guacamole on there only covered up whatever more delicate flavors should have been present. Being a fusion bar, I think this taco in particular would have adjusted very well to more Vietnamese style flavors. Then there is the carnita taco. A traditional Mexican meat that completely missed the mark flavorwise. AND I only got two small hunks of pork… what gives?! The meat should be the star of the taco. Any time I see a taco with too many fillings or skimpy on the meat, it reminds me of the time I went to a Mexican market and asked the guy behind the meat counter what he likes to serve his al pastor with. His reply, “maybe a little onion but other than that, the meat should shine.” Shine these meaty fillings did not.

I was really hungry so I ate them all without much complaint but in reality, these were all very forgettable. I was so hungry going into this meal in fact that I finished my boyfriend’s szechuan stir fry order – an overly sauced stir fry to say the least. [He would also like to note that his cocktail was garbage.]

I grant Senor Wong’s a 2 out of 5 in regards to their tacos. I am still intrigued by the K-pop burger so would return to the craft bar for this but would not recommend their tacos.

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In regards to my feelings on completing my year-long taco challenge, I feel a bit underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I am surprised even by myself that I have eaten as many tacos as I have. However, I think the stress of the holidays and the lack luster finale was not a great way to round out the year. There are also many places on my list that I have not tried yet but expect great things from. But stay tuned as I have a special announcement!

Taco Rating: 2 out of 5

Taco Count: 365!!!!tumblr_n9397arwns1txcb93o1_400

Taco Review: World Street Kitchen

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It was advised that if I go to World Street Kitchen that I shouldn’t mess around and go straight for the La Panza tacos. And after I try the La Panza I should eat the La Panza again. Well guys, I did not heed that advice. Even so, I was not disappointed with my decision to get the Squash and Shitake Mushroom tacos. These tacos featured the a fore mentioned ingredients plus feta cheese, a sort of pesto, and pickled cucumbers. I added sriracha chili garlic paste for a bit o spice and played around with more pickled flavors as I also ordered a side boat of pickled goodies: diakon radishes, bean sprouts, cucumbers, and onions. I love pickled everything. These two tacos were incredibly tasty and surprisingly hearty. I’ve been on a mushroom kick for the last few months and while I freaking love meat, it has been fun and delicious to see what mushrooms substitute well for. Mushroom tacos were a good choice and unlike anything I have ever had. All that being said, this is a taco I could easily make at home, and probably will make at home! So thanks WSK for the inspiration but I will probably not order these again as I have a hard time ordering food in a restaurant that I could easily make at home. 20151006_152522That being said, I’m not gonna let the ease factor take away from giving this taco a solid 3 out 5 score. They are delicious, unique, and a taco I would recommend for a mushroom enthusiast or vegan alike.

Also, did you know that WSK offers happy hour Daily from 3 – 6pm & 9pm to close with half priced snacks and beer discounts?! Can’t beat that!

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I came to WSK with some friends during said happy hour and they were gracious enough to order the Brussels sprouts snacks and guacamole snacks. They were both super tasty. The Brussel sprouts were roasted then tossed in oil with coarse salt and pepper. They were done perfectly with a good char and crunch but perhaps a bit too much oil as the bottom of the boat sprouts got a touch soggy. I highly recommend the guacamole! Chunky with unmashed hunks of avacado and in house made thick tortilla chips. The  gwak-a-mol had oil drizzled in as well, divine! Lots of great menu items to be had at World Street Kitchen!

Taco Count: 252-253

Taco Review: 3 out of 5

Taco Review: Sea Salt Eatery

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My favorite summer place. Sea Salt Eatery is just a quick 2.5 mile bike ride away and as any patron has noticed, one of the best spots to eat, drink, and relax in Minneapolis. Even at peak times when the line is long and your tummy is grumbling, you can’t be mad about the wait because the food is totally worth it.

This past winter Sea Salt made a much needed remodel. A larger kitchen area to accommodate the crowds and a slightly larger patio area with upgraded seating nestled between the restaurant and the falls. The place looks great! Grab a beer while you stand in line, salivate over other orders that are coming out and change your mind on what you are going to get about 5 times, order, peruse the hot sauce selection (always grab 3 or 4 for your table, gotta have variety!), then sit and relax with another beer with giddy anticipation of your name or number being called out while you hear the rushing of the falls nearby.20150505_153041

This post has been a long time coming because I was trying to try all of the taco offerings before giving my review. Sea Salt offers Fried Fish Tacos, Calamari Tacos, Sauteed Shrimp Tacos, Grilled Mahi Mahi tacos, Bay Scallop Tacos, and Grilled Veggie Tacos. I am going to admit right away that I knew I was never going to get to the Veggie Taco. Sorry for all of you vegetarian readers out there, I am just not going to waste my taste buds on veggies when there are so many good fish options on the menu. And I never got to the Mahi Mahi tacos this year, it was a crazy summer and my afternoons spent relaxing in a hammock listening to the falls took a severe hit.

Let’s review the tacos first shall we?

20150429_195747Fried Fish Taco: These were tacos 122 and 123 this year. Two tacos with a huge hunk of fried haddock on a corn tortilla and a slight drizzling of a thick salsa. I’m amazed at how delightfully flaky the fish is, even after being deep fried. The inside is flaky not soggy and the fried breading has a good crunch without any extra oil. A really well done hunk of joy! A definite 5 out of 5 fish taco! (in all actuality these are a 6 out of 5 because I crave them pretty much all the time)

20150516_142434Shrimp Taco: Tacos number 153 and 154. Sort of a disappointment. With only 3 little shrimps and too much tortilla and cilantro these tacos were incredibly lackluster. In fact, I think it’s the only thing I’ve encountered at Sea Salt that hasn’t been very good. There is just no balance to this taco. Sub out the thick and heavier red house salsa for the corn salsa and a Louisiana style hot sauce and these would be much improved. Also, shrimp is relatively cheap, throw a couple more of those bad boys on the ’tilla and it won’t break the bank. Even some slaw under the shrimp for some more substance would be welcome. A disappointing 2 out of 5. 

Displaying 20150616_150727.jpgFried Calamari Taco: Tacos number 204 and 205 this summer. At the bottom of this post I rate just the calamari. In short, the calamari is the perfect ratio of crisp breading to chewy octopus. It is one of my favorite menu items at Sea Salt, hands down. This taco takes the calamari appetizer and puts it in a taco. The dipping sauce is drizzled on and corn salsa added to round out a couple of hearty tacos. Here is another 5 out of 5 taco for the Sea Salt repertoire! (as with the fish taco, I’d really give it a 6 out of 5 but I have a feeling some readers would get irked about me not following my scaling system).

oFried Bay Scallop Tacos: These tacos came in at number 231 and 232 this summer. A nice trip with my seester and 1 month old niece to Minnehaha Falls is only complete with a late lunch of sea food goodness. I had the scallop tacos and my sister had the always popular fried fish basket. The scallop tacos were decent. Messy to eat and a touch on the soggy side however. Not sure if the sogginess was from poor frying technique or from the salsa soaking through the breading. These had the same toppings as the calamari tacos so I would choose calamari over the scallops any day. But these tacos still earn a delightful 4 out of 5. 

All in all I give Sea Salt Eatery a 5 out of 5 on the taco front. While not all the tacos were perfect, there are enough items on the menu that are perfect to easily make up for a miss here or there. You also cannot go wrong with the atmosphere- outside dining next to a waterfall in the heart of the Twin Cities! How many metropolitan areas can say they have a waterfall within city limits?


Because I frequent here so often, I want to offer a few other reviews

Calamari: (see the fried fish taco photo and there is a photo of the calamari also) This is a go to for me and Chadd. No matter how hungry we are, we have to get a basket. On Cinco de Mayo after I ate TWELVE FREAKING TACOS and he and a friend at a meal also, we still came here for a beverage and got the calamari basket. I still managed to eat a few hunks even though I felt like my stomach was going to explode. THAT’S HOW GOOD THIS DISH IS PEOPLE! A huge plate of the breaded and fried little octopi with a pleasant dipping sauce of what I think it a slightly spicy aioli. Not even the slightest hint of rubbery texture that you often get with bad calamari, these little bite sized treats just have to get demolished before the rest of our order. If I don’t ignore the rest of my meal and eat my share of these curly fish first then I don’t get any. Gotta be quick!

Fried Fish Po Boy: The same famous hunk of fried fish as the basket and tacos, this time featured on a nice french style roll with some corn salsa, lettuce, and mayo. Messy to eat yet very filling and delicious! I bet the catfish option would be fantastic as well!

Crab Stuffed Avocado with Tortilla Chips: This was actually the first item I ever got from Sea Salt. I was halfway through a bike ride and was hungry but didn’t want to be bogged down by fried food or a meal that was too filling. It was the perfect choice. The crab and avocado were savory and well balanced. The tortilla chips were homemade, thick and lightly salted. This would be a great snack if you aren’t too hungry.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with Andouille and Ham Shank: It sounds heavy but even on a hot day you should order this. Red beans and rice has quickly become one of my favorite meals and a go to since it is so delicious and easy. This version is ultra savory since it has 2 kinds of meat! This is one of the few menu items Sea Salt has that does not feature seafood so even if you are not a seafood person (and I don’t know how you couldn’t be, especially from this place) have no fear, you can still find a menu item that will be satisfying. Oh, and it’s gluten free for those of you with dietary restrictions.

Taco Review: Pineda Tacos

 

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My mom had been bugging me for MONTHS to take her to a good taco place as part of Tacopalooza2015. I looked at my list of places to go and consulted with Yelp and Google+ to try to impress mi madre. Pineda Tacos received a 4/5 on Yelp and a 4.6/5 on Google+. Tacopalooza2015 gave Pineda a 1/5. There is only one excuse for the disappointment we encountered at Pineda, we must have gone to the wrong location. I thought the reviews were specifically for the location we went to but I could be wrong. We went to the Pineda on East Lake Street in Minneapolis but there are also locations in West St. Paul and Plymouth. I seriously do not understand how it got such glowing reviews from these other sites. I thought the tacos were disgusting. And my mother was not impressed either.

You would think that upon walking into this large restaurant with Mexican soap operas blaring on the TV and a dude completely decked out in a cowboy hat and boots sipping on a Coke from a glass bottle would be a sure sign of a top-notch place. You’d be wrong.

Their menu was poorly displayed and options very limited. They have subway style ordering where you can customize your meal with the toppings you desire: lettuce, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, cheese, etc. But I like to keep my tacos simple so went with a bit of onion and cilantro on top of two chorizo tacos and a bit of cheese on the refried beans. My mom did the same but with the al pastor tacos per my recommendation. We agreed to swap a taco each so we could try each other’s meal.

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While the execution of the chorizo tacos was terrible I sort of like the idea of it. These chorizo tacos differed from others I’ve had in that Pineda added hunks of onion, tomato, and peppers to the chorizo meat but the meat itself was sooooo soggy and greasy. I felt like I was eating sausage baby food.

The al pastor my mom had was absolutely disgusting. I took one bite and just couldn’t do anymore. It looked dry to begin with so I added more salsa verde than I normally do but I still felt like I was chewing on day old pork and couldn’t taste any marinade or seasoning. Al pastor should be a gorgeous deep red color but this was a sad tan. I think they really just used unseasoned pork.

I owe my poor mama another outing as she was pestering me for months to take her out to a good taco place after an afternoon of biking. Well, I struck out. You can’t win them all but I never would have guessed that this meal would have been as bad as it was. Also note that the cheese on the beans above has not melted into the beans. That’s because the beans were stone cold.

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She looks happy and excited here but this was before we knew what sort of sadness we were biting into.

Maybe a different Pineda location is better. Maybe everyone else that rated it doesn’t know any better. Maybe I got there on an off day (I highly doubt it). I will try to visit the West St. Paul location and re-rate Pineda but I can tell you right now to stay away from the one on East Lake and Hiawatha!

Taco Rating: 1 out of 5

Taco Count: 219 (plus one bite)

Homemade Shrimp Tacos

 

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Taco Pickles and Orange Sauce were sitting in the fridge just waiting to be used. I didn’t have much in the way of protein in the house but I remembered I had shrimpers! That’s when I realized that the Orange Sauce would pair excellently with sauteed shrimp. Corn tortillas with shrimpers sauteed in Orange Sauce with lettuce, taco pickles, an additional drizzle of Orange Sauce, and a small crumbling of feta cheese. I wanted queso fresco but didn’t have any on hand and was too lazy to go out and get some. I know, feta seems kinda weird to put on tacos but it actually kind of worked. But Mexican crema would have been better than the cheese though so the next night when I made these again, I used just that. I ate 7 of these puppies in 2 days. Much Shrimp. Such Yum. 

 

Sorry these pictures are so terrible, we have bad lighting in the house. But I assure you they were yummy! And easy!

Taco Count: 214-221

Taco Review: Pancho Villa

In an effort to share my taco eating endeavors with more friends and to make a push to get back on track with my taco count, I met up with LaurenTaco at her favorite Twin Cities taco spot, Pancho Villa.

Sitting at a small outdoor table along Nicolette with a Mariachi Band strumming some tunes inside, we chit-chatted over chips and salsa for quite a while. I ordered the campechanos meal which consists of 3 tacos with a chorizo, pastor, and nopales mixture topped with diced onions and cilantro. I was under the impression that this would be 3 separate tacos (1 chorizo, 1 pastor, 1 nopales) so when the server came out to inform me about 5 minutes after taking my order that the kitchen was out of nopales, I figured I would just get a lengua taco instead. This was followed by a stare-down that lasted a beat longer than socially comfortable as we both tried to figure out what the other was getting at. After a couple of re-explanations by both parties, and some exhausted hamsters running on the little wheels that work our brains, I finally figured out that this was supposed to be a meat mixture, not individual meats. So I settled with the chorizo and pastor without the nopales. I was pretty disappointed as my last encounter with nopales had been delightful!

I only wish this is what the al pastor meat spit looked like! Thank you image search.

Chorizo goodness

No nopales but this is some of the glory I could have consumed.

I once again proved why I will never become a professional blogger as I didn’t take pictures of this meal or the venue or anything even remarkable about the evening. I blame it on the fact that my phone was almost dead and it was dark out.

There was no house salsa given with the meal which was sort of disappointing as I always want a little kick with my snacks and have found that home made salsas tend to be the most unique. There was Cholula on the table however which is always mighty fine. When I found out the meats were mixed on the taco I was a little afraid that the two flavors would get muddled or that the typically strong sausage flavor of the chorizo might over power the al pastor. This was absolutely not the case. The two meats complimented each other quite well and I scarfed those tacos down in no time. The al pastor was flavorful, tender, and fresh. The only fault I can find is perhaps it was missing the fruity flavor of the pineapple that typically comes with al pastor. The chorizo was savory, not overly greasy, and had a good fine crumble. While the taco was very rich, I can imagine that the nopales would have brightened this taco up a bit. The beans and rice that came as a side were pretty forgettable. But because the tacos were good I can forgive them for this.

I grant Pancho Villa a solid 4 out of 5. A nice, slightly Americanized, Mexican spot with good menu variety, a full bar, and good food!

Taco count: 210-213