Why are we doing this? Read our intro article.
Up to this point, we have been rather amazed at our luck in choosing Latin eateries. We started with a Mexican restaurant in Minneapolis that was heavy on the seafood. Then over to St. Paul for a long established Mexican restaurant that blended in some American ways. Third was an Ecuadorian restaurant. When would our luck run out and we either find terrible food or become redundant?
As we headed up to NE Central Avenue in Minneapolis, we were packed full of our blind enthusiasm and optimism that has served us well...and we were rewarded with a table full of good eats. We walked into El Taco Riendo without a clue, an apparent theme for us. The first thing to come into play when walking through the door, is the obvious fact that this is a to-go establishment. It was crowded, but after just a bit of observation, it was obvious that most of the traffic was in and out rather quickly and this is exactly how they brand themselves at El Taco Riendo. Their menu and website claim that they are Mexican Fast Food. I wish all fast food was like this.
First of all, the menu is just packed with tempting items, starting out with over a dozen meat options. Plus, you actually order from the cook and can watch them prepare your food. Perhaps you are a little curious as Charles and I always are. Watch out, you might just learn something...like what is simmering on the stove behind the counter (One pot, we learned, contained a mole sauce that was made from scratch with three different peppers and had been simmering all day.)
After an endless time debating, we asked the friendly gentleman at the register what he would recommend. I already had my eyes on the chilaquiles and he confirmed their goodness. He also highly recommended the torta con asada. We thought we were all set, until we walked up to the cook to order our food. He also wanted to weigh in on what we were ordering. He recommended fried eggs on top of the chilaquiles (instead of a meat option) and they also thought we should try the al pastor. We were in the middle of ordering our tacos, tamales, torta and chilaquiles when the first gentleman came up to us with samples of about six of the meats. Talk about an appetizer. We were getting dizzy at this place and we hadn't even sat down yet.
I can honestly say, that I enjoyed every meat I tried. The pollo in salsa verde (chicken in green salsa) was really tasty and cooked with bits of potato, an addition that I always love. The al pastor was tender and cooked with pineapple...another Mexican tradition that I often hear about and seldom find. The tinga (chipotle chicken) was smokey and spicy and the barbacoa was probably my favorite, despite being a bit greasy. It was simply delicious, tender and mystifying.
As for the food, we ordered one taco with barbacoa and another with tinga. Compared to other tacos, the main difference was the sheer amount of meat in each taco. They had the typical two corn tortillas, cilantro and onion, but the meat was piled high and topped with an accompanying salsa. Again, the barbacoa was a bit "juicy", but so tasty that I wasn't about to criticize.
The tamale was filled with tinga de pollo as well and unique in the fact that it came to us smothered in a reddish-orange sauce. Although it was not served in the traditional corn husk, this was one of the best tamales that we have come across so far, well seasoned meat, moist masa corn casing and the sauce was just a bit smoky and a nice touch to an already delicious morsel.
The torta was something that we were grateful to have. So far, our adventures in Mexican eating have been severely lacking in the way of the Mexican sandwich. I had almost forgotten what a commitment these things are. Not only do you get a huge sandwich, but it is absolutely filled with meat, guacamole, refried beans, mayo, cheese, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickled jalapenos. I love tortas and this one was great. I would choose it over a burrito any time.
If you have not had chilaquiles, let me just let you know what you are missing. Let me tell you what we witnessed at El Taco Riendo. Upon ordering them, the cook immediately grabs a handful of tortilla chips and smashes them into a frying pan. He then lathers on a huge helping of salsa verde. They get cooked down on the stovetop and then are finished with cheese, sour cream and lettuce, not to mention the meat of your choice. If you think that chips and salsa cooked together would be a mushy mess, you haven't tried chilaquiles. We loved the suggestion of fried eggs. They were perfect and this dish stole the show for us. It was super spicy, savory, eggy and we could not stop eating it. Highly recommended if you have a spice tolerance.
This would have been the end of a normal review, but El Taco Riendo is not necessarily an ordinary little fast food joint. The cooks seemed so pleased at our obvious interest and enjoyment of the food, that they kept coming out to our table to ask how we liked things and before we knew it, they were sharing their favorites with us. It seemed like we absolutely had to try a tostada with al pastor...so they brought us two of them. Then there was the mole sauce (pictured above on enchiladas). It is a wonderful thing to see a cook so proud of his labors and we could not be happier to have been the recipients of his work. If the chilaquiles were our favorite, the mole enchiladas were our favorite supporting role in a major food event. The mole was deep and rich with moments of intense spice, but without the overbearing aromatic presence that I have experienced before with mole sauces. This one allowed the subtle and persistent peppers to play their part.
Here are the details:
El Taco Riendo
2416 Central Ave NE, Mpls
Average price is around $7-8
Tacos, $2 ea
Big Burritos (it seemed that these were every other order) $7
Tortas $6-8 (w/fries and soda $8.50)
Cash or credit
Mon-Thurs and Sun, 10am-10pm
Fri and Sat, 10 am-11pm
Our first "fast food" joint and the extensive and delicious meat selection. Also, our first styrofoam overload. Unfortunately, there are not really any real dishes here.
The workers are quick on their feet and definitely bilingual. Menu is easy to read and understand.