The Latin Tongue: El 7 Mares and La Guadalupana

After five weeks of success, it was finally time to head south. We loaded into our cars and made the "arduous" journey south...of downtown St. Paul to the district del sol, a neighborhood/business district with strong Latin roots. Once again, we went without a plan and decided to let our noses guide us. We were treated to a feast of the senses with two supermercados and at least three Mexican restaurants. In the end, our eyes settled upon a small, hard to notice restaurant who's most prominent feature from the street was a bright "open" sign. That's all we needed.

Read about why we are reviewing Mexican restaurants in this article.

El 7 Mares is a fairly new establishment, better known to some recently as Mariscos El Korita and before that, El Comal. The place is a quaint, clean and well done little eatery that features seafood as the "seven seas" name makes quite obvious, and like so many Latin eateries we frequent, once inside, you tend to forget where you are. 


The menu was large and took us a while to navigate, mainly because it is not the normal "ala carte" style Mexican menu where you pick and choose tacos, tamales, etc. After ordering at a counter, sitting down and looking at a menu was a nice change. Most dishes at El 7 Mares are served as entrees, meaning you can get tamales or quesadillas but you will get them served on a large platter with sides of beans, rice, guacamole and pico de gallo. This, and the high number of dishes with seafood, explain why the average price is $8-13. As a matter of fact, if you are the type to share, the prices are really reasonable.


Luckily for us, tacos were a separate option and we quickly decided on a fish taco, a new option for us. The server was very vocal about his favorites and we were easily persuaded to order the other tacos with puerco adobada. Adobada literally means "marinated" and often refers to pork marinated in some variety of red chili sauce often similar to the commonly named adobo. Our server informed us that they were very close to Al pastor, but I'm not sure I would have made that link as they were quite unique in their preparation.


Our server also was excited to recommend a dish called Carne ala Tampiquena (pictured above). This entree involved topping a grilled, thin steak (cecina or asada?) with a shrimp, cheese and tomato sauce. We were intrigued. Our final piece of the puzzle, of course, were tamales. As per our agreement in this series of Latin eateries, we agreed to always order tacos and tamales. As mentioned above, the tamales cannot be ordered ala carte and as we asked our server about them, he steered us instead to chile rellenos. He was adamant and it is well known by now that we are easily swayed. Chile rellenos it was (but don't think for a second that the day would end without the consumption of tamales).


Our food came quick and hot as we talked about the virtues of the requested hot salsa. Our server made sure we were ready for the "hot" and certainly smirked at us as we ordered it, but in the end, it was delicious and not a bit too spicy for our well scorched palates. We were glad for the kick.


I quickly made for the fish taco. I couldn't resist this gorgeous fillet sitting on the two palm-sized tortillas with nothing to dress it but cilantro, onion and a squeeze of lime. It was everything I want in a fish taco. Cheap, delicious, simple and light. After the fish taco and the hot salsa, I would have given almost anything for a beer. Ahhh...alas, a soda or horchata would have to do as El 7 Mares does not serve beer. Come this AdobadaAdobada tacossummer, I'm grabbing a sack full of these and I'll have a date with the curb and some cold beer. One tip: the guacamole here is amazing, so order a side of it with your fish tacos.


The adobada was delicious as well. Just what you want when thinking about Mexican meat--well marinated and seasoned, perfectly grilled and not too greasy. I loved it.


While I was having a turn with the tacos, Charles was making all sorts of noise over the Tampiquena. The first thing I heard out of my taco bliss was something like, "this would make a grown man cry". Then there were mumblings about changing football menus all over the world and maybe even some tears. I guess the combination of perfectly grilled steak with a nice char, topped with shrimp in a tasty tomato sauce and made complete with plenty of melty cheese had him in a state of well-being. It was fun to watch and when I got my turn, I couldn't disagree. It was tasty and satisfying and enough food for a large appetite...or two medium sized ones who still had to eat chile rellenos. 


Now, right away, I will remind everyone that I am not a food snob and certainly not an expert on chile rellenos. I have seen restaurants ripped apart for their take on this ubiquitous Mexican dish. Again, everyone has their own take and their own methods. I can only try and describe our experience and whether or not the food was tasty.


Chile rellenosChile rellenosIn my experience, very few restaurants actually prepare the rellenos fresh to order as they are rather labor intensive to make. These chile rellenos came out very hot and crisp and I was immediately oohing and aahing the mix of pepper, cheese and well seasoned, deep fried breading. These rellenos were really tasty. They came out fast though, a sure sign that they were pre-made, at least to some degree. These were whole poblano peppers, stems and seeds still intact, smothered with lots of tomato sauce and cheese. No meat in these as some variations may have. Then they cooled off, and it seemed as if they lost their punch. Somehow, the queso was less appealing and the breading was just ok at that point. Perhaps this is the curse of the pre-made restaurant relleno. The real question though, is whether I would order them again. I surely think I would, for how much I enjoyed them when they were hot and fresh. But who knows, I am someone always looking for something new.


In the end, I would recommend going for the fish tacos, guacamole, adobada and yes, the seafood...such as the tampiquena. Everything was plated beautifully, was high on flavor and low on grease. And if they ever serve beer, it might just be down right dangerous.


Postscript: La Guadalupana


I told you that I wouldn't end the day without tamales, and well, I didn't have to look far. On the same corner that houses El Burrito Mercado, El Amanacer and El 7 Mares, is a fairly modest, but large supermercado called La Guadalupana. As I was walking to my car, I noticed that they advertised Tamales, et al. I walked in and was immediately surprised at a sense of bustle...and it quickly became obvious that I was the only one in the place smiling dumbly, looking lost and thinking these things in English. As I surveyed the deli and grocery sections I felt a shiver as I realized that in order to try a tamal I was going to have to make an attempt to resuscitate my all but dead grasp of the Spanish language. I found the kitchen that was being manned by a very busy Latina and got in the queue to wait my turn. Surprisingly, the place was busy. It was past the lunch hour, but there were half a dozen tables full and another six or seven in line with me. The menu was perfect. For the first time I had four options for tamales, Oaxacan style (with cheese), rajas (jalapeno), puerco and pollo. I was pretty sure that I was going to get one of each. 


My turn came and my brain imploded when the cook assaulted me with a flurry of Espanol. I caught a few words and plodded along with something like quatro tamales, por favor. I have no idea what I really said, and then the train wrecked. I think she said that they only had pork, but I really have no idea. However, her concern was with which "kind" of tamales I wanted. Normal (thank god normal is the same in either language) or....whatever the ones wrapped in banana leaves are called, an option I wasn't ready for. I ordered dos normal, calor and dos (I pointed at the banana leaf tamales) and then said frio. Ok, I ended up with two hot tamales for now and two cold for later. What was in them I would soon find out...kind of. 


The "normal" ones, those wrapped in corn husks, ended up being stuffed with delicious pork in some sort of adobo sauce. They were easily in the upper echelon of tamale deliciousness, spicy, rich and moist, and they were twice the size of any other tamal...for $2. I had the other tamales the next day. I heated them up and unwrapped them to discover that in each banana leaf was a tamal almost the size of a burrito. They were huge flat things. I felt as if I was holding a great prize and could not wait to see what they held. It certainly was a surprise to discover a good sized rib bone on my first bite. Combine the confusion with the overwhelmingly delicious flavor of rib meat and the earthiness of the corn scented with banana leaf and you could say it was a food experience to be sure. I felt about as sure of the next bite as I felt in ordering these things, but I am brave and went on eating. And I loved this tamal. I cannot wait to go back to Guadalupana and order some more...if I only knew how I did it.

(By the way, the guys at El 7 Mares gave us a handful of coupons...$5 off your bill of $25 or more. Drop me a line and I will mail you one.) 

The details:

El 7 Mares

201 Cesar Chavez St.

Saint Paul, Mn




Average $8-13, due to large portion size and prevalence of seafood.

Burrito $9

Combo plates $10-11

Tacos $1.75

Shrimp or fish tacos $3

Carnitas $11

Chile rellenos $9

Carne ala tampiquena $13

Enchiladas $9

Kids (mexican/american mix) $6 w/ice cream and soda


Surprise: We weren't expecting a seafood place. Also, this may be the first place that has almost nothing ala carte, except for tacos, apps and tostadas.


Payment: cash or credit


Language: both. Our server was very fluent in English, kind and willing to help.


La Guadalupana

178 Cesar Chavez St

St. Paul, Mn




Average $5-6 (or less)

Tamales $1.75-2.50


Surprise: A large and busy market. Delicious food and large deli/meat counter.


Payment: Cash or credit I think. I definitely paid cash. Probably best to bring cash.


Language: I heard not a word of English. When I asked the guy next to me in line for a little help, he shrugged. But, be brave, point a lot and enjoy.


Lawrence Black is a writer and editor at Simple, Good and Tasty.  He can be reached at He is often very full of beans and rice.