Chino Latino in Uptown, Minneapolis (Revisited)

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

When the reservation website OpenTable recently declared Uptown’s Chino Latino one of the “top 100 hottest restaurant bars in the United States,” we realized it had been far too long since we’d journeyed to the ever-popular restaurant. So a small group of us donned our festive summer duds and headed out to celebrate an important anniversary and sample some “street food from the hot zones.” We were ready to whoop it up.

Upon entering the multistory, multiroom space, one thing became absolutely clear: Chino Latino is all about the party. There’s an unmistakable club vibe that, like a devil on your shoulder, demands you forget about high prices and other worldly concerns. Your only job is to eat, drink, and be merry.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Unfortunately, the restaurant’s expansive menus (yes, that’s plural) interrupted the party by making us think way too hard right off the bat. With all items intended for sharing, ordering for the table took a lot of triangulation. Thankfully our drinks came quickly and helped us navigate what seemed like hundreds of choices. Although expensive, the cocktails were, as promised, interesting and well made. A refreshing watermelon mojito ($12) was a wonderful companion in our long travels across the menus’ various continents.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Given Chino Latino’s wild, bombastic branding and festive atmosphere, we expected the food to have bold, even unexpected flavors. What we got were timid, uninteresting dishes that threatened to kill our buzz. There was Mexican “elote” ($5) that was seemingly covered in queso fresco and spices, but just tasted like grilled corn. Fine, but dull. The same was true of the “tandoori” cauliflower and red pepper skewer ($7) — the seared, rubbery vegetables were bland and a lackluster yogurt sauce did nothing to jazz them up.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

And, while “Buddha’s Happy Tuna Roll” ($20) sounded lively, it was a snoozefest: The jalapeño, cilantro, and sesame ponzu sauce were apparently MIA, and the sushi rice was damp and mushy. Five spice BBQ spare ribs ($9) were more flavorful, but the syrupy glaze was overly sweet.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

We did enjoy a half-order (the “bachelor” portion) of paella ($18). The shellfish and chicken thigh were skillfully prepared and the saffron-flavored rice was moist and tasty. However, nothing in the dish said “wow,” and the paella was without its distinctive crispy layer. We felt similarly about the “Popocatepe” ($10), a heaping portion of French fries topped with heaping portions of guacamole, sour cream, black beans, queso fresco, and salsa one person at our table dubbed “Mexican poutine.” Filling but not thrilling.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Although the first half-dozen dishes didn’t win us over, they didn’t bum us out like the truly dreadful Quail Relleño ($14). An overcooked petite bird filled with bad Thanksgiving stuffing (ostensibly studded with chorizo) sat on a bed of dry fried rice. The accompanying “luscious soy coconut sauce” was viscous and unbalanced, and it clashed with the stuffed quail, while the large cloves of roasted garlic that bobbed in the gloomy sauce were just confusing. The dish failed in every imaginable way.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Not wanting to end our party on a sour note, we went all in for dessert and ordered the “Hot Zone Banana Split” ($24), a “Mt. Fuji sized sundae of Tahitian vanilla and coconut ice creams topped with housemade whipped cream, caramel and chocolate sauce.” Served in a vessel resembling a turkey platter, the sundae arrived aflame with sparklers and festooned with dozens of dried plantains and Pocky. Now that’s exciting! But the shock-and-awe dessert — basically, a few pints of ice cream and whipped cream in fried wonton bowls surrounded by tasteless banana slices — was far from party fare. There was so little sauce that we ended up ordering more on the side. The size was shocking and the sparklers were fun, but the actual sundae ended up being, well, exhausting. We barely dented it, even with our dedicated team of eaters.

Dessert sealed our opinion on Chino Latino: The food fails to live up to the crazy image, cheeky menus, and party atmosphere, especially for the price. We hadn’t set out for a gourmet meal or fine dining, just for a good time. The atmosphere, service, and drinks lived up to our expectations, but the food killed our party vibe. Not even a monstrous sundae bedecked with fireworks could light us up.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Chino Latino
Street food from the hot zones in Uptown
★☆☆☆ (Notable)

2916 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.824.7878
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole / Tuan Nguyen
HOURS:
Sun-Thu 4:30pm-1am
Fri-Sat 4:30pm-2am
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes for Thursday-Saturday nights
BAR: Full
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-34

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Facebook Comments

comments

About the Author

Joshua Page

Joshua Page became fascinated with food as a young latchkey cook in Southern California. He developed a passion for eating out while working in “the industry” in college and procrastinating (and accruing debt) as a graduate student. Now a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, Joshua also loves to write— when it’s not about crime, law, and punishment, his musings are about Twin Cities eateries.

Visit Website

4 Comments

  1. ReaderOverAge2508/01/2013Reply

    While I’m not surprised the food didn’t wow anyone (did you actually take OpenTable as a credible source for food recommendations?) I was surprised by this line:

    “Unfortunately, the restaurant’s expansive menus (yes, that’s plural) interrupted the party by making us think way too hard right off the bat.”

    La Belle Vie often has three menus, what do you do then? Is this what counts as hipster criticism nowadays? Are you the sort of person who thinks “farm-to-table” is some new concept?

    Ugh. Improve your reviews, Heavy Table, you’ve got competitors and your readers have limited time to choose between them.

  2. Joshua Page08/01/2013Reply

    Thanks for the comments. I don’t have an opinion on Open Table’s recommendations. If folks find them helpful, cool. If not, there are plenty of other places where people can get information on restaurants. I mentioned the site only because its recent recognition of Chino Latino (which was widely publicized) got us thinking that it was time for us to review the very popular spot.

    I’m not categorically opposed to expansive menus. However, I do find frustrating the trend toward overwhelmingly long, unfocused menus. I’d much rather choose from a concise list of well-conceived and well-prepared dishes. Some restaurants (La Belle Vie may be one of them) can offer both quantity and quality—but such places are few and far between.

    Thanks again for the comments. Josh

  3. Chad Jamrozy08/04/2013Reply

    Thanks for the review Josh, it has been some time since my last visit to the popular Uptown establishment. Always a busy bar scene, but disappointing to see that the food hasn’t held up.

  4. mplsgossipgirl08/09/2013Reply

    I feel exactly the same way. I only go there for the drinks.

    Each time I have been there with a group of people the vibe was killed.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*