La Alborada Market on East Lake Street, Minneapolis
Orlando Cruz would like you to think of La Alborada Market as your hacienda away from home. Cruz– originally from Axochiapan in Morelos, Mexico — has lived in Minnesota for nearly two decades. “Minnesota. It’s beautiful,” says Cruz. He got his start running an Envios Los Gallos money transfer business on Lake St. in Minneapolis before opening La Alborada in 2008, and knows his customers long for a taste of home. So, piece by piece — from the floor tile, to the decorative concrete columns, to the giant-wheeled wooden cart– Cruz brought Mexico to Minnesota.
More than just a dusty dry goods market, La Alborada is like a Latin Kowalski’s, impeccable and tidy, with displays of appealing fresh produce, a full-service meat counter that does a brisk business cutting meat to order, and a bakery. A lively antojitos snack bar near the entrance churns out a stream of tacos, torta sandwiches, freshly pressed juices, and licuado milk shakes, all made to order. When the weather’s nice, the antojitos bar spills outdoors to a tented area near the market’s entrance where they sell juices and cups of chopped fresh fruit.
Manager Juan Valdivia says that La Alborada is almost entirely a family operation, and “Someone from the family goes to Mexico every two or three weeks to bring back the ‘dulce de feria’ festival candy” that La Alborada stocks in the glass cases near the cash register. Valdivia explains that “every town in Mexico throws its own feria, and each feria has its own candy. People that are missing their town” long for “that specific candy,” he says.
La Alborada’s recipes come from Mexico, too. Cruz’ cousin is the baker. Mid-day on a sunny Saturday, customers crowd the bakery aisle, filling the self-service bags with bolillo baguettes, cinnamon dusted shell-shaped concha rolls, cookies, and fruit-filled pastries. “We bake from old-time recipes, from flour and eggs,” says Valdivia, “Not from a mix, like pancakes, like the other places do.”
Orlando Cruz, Jr., also a manager, says the chocoflan ($2.00 per slice), a moist, rich chocolate cake topped with a dense layer of custard, is his favorite of La Alborada’s bakery items. I was captivated from my first bite. Why struggle over the dessert menu, trying to decide whether to have cake or flan for dessert when you can have both in a single dish? Bakery items range from $0.65 for a bolillo to $3.50 for pan de feria. La Alborada takes orders for full-sized cakes, including tres leches cakes, for birthdays and other celebrations.
The carniceria meat counter is stacked neatly with packets of handmade mole paste (the price varies by flavor; the poblano mole I bought was $6.49/lb). The same “old guy” who comes in every month to make the mole by hand also makes La Alborada’s casero cheese, which is a soft, white, fresh cheese. Cheeses are in a case off to the side.
Sausages, displayed on racks, are made in-house every few days. According to Juan Valdivia, most Mexican markets in town buy their meat, frozen, from suppliers in Chicago. La Alborada buys their beef and pork weekly from farmers based in Willmar, MN. This enables La Alborada to carry hard-to-find cuts of meat, such as the zopilote cut of steak, which Valdivia says no one else in town carries, as well as to cut and trim meats to order.
Prices for the meats, cheeses, and moles are prominently displayed.
The antojitos counter does a brisk take-out business, frequently to families toting children. There are only a couple of tables and bar stools. Tacos are $1.75 each and include the familiar, crispy, and pleasingly spicy al pastor and the carne asada fillings available at most Minneapolis-St. Paul taquerias, as well as the tender and juicy lengua (tongue), cabeza (head of the cow), and others that are less frequently found around town. Everything is made to order: The two corn tortillas are griddled and the taco fillings are chopped and fried while you wait. The salsa, either fiery red or tangy green, is house-made. Tacos are served with your option of roasted and pickled jalapeños, chopped onions, fresh cilantro, sliced radishes, and wedged limes, all of which come from a prep tray that is refreshed frequently, even during the course of a half hour.
The avocado for the torta sandwich (they offer six different varieties), $6.00, is chopped fresh. The Cubana torta is served on a bowl-shaped, soft bakery bun, loaded with cheese, deli ham, sliced griddled hot dogs, lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, roasted pork, mayonnaise (too much mayo, unless your Spanish is good enough to enable you to intervene). Tortas also come with a bag of Cheetos; a “yes” response to the question, “Do you like your Cheetos caliente?” will yield a bag of Cheetos “Flamin’ Hot and Crunchy.”
Sounds to good to be true? Well, there is a small hitch, and that’s that you’ll need to be patient if you’re not fluent in Spanish. The good news is the staff and clientele are friendly and jovial and more than willing to smile their way through reciting, and repeating, the six different types of tortas (not posted anywhere). While antojitos might be simple food, it’s not fast food. Visit when you have some time to soak in the experience. You might even bring a Spanish-English dictionary to the meat and antojitos counters.
You might have your favorite taqueria, torta shop, panaderia, or mercado around town, each with a broader selection, but La Alborada strives to provide it all under one roof while maintaining high quality, and it succeeds.
Incidentally, La Alborada means sunrise. Next time you drive up Lake St., look for the building adorned with the colorful mural of the sun rising over sea, and turn into the tiny lot. You won’t be sorry. Heck, after only a visit or two, you will feel right at home.
Mexican Market, Bakery, and Antojitos in Corcoran
1855 E Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55407
OWNER: Orlando Cruz
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Some / No
ENTREE RANGE: Antojitos $1.50-$6
MexConnects: Wrap It Up: A Guide To Mexican Street Tacos
Wikipedia on Tortas
The San Francisco Chronicle’s “Life at the Carniceria”
MexConnects Guide to Mexican Butcher Shops: Beef
MexConnect’s Guide to Mexican Butcher Shops: Pork and Lamb
MexConnect’s Guide to Mexican Cheeses
MexConnect’s Guide to Mexican Breads