Lago Tacos in Uptown, Minneapolis

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

You’ve got your Mexican food of all sorts and regional variations. You’ve got your Tex-Mex, a legitimate cross-border cuisine in its own right. And then you’ve got what we’ll call here “Fun Mex.”

Fun Mex is big and generous like a party. Fun Mex is laid-back and unself-conscious. Fun Mex doesn’t care a whit about being an authentic part of the other Mex traditions. Fun Mex probably involves a super-long plastic menu and definitely goes really well with a margarita.

Lago Tacos is everything that’s great about Fun Mex cuisine.

Lago Tacos opened its first location in Excelsior, just a block off Lake Minnetonka, about a year and a half ago. The second opened at the beginning of June in the former Heidi’s space in Lyn-Lake. The new location brings that beach-esque, staycation vibe to the heart of the city with a large central bar that juts out into the outside patio, letting the breeze and the bar crowd flow more easily. It’s as close to a Key West indoor-outdoor bar as you could possibly get in a low, dark building in Uptown.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

It’s easy to imagine the 150-plus tables filling up on a long summer evening, parties at high-tops keeping the appetizers and the margaritas coming. The apps are all a little overachieving: individually topped chicken nachos ($10), each crowned with a ring of peppers and held together with cheese; meticulously layered stuffed jalapenos ($8, above); slices of creamy batter-fried avocado ($7) lined up as if for royal inspection — and each of them paired with a different house-made sauce. It’s as if, in this laid-back Fun Mex atmosphere, everyone can relax except the kitchen.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

While our server praised the salads, we had come for the tacos. Sixteen kinds of tacos ($9–16), many of them unrepentant interlopers in the land of Mexican flavors. Tacos al pastor, carnitas, steak, shrimp — those are classics. Walleye (above), tuna, mahi mahi — so far, so familiar. Lobster, sesame chicken, batter-fried portabella, BLT — hold on. How does that work? For the most part, pretty well.

Taco purists should just keep on walking by. These are not the simple four-bite caramelos from Sonora Grill or a cheap, on-the-go lunch from a Lake Street food truck. These monsters come three to a plate — entirely impossible to finish, especially after fried avocado and peppers — served on doubled-up (but untoasted) La Perla corn tortillas. (We can pause here to reflect on the local treasure that is La Perla. Choosing them is a clear sign that Lago wanted to ditch tradition, but not quality.) The filling comes up to the rims of the tortillas in neat half-moons, with at least a half dozen flavors in every bite.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

There were skeptics at our table who remained unconvinced about the really fusiony fusion tacos — the Sesame Chicken Tacos (above) are like a plate of American Chinese takeout scooped into a tortilla — while others replied, “Hey, more for me, then.” The portabella mushrooms — delicately batter-fried — were a surprise favorite, helped immensely by a fresh and kicky black bean salsa. We’d come back for the walleye (more of that delicious salsa) and the chicken tinga, as well.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Heat-seekers will find little to challenge them at Lago. The Monster Burritos ($9–13) come lacquered in a house-made hot sauce. Our server’s warnings were so dire that we ordered the sauce on the side. (Had she seen more than a few sent back as “too hot”? Probably.) But on the heat scale, it registered just about at “pleasantly tingly,” and the massive bundle of carbs on our plate really could have used a little kick.

Fun Mex cuisine could easily slide down that slippery slope into “Ole! Fiesta!” territory, relying on big, kitschy gestures and cringe-inducing decor. But it doesn’t have to. Without a single sombrero or pinata in sight, Lago Tacos is fun, flavorful, and authentically inauthentic.

Lago Tacos
Tacos in Excelsior and Uptown
30 Water St
Excelsior, MN 55331
952.300.8495
HOURS:
Mon–Thu 
11am–11pm
Fri 11am–midnight
Sat 9am–midnight
Sun 9am–10pm
Breakfast Sat–Sun only, 9am–11:30am

2901 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
612.353.6736
HOURS:
Mon–Fri 
11am–2am
Sat–Sun 10am–2am
Breakfast Sat–Sun only, 10am–2pm
ENTREE RANGE: $9­–16
RESERVATIONS: No
BAR: Full
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

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About the Author

Tricia Cornell

Tricia has been called the mother of “world-class veggie eaters” in the Star Tribune (that is patently untrue) and an “industrious home cook” in the New York Times (true, but was it a compliment?). She loves Brussels sprouts, hates squash, and would choose salty and sour flavors over sweet just about any day. She is the author of Eat More Vegetables, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in 2012, and The Minnesota Farmers Market Cookbook, published by Voyageur Press in 2014.

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