Snacking in the Bike Lane: Tacos and Cemitas on East Lake Street
This is the second in a four-part series of stories underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks that trace a 22-mile bike route through Minneapolis and St. Paul, hitting markets and off-the-grid eateries along the way.
Ask me what my favorite eating “neighborhood” is, and I will one hundred percent tell you that it’s Lake Street.
While Uptown continually loses street cred due to ongoing gentrification (RIP big, beautiful, old, neon Arby’s sign), any number of hidden-in-plain-sight Uptown gems are on Lake; these include Darbar Indian and even the new Hasty Tasty, which happens to have the best mac and cheese in the city.
But cross over into East Lake, and the thoroughfare takes you on an eating tour of the world.
Whether you seek the best fried catfish, the best burrito, the best Ecuadoran, the best Nepalese, or at least a dozen more international “bests,” Lake has it. Rarely can riding in a straight line get you so many places in a single hour. Bust out that cycle, pedal it forward, and see what I mean.
This series is underwritten by Sociable Cider Werks, makers of innovative libations that are best shared with a friend.
Que Chula es Puebla, 1116 E Lake St, Minneapolis
I don’t know any more-intrepid food slingers in the Twin Cities than the taco trucks of East Lake Street, many of which operate in the most frigid of weather. If the generators keep up, tacos shall spill forth from windows.
A couple of years ago, a big green beauty appeared among the usual suspects and started serving some astonishing creations to match its aesthetic flash. As the name Que Chula es Puebla suggests, they’re cooking up some specialties from the Puebla region of Mexico, and you won’t want to miss the Cemita. It’s a beast of a sandwich, in which some of the bread is removed from the roll, and in that formerly flavorless space you will find avocado, Oaxaca cheese, crema, and chipotle sauce. The meat (beef, chicken, or pork) is breaded and deep fried and hangs almost obscenely off the bun. This is a sandwich to end all sandwiches.
Or go for the Tacos Arabe, served in a pita instead of a tortilla: an entire meal priced at $3. Que Chula es Puebla is neck-and-neck with El Primo (usually parked in the K-Mart parking lot) for the top taco in town. The hot sauces alone are worth the trip.
Not into Mexican? They got burgers and fries, dude.
Super Mercado Morelia, 1417 E Lake St, Minneapolis
Even the most dedicated East Lake Street Mexican food buff may not have made it to Super Mercado Morelia, and that’s a shame. It looks like nothing from the outside (or from the inside, come to think of it), but when nothing but home cooking will do, this is your place.
Walk to the back of the simple supermarket, where a woman will be running a buffet. Don’t ask for a menu — there ain’t one. The lady is your menu, and she’ll take you on a tour of the day’s offerings by opening the steam table wells and showing you around. If you’re not a Spanish speaker, choose with your eyes and your nose.
I picked what could only be described as stewed chicken in fire sauce, and it was probably my favorite dish of this East Lake tour. It’s mind-numbingly hot, but also as nuanced as your grandma’s finest chicken stew, and served simply with beans and rice. Your choice of bread or tortillas (I don’t have to tell you which to choose, right?) finishes things. This is a day-maker in a bag for a few bucks. Head here when your heart, head, or soul is aching. They’ll set you straight.
La Alborada, 1855 E Lake St, Minneapolis
As the trendy food world goes gaga for food halls, the best kept secret is that East Lake Street’s Mexican community has been doing them for decades. Look around and you’ll find a smattering of these markets where everything from a pair of boots to a tortilla press to a pastry can be yours inside of five minutes.
An all-time fave is La Alborada, which contains everything a grocery store should, but holds also a bakery, a carniceria (a butcher counter, where all the meats required to make your tacos better at home can be had), and one of the better selections of dried chilies in the city. Lots more of course (tres leches cakes, flan, those chili-flavored potato chips you got addicted to in Mexico), but the real siren song is the lunch counter. On a recent visit we had Oaxacan tamales, my preferred type, as the banana leaf wrappers keep the masa more moist than do the more-commonly used corn-husks. Filled with mole, they’re an extra special find not available just anywhere.
Hey vegetarians, heads up: There are taco selections at La Alborada that are going to blow your mind. Start with handmade tortillas filled with rice, onion, and chilies; then choose either hard boiled egg, poblano pepper filled with cheese, or my pick of the moment, potato cake, a crisp-on-the-outside, lush-as-mashed-potatoes-on-the-inside dish unto itself. But tucked into the tortilla, it’s nothing short of a taco sensation.
There’s also a taco packed with veggies like zucchini, corn, and bell pepper, so if you’re always looking on forlornly while your buddies scarf cabeza and al pastor, this place is for you.
DIRECTIONS FOR THIS LEG, FROM SENTYRZ TO LA ALBORADA
SENTYRZ LIQUOR AND SUPERMARKET (see previous installment) 1612 NE 2nd St to QUE CHULA ES PUEBLA [6 miles]
Head south on NE Second St toward 16th Ave NE .6 miles
Turn right onto 8th Ave NE .6 miles
Continue onto Plymouth Ave N
Turn left onto W River Pkwy 1.7 mi
Turn right onto 11th Ave S 0.3 mi
Turn left onto Hiawatha Bike Trail 1.6 mi
Turn right onto Midtown Greenway 0.8 mi
Turn left onto 13th Ave S 0.1 mi
Turn right onto E Lake St, Destination on the right
QUE CHULA ES PUEBLA 1116 E Lake St. to Super Mercado Morelia [.2 miles]
Head east on East Lake St three blocks
SUPER MERCADO MORELIA 1417 E Lake St to La Alborada [.5 miles]
Head east on E Lake St for four blocks
LA ALBORADA 1855 E Lake St
PREVIOUS LEG: The Markets of Northeast Minneapolis
THIS LEG: Tacos and Cemitas on East Lake Street
NEXT LEG: From East Lake Street to University Avenue