Sonora Grill in Midtown Global Market

Sonora Grill in the Midtown Global Market

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Among the three of them, Conrado Paredes (above left), Alejandro Castillon (above right), and Fernando Arnanda (above middle) have ten years of restaurant experience. Alejandro Castillon is responsible for all ten of them.

Castillon says of the other two, “I’ve been training them. They’re working out pretty well.” He must be as talented a teacher as he is a chef, because in the few short weeks Sonora Grill has been open in the Midtown Global Market, the trio have been turning out some remarkably good food.

Paredes and Castillon, old college friends who met 14 years ago in the Mexican state of Sonora, are co-owners. Arnanda, Castillon’s cousin, pitches in. For the moment they make the up the entire staff of the tiny open-kitchen restaurant. They’re on the job seven days a week from 7:30 a.m. until after closing up at 8 p.m. Part of that punishing schedule comes from being a new restaurant. But it also comes down to Castillon’s commitment to scratch-made food.

While some chefs are content to stir some herbs into store-bought mayonnaise and call it aioli, Castillon starts with, as he puts it, “the egg.” All the salsas and marinades are made right in the kitchen, from fresh vegetables. The French fries are cut fresh every day. And the three make the turkey chorizo and hot dogs from scratch. Only the corn tortillas and sandwich buns are purchased, and the buns don’t travel far: the Salty Tart bakery, just across the market, makes them fresh.

“I’ve worked in very good restaurants,” Castillon says. “I didn’t train with stuff from cans.”

Sonora Grill in the Midtown Global Market

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Very good restaurants, indeed. Castillon started in the kitchen at the Parkview Café in St. Paul, but was quickly snatched up by Solera, where he learned about Spanish cuisine. From there he moved to Barrio Tequila Bar, and then followed chef Erik Sather when he went to Bar La Grassa. That’s ten years of experience in some of the Twin Cities best kitchens.

The Spanish and Latin American influence of Solera and Barrio shows in Sonora Grill’s menu, which Paredes describes as a kind of fusion. “No item is from a particular country,” he says. “The chimichurri is from Argentina and we serve it with a Peruvian rice, cooked in a little coconut milk. It comes with beans cooked with guajillo peppers and Chihuahua cheese.”

Two of the most popular items so far are bocadillos ($7.90), sandwiches served with heaps of thick-cut fries, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. The sleeper hit is the lightly fried eggplant bocadillo with chimichurri aioli. It proved so popular that the team quickly added eggplant fries ­– thick with a crispy batter coating — to the menu.

The Pork Guajillo Bocadillo (pictured above) is also popular. Castillon uses a mix of dried ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers in the marinade, giving it a deep smoky flavor, and then cooks it low and slow — for as much as six hours — until it’s fork tender. (“That’s nothing!” he says. “The tongue I cook for 12 hours.”)

Four types of skewered meat, known as pinchos ($8.50), are offered, including the same marinaded pork, shrimp in a red tempura batter, chicken with a Mexican mojo verde sauce, and a beef with chimichurri sauce rivals the slow-cooked pork in tenderness. A forkful of beef, smoky beans, and lightly sweet rice is as lovely a bite as you’ll find at any Latin American restaurant in the Twin Cities right now.

The tacos on the menu, served on small corn tortillas, are called caramelos ($2.50) because, as Paredes explains, “Where we’re from, if you ask for a caramelo instead of a taco, the cook already knows that you want cheese.” The perfect three- or four-bite snacks come with pork, skirt steak, chicken, tempura shrimp, or that 12-hour tongue. Castillon takes as much care with the accompaniments as he does with the meat, whether it’s perfectly sautéed onions, sweet pickled red onion, or silky smooth cilantro aioli.

Sonora Grill in the Midtown Global Market

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Even the salads aren’t throwaways: The tender, heavily spiced, and perfectly cooked tilapia tops a bed of truly fresh greens tossed with sweet pickled onions. And the housemade hot dog (above) — which could be just any old hot dog in a bun and still attract plenty of lunchtime business — is sliced carefully down the middle and each side is wrapped in a slice of bacon. Chopped tomatoes and chimichurri sauce make the perfect cooling accompaniment.

In his ten years in professional kitchens, Castillon has learned not only how to make great food, but how risky the business can be. Isn’t this a tough time to be opening a new restaurant? Castillon shrugs off the idea. “There’s always business for the good stuff,” he says. “I want people to eat fresh, good food. You’ll always have business when you have food like that.”

Sonora Grill
Latin American restaurant in Midtown Global Market

920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407
612.871.1900
OWNERS / CHEF: Alejandro Castillon and Conrado Paredes / Alejandro Castillon
HOURS:
Mon-Sat 10am-8pm
Sun 11am-6pm
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?:
No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN:
Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE:
 $7.50-$8.50

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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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16 Comments

  1. David Foureyes08/25/2011Reply

    I was fortunate enough to work with “Sexi Mexi” Alejandro at Bar LaGrassa, and can tell you that dude has high standards and a great palate. I cannot wait to try this.

  2. I feel (happily) obliged to get over there now.

  3. Dawn Alexander08/25/2011Reply

    I’ve been there more times this week than I’d like to admit. I absolutely LOVE their food! My fiance is not a fan of elote, but when he tried my order I had to pull it from his hands. Sonora Grill has put together a great menu with the freshest flavors, delicious aiolis and tender cuts of meat. Keep the great food coming.

  4. Thanks so much for posting this – I went this weekend after reading this post, and it was AMAZING. I had the pork bocadillo sandwich, and everything was phenomenal. Literally the best thing I have eaten at the Midtown Global Market.

  5. morchella08/30/2011Reply

    Was at MGM yesterday to pick up some dinner supplies and since i had seen this review thought I’d have a salmon tostada for a little snack. Holy mackerel! A crispy tostada, lettuce, arugula, sauce (aioli), and moist baked salmon pieces with a squige of fresh lime- just so flavorful and executed perfectly. And it was less than $3. I’m not even kidding.

  6. I went for the second time today and I can confirm my first impressions and this review: these guys have got a delicious and wonderful thing going. You can order the bocadillos without the fresh-cut fries—sad but then you have room to eat the elote. I know things have been up-and-down at MGM, but I really hope Sonora gets the attention it deserves.

  7. Dropped by there for a Sonora Dog OMG what a treat!

  8. Chris sain10/06/2011Reply

    Best damn taco I have ever had , keep up the great work guys!

  9. great review! these guys are great! I have been there twice now and b/c the tongue tacos are so good (slow cooked for hours and hours!).. I keep ordering them! I need to try something else next time.

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