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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Street food from the hot zones in Uptown
2916 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole / Tuan Nguyen
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED: Yes / Yes for Thursday-Saturday nights
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-34