Is there such a thing as gastronomic whiplash? If so, we’re pretty sure we experienced it this outing. Within a span of a few hours we went from fish tacos to goat meat to mu shu pork to asada quesadillas to pineapple pastries. You might think by the end, we’d be begging for mercy. And to some extent we were. Yet, as we’ve learned before, our body’s ability to consume food doesn’t adhere to a strict rule book. Which may be why, after a long night of stuffing food in our faces, we still found ourselves shoveling forkful after forkful of chocolate flan cake down our gullets. So much for moderation (and modesty). — M.C. Cronin
This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Ben Hajkal, James Norton
OTHER EAST LAKE STREET CHECKLIST INSTALLMENTS: Lake Plaza, Gorditas el Gordo to Pineda Tacos, Taqueria Victor Hugo to Safari Restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi to The Rabbit Hole, Midtown Global Market, Miramar to San Miguel Bakery, Mercado Central, Ingebretsen’s to Pasteleria Gama, La Alborada to Quruxlow, Midori’s Floating World to El Nuevo Rodeo, Urban Forage to Himalayan, Blue Moon Coffee Cafe to Merlin’s Rest, Hi Lo Diner to The Bungalow Club
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
The East Lake Checklist is the third Heavy Table illustrated travelogue to explore a major gastronomic thoroughfare in Minneapolis and/or St. Paul. The East Lake Checklist is the Heavy Table’s follow-up to our 55-restaurant survey of independent eateries on Central Avenue and our 72-restaurant series about restaurants on the Green Line. We’ll publish five-restaurant installments biweekly until we’ve documented every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 75 spots, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
This series is made possible by underwriting from Visit Lake Street. Heavy Table retains editorial control of the series — as with Central Avenue and the Green Line, this tour will be warts-and-all.
“From the river to the lakes, visitors and residents can shop local and be social on Lake Street. More information at VisitLakeStreet.com.”
El Nuevo Miramar
501 E Lake St, Minneapolis
You have to hand it to El Nuevo Miramar. For a new restaurant and bar, they went big.
The space is big. It’s on a corner with two-story-high ceilings surrounded by windows. A staircase at the end of the room rises to a loft area. One wall is painted to look like a stage, complete with red velvet curtains. It appeared as though they could move a few tables and convert the place into a performance hall in a matter of minutes, though our server told us they use the space mostly for karaoke at the moment.
The lighting is big. There are large chandeliers. There’s LED accent lighting running length of the bar and along a row of high top booths. There are industrial-strength fluorescent fixtures. There’s a professional stage-lighting rig that wasn’t turned on the night we visited, thankfully. Even without the stage lights, the place was bright enough to see from space.
The food is big, too. A group of people near us shared some kind of seafood platter, featuring crab legs, that stretched out across the table. Two gentlemen next to us had giant glass goblets filled with a chilled shrimp cocktail concoction. As for the size of our tacos, well, they could’ve been carried to the table by forklift. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Our waitress at Miramar steered us with confidence to two sorts of seafood tacos, and we complied; after all, she seemed fairly sure of herself and Miramar translates to “sea view,” so what could go wrong?
Thus we found ourselves confronted by two massive metal tri-folds, each stuffed with three tacos filled with fish (above) or shrimp ($14 per trio, including a plate of refried beans and rice). Four dollars a taco is a lot by Lake Street standards, but these things were, it should be said, fairly huge.
All six tacos were, we agreed, just fine, but they suffered from sins of excess — too many large slices of raw onion (we picked them out after our first few bites), and (surprisingly) too much guacamole. The guac was of adequate commercial quality, but it smothered the tacos’ contents: reasonably tender pieces of shrimp and slightly over-fried pieces of nondescript fish, respectively.
Our Agua de Jamaica lacked the astringent bite that distinguishes the beverage, and our Horchata was fine, except for a chalky finish. — James Norton
3021 5th Ave S, Minneapolis
The African restaurant Kilimanjaro is tucked about a half-block off Lake Street in a stand-alone brick building. Undeterred by the door at the front of the building with a No Trespassing sign and a mailbox slot covered in duct tape, we located the main entrance around the side.
Upon entering, we found ourselves standing in an empty restaurant. There were no patrons seated. There was no host to greet us, no sound coming from the kitchen, no ambient music playing. A TV on the wall played a silent soccer game to no one. For a few worrisome moments we felt like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Eventually, though, our server appeared and seated us.
Inside, the place put on a surprisingly good show. It was comfortable and warm, with wooden floors and art adorning the walls. The lighting, thankfully, was calmingly dim. Adjoining the main room were two decently sized rooms divided by dark drapes. If you filled this place with people (which our server assured us is the case on the weekends), you’d really have a pleasant ambiance. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Our Sport Plate for Two ($27) at Kilimanjaro compared well (not favorably, but well) to the version we enjoyed so much at Ibrahim Restaurant.
It seems an odd place to start a description, but the spaghetti half of our rice-and-spaghetti serving was superb. Perfectly al dente and coated in a thin but lovely sheen of tomato sauce, it was soft-spoken enough to complement the remainder of the meal without shouting it down.
The plate came with a generous scattering of meats, including thin, tender, well-charred pieces of beef, a moist and tasty filet of fish, and adequate (if a bit sinewy) chunks of goat. For the money we paid, our plate was a serious bounty of food. And yes, it also came with a bunch of bananas. — J.N.
1540 E Lake St, Minneapolis
What can you say about this place? It’s a Chinese joint geared toward takeout. Obviously, takeout places aren’t generally great for hanging out, and Star Dragon doesn’t break the pattern. The menu consists of a grid of backlit, sun-faded pictures sprawling the length of the front counter.
There are a few tables here if the mood to settle in and eat really strikes you. Just be aware that the only difference between eating in and ordering to-go is that they hand you your eat-in containers on a tray versus handing them over in a bag. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Not particularly encouraged by the sun-faded menu photographs hanging above the restaurant’s counter we tried only a couple of dishes at Star Dragon: Mu Shu Pork ($7.45) and Fried Dumplings ($5). The former had a distinctly soggy texture and a bit of unpleasantly funky aftertaste; the latter was almost completely devoid of flavor. — J.N.
1617 E Lake St, Minneapolis
Will the supply of wonderful Mexican street food on East Lake Street never cease? Let’s hope not. This gem is half mercado, half taqueria. The mercado is quaint, with a small carniceria and a few aisles of grocery items.
On the taqueria side, laminate booths are crammed along one wall, with the order counter and kitchen running opposite. There’s a charming mural depicting a Mexican village and a gondola procession painted above the booths. Everything is packed in and well used here. But in a cozy, comfortable way.
Through the deli glass we ogled steaming metal containers filled with mouthwatering spiced meats and beans and sauces. The tortillas for our order were hand-pressed and grilled on the spot.
The guy behind the counter appeared unsure when we asked him his favorite menu item. It didn’t appear that he was being cagey. It seemed as though he genuinely found it difficult to choose a favorite. And after trying the food, we understood why. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
We sampled a total of five dishes at La Poblanita. One was fine and the rest were excellent. On a street distinguished by great Mexican cuisine, La Poblanita shines with its own distinctive radiance.
We’re up to our eighth or ninth horchata on Lake Street at this point, so we’re really starting to develop some firm opinions about the stuff. La Poblanita’s version ($3.50) was joyously ricey, not at all chalky, barely kissed with cinnamon, and sweet but not overly so. It’s the best we’ve had yet.
Our Carne Asada Taco ($2, center) was just fine, but it paled beside its neighbors. With its pebbly, citrus-infused meat, the Taco Al Pastor ($2, left) is the first we’ve come across that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the glorious version sold at La Hacienda.
Our Chorizo Taco ($2, right) was equally enjoyable, with the meat offering a pleasant amount of spicy heat and a fattiness that contributed immensely to the flavor and texture of the taco.
Like Don Chilo, La Poblanita believes in making its own tortillas for its quesadillas, and the results are similarly enjoyable. The tortilla was chewy and full-flavored, complemented by the steakily full-flavored chunks of asada and the tender, fresh-tasting cheese (of which there was plenty, but not too much). Excellent in many ways, La Poblanita put smiles on our faces and made us vow to make return visits to taste our way through more of the menu. — J.N.
Panaderia San Miguel
1623 E Lake St, Minneapolis
Panaderia San Miguel occupies a large corner space that provides ample room to wander around with your tongs and your silver platter, hunting through the banks of bakery cases and rolling racks for that perfect pastry (or perhaps that perfect two dozen pastries). The fairly basic decor and brightly lit bakery cases work in perfect harmony to allow the pastries to take center stage.
It did not go unnoticed that above the front door there was a painting of Saint Michael the archangel floating in a fluffy cluster of clouds, hoisting an enormous slab of cake triumphantly over his head. Clearly, cake is their thing. So when we discovered the cut slices of chocolate flan cake, we had to make it happen. It was preordained. — M.C.
*** FOOD NOTES ***
Our longtime Panaderia losing streak has finally ended with the baked goods of Panaderia San Miguel. Everything we tried at this bakery had something to recommend it.
Our slice of flan cake ($3) was a fascinating two-for-one dessert that parked a substantial serving of flan atop an immensely moist, dense piece of cake. We estimate that the whole assemblage weighed about four pounds, and we couldn’t stop WACSO or Cronin from tucking into it repeatedly.
The lovely, snowball-like object we obtained (a mere $$1.50) packed a pleasant layer of chocolate to offset its roll-like breadiness, and the one-two punch of pure carbs and pleasant chocolate was effective.
And finally, the pineapple filling of our croissantlike dessert ($1) was powerful and punchy, with a great deal of citrus and just the right amount of sugar. — J.N.