Photos by Becca Dilley (except Hayat photos, which are James Norton) / Illustrations by WACSO
It can sometimes be hard to see it when you pass by barricades surrounding the rubble of demolished buildings, but hope has managed to find a way to survive on East Lake Street. It’s in an empty lot where a youth garden for BIPOC teens has blossomed and where a volunteer stands handing out free produce to passers-by. It’s in the vibrant art and messages of support painted on plywood covered windows and doors of business up and down East Lake. Honestly, in contrast to the sometimes bleak outward appearances, the aftermath has—in some ways at least—has revealed the best that Minneapolis has to offer: a strong community of all kinds of people coming together to support one another in hard times. — M.C. Cronin
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.”
The sheer variety of East Lake Street’s community was on full display for this particular tour. La Michoacana – sleek, modern, colorful, overwhelming in its polish and offerings – was in stark contrast to the rustic, mobile simplicity of Tacos el Michoacano (no relation.) Both were nothing at all like the Somali spots that we dined at (Hayat, and Hufan), and neither of those was like the other, with Hayat offering family-focused, informal dining and Hufan offering something like a chain restaurant approach to traditional
East African food. And Logan’s was nothing like any of the others – it’s a one-off burger joint attached to a laundromat. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I write that we ate very well indeed. – James Norton
This week’s Checklist Crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, Becca Dilley, James Norton, Josiah Norton.
ABOUT THIS PROJECT
East Lake Checklist Revisited is an illustrated travelogue dedicated to documenting the changes on this major Minneapolis artery after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the damage done in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
We’ll publish four- or five-restaurant installments monthly until we’ve revisited or explored every nonchain spot on East Lake Street between 35W and the Mississippi River. (We’re estimating 20 new spots since our original tour in 2018, but we’ll see how it shakes out.)
La Michoacana Purepecha
701 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
A guy leaving the store—we’re fairly certain he was the owner—notices us taking photos of the sign and chats us up. Before walking away, he suggests a particular flavor of popsicle to try. We take a mental note then come face-to-face with a dizzying array of brightly-colored housemade popsicles stacked up like tasty Lego bricks in the freezer. And of course, we immediately forget his suggestion. Was it guanábana or guayaba? We’re still not sure. Whatever it was, based on our experience, it was probably great.
The space is, well, spacious. The service counter, clad in oversized images of sweet and savory treats, runs along the front windows and extends almost the entire length of the store. Large posters and regional maps highlight the rich cultural heritage of the Michoacán state in Mexico. The store name honors the indigenous Purépecha people and the mission on their website makes it clear this small business cares deeply about supporting all indigenous communities.
A large stack of mint green metal chairs and tables in one corner of the space tell the story of a normally bustling business making room for social distancing. There’s an outside window for walk up orders that was closed while we were there. Perhaps COVID related, perhaps a seasonal thing.
Either way, we can imagine (and look forward to seeing) long lines of smiling people anticipating a cool treat on a hot summer day. — M.C.
This newly built-out Mexican ice cream parlor contains a wondrous array of treats, mostly in the form of paletas (housemade popsicles) but also ice cream by the scoop and sundae, and a variety of tostilocos (corn chips jumbled up in their original bag along with a variety of savory, flavorful ingredients).
We grabbed three paletas, at $2.57 each except for the Fresa Con Crema (strawberry paleta) which clocked in at $3.10. The Piña Con Chile (above) was balanced to the point of being almost savory, with a ton of natural pineapple flavor in tension with an earthy, mildly spicy chile powder. The Guayaba offered up deep, tropical sweetness and a textural surprise in the form of surprisingly crunchy seeds. And the Fresa Con Crema was an absolute delight, the light, clean, dreamy dairy supporting the delicate flavor of sliced strawberries.
We managed to order a bag of chips-peanuts-and-more Tostilocos ($4.70) by pointing at a photo mural on the wall, as the restaurant’s electronic menu was out of order. “The green one?” our cashier asked, and we nodded vigorously in affirmation, without knowing what the green one in particular had to offer.
It turns out that the green one was markedly different from the dorilocos we enjoyed at La Michoacana’s Lake Plaza (now Plaze Mexico) location during our first outing to East Lake Street in 2017.
Those dorilocos were laced with mango, pineapple, and pickled pig skin and drenched in hot sauce and sour chamoy – the overstuffed bag concealed a flavor explosion.
By contrast, these tostilocos were sauced in a mild fashion but offered so much (and so many varieties of) crunch that they’re legitimately one of our favorite food textures of 2020. Strategic use of chopped cucumber introduced yet more texture and a pleasant cooling flavor to the mix. — J.N.
Tacos el Michoacano
400 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
Passing by a nondescript alley in the shadow of the North Star Mini Storage building, we almost miss it. Had we been driving by, rather than walking, we might not have noticed it at all. Unlike so many of the food trucks we’ve come to know of late—all dressed up with colorful, attention-grabbing graphics—this one is little more than a rustic, wood-sided trailer. A pseudo log cabin on wheels. There’s even a welcoming step-up front porch and a couple of bar stools straddling the front counter.
In chatting with the owner, we found out they’ve been operating here on weekends for eight years. Between the cheerfulness of the owner and staff, the tasty tacos, and the cozy feel of the trailer itself, there’s a charm here than you might not expect to find in an alley. Or maybe we’re just not hanging around in the right alleys. — M.C.
No relationship to La Michoacana (we asked), Tacos El Michoacano is a simple no-frills truck with a serious al pastor rig that pops up on Lake Street Fridays through Sunday. Tacos are $2.50 each (cash only), prepared remarkably quickly to order, and as legit as they come.
Our Lengua tacos were rich almost to the point of creaminess and mildly seasoned, coming on strong and then fading with each bite. A little lime juice and salsa rendered them thoroughly delicious.
The Asada tacos that we ordered were just terrific, their success owing to deep seasoning, tender meat, and a significant grilltop-kissed char that added significant texture and flavor.
See also our Tacos al Pastor, which were similarly grilled and brought together a little pineapple sweetness with the savory depth of pork and the smokey charm of the flattop.
If you manage to spot this little truck at its perch next to North Star Mini Storage, swoop in and have yourself a feast. — J.N.
1202 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
The plywood-covered front door is a grim reminder of the recent turmoil suffered by businesses on East Lake Street. But push beyond the plywood and you’ll find a quiet but active restaurant and a heartening testament to the resilience of these small business owners (and their loyal patrons) who just keep plugging away.
Though this is a new establishment, the space is relatively unchanged from when we visited on our first go-round with the checklist. It’s almost utilitarian in design. There are no frills (like menus, or decor) to distract you from the task at hand. Sit, order, eat, pay, move on with your day. It’s a simple premise.
the moment we realized we ordered way too much food … again.
If you decide you need entertainment, there are two flat-screen televisions on either side of the front door tuned to 24-hour news (at mercifully low volume). There are even booths running along both sides of the room giving you a choice of which flavor of news you’d prefer to ignore: CNN or Fox News. Not intending to make any political statement in particular, we chose the table in the center of the room. — M.C.
Hayat, like Ibrahim before it and other East African restaurants we’ve eaten at in the past, had no menu; its verbal equivalent is a friendly guy coming up to your table and asking: “So, what do you want to eat?”
We got the Hayat Platter with chicken steak (thin, breaded chicken cutlets), which came with nicely cooked rice, properly cooked red beans, a gomen wat-like stewed spinach side, and chewy, freshly made roti. The chicken itself was tender and mild, with a distinct and pleasant aftertaste of vinegar. Auspiciously, the plate also came with a little plastic container of green sauce much like the sauce we enjoyed so much at Ibrahim. While its delicately herbal-to-nuclear hot transition was faster than Ibrahim’s sauce, it offered the same sort of pleasant Jekyll and Hyde evolution that we’d come to love.
Our Goat lacked any of the aggressively goaty flavor that we’ve come to fear from incorrectly served versions of the dish, but it was not well rendered and offered as much fight as you’d expect from its living relatives.
The surprise star of the meal was our Philly Steak Sandwich. No cheese on this guy – instead a delightful crispy-soft roll contained bits of beef and vinegar-dressed tomatoes and lettuce in an ideal balance of flavors and texture. Dump a little of that green sauce on, and you’re eating one of the tastiest sandwiches in the state.
As for price: the whole meal, including bottled waters for the table, came to a mysteriously calculated $42, which felt like a fair (if non-transparently tabulated) price. — J.N.
1304 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
“Locations around the world since 1961” touts a poster by the front door.
But looking closer, we don’t find any outposts in Europe or Australia or Asia or really anywhere beyond six locations in East Africa and the one we’re standing in right here on East Lake Street. Minneapolis. So perhaps not a global conglomerate, but global nonetheless. Which—to our knowledge—earns Hufan the honor of being the first worldwide chain we’ve visited on any of these checklists. In your face, Subway.
To its credit (er…maybe discredit), Hufan does offer some of the trappings of those chains. The menu is displayed prominently above the order counter alongside big color pictures of some of the food items. There are even pictures of more accessible items like hamburgers and chicken wings, perhaps as a way to reach out to any customers not quite ready to stretch their culinary experience to camel liver. (The strategy is working by the way. At least one patron came in to pick up a hamburger and chicken wing takeout order while we waited.) — M.C.
In contrast to old-school Hayat, Hufan has made a studious attempt to broaden its appeal beyond friends and family. Its menu is prominent and easy to read, there are designated ordering and take-out pickup windows behind the COVID-19 plexiglass shield protecting the kitchen area, and service was friendly and reasonably efficient.
The food we ordered rolled out as it was prepared, meaning that we started our meal with Somali Tea ($1.69), Coconut Rolls ($1.39) and Sambusas ($2). The Somali tea and coconut rolls were immediate best friends. The buns (which resembled classic Parker House rolls in size and yeasty, light consistency) offered a delightful kick of sweetened coconut, but were sufficiently dry and restrained that chasing them with a mouthful of exceedingly sweet hot tea was a perfect one-two punch. The Sambusas could have been a little crispier, but their ground meat filling packed a remarkable amount of heat and flavor, and their chewy exterior was a tasty treat.
We tried to order camel, but the restaurant was either out of stock or unwilling to vend it to a group of camel newbies who might not go for its bold flavor or sometimes-chewy texture. Instead we got Goat ($18), which we quite liked. In contrast to Hayat’s under-rendered specimen, the Hufan goat was nicely braised, well crisped on the exterior, and pieces of meat peeled away tenderly from the bone. The accompanying rice was cooked to perfection and richly flavorful.
And a small order of catfish ($8) was a treat. While the fish lacked the soulful earthiness we associate with legit catfish, the breading was exceedingly thin and truly crispy, and the accompanying tartar and Crystal hot sauces gave it all the flavor and richness it needed. — J.N.
Logan’s Burgers and Chicken
1405 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
“What should we get,” we ask.
The owner smiles. “Well, there’s only two things on the menu.”
Yep. Burgers or chicken. We try not to overthink it.
True, you can also purchase laundry detergent and fabric softener here. But that’s just smart business. After all, the owner runs the laundromat next door. And people run out of Tide. And those same people might just get hungry while waiting for their socks and undies to dry. Boom. Business plan.
But we digress.
Thank you, Logan’s for not trying to be everything to everyone. For focusing on a few items and doing them well. For bringing back the simplicity, the friendly service and the non-problematic, pickle-topped chicken sandwich the world desperately needs right now. — M.C.
Our expectations for a burger place attached to a laundromat were, shall we say, limited.
But like so many other restaurants we’ve tried on East Lake Street, Logan’s surprised the living daylights out of us. The room was impeccably clean, the menu simple and prominently displayed, and the food an out-of-this-world value.
For $4.50, the smashburger-style Double Burger was among the best we’ve tried locally. Nothing fancy here: just two properly grilled patties (smashed while you watch), fresh-tasting lettuce and tomatoes in perfect proportion, and a classic burger bun. Its neat simplicity and by-the-books flavors were a recipe for total happiness.
Equally no frills and equally good was the Original Chicken Sandwich ($4), little more than a thin piece of fried chicken on a bun with a little pickle and mayo, plus creamy and creamy-hot sauces on the side. The chicken was tender, the exterior was crispy, and the sauces were ideal for their assigned job, making for a sandwich that we wolfed down with gusto even after four previous dining excursions.
There isn’t much to say about the Handcut Fries ($2.50) other than, yeah, they seemed hand cut and were fried perfectly. Classic in every way, and the equal to the reliably good fries at Five Guys, a chain that’s built its reputation on first-rate product. Likewise, the Oreo Milkshake ($3.69) was a tasty, straight-down-the-middle interpretation of a shake, not terribly thick, dairy-forward (as opposed to straight sugar), and garnished with crispy, freshly crumbled cookies. — J.N.