You’ve got your Mexican food of all sorts and regional variations. You’ve got your Tex-Mex, a legitimate cross-border cuisine in its own right. And then you’ve got what we’ll call here “Fun Mex.”
Fun Mex is big and generous like a party. Fun Mex is laid-back and unself-conscious. Fun Mex doesn’t care a whit about being an authentic part of the other Mex traditions. Fun Mex probably involves a super-long plastic menu and definitely goes really well with a margarita.
Lago Tacos is everything that’s great about Fun Mex cuisine.
Lago Tacos opened its first location in Excelsior, just a block off Lake Minnetonka, about a year and a half ago. The second opened at the beginning of June in the former Heidi’s space in Lyn-Lake. The new location brings that beach-esque, staycation vibe to the heart of the city with a large central bar that juts out into the outside patio, letting the breeze and the bar crowd flow more easily. It’s as close to a Key West indoor-outdoor bar as you could possibly get in a low, dark building in Uptown.
It’s easy to imagine the 150-plus tables filling up on a long summer evening, parties at high-tops keeping the appetizers and the margaritas coming. The apps are all a little overachieving: individually topped chicken nachos ($10), each crowned with a ring of peppers and held together with cheese; meticulously layered stuffed jalapenos ($8, above); slices of creamy batter-fried avocado ($7) lined up as if for royal inspection — and each of them paired with a different house-made sauce. It’s as if, in this laid-back Fun Mex atmosphere, everyone can relax except the kitchen.
While our server praised the salads, we had come for the tacos. Sixteen kinds of tacos ($9–16), many of them unrepentant interlopers in the land of Mexican flavors. Tacos al pastor, carnitas, steak, shrimp — those are classics. Walleye (above), tuna, mahi mahi — so far, so familiar. Lobster, sesame chicken, batter-fried portabella, BLT — hold on. How does that work? For the most part, pretty well.
Taco purists should just keep on walking by. These are not the simple four-bite caramelos from Sonora Grill or a cheap, on-the-go lunch from a Lake Street food truck. These monsters come three to a plate — entirely impossible to finish, especially after fried avocado and peppers — served on doubled-up (but untoasted) La Perla corn tortillas. (We can pause here to reflect on the local treasure that is La Perla. Choosing them is a clear sign that Lago wanted to ditch tradition, but not quality.) The filling comes up to the rims of the tortillas in neat half-moons, with at least a half dozen flavors in every bite.
There were skeptics at our table who remained unconvinced about the really fusiony fusion tacos — the Sesame Chicken Tacos (above) are like a plate of American Chinese takeout scooped into a tortilla — while others replied, “Hey, more for me, then.” The portabella mushrooms — delicately batter-fried — were a surprise favorite, helped immensely by a fresh and kicky black bean salsa. We’d come back for the walleye (more of that delicious salsa) and the chicken tinga, as well.
Heat-seekers will find little to challenge them at Lago. The Monster Burritos ($9–13) come lacquered in a house-made hot sauce. Our server’s warnings were so dire that we ordered the sauce on the side. (Had she seen more than a few sent back as “too hot”? Probably.) But on the heat scale, it registered just about at “pleasantly tingly,” and the massive bundle of carbs on our plate really could have used a little kick.
Fun Mex cuisine could easily slide down that slippery slope into “Ole! Fiesta!” territory, relying on big, kitschy gestures and cringe-inducing decor. But it doesn’t have to. Without a single sombrero or pinata in sight, Lago Tacos is fun, flavorful, and authentically inauthentic.
Tacos in Excelsior and Uptown
30 Water St
Excelsior, MN 55331
Breakfast Sat–Sun only, 9am–11:30am
2901 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Breakfast Sat–Sun only, 10am–2pm
ENTREE RANGE: $9–16
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited