PHOTOS BY BECCA DILLEY / HEAVY TABLE
You won’t find any references to Moodie Black on MB Foodhouse’s website, but the ethos of the noise rap group is woven throughout the restaurant’s identity.
At the center of both is Kristen Martinez, an El Paso transplant who relocated to the Twin Cities first in 2008 and again in 2016. Martinez is well known as the growling front person and lyricist of Moodie Black, progenitors of noise rap whose concussive style predates peers like Dälek, Clipping, and Death Grips. But over the past few years, she’s been building Moodie Black into a lifestyle.
It started in 2016 with the Moodhouse Podcast, a show Martinez uses to discuss the realities of being a trans femme in the hip-hop industry. Moodhouse became a forum for frank discussions about inclusion and, acutely, where inclusion fails. Martinez founded Moodhouse Fest in 2019 to create a radically diverse and welcoming space for fellow artists along the margins. She opened the all-day noise festival by catering a breakfast taco buffet for VIP guests.
“With music, we’re being respectful and honoring the culture of music,” Martinez says. “I’m so passionate about maintaining morals within it, like, you should work hard and do your own thing and like be true to like the masters that came before you, and you give back to the community.”
Martinez grew up cooking with her Mexican grandmother, a passion that was relegated to a hobby as Moodie Black transformed into a worldwide touring group. Martinez and her bandmate Sean Lindahl were ready to tour their latest album Fuzz last March. But when the pandemic dashed those plans, Martinez saw an opportunity to build that Moodhouse morning roundup into an economic engine for her larger vision.
“I wanted to find something else to sustain us when we’re not touring,” she says. “Something to call my own and be able to make money off of if it’s not through music, which is becoming harder and harder to do.”
For nearly a year, Martinez and Lindahl ran Tex Mex popups around Minneapolis, ebbing with the city’s pandemic closures, sometimes running them out of their house. For a while, they caught on with Terminal Bar before Martinez met the Five Watt Coffee co-owner Caleb Garn. She pitched an idea to do a breakfast taco popup, and Garn offered the annex space at the Lyndale location. A popup turned into a long-term rental, funded by support from Moodie Black fans. After a couple weekends of soft opens, MB Foodhouse opened on March 4.
A TEXAS TRADITION
Growing up in a Texas border town, Martinez’s experience of Mexican food was Americanized and extremely casual. Despite eating her way through the taco-rich landscape of Minneapolis, she never found that same flavor from her youth. Tours through the Southwest with Moodie Black were just reminders of what she was missing—the hatch peppers of New Mexico, the blistered texture of hand-made flour tortillas, waking up with coffee and tomatillos.
MB Foodhouse’s specialty is Tex Mex breakfast, an El Paso tradition translated to a small counter in Lyndale. The tacos are served griddled and flat, not curled into a tube like you might get on Lake Street. Martinez makes all the tortillas herself. They’re rigid, lightly dusted with flour and thick as a coaster. They’re stuffed with shameless hangover cures. The Dinkytowner ($4) comes with bacon and gobs of cheese. The Weenie ‘n’ Egg ($4) is full of cut-up hotdog and scrambled eggs.
“I figured that that was a piece that’s always been missing in Minneapolis,” Martinez says. “Taco Cat was it for a little bit, and now that they’re gone, that was another reason to be like, ‘Well, we need an edgier taco spot in the cities.’ I don’t think there’s anybody better that could bring that like to the Cities than us.”
Martinez met Garn during her many stops at Five Watt’s Northeast location, where the two connected over their shared interest in music production. When Martinez pitched the initial popup over email, they drafted a plan to host it in Northeast, with the full kitchen. But the second COVID shutdowns dashed that plan. Five Watt had been working on a dive bar concept for the Lyndale annex, but when they moved on from that plan, Garn saw an opportunity to work with Martinez on a longer-term arrangement.
“You can’t manufacture passion,” Garn says. “It became very evident to me that Kristen had a clear passion. If you’re going to live through the pain of doing that you clearly have passion to do it.”
Martinez’s presence in the Twin Cities has always been a disruption. She’s outspoken and has incredibly high standards. Her approach to music is obsessive craftsmanship, but with a latchkey kid’s imagination. Martinez isn’t a Michelin-rated chef. She learned to cook in her own kitchen and the taco trucks of Los Angeles. After a year running popups, studying the industry, and prep cooking at Italian Eatery, she’s entering the local food scene with a humble, principled intent to help it grow.
As a mixed race transgender person, Martinez has not always felt welcomed in traditional taquerias. She built MB Foodhouse as a counter to that, a welcoming, queer-friendly space that resets the paradigm she grew up with.
“It’s intimidating as a trans person to go into a taqueria or a barbecue joint, and so I think we have a responsibility,” she says. “We could be a really cool place for people to have that experience without having to have any of that, that element of danger or like, judgment on them.”
MB Foodhouse is working with limited equipment in the Five Watt space. All the ingredients are par cooked at Gray Dots, a commissary kitchen in North, and Martinez and Lindahl prepare and finish the food on a small flat top. If the first year goes well, she’ll be expanding beyond tacos and chilaquiles into barbecue staples like chicken wings and rib tips. That side of her identity, the side that grew up eating soul food at backyard cookouts, isn’t quite reflected in MB Foodhouse. But it’s a growing canon.
MB Foodhouse feels apart from the full Moodie Black aesthetic, which is maybe why the band’s name doesn’t appear on the site. Aside from the snarling six-eyed logo plastered to the wall, it’s a pleasant space that’s built to kickstart your day with protein and cheese. But if all goes well, the edge will sharpen as they grow.
“I hate how bright it is,” Martinez says. “I want it to be like a darker, brooding place. I want to have the most brooding tacos in town.”
MB Foodhouse, 3346 Lyndale Ave S, Thurs-Sun 8 am-2 pm, 612-217-0735