There’s something about the word “chimichanga” that invites a diner to disregard it as a serious choice. Scratch that: there are several things. It seems festive to the point of being absurd. Just trying yelling it after you’ve had several margaritas — it sounds perfectly natural, if slightly unhinged. It’s (fairly or not) associated with often-terrible “fun Mex” dining. And despite semi-deep roots (some trace it back to Mexican immigrants to the southwest 70 years ago) it feels “inauthentic,” a far cry from mole and elote and tacos al pastor.
In fact, while chimichangas are often a deep-fried crime against gastronomy, they can be done beautifully. Case in point: the newly opened Saguaro restaurant on Lyndale Avenue. Saguaro’s chimichanga ($13) was lightly fried and crisp but not greasy. Its mix of beans, rice and meat (in our case pork) hit a golden ratio that made for substantial dining without any one filling overwhelming the others. Its poblano-cheese layer was comfortingly present but not a gooey pool of salty dreck. In short, this is a chimichanga worth traveling for. And the portion is large enough so that you’re likely to have half a chimichanga for lunch the next day.
Much of the rest of Saguaro was to our liking as well. With its short menu, reasonable price points, geographically specific name (in this case: the native habitat of the iconic saguaro cactus), and iron-branded wooden details (such as a tortilla chip holder), the concept feels like a riff on East Lake’s Sonora Grill. The sophistication of the concept is unsurprising; the restaurant’s owners also run the well-polished My Burger chain and the Nicollet Island Inn.
The Saguaro tacos we tried were flawed, but not dramatically so. The tortilla surrounding the Fried Chicken Taco ($4.50) felt redundant, given the chicken’s fried exterior, and the mole tasted a bit like the oyster sauce at a mid-range Chinese restaurant. The chicken itself was reasonably tender and tasty, but its accoutrements seemed unnecessary.
The “home” in the restaurant’s Homestyle Tacos ($5; featuring ground beef, jack cheese, arugula, poblano cheese, and a crisp shell) seems to be located somewhere in the Upper Midwest. At the very least, those of us who grew up with old-school taco nights will recognize this dish and quite possibly remember it fondly.
For seven dollars there’s not much guac in the house guacamole, which slightly overflows a single half avocado skin. But what’s there is tasty — a bit vegetal from the roasted tomatillo, and less rich and creamy than many restaurant incarnations of the stuff, but clearly made with love and real ingredients. Accompanying the guac are four (large) tortilla chips in a custom-made wooden rack, which is either awesome or precious, depending upon your perspective.
Elote ($7), a big bowl of sweet corn with queso fresco, oregano, and aioli, is a better deal than the guac, and tastes rich, creamy, and comforting. It can be eaten straight up, or incorporated into other dishes (or eaten with the chips) quite successfully, making it a smart ancillary order.
For dessert we had Sagauro’s Tres Leches Cake ($6). It had a distinct and unusual note of lime that cut through and counterpointed the soft, caramel-inflected richness of the cake as a whole. We inhaled it. This cake is different from, but every bit as good as, the stellar tres leches at 112 Eatery, our ranking favorite here in town.
Saguaro’s interior and decor are welcoming and straightforward, the service friendly, the concept simple, the cooking executed with care and love. We’ll be back, if only for chimichangas. CHIMICHANGAS!
Arizonan/Mexican in South Minneapolis
5309 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55419
OWNERS: Caryl Abdo and Amanda Abdo Sheahan
Tue-Sun 4pm-close (10ish)
BAR: Beer + Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Often
ENTREE RANGE: $8-$17
PARKING: Street parking