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East Lake Checklist: Mercado Central

WACSO / Heavy Table

“Chilaquiles!” The yell came from one of the many food vendors lining the hall that extends from the main dining area of Mercado Central. We were camped out at one of the tables there eagerly awaiting our call. “Pupusas revuelta!” came another yell. Sun poured into the bright, airy room. It was late morning on Saturday, and the place was abuzz with patrons shuffling trays filled with assorted Latin American fare, scooting chairs in and out as they jumped up to grab extra piles of napkins or a bottle of hot sauce. “Torta Hawaiiana!” There are no order numbers at the top of your receipt to go by. You just have to remember what you ordered and enjoy the action while you wait to hear that call from down the hall.

WACSO / Heavy Table

The rest of the Mercado Central is a maze packed with a wonderful mishmash of businesses specializing in everything from wedding accessories to baked goods. You can buy a DVD featuring your favorite Mexican movie star or a baby Jesus in varying sizes to suit your needs. Get your hair done. Hire a photographer. Have a suit altered. It’s all here.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Spend a weekend morning here treating a hangover with a sloppy plate of chilaquiles, soaking in the soulful mix of people and activity, and you’ll begin to understand why Mercado Central has been such a long-standing pillar of the East Lake Street community. — M.C. Cronin

WACSO / Heavy Table

This week’s checklist crew: WACSO, M.C. Cronin, James Norton, Josiah Norton, Becca Dilley

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

WACSO / Heavy Table

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.”

WACSO / Heavy Table

La Perla
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

It seems nearly impossible to go wrong with pozole on Lake Street, and La Perla keeps the hot streak going. La Perla’s “white” take on the soup ($10) lacks the heat and red color of the version that is probably most familiar to diners. It resembles a chicken-noodle soup, if you replace the chicken with shreds of pork and the noodles with toothsome pieces of hominy. So, by itself, it’s comforting, balanced, and nourishing.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

But it comes with two big, circular tortilla shells painted with refried beans and loaded up with finely shredded lettuce and cheese. Crunch one of those into your soup, and then sprinkle in some minced jalapeños, shredded cilantro, and minced onions, and the soup explodes with flavor.

We ordered a Tamale Verde ($2) as an afterthought, and found it delicious — a delicate but perceptible texture to the corn, big, tender pieces of pork, and an underlying heat that meant serious business without going overboard. — James Norton

WACSO / Heavy Table

Maria’s Restaurante
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

The Carne Asada Sandwich ($10) at Maria’s Restaurant is not “good.” Good is not a fitting word for a sandwich of this stature. This sandwich is great, surely among the great sandwiches of the state. The sandwich’s bolillo roll is crispy-crunchy on the outside but pillowy in the interior, a well-crafted cradle for the contents, which include pico de gallo, mayo, avocado, and tender bits of steak.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The heat level of this snack from heaven is assertive without being overbearing, and the overall mixture of flavors and textures couldn’t be more carefully calibrated. It’s only February, but this sandwich feels like it’ll stick around and be among our top 10 tastes of 2018. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Restaurante El Huachi
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

We’ve had a lot of chilaquiles in a lot of restaurants around here, but one of our longtime favorites was made by Delicata chef Noah Barton for a brunch party we held years ago. An ideal batch of chilaquiles brings some heat, some acid, some crunch, some chewiness, and some runny-egg goodness together into a big messy plate that relates to hangovers the same way silver bullets relate to werewolves.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Chilaquiles ($12) at Restaurante El Hauchi have everything mentioned above, and more: cubed bits of fried potatoes, a ton of aggressively stringy, tasty cheese, and a couple of little flat-pounded pieces of steak for good measure. At various points, you’re eating steak-and-potatoes, steak-and-eggs, spicy nachos, steak nachos, and more. It’s like a kaleidoscope of savory flavors. If someone wanted to know where they should get chilaquiles in this state, we’d point them to El Huachi at Mercado Central. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Rincon Salvadoreño
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

Three pupusas at Rincon Salvadoreño are $11, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re getting merely a single entree’s worth of food. You’re getting what must be a pound and a half of tender, crisply fried, cheese-stuffed pleasure discs. Like so many of the dishes we tried at Mercado Central, these pupusas were all about the texture — crisp meets gooey meets bready meets stringy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

And because pupusas are such an oppressive march through cheesy breadiness, it’s nice when they’re complemented with something else, as these are: a pickled slaw-like side that makes an ideal counterpoint. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Cocina San Marcos
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

WACSO / Heavy Table

The wait at Cocina San Marcos was long, but the show was worth it: Watching the individual Picaditas (masa cakes, $10.75 for four) hit the griddle and get topped, in succession, with red salsa, cheese, sour cream, and then a massive, thinly pounded steak was a treat unto itself. The dish overall was soothing, creamy, and mellow. It could have used a bit more heat, but there are opportunities aplenty to provide that in Mercado Central — everything from diced jalapeños to hot sauces to spicy chili powder that can be sprinkled on the dish before you bring it from the counter to your table.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Quesadilla de Flor de Calabazas ($14) wasn’t quite the equal of its counterpart over at Don Chilo. It lacked some of the funky, earthy depth. But it was packed with a prodigious amount of cheese and vegetables and was a nice mix of chewy and crunchy. It was delicious overall once dunked into an accompanying bright-green herbal sauce. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

Panaderia el Mexicano
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

Row after row after row of pastries define this bakery in the heart of Mercado Central, and getting oriented takes a moment or two as you take it all in.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We settled on a couple of turnoverlike pastries ($1.25). The darker of the two was filled with a creamy, apple-inflected, tapiocalike filling that made for a nice fit with the crunchy, sugar-studded exterior. The lighter pastry had a bright-yellow filling that we’re guessing was pineapple, but it needed a bit more acid and kick to make its point. As it was, we found it rather bland. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

La Reyna de Los Jugos
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

Once we got past an initial service delay — this stand is very much a “one customer at a time, including extended cleanup” affair — we found ordering from La Reyna de Los Jugos simple enough. There’s a lengthy menu of juices spread across the wall, and they all looked fairly plausible.

We ordered the second juice on the menu, a blueberry/apple juice/banana/coconut flake number ($5) that went down quite pleasantly. The coconut gave the beverage more texture than we’d counted on, but it worked, particularly in combination with the brightness and creaminess of the other fruits blended into the beverage. — J.N.

WACSO / Heavy Table

La Loma
Mercado Central, 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis

The atole and tamale combo touted by La Loma is unlike anything we’ve experienced elsewhere. Simply put: a hot, creamy, flavored ground-hominy beverage (the Atole, $2.25) goes marvelously well with a hot, creamy, corn-based food (the tamale). It helps that the atole leans heavily toward the sweet, and the banana leaf Tamale Rojo ($3.75) that we ordered was bright and spicy.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The corn (hominy being the treated corn from which masa is made) tied everything together, and the creaminess was also a constant. The sweet and savory played off of one another wonderfully. The tamale itself was extremely moist, with large shreds of pork throughout and a savory depth that was mellow and balanced.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Our Tamale Pasas ($2.50) was also a new one for us — a raisin-studded sweet tamale that was not quite a dessert, but definitely leaned in that direction. By itself it was simple, comforting, and sweet without being overly so, but complemented by the coconut and fresa (strawberry) atoles that we’d ordered, it really made sense as a breakfast mainstay.

More than anything, we were struck by the sheer efficiency of the La Loma operation. A massive tamale steamer kept the tamales warm and ready to go, so that customers could be helped in a matter of seconds. — J.N.

The post East Lake Checklist: Mercado Central appeared first on The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine.



This post first appeared on The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul And Upper M, please read the originial post: here

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East Lake Checklist: Mercado Central

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