It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that we live in a taco paradise. Legitimate taquerias—shops that make soulful, beautiful, ravishingly delicious food—are scattered all over the metro area and beyond, but they have a tendency to blend into the background. Their marketing and decor aren’t always as polished as the food, which is why we’ve put together our Minnesota Taco Atlas.
The Minnesota Taco Atlas is an online resource of more than 50 different taco shops in the Minneapolis–St. Paul metro area that are worthy of seeking out. We break down the on-site amenities, the best tacos to order, price ranges, shop specialities, and what to expect in terms of decor and overall vibe. If you’re a taco lover with an urge to explore, this is not merely a resource, it’s the resource for you—researched extensively, updated quarterly, and deliberately designed to be a place where you can send in tips and questions that we’ll check out and answer (hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org).
Minneapolis vs. St. Paul
James Norton, Food Editor: I’ll make a case for Minneapolis taking the trophy with three simple words: East. Lake. Street. Between I-35W and Hiawatha Avenue there are about 30 taquerias on Lake Street proper. Very few of them are bad, most of them are good, and some of them are absolutely outstanding. You’re just not going to find that kind of density in St. Paul (or anywhere else in Minneapolis, for that matter) and the result is that you’ve got that kind of intense district thing going on—everyone’s excellence keeps everyone else honest. It’s why it’s hard to get a bad slice of pizza in New Jersey or a bad peach in California—you can’t fool the public when the public’s got so much good stuff on hand.
Taqueria Victor Hugo has great tacos and the best burritos in the state, and Taqueria La Hacienda does my favorite al pastor of the great many that I’ve tried. La Poblanita is unimpeachable, and there are shops like Morelia that sell taco meats on a deli basis in case you want to produce 60 or 70 for a family function. Does St. Paul have anything that compares? I don’t believe so.
John Garland, Deputy Editor: I’ll grant you that St. Paul doesn’t have a density of taquerias like Minneapolis has on Lake Street. But what the Capital City lacks in mass, it makes up for in diversity. Several of those tacos shops on Lake Street are entirely interchangeable in my estimation—they’re not bad, certainly, but they can be redundant.
St. Paul’s tacos are delicious and different. You can find classic renditions of al pastor and carnitas at Los Paisanos on East 7th or the Marquez Grill from Bymore Supermercado on Payne Avenue. But you can also find fusion tacos that aren’t gimmicky in the least—the ones with Filipino pork at Mi Casa Su Casa Eatery, the “machetes” at Taco Libre on Robert Street that will slay even the mightiest hangover, and you can’t find too many versions of Tacos Árabes around here—the Puebla specialty that’s like a cross between carnitas and shawarma—but you can at Pajarito.
Boca Chica is a great example—they do classic street tacos in their sit-down restaurant, and then deep-fried gringo tacos across the street at the Taco House. Two wildly different and incredibly delicious renditions, from the same company, just steps apart on Cesar Chavez Avenue.
JN: When I’m ordering tacos in a new shop, I have a couple of go-to moves. The first is looking at the way the menu is laid out. Typically, the top of any given list—whether it’s meats on offer or tacos—is going to be good or the best available. Shops like to play to their own strengths, so you’re not being obvious by ordering highly placed items—you’re being smart.
The other thing I’ll do is listen to the people ordering ahead of me. Usually out of four or five people placing orders, I’ll hear the same thing ordered three or four times. When that happens, get that thing. The regulars know what’s up, and it’s a way to bump into unexpected new favorites. You can’t necessarily order cabeza or lengua everywhere you go, but when they’re good they’re great, and this is a way to home in on that. Of course, you can also just read the Minnesota Taco Atlas for a pretty solid head start.
Side note: The corollary to this approach also holds up at most local Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese restaurants. You generally won’t get a good answer if you ask the cashier what you should get, as they’ll usually tell you the dish perceived as most accessible to the public at large, which is often—but not always—not the best thing to order. The true best thing to order is often something a little quirkier, which is why when I see outliers on menus or see a lot of something unusual on people’s plates, that’s the way I go.