Habanero Tacos

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https://www.facebook.com/Habanero-Tacos-636831153117512/timeline/
https://twitter.com/habanerotacos
Main Location: Minneapolis, Etc

Those who are somewhat familiar with my blog my notice a certain peculiarity to my archives, that being, except for a couple rare exceptions, I don’t really do reviews on Traditional Mexican Taco Trucks/Carts. Now the modern, bright, new-business, fusion/twisted, and other sort of taco-based trucks we see on our main downtown streets, sure. But as a general rule, I’ve made the decision to just ignore all the almost nameless, likely family-owned, no-frills and no-social-media-focus taco trucks that are so often seen in various parking lots, on the further outskirts of uptown and south Minneapolis, etc. You know the ones, the ‘taco trucks,’ those businesses that were likely the true precursor to our food truck industry in the US.

Note that this has nothing to do with any disdain or even disinterest towards these businesses; I absolutely adore taco trucks. They use proper masa tortillas, have a whole variety of usually delicious fillings, are NOT afraid to cook things like tongue or cheek or other offal (more people are coming to appreciate, but the rest of you are still pansies. Pansies I say!!), are often very cheap, and sometimes even offer a variety of options to eat with your desired filling; like going to Chipotle. There are reasons these kinds of businesses have succeeded for dozens of years.

But there are so many of them, parked who-knows-where half the time, usually with no online presence letting those unaware find them easily, and as much as I love the kind of truck… the fact is if you’ve been to one you’ve almost been to them all. The experience is rather identical; yes yes, there are little differences in flavor and quality between each, much like BBQ trucks, but it’s even less noticeable than that example, and I’m going to be happy either way. In my personal opinion, if I WERE to track down all the different taco trucks, I feel the only way to properly review them is between each other; or in other words, I’d have to start a whole separate blog, or blog page, devoted JUST to reviewing the aspects of the taco trucks themselves. And I don’t feel like doing that… yet. For now, it’s easier just to focus on the masses of every other kind, familiar and weird, that keep popping up in the Twin Cities.

So it was with much reluctance that I passed by Habanero Tacos at a farmer’s market some months ago, making the difficult decision to ignore it and save some money for other truck visits. The truck certainly fits into the same category as other taco trucks I’ve been to, so they were a no go. That said, of late I’ve taken strong notice of the fact that they’ve been parking in downtown Minneapolis quite a lot, they have a twitter and Facebook handle that gets updated, and are otherwise rather in the public eye just as strongly as some of our other food trucks. So I feel it only right that I give them my full respect and offer a complete review to add into the ranks on this blog for all the effort they’re clearly going through to get known. Plus, I like to think one can then use this as an overall idea on where taco trucks in general rank on the ‘food truck scale’ for each ranking category.

As for some details, the menu offers the chance to get Tacos, Burritos, Enchiladas, Alambres (meat sautéed with bacon, peppers, and onions; with melted cheese, I think it’s on rice or a big tortilla, basically an entrée), each with your choice of filling. One can pick from a list, slightly differing between item, including but not limited to: Al Pastor (Marinated Pork), Carnitas (Roast Pork), Carne Asada (Grilled Steak), Barbacoa (Shredded Beef), Pollo, Lengua (Beef Tongue), and Cabeza (Shredded Beef Head). One also has the chance to get a side of Elote (Mexican Street Corn, on the cob w/ lime, mayo, cheese, and spices) or Tortillas. Not to mention a full line-up of sodas, canned and Mexican bottles and guava juice (gotta love guava juice). That about sums it up, so let’s get down to it.

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Food: 9

                Can’t go to a taco truck without just getting the tacos; it’s a good way to try a couple fillings for cheap anyways. As expected, proper soft masa tortillas, double-stacked for each taco, garnished with onion, cilantro, and a section of lime for each taco. And yes there was a little thing of hot sauce, which I completely forgot to try on top of the tacos cuz they were SO GOOD; I love a proper taco from these kinds of trucks! But I did sneak a taste of the sauce on its own; has a kick, with some of those dried whole spicy chile flavors and some development start to finish.

Decided to go for the Al Pastor, ‘Marinated Pork,’ and the Cabeza, ‘Beef Head,’ for this trip. Both tasted great on their own terms, wrapped in their pillowy tortilla folds and with spikes of herby aromatics and bright crunchy onion. The pork’s marinade shone the most, with that distinctly unique tomato-chile-based (I think, maybe it’s a red mole or similar) sauce providing the most distinction; though on their own, the pork meat WAS a bit dry, luckily everything else balances it out enough to not really impact you. Oh but the head, fall apart tender and rich and juicy… well, not really juicy, in fact almost ‘slimy,’ but in a good way, like certain special Japanese noodle dishes. Bit of that fatty/collagen-y aspects from wherever they took that meat around the cow’s skull. And for those already trying to use excuses to be disgusted, shut up; it’s just like roast beef, amazing and super flavorful roast beef which is perfect like this. I only wish they had even MORE alternative cuts, like chicharrons, pig feet, brains, etc; but oh well.

They might deserve an even higher score, but I feel I’d need to try some other items for confirmation first; which also means it could just as well truly be deserving of lower, even if sticking with the fillings one knows are good. So as always, take these with a grain of salt; especially since I really just like this a general idea for all taco trucks anyways.

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Holdability: 9

                 Tacos are classic street food for a reason, they’re made to be able to pick up with one hand; and that classic double-tortilla design, as I’ve always said, is just so good. Can use it for extra support so none of the fillings fall out, or just use one tortilla first, let as much of that meat fall out as you can, and the leftovers turn into a second taco! Unless you only get one, which isn’t unlikely, one still needs two hands for basket holding. But there ARE options; yet another benefit to the classic taco truck; if one desires portability, the singular Burrito comes into play, not to mention the classic one-handed snack of Mexican Corn.
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Price: 10

                  $2.50 for each Taco, $8 for a Burrito, $7 for Enchiladas, $10.50 or $12 for the bigger entrée that is the Alambres, and $3 to get one of those classic Elote, this place has RANGE to fit exactly what you’re looking for. Whether one’s spending more on a big lunch, looking for a filling but more cost-effective option, or just wants to part with a few bucks for a soul-satisfying snack, or just to sample, these kinds of menus have it all. Yet another notable proof of evidence towards the taco truck’s success in engraining itself as THE classic American street food/food truck operation.

Speed: 8.5

I imagine it technically depends on the item, but most of the proteins/fillings are pre-cooked, may get a TOUCH of griddle time at the most, so they only need the filling time and come out quick. Alambres and Enchiladas will get more attention to cook everything together, I expect average wait on those, faster turn-out on others; they get those tacos out to you quickly! Just like any good street food stand.

The TOE: 9

                  My initial reaction when first seeing the truck a while ago, considering its plain-ish look, wasn’t all that inspiring; as evidenced by the delay in actually ordering from them. But then again, I was judging whether it qualified as one of the ‘modern’ food trucks which I mainly focus on. Truly, this IS a Mexican Food Truck, and it feels like it when you’re there and ordering from it. It seems to measure up just about as much as the others; perhaps there’s been some attempts towards a more ‘attractive’ design pulls it a bit more away from that rather traditional, operating-in-the-parking-lot-down-the-street feel that sort of comes to mind with these, but it’s not so huge. Plus I admit it that feeling in myself may be skewed simply because they’ve been doing a lot of business in downtown with the other trucks.

Tally: 45.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Gotta love a good Carne Asada, and if you can find ANY part of yourself to try it, get the Lengua or Cabeza, they’re always so good in tacos. Besides those, I’d say you’re certainly safe with anything else Shredded or Grilled/Charbroiled, then it’s just figuring out what kind of edible packaging you want it in! That variability, versatility, is what makes these trucks perfect for any need: on a budget, grabbing a snack between other things, sampling multiple things, getting a full meal, looking to eat there or move to another location, etc. Chances are you’ll find SOMETHING that fits your needs here, so long as you don’t hate Mexican cuisine (you monster). And definitely give the Elote a chance if you still have yet to try one; it can be a quick, cheap, and satisfying grab-and-go treat that’s worth the minimal spending risk, or can add it onto another order as a ‘side’ of sorts.

At the end of the day, Habanero Tacos delivers their food, for the most part, in the same manner as what we expect to come from these glorious vehicles. I hope you’ve had the chance to experience it or one of the many other classic taco vendors in the cities, or that you do so soon.

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Misfit Coffee

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http://www.misfitcoffee.com/
https://twitter.com/misfitcoffee
Main Location: All Over Minneapolis

A couple years back, a certain person attempted a modern coffee cart in Downtown Minneapolis; seems quite a few people are rather aware of this fact. Alas, they didn’t make it, yet another casualty in the mobile service world; I partially feel bad for never making it, though also partially relieved I didn’t forsake my then-even-narrower wallet on a review that would never be able to happen. If you’re wondering where this is going… no, the owner is not back, I have no clue what the heck they’re doing now (if you’re reading this, best wishes! Please don’t hate me…).

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It is today that the next generation makes their attempt as Minneapolis gets its second in the line of coffee vending businesses, only this time it’s a full-on Trailer with… well, you’ll see. Misfit Coffee comes to us from across the border, the three co-owners of Marcus, Mitch, and Alex hail from Milwaukee. All three of these guys have been working since age 13/14, Marcus in particular having gone into all levels and aspects of the coffee world, the leading thought man behind the business idea after they all decided to get into the mobile food world. Putting their heads and money together, these three friends (well, two are brothers; hinty, names share the same starting consonant!) set out to fully develop their immersive, quality-focused coffee experience in the Twin Cities.

Having only opened a couple weeks ago, the trailer is still finding promising locations to keep regular residence, hopping around various spots in Minneapolis to give access to as many people as possible. Of note, they’ve served so far in front of the Guthrie, Downtown, the U of M, and in Uptown in front of the Apple Store. After catching up to them at the Mill City Museum, I got the chance to interview the three owners and dragged out quite a bit of information (so prepare yourself for a much longer review than usual)!

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Apparently they chose Minnesota (note they only had the ONE showing in their home city to make sure everything ran smoothly; sorry Wisconsin, they’re all ours now!) due to our personal love and acceptance of food trucks, particularly our openness to ‘specialty’ and unique trucks vs the older classics. Not to mention the tie-in fact that it’s easier to get the licenses here. As Alex puts it, “Some places are rather iffy, not sure if they wanna let you in, here they’re TRYING to let you in.”

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The trailer itself was made to focus on a ‘curbside exposure,’ a fully open-air design that not only allows one to truly witness the zen experience of these brews being crafted, but also to allow for connection and conversation between the guys and yourself. They even have magazine for perusal! Oh, and some led lights inside, in hopes of late-night ventures where they can turn off all other lights and get that cool color-changing glow and atmosphere.

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As for the coffee, beans are sourced from Valentine Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin, a producer which Misfit obsesses over from the quality of the roast to the sourcing of the beans; particularly in the expression of body and ‘terroir.’ They currently offer 5 kinds from different countries for their pour-overs: Bali, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and also a Decaf variety. Now note, they didn’t make their sourcing decision lightly; much time was spent trying coffee and roasters all over the country, from Nashville and Atlanta to Chicago and us, apparently close to 100 cups worth of ‘samples,’ before their decision to stick with the Wisconsin homeboys.

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These can then be ordered in the typical wide variety of options that we’re so familiar with having access to, but with a twist. Whereas they do indeed have the classic mixes, such as Cappuccino, Mocha, Americano, Latte, etc, one will also find a few more intriguing and different mixes not commonly seen… and a few modern techniques to boot. This culminates in the whipped dairy offerings of Con Panna and Cortado, but lower we explore some, let’s call them ‘espresso cocktails,’ called Chata’Lata (mixed with homemade Horchata) and Spro-da Pop(espresso and Mexican Cola). THEN there’s the different pour-overs, like the Chemex and Siphon (and no, I do not know anything nor did I ask about those… I had a lot of information as it is, cut me some slack! So demanding…)… but all that pales in comparison to the Nitro Cold Press. Cold pressed coffee, made in batch and then stuck in a pressurized tank, to which they inject with Nitrogen and let sit, waiting to be poured from a ‘tap’ and over ice when ordered. Basically it’s like the method for making Nitro beer, but with coffee; I’ll describe the results later.

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By this point you might be wondering about the equipment; I mean, I wasn’t, but you’re all most likely better people than I am. As you can see though, and will through various pics, as much attention that went into sourcing the beans and coffee went into the machines that handle them. The big white behemoth of the espresso machine itself is a Synesso model, made in 2008 but I think based off a model from the 1900’s, and cost $10,000 on its own. And lying on top of it… actual coffee cups? Yep, for those who don’t absolutely have to go and travel with their caffeine needs, they will pour your coffee or espresso into one of their various special mugs, like these copper dealies with glass extenders to fit it all and also see any layering effects, to enjoy on the side of the trailer while you relax. This allows one to fully experience these different brews and mixes, for the container one smells and sips from can make all the difference (just ask a wine snob, like me!).

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But that’s the kind of effort they go to for everything, which we can see just by looking at something like their Horchata recipe. After trying the best cup of this Mexican rice milk from a certain vendor at home, the group obsessed with trying to reproduce it, or find something better, but couldn’t; and after resorting to weeks of begging after begging, finally squeezed this heavenly mixture of creamy rice and cinnamon drink. I had the chance to try a tiny taste of it on its own, and believe me when I say the effort was worth it. Following that, all their ‘flavorings’ are made only with the best ingredients, using real vanilla beans, hand-made caramel, and chocolate from Indulgence vs the normal cheap syrups we so often see.

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Of course they also offer some quality Teas and other coffee-free options for people to choose from, like those Mexican Colas.

A final fun note, if one looks at the back of the trailer, they’ll see the very well-known Apple quote, a company which Misfit follows quite intently in their respect of the how and why they do things. “’Here’s to the Crazy ones, the Misfits, the Rebels, the Troublemakers, Round Pegs and Square Holes.’ They inspired, kind of, the name a little bit… -and we understand how they are, to not go by the status quo, we’re trying to DO something different and be ourselves and, you know, take a risk and take a chance. So it was really cool to be in front of Apple and to get the support too that we got from them was awesome cuz, you know, they understood us, we’re misfits.” – Marcus

Food: 10

                In terms of the coffee world, Misfit truly occupies itself in the top tier for our community; with amazing quality and distinctly regional beans with personality; both traditional and fun style offerings; much effort spent in ingredients/recipes and development;  all of which comes through clearly with their fantastic execution. As someone who’s not really a ‘coffee drinker’ in any sense, but wants to get into the world of it to be able to experience and recognize the fine craft, I myself have felt disappointment trying cups of jo at good places like Spyhouse yet still found struggles in trying to find the particular ‘palette’ of the bean that was written up; those notes of berries and chocolate sadly eluded me. I figured it was like cigars and red wine; you REALLY just need the time to develop the palate, get it used to the flavors, before seeing this, something I’m sure most people who drink coffee on an almost, if not, daily basis automatically have. Thus has my appreciation for certain establishments like this grown when I come to discover clear differences or personality traits in what I try that day; that in fact there IS a world and approach to coffee that anyone can began at while learning about distinct flavors and changes from the beans, roasting, and handling.
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For example, the Cortado I had, a double-shot espresso layer with steamed milk if I remember the style right, was made with the Brazilian coffee beans (all items under the ‘Espresso Bar’ category are made with a single bean variety that they choose and grind on the day of), a variety they said displays peanutty, dark chocolate, and those earthy notes, and I could clearly taste peanut butter and other such things through the creamy soft concoction. It was fun seeing the distinct layered effect through the copper and glass cup reserved for these styles, not to mention being able to enjoy the full texture and flavor one can only get through this glass, as opposed to the paper to-go cups. It certainly pays to be able to sit and enjoy these with the fellas when you’re not on-the-run!

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Now, follow this up with the Peruvian bean, a cleaner, lighter kind of coffee, with some citrusy notes and more of a milk-chocolate body. It was perfect in the Nitro on a hot day, served on ice; as for the actual unique nitro style… everything I love about nitro beers, mainly that thick but super smooth texture that just aches to be drawn down one’s throat. Then there’s the added creaminess. The guys make sure to advocate that customers try it plain first before adding creamer, because guess what? You don’t need it, the effects of the foamed carbonation really do mimick that bit of steamed milk or other dairy that’s added in, making it seem richer when it’s just a straight cold press. Absolutely delightful.

And finally, a return visit on the same day (I was lucky) had me trying the Con Panna; basically much like the cortado or a cappuccino, only using pure whipped cream as the source of dairy. Thus one would get a result that’s super thick, super rich, on its own practically a total caffeine ‘cheat;’ like starting off a day with hot chocolate. Only I then decided to use the opportunity to try one of their ‘additions,’ the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt sauce, which just made it sinful, pure dessert in coffee. Oh god I just had a terrible thought… what if they had ice cream and used this for an affogato? Run!

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But I want to be able to express that the sauce, while not just made from top quality chocolate and salt, came through very distinctly without fully overpowering anything. I love it when you can TASTE the sea salt, too, without it being ‘salty;’ it can be tricky to accomplish, but such a good balance. Overall this was like salted chocolate-coffee mousse in liquid form… only get when you’re feeling naughty and just don’t care.

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I would like to finish with this note that, as was mentioned by co-owner Marcus, Misfit in general tries to focus on an older ‘original’ style of ‘roast profile’ from their beans. Whereas many modern coffee businesses in the US usually focus on turning the beans into a coffee that ends up ‘fruitier, cleaner,’ simple bursts of flavor, they themselves keep to those natural earthy, spicy, ‘terrestrial’ flavors emblematic of the area they’ve grown in and the people who’ve handled them (very clear in that deep nutty, but not roasty, notes of the Brasil). In a sense, seeing the ‘terroir’ of coffee. As a fanatic of the wine and alcohol world, this particular idea actually tickles me to no end, as it seems to perfectly mirror the different styles of ‘old world’ (France, Italy, Spain, etc) and ‘new world’(US, Australia, Chile, etc) wines; the latter of which are very FRUIT forward, made for solo drinking while the old world all distinctly have some sort of EARTHY aspect to the palate, and excel alongside food.

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Look at that foam line, ever reminiscent of the ‘Angel’s Lace’ phenomenon in properly poured beer

So if you’re still wondering why I’m talking SO MUCH about these guys, my deep and pure love towards the world of food and spirits, how things connect and how completely different ‘products’ can have such similarities throughout their life and how people enjoy and experience them… things like that are what stoke the red-hot coals of my excitement centers. And the great thing is that we all have this interest for food and drink in one form or another, no matter how mild; we’ve all developed special memories that things like these has been a part of, it really is an integral part of what connects people nowadays, and I am one of those who just loves to delve deep into that topic in conversation and express it to others whenever I can. So, to cut this short, now you have an even better understanding to WHY I won’t just shut up sometimes (believe me I wish I could), and I do apologize and thank you for reading through my additional ramblings!

Holdability: 10

               Whether it’s in a to-go cup or the nicer for-here, it’s still coffee in a cup.

Price: 9.5

                Most 12 and 16oz cups range between $3-$6, while 8oz only ever get up to $4 at the most. The more fun coffee-free specialty items themselves also go $3-$5 dependent on item and size. $0.75 extra to get one of the sinful flavor additions, or a dairy alternative. And of final note, the Nitro coffee charges for $4.50. Overall a nice wide but lower range for a coffee joint.
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Not only are these prices, on an overall scale, equal to or better than one’s typical Starbucks/Caribou, they’re better than they SHOULD be. With the clear amount of effort and quality that went into the developing of these recipes, ingredients used, etc, all of these drinks should clearly be at least a couple bucks more; and if they were in a café they would be. It’s likely only because they started in a trailer, an overall better (but still expensive as heck) startup vs most brick-and-mortar businesses, that they can list these at awesome competitive prices for top-quality coffee.

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Speed: 9

There are quite a few options, simple and fun, that are basically ready-to-go, a couple that may only take a minute, but make no doubt about it, for the rest you WILL have to wait (again, beans are ground and dripped to order)… I mean, like 3 minutes or so. Which for any boutique coffee place a-la Spyhouse is typical for the specialty drinks, and still faster than ordering food at most trucks. Plus one can spend the time easily chatting up at the window, so that time can fly.

The TOE: 10

                You know, with everything that I’ve written so far, and my obvious zeal towards wanting to talk these guys up, I don’t think there’s any additional explanation I need for this score I’ve chosen today. And as you can see, I got in as many pictures today as I could! (the following section sort of replaces this too anyways)
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Service: +2.5

                Simply with the act of taking a picture of the truck from behind, which they spotted through their secret tiny window (Damn them!), did an immediate conversation start up from nothing, leading to an unexpected amazing hour-long start to my day. I cannot stress too much how willing these guys are to get into their product, their process, the street food scene, or just any sort of chatty, friendly conversation. I myself rarely seek out anything like this when I do my visits, but they just ended up pulling me in, and apparently I’m not the only one; heck, near the end there was a female customer who ended up getting a picture taken holding their copper water pot. From this one can only imagine what their daily customer service is like in making a great experience to go along with their product. Either way, of all my truck visits, the optional ‘service’ section has stood out the most here, so I only think it fair the score matches, whether it’s truly differential to other truck businesses or not.

Tally: 51/50

Final Thoughts

Do you like coffee, or want to learn about it, or are just sort of curious about why some people actually drink it? Perhaps maybe you like Horchata (anything with this, by the way, awesome) or Tea? Do you live, work, or otherwise ever get down to the Minneapolis area? If any of these apply, then go to Misfit, at least once; see for yourself what they’re like, get a chance to talk to Mitch, Marcus, and/or Alex if possible. For the in-depth coffee hipsters and aficionados, you can experience some of your favorite coffee styles, an even a couple I’m sure are new even to you, in heavenly form and at a damn reasonable price. For those just starting out, you can spend only a few bucks to try something new, different, and I promise delicious.

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As for suggestions… it’s all good. Whatever kind of drink you’re craving, they’ll have something to fit it. From the super-rich, devilishly dessert-like creations of Con Panna, Hot Chocolate, or anything with their Caramel and Chocolate additions. Or if you’re looking from a finely crafted espresso+steamed milk/other dairy creation, the kind with the pretty designs on top, like Cortado, Macciato, or the oh-so-classic Cappuccino. Then again, simple Pour-Overs, of various kinds, can hit the notes of anyone looking for simple purity. If there WAS one thing that is a must-have, especially considering the idea that it might be a hot day, it’s the Nitro Cold Brew.

And the best part? Whether you need to grab-and-go fast or can sit down and relax for a while, absolutely any needs can be found and expressed here to acclaim. I obviously had the time of my life here, and I don’t even drink coffee. Go on and be a misfit along with these guys, chances are the rush will be from more than just caffeine.

Funfare Global Street Eats

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https://twitter.com/funfaregse

http://www.funfare-gse.com/

Main Location: St Paul, Etc

It’s a good thing I did some last-minute twittering, I was seriously about to put up a post saying these guys didn’t have a website! It’s tricky to find via google, but I got their twitter id and it led me straight to ’em! Still didn’t tell me too much else about them that I feel like putting down, but that might be the laziness. I do definitely suggest looking into the website to get a good clue to their personality.

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This truck also comes out as yet another build from local Chameleon Concessions, go lizards! After doing so many articles on the side for a certain southern truck builder, it’s always nice to come back and see the fruits of our own Minnesota-based team out on the street in their wonderful mobile glory.

But to get back to the truck itself, my adventure this day leads me to Funfare, or Funfare Global Street Eats, depending on how one prefers calling them that day. As the longer version suggests, along with the very postcardy décor on the side of their big red behemoth, they focus on providing a variety of classic International street foods from various world regions.

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And boy do they really accomplish this. For the past few weeks the menu has hold fast to offering the choices to grab a Cubano (from Cuba throughout Central America), Shrimp Po’Boy (Louisiana), Filipino BBQ Skewers (do I need to say this one?), Pork Steam Buns (Japan), Baja Fish Tacos (Mexico), Chicago Jumbo Dog, Cheese Curds (go Midwest!), Hush Puppies (more Southern Love), and Baklava (Middle East) for dessert. I hear they plan on changing the menu up soon, but I expect at least a few of these will either stay on or see frequent resurgence from time to time, so a good starter.

By the way, they sell Kool-Aid as a drink option… actual vibrant blue Kool-Aid. I’ll just leave it at that and get on with things.

Food: 9

                Suddenly I find myself loading up with FOUR of their menu items, two bigger and two snack-ish. So I’m gonna see if I can actually go through each briefly for once…
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First off, best Hush Puppies that I myself have ever experienced. Crisp and crunchy on the outside, like your favorite corn dog, but not dry in the slightest on the inside, still ‘moist,’ in sort of a touch spongey/doughey sense, hard to quite express. I was very happy to find a version of these fried cornmeal balls I enjoyed, with that notably soft onion-chive-y addition of flavor; a shame there’s NO sauce to dunk them in, some pepper aioli on the side would have catapulted these to perfection.

The best part of the Pork Steamed Buns is the first bite; it’s just that total pork bun flavor, with moist pig, perfect ratio of springy/chewy/tender steam bun texture (it’s so unique and distinctive), a bit of that slaw, and that marinade! For those who’ve had a pork steam bun, there’s that specific sauce flavor that’s unique purely to them, a sweet-tangy Japanese bbq sauce of sorts, and it is up front and center in the best way in combination with that pillowy dough bag. And of course I have to make mention of the interesting little form for these guys, like a Japanese bun taco. Which is cool, but whereas the first bite from the ‘top’ was perfect, the second ends up notably lacking filling, which is understandable and fine, the real issue is that this section of bun, folded over and almost double-layered, ends up notably… not drier, maybe ‘denser’ is the better word? Clearly inferior to the ideal, not uniform like the classic round buns would be.

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So I was going to go for the Po’Boy, just to be different, but then I saw someone else with one… and I’m sure it’s good, great looking veggies and toppings, but come on, that guy just needs more shrimp, it looks sparse. Those BBQ Skewers though… damn that glaze and char, reminded me of the Korean grilled pig in my favorite banh mi.

Then I saw a couple Cubanos come out and was like “Oh yeah, THAT’S what I’m getting.” Full press, flat and crispy top, melted cheese that strings properly when pulled, pickled which are THERE but don’t screw with the sandwich structure, mustard is present, and PIG. Ham and pulled, they got it… inane mention I know, but I’m still reeling from a recent cubano disappointment. This ultimately ate, tight and crispy but not hard crunchy, like I expect a Cubano to, with all the flavors. They nailed it, I was satisfied and happy, though I found there was no single item that really brought it to that AMAZING level, which any sandwich that everyone knows really needs to be in order to get that top class mark. Either a big mass of super gooey-melty cheese, this one was still simple and thin, or just bigger mass of extremely flavorful pulled pork, as again the meat was still rather standard but done well.

20150803_175101And finally, since I was at a bee-focused event, had to get that honey-soaked Baklava. I was hoping that finally, after so long, I would get a baklava from a stand that would be moist and tender and delicious, and they did not disappoint. Seriously, so used to having to choose between small squares of baklava, which are good but tiny, or big triangles which are just dry layers of phillo dough. And this was just a full mass of distinctly moist, sweet honeyed flavor and texture, not soggy at all and with a top layer that is JUST a little crispy-dry, combining with that soft and nutty paste of walnuts/almonds in the typical way. It was just refreshing and happy; if I really looked deeper, and had more experience with good homemade baklava, I’m pretty sure I could make certain points to the soaking syrup and nuts used. But when you really don’t care about thinking about it, this little dessert can just make your day, especially for the day.

 

At the end of the day, the food has a great start and is headed in the right direction to what it should be, but because they’re so close to perfection, and sticky very purely to the traditional compositions, it’s ever clearer to see that they are STILL not quite there yet. If they can make just a couple tweaks here and there, really complete each item, then Funfare is golden.

Holdability: 8.5

               Despite the variety, each of the options are consistent in that everything needs two hands, being eaten from a basket, and is all surprisingly clean consumption. Even the Baklava, though a touch sticky, again isn’t soggy or anything, so it only needs a few delightful finger licks following complete eating. It’s only the BBQ skewers that come with rice, something that requires a fork, but besides those the only issue for walking+eating becomes what ELSE you might get. Though I guess sides and dessert can just be dumped in the same basket as your big guy; not like any sauces are coming over to mix and mingle.

Price: 7.5

                $10 for the big two sammiches, $8 for the Fish Taco and Filipino Skewers, $7 for those mini Steam Buns, $5 Chicago Dog, $3 each for the fried side items, and $2 for Baklava. A notable range of low to mid-high, providing some notable options for one’s situation and preferences. I would say the items tend to skirt the edge of whether they feel totally worth it if not a steal for the price charged, while others I would hope for maybe one extra bun (I mean it’s either an add-on, in which case it bumps the final price up considerably, or it’s supposed to be eaten on its own, in which case you want some more) or more fried shrimp before not worrying about whether I’m just being a cheap, nitpicky b*^@# food reviewer.
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Speed: 8

Distinctly depends on the item. Most are close to ready to go, can only take a few minutes, but the main boys will be an average wait; Cubano takes at least 8 minutes on the grill. That is proper though. I will say I would have liked it if they’d offer me the option to receive some of my other things first, since there were only a couple other orders, instead of having to wait what took 10 minutes for ALL of it.

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The TOE: 8.5

                I wasn’t thinking I’d score them too high for this, my premier thoughts and impressions on when I first spotted them in St Paul (happened to be their opening day! But I had other guys to hit then) was just another random ‘let’s open a food truck’ ideas, they do ‘international’ probably because they couldn’t think of anything else more interesting, like those who just do burgers and meat sandwiches; which can be great, but also uninspiring. But just as we can find a sandwich truck that brings us to our knees, so does Funfare come to grab my own attention. Whether it’s presentation, the distinctive look and taste of each food, or just plain doing it right, I can officially say they are the first truck that, in my opinion, successfully offers a menu that feels like it’s focusing on different world food regions. This as opposed to a certain one or two that really just seem to come from the Middle East and Asia, or  then go back to the US only to feature a burger and philly cheese (it’s always the burger and philly cheese…). Funfare chooses distinct and familiar, but not boring, menu items that do express some of our favorite eats from around the globe. To this, I myself am somewhat eager to see what other food items they explore and switch out with, if they continue on with strong hitters or fizzle out. Guess we’ll only see with time.

Tally: 41.5/50

Final Thoughts

Echoing my ultimate impressions on food, the truck as a whole stands as a very strong, ‘almost perfect’ business in their particular realm of focus, but it’s currently just one or two steps behind the point of ‘ideal.’ But I feel with time and some effort, if applied, they can easily reach the heights of food and personality impressions as some of my absolute favorites, like Home Street Home and SCRATCH.

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So I guess that means we just need to keep visiting and enjoying their various treats now doesn’t it? Now, it certainly is difficult to make suggestions for a future-changing menu, but I do believe I can confidently say the BEST strategy for taking hold of Funfare, at least for right now, is to attack the small-plates for snacking or mini-meal purposes. Whether it’s grabbing the almost-toe-ring-level Baklava for your sweet tooth, some Hush Puppies or Cheese Curds to pop in the mouth as you walk between other truck delights, or those Steam Buns just because they’re pretty darn tasty and good. If you DO want something more substantial, I still gotta try those BBQ skewers; they just look so good, and the additional rice will help fill you up; though I myself would rather just have the skewers for a dollar less to walk around with. That and the Cubano are my strong ‘entrée’ points for now. As for what else comes along, just do your best to have an idea on what they did well with THESE and try to imagine what other items would be crafted the best. To that, I finish with a good luck, good eating, and a hope I can get myself back out there snacking with all of you soon once more!

Panini Pinups

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https://www.facebook.com/paninipinupsmn?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/paninipinups
Main Location: St Paul, Etc

Generally speaking, it feels like most trucks, when they don’t have a specific food theme or culinary style to them, automatically turn to one of two menu focuses, if not both: Tacos and Sandwiches/Burgers. Sometimes this is done well, simply using it as a package for their unique and delicious flavors, while others I swear just feel like an answer to a question. “Okay we’re doing a food truck, what should we put on it?” “Uhh, sandwiches.” “What kind?” “Let’s just do good ones and it’ll be fine; we’ll get a burger on and people will buy that too.” Which sadly sort of works, but I’ve always felt a lack of that distinctive personality note to them, like what’s found on Filius or O’Cheeze.

So turning all your sandwiches into something simple like, say, Paninis definitely comes through as a plus in my book. Which, obviously, is what Panini Pinup has come to do. After having to work under other chefs for years on end, the owner of this new truck decided to set out and be his own boss for once to succeed, offering up a few classic sandwich options from their steel grey contraption, all pressed tight between two hot grates.

Besides offering up their versions of a Chicken Club and Cuban, one can also find a fully vegetarian Mediterranean featuring hummus, feta, and olives. Then there’s the Spam, classically bedecked in American cheese and bedecked with pineapple or tomato as one prefers. Or, for the simpler tastes seeking just something crispy and gooey, a Grilled Cheese.

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They do also sell a couple interesting drinks of note, often as great compliments when they stop at sports and high school events. There’s cold-brewed High Brew Coffee in cans, interesting and tasty-looking, and apparently a locally-made Sports Drink called ASPIRE. I was almost tempted to try one if I didn’t have so many other street edibles that needed buying that day!

Food: 7.5

                The best part of a Panini is the crust, and these definitely have that; thickly developed, compressed, crunchy, with those great sorta-butter toasted flavors we look for; for some reason I had expected a flat pressed griddle for it, but the grooved grill-style really makes these sandwich breads into something nice and happy.

My own ramblings brought me first to the Spam, Hawaiian style with Pineapple, and the Cuban. The former of which seemed to take advantage of that refrigerator grilled meat+cheese sandwich flavors I so enjoy at lunch. The pineapple itself, despite the thick pieces of it, didn’t seem to ruin things as it’s likely to do, the flavor was certainly fine. That said it didn’t excite me either, was just ‘pineapple and spam,’ overall the flavors didn’t have any distinctive notes that really make me crave a re-order. It could have, there’s supposedly a Sriacha-Mayonnaise on there, but one can barely taste it; they need more of that flavor here to distinctly contrast with the pineapple and boost the generic canned meat and cheese flavors. Still enjoyed the flavors, but it could distinctly be better.

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The Cuban was given a similar choice in a garnish; regular mustard or jalapeno, both of which came from a certain yellow bottle. Of course I went jalapeno, you need SOME of that in a proper Cuban. Overall the flavors were good, in fact probably a touch better since you got more of the contrast from the tangy-sweet-spicy mustard, briny pickles, and that uniquely swiss cheese; but as Cubans go it didn’t stand out TOO strong. And part of this is from a particularly interesting choice they seemed to make. So, besides some Ham slices, the only other meat they put in there was… Chicken. White meat chicken, chopped up… where the hell is the pulled pork? There’s a REASON Cubans use some sort of slow-roasted pork along with some OTHER pork product, and that’s because it’s delicious and one can still taste it alongside those other strong flavors. Instead they chose a rather flavorless chicken… which I’m not even sure if they cooked themselves; they might have, but who knows.

Because besides that chicken, IF it didn’t come pre-cooked, it feels the only things they would have actually prepared are a couple of the sauces, cooking bacon for the Club, and then just cutting things up. There seems to be very little self-produced, transformed items being used on this truck; which is a great strategy when trying to reduce the time and cost of prep and production, but at the same time it results in the reason for why neither of these sandwiches had SUCH a strong impression on me and my taste buds as I’ve found at plenty other trucks in the cities.

Oh, and the Cuban didn’t get heated ALL the way through too; when touched, parts of the chicken were still cool. Something to note, though I think it’s only a POTENTIAL consequence for the Cuban and Club sandwiches; the others aren’t as thickly stuffed.

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Holdability: 6

               I was rather disappointed here; though, I should start out and premise by saying that we find something that’s not really messy, and IS easy to eat; two hands are required, it being served in basket and all, but can initially walk around with. That said, the real strength of paninis as street food is that firm, crunchy seal that holds everything together in one tight package, a monumental barrier that coils around its captives like iron chains. And where the bread is prepared and cooked in a way that makes this possible… they built the sandwich wrong, lubing up the chains and making them slip.

To put simply, on both of these sandwiches, the very top layer underneath the bread ended up as thick slices of something wet; pineapple for the Spam, Pickles for the Cuban. This ended up having the top piece of bread move around more, leading to some fillings falling out or other interesting instances. And that’s annoying, because it shouldn’t be happening at all, and shouldn’t have even been an issue. All they’d need to do is put a piece of cheese, a lot of mayo, or some other adhering layer between these and the bread, or just have them sliced much thinner so they end up actually melding and not disturbing the sandwich mechanics; a very important thing you know.

And I do want to get this off my chest, part of me does rather wish they did something like those longer hoagie/sub/Cuban rolls for the bread instead of the wide flat sandwich bread. Part of me just envisions that more for paninis, I feel it’d probably help keep things locked down better, and they can be just wrapped in paper and eaten with one hand; though these could too if they weren’t cut in half. But that’s a personal preference, there’s little wrong with their choice of style, just execution.

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Price: 7.5

                8 dollars across the board except for a plain Grilled Cheese, which comes in at 6. Simple basic prices for this kind of menu.

Speed: 6.5

The wait may perhaps be about average like the other trucks, but I feel it’s taking longer than it should as they not-so-quickly assemble each sandwich to order, dab both sides with melted butter, and have to wait minutes to then be pressed and grilled. This sort of item can and should be pre-, or mostly pre-, assembled so it can be quick-finished and popped in that hot, heavy plate and done like a couple minutes after the order is heard or seen.

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The TOE: 7.5

                Overall the design, theme idea, and menu look/feeling is a rather good start, they’ve capitalized on a truck that can hit distinctly in our minds, they just need to work on it more. The truck is still a bit bare I think, the menu either needs more or just BETTER and creative/interesting options that are clearly filled with things they made themselves, and maybe serve the paninis partially with a foil/paper cozy instead of in a basket so they can be taken and gone in an interesting fashion. Just put all alone in a basket is just… boring.

Tally: 35/50

Final Thoughts

You know, currently, I think the best approach option to this truck is to simply get a Grilled Cheese; it’ll be made quicker, capitalizes on all the positive aspects with little risk of encountering the not-so-great things, and of course comes a bit cheaper. The Spam makes for a nice Grilled Cheese + fun meat option, I’d probably try getting it with the tomato in hopes the top slice won’t slide around so much; plus it tastes better with the American cheese I’m sure. And finally, I say this last as I haven’t tried it yet and can’t put any positive opinion both good or bad, I would assume the best actual ‘panini experience’ would come with the Chicken Club. Their particular chicken doesn’t thrill me, but it has bacon and should hopefully be able to squish down so it’s ALL heated with no cool spots; though since it’s a club it shouldn’t be much of a mind here. Though I am curious to try the Mediterranean myself, maybe if it was a buck cheaper and used something else besides JUST Feta; poor sandwich, it doesn’t have anything that will properly melt, like Mozzarella, which CAN be considered just as Mediterranean.

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Frio Frio

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https://www.facebook.com/thebisonbutler/
https://twitter.com/friofriomn
Main Location: Minneapolis/Nordeast, Events

I’m at Open Streets Northeast last Sunday, a good occasion to get out and have a bit of fun and exploration on a day that turned out much less cloudy and rainy as forecasted, get some walking and sweating in, see some sights, stop off for a beer or snack occasionally, and near the end I turn a corner and see… god dammit, another frozen treat cart that I have to review. I mean there’s enough food trucks I need to get to already, why can’t these people just slow down and let me write!? Oh well, whatever, since it’s just the one small guy I can probably just do a quasi review out of them…

Well that idea has been shot to hell because I love these guys. I’m gonna just go right out and say it from the start, Frio Frio I believe is the best cold treat truck in the Twin Cities right now. I’m sorry Geno’s, Cranky’s, and Fro Yo, but these guys are just plain cool (unintended badum-ching), unique, delicious, and their product fits their setup perfectly (unlike a certain ice cream cart with a not-so-smooth product due to the non-traditional ‘refrigeration’).

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But here’s the deal. Taking note from similarly traditional frozen treats found on the street in Mexico, Frio Frio makes specialty popsicles out of (mostly) natural ingredients with delicious twisted flavor combos, both contemporary and sort of classic Latin-inspired. These include, but aren’t limited to, Avocado-Lime, Grapefruit-Carrot, Strawberry-Balsamic-Basil, Kiwi-Apple, and ‘Piñata’ (oh I’ll tell you about this later, be patient). Great treats for kids and adults alike, though I say stick to the adults cuz which kid is really going to appreciate anything more or less so long as it’s cold and has sugar? But I’m not going to try thinking of anything else to lengthen this intro any more, I just wanna dive right into the scoring!

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By the way, I ended up grabbing some popsicle pictures from their Facebook page because you NEED to see what the others look like.

Food: 10

                It was a bit tricky picking, but something told me I had to try the Avocado-Lime, really get that proper Mexican inspiration, and the Piñata. They were both so good, firm but not hard or particularly icy, they each licked up easy, I mean the texture was just ideal. The avocado was fantastic, actually making it smooth and creamy, almost between regular popsicles and those gelato ‘popsicles’ we see sometimes. And of course the flavor came out great (if you haven’t had avocado desserts yet, you need to try them, it actually works really well when held back by other ingredients; almost custardy with its richness, and with a smooth, round green flavor) and was balanced nicely with the lime.
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Now, the Piñata… Lemon and Coconut Water popsicle suspended with, and I’m not sh*^@ing you, Sprinkles and Gummy Bears. And it is GOOD. I swear, I never thought I’d love sprinkles and gummy bears so much, but these are sort of the perfect flavors to bring them out in, without just tasting like extra pieces of artificially flavored sugar. Not to mention you get some fun, childhood-like things to chew as you go through it. I can only imagine how tasty the other popsicles are.

Holdability: 10

                 What can I say, you walk down a hot street, licking and munching a delicious popsicle in one hand, the fingers of only one hand getting a little sticky from the bit that’s melting off the popsicle, but you don’t care, it’s not impeding you at all and it reminds you of summers who knows how long ago.
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Price: 10

                  It’s only $3 each, I mean come on! And they each certainly have a good amount to them, and flavor to make every dollar worth it.

Speed: 10

 Reach in the box, grab the popsicle, hand it to you, and off ya go (if you so desire to leave immediately).
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The TOE: 10

                  It just feels like the whole cart nails it for me; the box has a cool design, the colorful theme runs throughout (even on t-shirts), name is catchy and actually makes sense, personality is distinctly bright and bubbly, the product is simple but unique and delicious, and it actually has a tie-in to traditional street food elsewhere. They’ve totally got that ‘Adult Popsicle Cart’ feeling to it that brings you back just enough to when you were younger, slurping on a frozen lolly during a heatwave; I swear I half expected I would find that classic messy smear of popsicle on my lips and tongue when next I saw a mirror. And hey, if they have ME this excited and raving about it, they must be doing SOMETHING right. I mean heck, all their popsicles feel like a ‘Toe Ring’ to me (maybe not the kiwi-apple, but that’s me).

Service: +1.5

                Because I don’t think it’s fair for Potter’s Pasties to be the only truck ever to go over 50 points, and because there IS that really social, easy talkative feeling when you go there, likely an increased openness for random chat when the people shelling stuff out aren’t behind a window and above your head. Besides, the two shelling this stuff out are nice, hospital, and have fun personality, like a lot of people in the mobile vending service biz; just got to see it more today and here.

Tally: 51.5/50

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Final Thoughts

Frio Frio offers a product that is perfectly ideal to add on the tail end of any food truck luncheon day or just as a quick indulgent treat whenever one gets the chance. Though I’m not one for feeding kids really good products, it offers an actual strong possibility for anyone to go and find SOMETHING that fits their tastes and desires for cheap. And as for which ones to get, you can’t go wrong with anything I don’t think, but if I HAD to narrow down the ‘must-haves,’ at least for your first visit, I would definitely still go with my own choices of Avocado-Lime and Piñata. They’re both highly unique, indicative of the original influence, and come on they’re delicious.

Filius Blue

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https://www.facebook.com/Filiusblue
https://twitter.com/filiusblue
Main Location: St Paul, Wineries, Etc

Some trucks are always more of a challenge and wait to find the opportunity for me to visit, believe me there are quite a few popped up that have mocked me with their distance (just gonna have to face the fact that certain trucks in Duluth and Bemidji will likely never find their way into one of my review save for freak strokes of luck), so it’s always a welcome pleasure when I can head out of my house before to fully explore one of these usually out-of-reach businesses.

Thus I was led to Filius Blue on a trip to St Paul, where-as the South American and Caribbean-influenced truck was sat in the bright sun, the uniquely designed sides in clear view to roam over as one waits for food. It’s only their second season, so I can safely say that I haven’t delayed too fantastically long compared to a couple OTHER trucks that I’ve hit in the past!

A couple fun facts, the truck itself is named after the filius blue pepper; a tiny little purple pepper that actually gets MILDER as it ages (apparently the only pepper that does that). This particular point hints at another key element to their menu, that being the use of Heat and Peppers in what seems to be their real specialty, Handmade Sauces. From one using the filius blue of-name to habanero, jalapeno, even horseradish, the food (which I’ll break down more in a bit) finds its central focus on which of these latin-american-inspired sauces coats their top.

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Besides that, the truck itself, while focusing on St Paul over Minneapolis, mostly finds itself booked in Waconia over the weekends, along with parking at various wineries and breweries, so look for them at one of those if able. And when you do, take the chance to look along the sides; a friend of the owner’s made all the original artwork, from cutting out patterns in linoleum to make all the animals and pattern stamps along the top and bottom to a Mermaid based on an original artwork the owner had in his basement. And based on the size of those hips, seems she’s quite fond of their food herself…

There are two sections to the menu, Sandwiches and Tacos, both of which basically have the same options for fillings; at least protein wise, all of which are Slow Cooked and/or Grilled, no frying in the truck at all (they seem quite adamant about they, either that or just couldn’t afford a friar). Pork, Grilled Chicken, and Grilled Tilapia are slathered in pre-determined sauces for sandwiches, whereas one gets their choices on the Tacos, like a creamy not-hot Avocado-Buttermilk to the classic Filius Blue, and others depending on season (apparently there’s a Puerto/Costa Rican that is to die for). Tacos did also have two different filling options, a Beef and a Beans for the red meat or veggie minded.

Well I’m all set to dive in, you?

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Food: 9

                We start off with what is basically their ‘signature item’ the Jezebel Pork Sandwich. Slow roasted with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper, big chunks of this come out soft, juicy and fatty, it’s like thick dices of delicious beef brisket in pig form, perhaps from the same cut. Safe to say it came as a happy surprise, as if anything one usually expects the ‘pulled’ variety of oinker… and let us not, oh dear god let us NOT, forget this sauce. Apricot jam, horseradish, and who knows what else, all I care about is that it was sweet, savory, filled with lovely horseradish (enough to taste it and provide that signature nose tingle when eaten fast enough, but not enough to turn anyone but the most sensitive off, ideal level in my opinion), and dripping off that meat and onto your fingers. It does NOT hold together in that bun the best, but that just gives one the excuse to pick it up with the chips or just eat the pork straight off your own fingers. The only word I can think of is Delectable. Bun got a happy butter a toastage on it too.
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After that I moved onto a Taco, Grilled Tilapia since it seemed appropriate, and of course I had to try it with the Filius Blue Pepper sauce. The fish itself was cooked well, had some of that nice grill flavor to it and texture, and they actually toasted one side of the tortilla on the grill! Like only using one tortilla for an enchilada and just turning it into a taco, I’m realizing how sad it is that no one I’ve seen has done this yet; sure they warm it up or get SOME grill marks on it, but never take it to the point of having that crispy texture and browning all throughout. Such a good element, it’s a shame that it was partly ruined by the toppings. I mean we end up having some fish in the bottom, but at least half of the taco is composed of shredded lettuce, not-the-best cheddar, and some pico. Basically something reminiscent of what I can get at Taco Bell, though at least fresher; I was sadly hoping for something a bit more unique and complimentary. The pepper sauce itself wasn’t what I was hoping it’d be either, having this little creamy-chunkiness and not much heat at all. Still good in its ways mind you, but after that sandwich I was hoping it’d stand out more, which the taco overall does not outside of the tortilla.

Final note, Salsa was tasty, well-made, with a consistent texture and just a TOUCH of heat for a nice accent, maybe not spectacular (but to be fair, how often do we find a salsa that really is?) but an enjoyable side nonetheless.

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Holdability: 6

                 As I said, that sandwich was quite the monster! Pieces falling out, sauce getting all over your fingers… delectable, but still something that needs some sitting down and napkins for best results. I expect other sandwiches are similar, though likely less messy. Tacos at least increase portability, but loaded with that much lettuce/etc and using only a single shell leaves for fallout (non-messy fallout, but nonetheless).

Price: 8

                  Sandwiches at $8-9, the awesome pork at $8(yay), Tacos at $7-9, dependent on filling and automatically coming with a side, good prices though a little more range would be nice (or, as often is my wishes even if I don’t say it every time, the option to get something on its own for a little less money), but that point is always just a hair splitter when comparing to the ‘perfectly affordable/cheap’ menus.
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Speed: 7.5

Seemed to be an average wait time for grilling and assembly.

The TOE: 8.5

                  Besides the Latin-Caribbean flair, the added ‘theme’ of hot peppers as a focus certainly tickles my intrigue bone… or maybe the capsaicin is screwing with some weird nerve. Either way, it’s certainly the first time I’ve heard of a truck with this sort of edge, and I definitely appreciate it. The truck itself is attractive, maybe not so interesting from a distance but once up close to see the details and personality of the staff and wrap, one finds a truck worth going back to.

Tally: 39/50

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Final Thoughts

With a menu full of things slathered in cravingly pungent handmade sauces, this is not necessarily the food to get when one needs to keep their fingers clean, but also not suited to cart back to an office or other location… since you’ll be too intent on eating it then and there. So definitely a truck to stop by when you have the time to sit and savor.

The best strategy truly is to stick with the sandwiches, you get more impact from the meat and, come on, that Jezebel Pork is just to die for, and should be gotten on everyone’s first visit. But if you want to try something else, or just went back for a second or third time, I’d say the Jerk Chicken and Grilled Tilapia seem to be quite money… though that Gravy Pork piques my curiosity… maybe grab that and ask for one of their other sauces on the side to compliment. Since you’re sticking away from Tacos (you ARE sticking away from tacos), you’ll have to request them on the side to mix into other sandwiches, which I always find fun, sort of like when blending different veggie stews and curries into rice when I go for Indian. Red Pepper Jalapeno and, when they have it, the Puerto Rican (or Costa Rican, can’t remember) are the ones to experience.

Cafe Racer Kitchen Vist (#1?)

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Well I finally got to MY most anticipated Truck restaurant of the year, the Café Racer Kitchen. I would have gone much sooner, but after hearing a month wait for their Beer and Wine license to kick in, figured I’d wait (not that I actually HAD any, but sometimes it’s nice to give restaurants time like that to settle into their groove). For that, they currently offer a few cans from Indeed and Bauhaus Brewing, along with an Argentine Red and White, though there is talks of some fun cocktails coming soon.

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A big painted ad for Orange Crush soda on the building’s side greets one as they travel around the corner; of course I don’t ask why it’s there, whether they did it themselves or were too lazy to take it off in the first place, thus it stays a mystery! Under the motorcycle-imbued sign and into the door, we find ourselves in a small yet very open environment, smooth and shiny wood booths and tables, mostly connected for an almost communal eating opportunity. But of course I have to sit at the bar, basically four seats in front of the till with a full-on view of the kitchen.

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Where I get to watch the small team work, the two people in the kitchen and the one working the front (it was a nicely quiet-ish Sunday afternoon, though I bet even in the ‘busy’ periods they may only have 1-2 more employees total) while almost casually yet quickly doling out the truck food.

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For those of you still unaware of their mobile focus, Café Racer generally sticks with the ‘choose your entrée’ style similar to Brasa, focusing on Central American flavors/tradition. One goes for Pulled Pork or Chicken (or a veggie dish –shudders-), with which they can make an ‘entrée’ by getting two sides (rice, yucca/carrot frites, plantains, beans n rice, etc) or having with a couple Arepas for a sandwich of sorts. They also bring an awesome hot dog with toppings which I’ve experienced Here. All of this has been brought to the menu, alongside a few new plates combining some of these select sides with bigger proteins a la Quarter-Chicken and Chimichurri Skirt Steak.

 

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I came during Brunch-Sunday though, so I got to choose between options topped with Egg, Kielbasa for the protein, and plenty of sweet potato hash, arepas tossed in for buns (breakfast sandwich), base (benedict), or just on the side like toast.

 

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For a fun, semi-exploratory and semi-just-wanting-new-food visit, the Steak just called out for me. Served with a single small, firm-yet-pillowy masa cake (I love how they do their arepas now, for their style) and a side of eggs made however you want (I went for basted in lue of no poaching, wish I did sunny-side or over easy though, didn’t realize the yolk was gonna get cooked through… cooked well for a fully cooked egg though), they did little to dissuade me from diving right into that steak and hash. The meat was definitely juicy and flavorful, gotta love that harby-garlicky chimichurri paste (really gets the crave and appetite going), it is a bit chewy but only so much as one expects out of a skirt/fajita steak. The texture is just as much a part of it as the flavor, I’ve known some chefs who completely get rid of it through very long sous vide techniques, but despite how good and meltingly tender that must be it just doesn’t really fit what this dish is supposed to be in my opinion. Sorry, I just couldn’t help wanting to mention that, I guess that’s what happens with proper food experience; makes you want to discuss other things about it.

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Can’t help but love a nice hash too, they certainly hit the craving. Roasted together with herbs, this mix or regular and sweet potatoes immediately had me noticing the divergent nature between the two tubers. Whereas the sweet potatoes were fully soft, I found the russets I had to still be sorta firm; I think still cooked, but just on that edge where it could have been undercooked with just a minute less time. At first I was worried about having to critique, but I actually enjoyed it; it gave another texture, again was in an acceptable cooking range, AND it brought proper variation to the hash. What’s the use of using two different potatoes if they both feel the same anyways?

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed eating this plate, especially when I got to chop everything up and mix it together, a proper hash brunch!

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Which is never complete without a bit of coffee and dessert (really brunch is a complete daily meal: breakfast, savory lunch/dinner foods, and sweets at the end, maybe with a bit of booze). The dessert is a housemade Tres Leches (white cake soaked in a mixture of cream, condensed milk, and some other dairy), this one made with a rather compact and dense texture for the thick monster, stuffed with that sweet cream oozing from the sides like a sauce. Luis then tops his with a layer of whipped cream (a classic ‘frosting’ next to meringue) along with some orange segments and a dark chocolate drizzle. A decent offering, served cold and creamy, made even better when consumed alongside the hot, bitter and slightly-creamy coffee, brewed from a blend made just for them and served as-is or ‘au Lait’ with some simple steamy milk foam on top.

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It’s a shame that I don’t drink coffee more, this is one of those situations where I really wish I could delve into and pick out flavors like I can with wine and spirits. But I can certainly tell this coffee blend has a personality to its own, that’s quite clear as day, which I’m sure any coffee aficionados can enjoy (whether some of these notes are positive or full-on-catastrophe I can’t say there; for instance, I particularly noted a certain bitter note that I couldn’t tell if it was from over-roasting or natural ‘green’ coffee bean tannins). Do what I did and go Café au Lait option, it’s delicious and one can still get the full flavor of the roast; definitely makes the dessert complete.

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Apparently, despite the month wait, it seems I was STILL a bit soon in coming; word from Luis’ own mouth states that they’re about to start playing around with some further menu changes/addition, including a bevy of small-plate options (sorta like tapas) and some further inventive desserts, such as a Dulce de Leche (a milk-focused pudding-like dish) that’s going to be treated like flan and eaten with papaya.

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I guess I’ll just have to stop by again sometime soon, which as you know is something I RARELY do for Food Trucks on their own (for efficiency purposes), let alone the restaurants that come from them. But I think Racer is the first truck-staurant that I have a sincere urge to want to intently go back to for further explorations (I still have more sides to try!), so do take the hint dear readers and help me help them keep this little café of coolio in business.

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Brunch at Hola Arepa

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Getting to Hola Arepa’s Restaurant in Uptown, across the street from the legendary Pat’s Tap, was a long road in coming… now granted, I never paid attention to when they opened, so I don’t know HOW long a road, but I can figure at least a notable few months right? Having only two days off a week doesn’t help either, especially figuring they aren’t open on one of them (who’d figure it was Monday and not Sunday? Good thing there’s Brunch). But I got out recently so yay.

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I’m going to start off by saying this, I mean I expected them to be good of course (there’s a reason the truck’s been so popular), figured a really sweet Mexican lunch ‘sandwich’ spot reminiscent to a truck experience, but I didn’t think they’d be THIS good. Hell this was a TRIP on level with a trip to Pizza Luce, and you know how good they are.

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Especially during Brunch, which happened to be the time me and my dear sister ended up making it there. It was here that I discovered, to my intense satisfaction, how popular the spot has become, garnering a half hour wait for a table for two (so one can safely say that, unlike the truck, not the best spot for those trying to get in and out fast, at least unless you get to brunch early). Not that we minded, it gave us the opportunity to grab some rather badass cocktails.

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Here comes my first happy surprise, seeing a menu full of fun, modern Craft Cocktails reminiscent to some of our favorite finds at local bars such as NE Social, Pat’s, and Marvel. For my sister, the Seasonal Horchata Cocktail, based off a house-made ‘spiced whey horchata’ with flana cor 4yr rum, bitters, and cinnamon. A fantastic, thought-provoking improvement on the classic spiced rice-milk drink in the form of a ‘milk punch’ (look it up, they’re delicious and I want to make one). For myself, because the sister already grabbed the cocktail I wanted, something with the name of Paradise (okay, I forgot to steal or take a picture of the menu, thought the website would have it okay!? I was wrong) filled with Tropical flavored Aged Rum, Bourbon, Vermouth, Bitters, Lillet (if I remember correctly), and other cocktail things.

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Smooth, delicious, refined, definitely a great thing to sip on the benches outside during a beautiful sunny day. I absolutely love the pineapple flavor it got; subtly present, not super bright or artificial, just that deep tropical undertone lifted up and fused with the aged rum and whiskey spirits, mixing with the botanical-infused spirit elements to bring body, sweet complexity, and that amazing mouthfeel.

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But it was gone, and we got a table, and another cocktail was deserved, thus I grabbed an “Hola Fashioned” based out of well-aged rum with a dash of smoky Lagavulin Scotch to subtly tie in to the original cocktail, giving it just a light, subtle bit of that whiskey barrel-aged whiskey essence in the back while the rest fills with that delicious mix of orange aroma and rich sugar spirit. The sister got a seasonal Sangria, Red, with blueberries and another fruit. Let me just say, sangria is almost never something I crave or ever really FEEL like drinking unless it’s just in a fridge at a party (or offered to me), but THIS is one I’d go back to.

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But that’s enough talking about booze, let’s get to the actual food. There’s been plenty of articles written about this already I’m well aware, in fact I do wish I could go back for the Chicharone and Arepitas dishes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy my own experiences right?

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It’s not a trip without an Arepa, and I got to grab one I had yet to experience so far, of the ‘Breakfast’ Variety. Stuffed with a Fried Egg, Beans, the white cheese Cojita and some Tomatoes + Aioli, we decided to take the next step and also add in Pork. Which I’m glad we did, because without it I would imagine it’d be a very flat, not-so-full sandwich. Along with the meat, it certainly met the basic requirements, though I feel I’ve found more enjoyment with their other arepas (more of that rich, juicy experience, plus the dough today felt a little denser than usual). The real highlight of the order, though, was the Yuca Fries. God these fit literally every feature that I look for in PERFECT fries (at least of the thick-cut variety). Crunchy and crispy outer crust, soft pillows inside (maybe a bit more starchy than the really fluffy white potatoes), and big, these were a delight, especially with a side of aioli.

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Main Course happened to be Cachapas (yellow corn pancakes) and Fried Chicken; the latter a drier style with thick crust, truly ideal in those ‘chicken and waffle’ experiences when you just wanna cut it up and get a big piece of peppery fried batter in every bite of food. The pancakes came super soft, naturally savory-sweet highlighted from the corn sprinkled on top, and acting as an amazing base to carry the flavors of the accompanying egg, bacon, jalapeno… and of course that syrup. Easily the best part on that plate, for it truly completed that smorgasbord flavor of the ‘full pancake breakfast’ we expect, and without needing to cover the whole plate in calories. Just a few drops over my giant forkfuls of food, and that distinctly unique and deep chipotle-maple flavor could be picked up amongst everything else. It was classic, yet modern, yet traditional in a different way, and all executed well to convene in a mass that hit everything I wished for at Brunch (unless I’m craving hash brown skillet sorta thing, but that’s another day).

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Let’s move on, two more small items to get through (btw, yes there was leftovers… not much, but some nonetheless). Nowadays I love granola, yogurt, fruit and honey in the morning, and their version is easily now one of, if not MY, absolute favorites. A simple Yogurt Flan (baked custard, panna cotta, etc) with fresh Blackberries and a Cornflake-Pepita ‘Granola,’ which if anything was more of a candied mix of the two, with some sort of syrup on bottom (my money’s on a flavored Agave, but who knows? Maybe it was just honey based). Whatever the details were, it was good, and a perfect way to have a little dessert at breakfast time; I want more of the ‘granola,’ that was just sweet and crispy and addictive, they need to make an actual cereal out of it.

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Despite that, I had to try a certain actual dessert, the Mini “Churro.” Both I and they use the quotation marks for good reason, because I’m pretty sure they don’t use the same crème-puff-style dough which churros are usually made from. It came out more… actually, now that I think about it, it was basically like a coffee cake. A really good one, covered in a thick layer of cinnamon-sugar, and then served with a chocolate-coffee sauce on the side. Which, may I say, was DIVINE. Silky, smooth, with that teasingly bitter flavor that makes you think of classic Mexican Cacao, all to dip and pour over your little ‘churro,’ which ate nicely (if not messily, and yes you MUST use your hands for this or you aren’t a proper Hombre). It’s not a churro on any real fashion besides the fry job and cinnamon, but it is still good for what it is.

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And that thus concludes my little round-up of my first, and hopefully not last, visit towards Hola Arepa. I know I don’t have to wish them any luck, so instead I shall simply set my feet, look forward, and continue on towards the next meal, wherever it shall take me. Certainly I hope you can do the same. Good Luck and Good Eating.

Vellee in the Skyway with Burritos

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You know what the sorta funny thing is? There’s at least… what, 5 (likely much more) food truck restaurants and other standing operations that have opened up in the past two years that I STILL have yet to get to in the Twin Cities, and yet I literally only found out on Twitter about Vellee Deli’s Skyway place, located in the Baker Building off 8th and Marquette, on day 2 of their opening and I’m able to make it out there a week later! Well, guess it was the straw that broke this camel’s back, thank god I’ve finally broken down and accepted the need for using Twitter (shudders); I mean, I can’t miss out on my favorite truck’s new operation can I?

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And I’m not the only one apparently; whether it’s die-hard truck fans, other hipster-like foodies glued to twitter, or simply skyway workers really looking forward to the different, delicious fair, the line out the opening was well and long! Let’s hope it stays like that, as it should; if there’s any skyway food business that should stay successful for a long time, I think Vellee deserves it (who cares about the boring fast food companies?).

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An open-air kitchen filled with more than double the number of people that worked in the truck dealt with this line rather fast, serving out the large menu drawn in chalk, the same as on the truck but with a few extra, tasty items. I of course had to try one of these newer items myself, grabbing the Tofu Burritio (made with curry, zingy cream sauce, and some mushrooms and lettuce) and Chips w/ Pineapple Salsa.

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Yeah yeah, the guy who complains about the logic of ordering chips and guac from a truck got some here. Well it’s a sit-down restaurant so I have the right! And it was quite tasty… was a bit surprised seeing the tomato base, figured it’d be more ike the typical Caribbean, all-pineapple with some mix-in salsas, was very much worried about the flavors being too muddy/mixed… but it actually tasted really good. Fresh, tart and lightly sweet, tangy, not thick and very crunchable on the chips.

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Then there’s the burrito, I mean who can complain about their burritos? It’s practically an indulgent sin, but vegetarian… and after just coming out of a month of vegetarianism, I’ve found new appreciation for the product that is Tofu, along with other non-meat-based thingies. Safe to say, scrumptious and nummy, the only reason it took me 10 minutes to eat being because I had an 8-minute phone call after I started! Plus I can’t say no to a good dish of curry and rice… I’ll admit my nerves waned slightly at the notable inclusion of simple lettuce, but it fully heightened the experience (I need to stop doubting lettuce… I blame taco bell).

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Well, it’s no different than my other ravings on Vellee’s offerings. As always, I wish them luck and good fortune in all their ventures, and hope those reading get the chance to try their Minneapolis Skyway location sometime soon. Just remember it’s only open 10-3, like all the other locations up there (think they’ll start complaining about losing business to food trucks now? Haha). Now, what truck restaurant to visit next…

 

Oh, gotta love a fully stocked quality soda bottle section while you’re at it, no matter where you go.

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Eastlake Craft and Taco Cat Quasi Review

tchttp://www.tacocatmn.com/
https://twitter.com/tacocats

Sad to say, the past winter, in combination with the full-time job I’ve acquisitioned into, has bulldozed my daily schedules and habits to one which has fully kept me from my beloved food truck explorations for the longest of times. I worry that I won’t be able to make it out to try some of the new entrepreneurs, let alone catch up with ones I still have yet to reach after last year’s premier.

But this spring feels so revitalizing! Just recently finishing up a month-long vegetarian diet project (which I’m now regretting not featuring in my Other Blog), getting used to the new hours, my wallet not feeling as dry and stingy as before, and with the weather taking a noted turn for the better, that flexible sense of adventure and exploration finally re-set itself in my soul and fingers. Restrictions no longer seem to cling to me anymore, leaving my wandering tastes excited for the new possibilities as I make my plans to get back into the food scene of my much loved Twin Cities.

20150315_163237And with my first full day off of work after this amazing weather hit, I just had to go to a taproom, so I headed down to the Midtown Global Market to visit the newly-opened Eastlake Craft Brewery, a fun venture started 3 months ago that focuses on some Belgian, IPA, and unique styles, including a fully Vietnamese-flavored and styled beer called “Eye of the Tiger.” Besides beer, the place offers Dean’s Kombucha on tap, tasty on its own but even better when utilized in a “One Two Punch,” whereas they’ll do a half-and-half mix of your chosen beer and flavored kombucha (I tried the Tiger with some Blackberry, subtly spicy sassy sour super sipper, num). But that’s a review for another time, which I’ll probably hand over to Eat.Drink.Dish, what we really need to talk about is the food!

20150315_155139The reason I chose Eastlake, in the center of uptown as it is, was to finally achieve an experience I, and many other Minnesotans, have been telling myself I’d do for over a year without actually making a proper attempt: Taco Cat delivery. Yes, those gurus of the stuffed tortilla that started in the southern area of Minneapolis, solely relying on a bike delivery services and sarcasm. Despite being based out of a kitchen in the Global Market, TC still has no ‘proper’ pickup, requiring you to stand outside of the building to then have your tacos delivered by bike. Despite the simple requirement of having to be anywhere in uptown, the cliché of everyone talking and raving about Taco Cat without having actually tried it yet has still stood strong in our cities (well, at least I’m no longer part of those statistics).

I wanted to take a picture for the feature, but my guy wasn’t wearing his jersey today (the bearded bastard!!), and I couldn’t find any good ones online of their delivery guys wearing anything besides winter coats, so here’s a picture of a cat in a taco costume!

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D’awwwwww

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It certainly is yet another great taproom food, the guys offering a few basic and unique topping-laden tacos, along with options for Nachos and Burritos filled with choice meats. Going for two items today, I chose the Ruckus, a mint-chimichuri and pickled radish-topped steak, and the Outlaw, slow-cooked pork with kimchi and typical salsas. Each order comes with Three decent-sized tacos, great for sharing or just stuffing your face (and, of course I checked, no we cannot do mix-and-match orders… thus why I ended up having to buy 6 tacos just to try two menu items… at least my next home lunches aren’t gonna suck). Of which, both of these certainly displayed how Taco Cat has gotten its reputation for scrumptious street food.

Two quality, soft layered masa tortillas stuffed with juicy, tender meat, I mean come on. The pulled pork was easily one of the best, juiciest that I’ve had in the street food game so far, and a great base to build a taco with. Steak was nice and typical of most but, on the other hand, when I hear grilled steak, I want something… more. Give me some crust, texture, something more than cooked beef cubes (they’re good cooked beef cubes mind you). But my mouth was overall quite happy with what I put in it.

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Oh, and can’t forget the salsas! A green salsa verde with the steak, a chipotle-based number for the pork, both of them so devilishly good… especially the latter, so smoky and rich and indulgent, I just want to slather it all over the pork and just stick with that.

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They may not be an actual food truck, thus my choice to delegate them to the Quasi-review circuit, but they’re fully delved into the core of street food in our cities, and I’ve been wanting to try them anyway, so there.

                 Food: 8 – What I’ve already mentioned, I also found that the fun toppings I was so excited for, such as the kimchi and mint chimichurri, barely came out. When having it plain (no salsa), I was able to get a subtle mint on the steak, but that was the biggest personality inclusion. I really wish they stood out with a ‘POW’ like they should. Can assume similar meat and flavor qualities across options.

20150315_151142              Holdability: 8 – Tightly bundled tacos, easily transportable in their aluminum wrap (and doggy delivery bag)

Price: 5 – Certainly higher than typical taco trucks, even for the simpler offerings, and forcing us to buy 3 of the same at a time keeps bills higher, especially when sampling multiple items.

Speed: 4 – Great for bike delivery I’m sure, but even when ordering outside the kitchen makes a 10-minute wait. So, compared to food trucks, not the best.

Toe: 10 – What? I like the name… and it’s funny reading their website’s Q&A section

I don’t remember if I usually have a ‘final suggestion’ section in these Quasis anymore, but I certainly wanna say that, if you ever have the chance to hang in uptown and place an order, do this: Order as a Group, so you can try a few different meats, split the costs, and have a smorgasbord of fun to try. Don’t go for the ‘special’ tacos with the different toppings; instead, just get the plain (pork or chicken ideal) and smother in those amazing salsas… I mean seriously. I bet the nachos and burritos are pretty gangsta too (yes I just said that); and safe to say, these are best enjoyed at breweries, coffee shops, or other fun outdoorsy sit-downs in uptown.

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Well, that’s about it for now, I’m gearing up for some more brewery visits and other upcoming fun! Enjoy this amazing season all of you (unless for some reason you’re reading this in winter… in that case, so sorry… maybe build a snowman and watch Frozen?)!