El Taco Riendo, 2412 Central Ave. NE

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El Taco Riendo. Next door, next week, Costa Blanca Bistro.

Enroute to lunch, I am stopped at a light behind an oversized all-black pickup with out-of-state vanity plates. The plates reads: BCUS I CN. After a minute, my brain fills the blanks. “Because I can.” Is the driver saying, for example, ‘I will run you over with my giant black pickup________________.’ You can fill in the blank. In this interpretation, the vanity plate is a statement of pure narcissistic individualism. Or is the message intended graciously, as in, ‘I will help old ladies across the street_______________.’ My intuition leads to the first interpretation, perhaps influenced by the size and darkness of the truck, but my cockeyed-optimism leads to the latter.

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Interior, with ordering area visible on the right.

El Taco Riendo features counter service offering “generous portions of Mexican Staples”. I opt for simplicity and order a cheese quesadilla. If a restaurant can do the basics well, the rest should be good. Yes? The quesadilla is huge! Like the black pickup! Only yummier! It includes a simple salad, sour cream, good guacamole, and spicy-enough salsa. The tortilla is thin and tender with crisp edges. Inside is a ton of white cheese, with cilantro and onion. I eat half and take half home. Those who read last week’s post from Khao Hom Thai may recall that I vowed to always bring my own container for leftovers. Well, I did bring one, but left it in the car, and was too lazy to run across the street. Good intentions, faulty execution.

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Tastes as good as it looks.

The atmosphere is comfortable and low-key. I sit in booth right behind two younger men, but alas, the acoustics are such that eavesdropping is impossible, a good thing if you are trying to have a private conversation near a nosy woman. From the kitchen I hear conversation and laughter. (Note: El Taco Riendo means “The Laughing Taco”). The clientele skew young and diverse. Prices are reasonable, to say the least.

Until next week, be good, BCUS U CAN!

 

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Real mini-carnations

 

 

Khao Hom Thai, 2411 Central Ave. NE

 

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The highlight of the Khao Hom Thai experience revolved around my inability to keep track of my cell phone. After being seated in a booth in the back by the gracious host/server, I scoped out the place. The space was formerly occupied by my go-to Thai place, Karta Thai, which moved about 14 blocks north on Central, meaning you will get to virtually visit in about 1 year, she says hyperbolically. While the menu looks similar, the seating has been altered with the replacement of the south wall booths by tables–increased seating capacity, decreased coziness.

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By my calculation there are a total of 3 Thai restaurants on Central. So I devise a plan–order Pad Thai, ubiquitous to Thai cuisine, at each place, thereby enabling a fair comparison.

img_3220.jpgKhao Hom Thai offers lunch specials, which include a salad. The salad arrives almost immediately. Despite containing iceberg, my pet-peeve green, it is fresh, nicely presented, and tastily dressed. I give it a qualified seal of approval. The Pad Thai with tofu is delivered after a suitable interval, also attractive, sizzling hot, and delish. However, having forgotten that Pad Thai is noodle-rich and veggie-poor, I realize that the  all-Pad Thai plan will need to be reconsidered.

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A table of 5 youngish men and 1 woman of a similar age, are seated next to my booth. Yay! I get to listen to their conversations. They are co-workers, wearing unreadable badges on lanyards. They discuss whether or not they are millennials. One of them checks Google, learning that the millennial window runs from the early 1980s to the 2000s. One of the guys terms them, “he stupidest generation”. Another guy calls millennials a “movement”. The response, “I want to disassociate myself from that movement.” Self-loathing millennials! They discuss Shark Tank, and chocolate chip cookies. These are intelligent people with a good rapport.

Back to the cell phone. The bill is modest, $12.00 including a 25% tip, and I leave with a take out carton containing another meal. (Note: Henceforth I will carry a container with me for leftovers. They are rarely recyclable or compostable.) Post-lunch I stop at the Eastside Co-op. In the co-op parking lot, I decide to check my cell. NO PHONE! Mentally retracing my steps, I realize that I left it lying on the booth seat. Fortunately, at least in this circumstance, I also have a work cell and use it to call the abandoned phone. A guy hesitantly answers and I learn that, indeed, it was left in the booth.

Upon return to the restaurant, I am greeted by the host, who raises his arms, exclaiming, “There she is!” He directs me to the man who found the phone, a member of the group of 6 upon whom I eavesdropped. They were all pleased have been part of a good deed.

Until next week from El Taco Riendo, do something dumb to make someone else feel helpful. It’ll make you happy, too!

Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant, 2405 Central Avenue NE

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Back entrance from alley parking

Do you ever suspect when someone asks you a question, for example, “How was your day?” what the person actually wants is for you to ask about their day? It’s true, friends, and we all engage in this slightly manipulative conversational maneuver.

Me: “So, what’s your favorite day of the week?”

You: (Fill in the blank)

Me: (Waiting for you to ask me the same question.)

You: (After an awkward conversational pause) Um, what’s your favorite day of the week?

Me: I’m so glad you asked! It’s Wednesday, without a doubt.

You: Interesting. (Spoken in an overtly ironic, disinterested tone.)

Me: Not only do I get to have lunch at a new restaurant every week and eat interesting, if not always fabulous food, I have the joy of writing about the experience and sharing it with my friends, who may or may not give a rat’s behind. But, hey! I love it.

You: Whatever.

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Interior

 

Meanwhile, back to Adelita’s. There is more to this place that one might suspect. The restaurant area is spacious, with comfy booths, two bar areas, and a karaoke booth. The menu is vast and tantalizing. Upon being seated a server brings me water, a basket of see-through thin tortilla chips, and a dish of pretty good salsa. After examining the menu and scrutinizing my fellow diners, I order a veggie burrito and a Pacifico beer. The beer and food arrive in record time. The burrito is the size of a

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Yup, its a BIG burrito.

small animal and arrives unadorned. My suspicion is that the burrito is vegan, and this is confirmed by a lack of cheese in the filling. No matter, the mixture of rice, beans, cabbage, lettuce, cilantro, corn, peas, carrots, celery, and onion is more than enough, and tastes quite delicious when doused with Valentina Salsa Picante, a bottle of which I will seek to purchase on my next grocery outing. If I ordered the burrito again, it would be with a side of guacamole.

Overall, I like the energy of the place. The servers are pleasant and efficient if not overly friendly, and the Mexican music enhances the atmosphere. The business is steady and mainly comprised of folks who probably know good Mexican food. Adelita’s offers a happy hour with $3 imported beers and $4 margaritas. Check it out.

Until next week from Kao Hom Thai. Let me know what you favorite day of the week is, and why it’s your fav. Really, I do want to know! 🙂

 

 

 

Football Pizza, 2339 Central Avenue NE

img_3143.jpg“Are you a health inspector?” Shortly after I take my place at a table a man named Joe stops by and in a benign manner asks me this unexpected and potentially disconcerting question. I tell him that I’m just here to eat, and ask him what he does. “I do some maintenance around here.” He sets his reading glasses and water bottle on my table and disappears into another area of the building.

At Football Pizza, one orders at the counter. img_3148.jpgOptions include pizza and Afghan dishes. I order bean korma from the guy at the counter, who tells me his name is Wais. Later I learn that he is the owner of the building and the business. I ask what happened to Crescent Moon Bakery, the former occupant of this location. He tells me that it is still Crescent Moon, but because of the pizza factory, they changed the name to reflect that, so people know where the pizzas are made. Along with eat-in and take-out, one can buy frozen pizzas and bags of pita bread.

Why “Football Pizza”? I discover that the pies are football-shaped. Based on the name of the establishment, one might mistake this for a sports bar, but that would be an error.However, there are TVs, including a huge one right across from where I sit. The set is tuned to TNT, which is broadcasting a movie featuring a man with a sewn-together face that looks like the work was done by a complete stitching novice. Terrible and not terribly appetizing.IMG_3147I remain undeterred, attempting to not look at the giant TV screen, especially while eating.

After I get my plentiful plate of food, Wais comes over to deliver a pitcher of water. He explains that the place is not busy today due to the Ramadan fast. Normally, he said, they do a great business, and are starting a lunch buffet in addition to the current evening buffet. In the windows and inside hang many “Best of” awards, mainly for the pizza, which lead me to plan a future return visit to sample a signature football-shaped pie.

The tasty bean korma is neatly served with a lemon wedge, seasoned rice topped with raisins, a lettuce salad, and quarter of toothsome pita. For those who may be wondering, IMG_3145
Afghan bean korma is made of beans, in this case kidney and chickpeas, and onions, served in a tasty thick sauce. When I eat the leftovers at home, I will add a dollop of plain yogurt.

In the course of our conversation, Wais mentions how NE Minneapolis is changing, noting that home prices have doubled. I share that the impending transformation is one the motivating factors in my “Eating (and Lunching) Up Central” project. He approves.

Jim stops by for his reading glasses but leaves his water. With a pleasant nod, he leaves.

Until next week from Adelita’s Mexican Restaurant, stay cool and be good.

La Colonia, 2205 Central Ave. NE

 

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Back lot

The first bit of good news about La Colonia Columbian & Ecuadorian restaurant is the large parking lot in back, complete with a rear entrance. Parking on Central can be a bit of a challenge. The second is the music, Latin and so appropriate to the setting. The third arrives shortly after placing the order—a tomato de arbol (wine tree tomato) milk shake. Having no previous experience with wine tree tomatoes, or with tomato milk shakes generally, I am skeptical but intrigued. The server attempts to explain what a wine tree

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Happiness

tomato is, but we run into a language barrier. All I can say is muy bien. It is sweet, but not too, and tastes of tomato in a surprisingly positive way. It reminds me that a tomato is, after all, a fruit. The fourth bit of good news is that the muted TV up on the wall (not generally my favorite feature in any setting) is showing highlights of last night’s Twins game on a Spanish version of Fox Sports. And I love the Minnesota Twins in any language.
Sipping on my shake, I eavesdrop on the one other couple sharing the room. The late middle-aged man describes a recent DNA ancestry test. He is surprised by the results (less Scandinavian than anticipated). The woman appears to be entranced by the story. Perhaps they are dating. When I run out to my car to retrieve my cell phone, they promise to watch over my laptop. Nice people. As noon approaches, other customers drift in, taking their places in surrounding booths. La Colonia has three separate seating areas and a small bar area. A two-for-one happy hour is advertised. The place is clean, attractive, and comfortable.

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Lunch!

For the main course I order Encocado do Pescado, described as “cod fish cooked in a coconut broth and served with rice, avocado, and sweet plantain”. The fish is meltingly tender and has a delicate coconut flavor, which is enhanced by the garnish of chopped cilantro. The fried plantains are tasty and not overly greasy. The rice is rice and the avocado is avocado. A ramekin of fresh-appearing and perky-tasting hot sauce is served on the side.

When I conceived the idea that became “Eating (and Writing) Up Central”, I expected this adventure in near-weekly eating and blogging to be fun. But it far exceeds my imagination. This marvelous diversity of places and people and food is within two miles of home. My only regret is not starting sooner. After working my way up Central Avenue NE and visiting all the non-chain restaurants as far up as 694 (this will take awhile!), my plan is to continue weekly adventures. Maybe museums, or parks, or galleries, or historic buildings, or off-the-beaten path neighborhoods. Ideas? You, too, could fashion your own adventure and share the experience with others.

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Concert posters on back door

My novel Borderland continues to take shape. Claire, the main character, is slowly being transformed and awakened, despite a bad self-inflicted haircut and a embarrassing encounter with funeral home director Richard Davies while seeking to avoid Brad, her scary apartment manager.

Until next week.

 

 

Mill Northeast, 1851 Central Ave. NE

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On a Wednesday at 11:23, the clientele at Mill Northeast includes an older scholarly-appearing woman wearing round glasses, diligently correcting or editing papers in her booth. At the counter sits a long-haired man wearing a hoodie advertising a local film company. At the side of this “larger than life” guy is a long-haired woman. They engage in lively conversation. On the counter next to the man rests an interesting black case with a large silver cross on the lid. It resembles a briefcase but the dimensions are smaller and the case is taller. In a booth near, me two guys are having a meeting, perhaps a job interview, as the younger guy can be overheard presenting his credentials as an engineer. Nope. It actually seems that younger guy is selling something, a service maybe. The older man uses the phrase “alpha product”.

On the menu is a veggie burger, always my favorite, but given the recent question from a reader, ‘why on earth would you order a veggie burger at Bonicelli?’ (see previous post), IMG_3077I decide to eat outside my box and order the caprese beet salad. It is constructed of house-pulled mozzarella, beets (obviously) both gold and red, crushed pistachios, a bed of arugula, topped with a balsamic glaze, and garnished with olive oil powder. Tasty, tasty! In my perfect world a nice plate of salad would always be served with a nice piece of bread. Yes?

The atmosphere is pleasantly noisy, and the comfy interior is nothing fancy. I ponder the original function of the building, as it has the look of being repurposed, like a garage turned into a man cave. Perhaps it was IMG_3078a drive-in with indoor seating? I ask Sara(h), the very nice server, and yes, she confirms that it began life as a Porky’s. Cha-ching!

Observing a burger being served to one of the business meeting people, I notice that the accompanying fries look fabulous–golden, skin-on. Yup. I do love a good fry, and briefly consider asking the guy if I can try one, but didn’t want to disturb their conversation about “food modeling”, another interesting phrase.

Today’s lunch is earlier than usual. At 1:00 I will attend a funeral in St. Louis Park. In addition to writing, I work part-time as a hospice spiritual counselor. In addition to that, I freelance for funeral homes in planning and leading services. This leads me to spend a lot of time with dying people and at funerals. You might see this as odd or gloomy. Someone once said of my hospice work, “Well, I guess someone has to do it”, as if it was a vaguely distasteful endeavor. It is interesting to observe how people can be appalled by death, which in truth, is every bit as natural, if not as cheerful, as birth. But these feelings provide much of the raison d’etre for my role with patients and families. Being invited to share in an experience as intimate and tender as death is a huge privilege.

From the book of Ecclesiastes, following on the famous passage about everything having its season*, we read: What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with.  He (sic) has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Until next week from Las Colonia, enjoy all that comes your way!

* Used by Pete Seeger as the text for “Turn! Turn! Turn!, the number one hit for The Byrds in December of 1965. The exclamation points are in the title.

 

Bonicelli Kitchen, 1839 Central

20180426_123357.jpgMy visit to Bonicelli Kitchen causes me to reflect on the past, present, and future of Central Avenue NE. I have had the pleasure of meeting folks who grew up in this area of Minneapolis from the 1920s through the 1950s. All expressed surprise at its transformation from a neighborhood of predominantly Eastern European immigrants to an area populated by diverse peoples, many coming from East Africa, Latin American, and the Middle East. This demographic transition is reflected in the thrilling variety of the street’s cuisine. Now is the time to visit and enjoy, as I detect that another round of change which is already in process, not to imply that this is bad. Buddhist teaching would confirm that change is the basic nature of reality.

But first, the food.

Those who are following this blog may grow weary of veggie burger pics, but here’s a dandy. Housed in a pretzel bun is a burger made with lots of healthy stuff that manages to taste really good. 20180426_121509Served on the side are Asiago roasted potatoes, house-made pickles, and spicy mayo. Yup. I am happy. And my sense of well-being is enhanced by the excellent decision to order a Fair State Vienna Lager. Drinking at lunch is something I never do, but never say never. (Apologies for the cliche.) Perusing the menu I spy another 5 or 6 items that I would be happy to try in a future visit. On the right is a picture of the interior decor.20180426_115308

Back to the reflection on a neighborhood in the process of being reincarnated. The presence of an up-scale, chef-owned restaurant planted less than a year ago on the same block as Central Deli and Coffee (see my posting of a couple of weeks ago) is an example of the change coming to Central Avenue. As NE Minneapolis becomes a center for artists drawn here by studio and gallery space available at reasonable prices, people with money to spend will follow. The more affluent folks may see this as an area worth exploring, maybe even a place to call home. Real estate prices and rents rise, people of modest means move or are unable to buy, existing businesses may close or move. It is an evolutionary and inevitable process.

But for now, I joyfully eat and write.

My novel Borderland also continues to not only grow but to evolve. Those who write know what I mean. Characters take on a life of their own, and begin to have a hand in the plot. This past week I have been shaping and reshaping a scene in which Claire, the main character, is unwillingly drawn into a regular relationship with her neighbor Violet. In the process, Violet has to me revealed unforeseen complexities in her personality. Meanwhile, Claire is troubled by mysterious nighttime sounds on the other side of her bedroom wall.

Until next week.