El Taco Riendo, 2412 Central Ave. NE

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El Taco Riendo

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

Maya Cuisine, 1840 Central Avenue NE

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Maya Cuisine is colorful, with the exterior and interior painted in shades of lime, papaya, and red pepper. As you can see by the photo, the restaurant is located right next door to a psychic reader. The psychic was out on Wednesday. My own powers of insight suggested that even if she (I’m assuming gender) had been in, I’m better off saving my money and letting the future unfold as it will.

Time for lunch.

Inside Maya the seating options are varied, including a long window table with stools looking out to the street, a row of booths opposite the cooking/ordering area, a back area with table service, and farther back, a bar. At the take out counter are menus with photos and descriptions of the offerings—tacos, tamales, burritos, salads, quesadillas, platillos (plates), and tortas. Each is available with a choice of meats, or (yay!) vegetarian. To this Minnesota native, the food seems authentically Mexican, beef stomach and beef tongue being offered in addition to standard meats. Beverages options include Mexican beers and sodas. So there you have it.

I choose the veggie quesadilla with guacamole and a side of pinto beans. It arrives in a IMG_2984few minutes. A garnish bar offers salsas and other toppings. The quesadilla and beans are filling. My only gripes are that the free water from a glass jar with spigot tastes weirdly musty, and my booth table rocks back and forth on an uneven bottom.

The place is busy for lunch, with a clientele skewing young, seasoned with a savory selection of older folks. The front section, being near the ordering and cooking areas, is fairly noisy, but the table and bar section are a lot quieter if your dining plan focuses on serene conversation.

The highlight of my Mayan adventure is a conversation with two young women in the rear bar area. Observing me snooping IMG_2989around and taking photos, they ask in a friendly way what I am doing. I share my strategy of visiting all the non-chain Central Avenue restaurants in NE Minneapolis and blogging about the experiences. They love the idea and proceed to recommend other restaurants. Their favorites? Ginger Hop and an Ecuadoran place, but they couldn’t recall that name. I’m thinking maybe Chimbaroza? We’ll get that far up Central by about mid-summer if all goes according to plan, which of course it most likely will not. And that’s OK.

A work colleague asked me recently if I was dining alone on these outings. Having given thought to inviting friends to share the experience, I told her that I had decided to go it alone because, at least for me, solo dining encourages observation and interaction.

The rewrite of Borderland continues apace. Claire has met and been interrogated by Violet Swenson, her cranky and outspoken across-the-hall neighbor. Violet will later come to have a profound influence on Claire.

Next week I plan to lunch at Bonicelli Kitchen, a relative newcomer to Central Avenue. The website description is as follows: “A spacious patio offering Italian dishes with global flair alongside a thoughtful beer and wine list.” One fervently hopes that they also have indoor seating!

Be good to yourself.