Monday, March 22, 2010

El Burrito Mercado – St. Paul, MN

I know I’ve complained about the caliber of Mexican food in the Twin Cities before (and may have just stereotyped it for all of Minnesota as well), but I will humbly eat my words on this matter – as long as I can eat those words with a garnish of El Burrito Mercado’s food. D.Rough had told me about this place when she heard me complaining about my awful experiences with Mexican food over the past two years. She felt it her civic duty to the city of St. Paul to show me that St. Paul does indeed have quality Mexican cuisine (and to shut me up, since I bring it up regularly). She told me El Burrito Mercado would change my mind. Consequently, TheDoctor sent me a message a week ago stating I needed to try this amazing Mexican place called El Burrito Mercado. When I told him D.Rough had already suggested it, he got surly about me taking D.Rough’s words over his – which is probably true in most things aside from playing air guitar/drums to Dillinger Escape Plan.

We went on a Sunday, which is probably a busier day, so we found the parking lot almost entirely full of cars, people, and small merchants selling clothes and roasted corn. When you walk inside, it’s 2/3 grocery store, 1/3 restaurant. We hopped in line for the cafeteria-style restaurant and scanned the menu on the wall above the line. It doesn’t seem like a huge menu, but all of the right things are on there, and they are explained in pretty adequate detail, so you know what you’re getting (you can view the menu boards on the restaurant’s website ahead of time if you don’t want to risk it). While in line, you walk past a refrigerated cooler with soft drinks which you can acquire there in line, of you can order from a smaller (but different) cooler while paying for your order.

Both of us kept going back and forth on what we’d like to eat (really, it was pretty bad on both sides). By viewing the people in front of me, I determined you ordered what you’d like to eat, then you tell them what kind of meat to add to it, and finally, they put the finishing touches on it (lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, guacamole, etc.) toward the end of the assembly line in front of you. I finally decided on a really large Huarache (12” instead of the standard 8”)(twss). It’s actually called a Huarachote Grandote – translated loosely as “big ass huarache”. While standing there, I saw a giant vat of soup. I asked what soups they had and she told me Menudo and also Pozole – ding ding ding!!! That was the magic word. I also ordered a bowl of Pozole. The lady asked me if that would be instead of my giant huarache (how many times have I been asked that?...), and I assured her that would be “in addition to” the previously ordered food. She just smiled and shook her head. D.Rough decided on a meat quesadilla once we were standing in front of the lady making them and seeing how delicious they looked. I asked for spicy pork with my huarache and D.Rough got the spicy beef in her quesadilla.

While paying for our food (mine was particular pricey, but only because I basically was bringing back two entrees just for myself – like an idiot), I noticed the fridge behind the counter containing Jumex nectars. One of my all-time favorite drinks is Guanabana Jumex – and they had it here. Cha-ching!!! I was already liking this place and I hadn’t even sampled anything. There’s a small salsa bar with some peppers and grilled veggies after you get your food, so you can stop by and top off your entrée with whatever toppings you’d like. The dining room near the cafeteria part was full, so we went into the back area which is more of a full-service restaurant – with lots of seating and a bar or two.

The food was simply amazing. I will start with the Pozole, since a lot of people don’t know what that is. It’s basically pork soup. There is a thick green (in this case, but some places also have red) broth with pieces of pork in it. And by pieces, I mean chunks of meat, bone, and yes SOMETIMES tongue (in this case, there was and I ate around it after D.Rough told me to hide it). There is also hominy in the soup (that’s just puffed corn – don’t be scared of hominy, white people). It’s usually served with radishes and lettuce for you to add to your soup, but I didn’t get them this time, since I figured I’d go with it plain, so D.Rough could get a good feel for this soup. The soup is usually served with tortillas for eating with – I chose flour this time around. The broth was spicy and delicious and D.Rough’s favorite part. The hominy always adds great texture and the pork meat was fantastic and tender. Really excellent soup.

The Huarache was the best I’ve had, I admit it. It’s a cooked corn meal (masa, actually) tortilla-sort of. It’s long and oval shaped and named after the word for “sandal” since that’s kind of the shape. It’s covered with beans, red sauce, the spicy pork that I ordered, and then lettuce, tomato, guacamole, and cheese (or whatever toppings you like). The masa foundation was perfectly cooked (and lightly pan-fried) and not greasy, the toppings and sauce were great, but the real winner on this entrée was the spicy pork. It fell apart with the fork and had some heat to it. Tremendous dish and I’m really glad I went with this thing. And yes, to answer your question, DID finish all my food (Aside from some tongue and bones I left in the soup bowl.

The quesadilla that D.Rough got was really really good. The spicy beef inside was really tender, and while not as spicy as the spicy pork, was still a really good flavor. I know people think of quesadillas as plain things to get, but this one was really not. It was delicious. Served with beans and rice, it was plenty filling and not the slightest bit plain.

As we found out, if you’re sitting in the restaurant side, there is a waitress and they will bring you a menu and serve you at the table, so don’t be afraid to try that if cafeteria-style isn’t your thing.

The supermarket part of the place was really cool as well. We walked around to try to work off some of the food (oh yeah, and to find some flan). There’s a large Mexican bakery in the center of the store with all kinds of home made delights. There’s some prepared food coolers with delicious looking things you can take home and heat up. There’s a full-service butcher in one part f the store with all kinds of full pig heads in coolers and other random bits I couldn’t look at for very long. Lots of Mexican candy, cooking supplies, fruits, vegetables, and dry goods. It’s got a lot of fun stuff to look at, and a handful of things that scare the hell out of me. It’s worth a look if you’re there eating, though!

And for the record, we did take a full-on siesta after this meal. Viva la Mexico!!!

Top 5 things about El Burrito Mercado
1. Huarachote Grandote
2. Pozole
3. Spicy Beef Quesadilla
4. Guanabana Jumex
5. Lots of things to choose from aside from the menu board

Bottom 5 things
1. Slightly confusing flow if you haven’t been there before
2. You may not know about certain foods if you don’t look at the full-service menu
3. No Mt. Dew
4. It’s hard to be in denial about various tongues in your soup
5. D.Rough felt intimidated by the surly-looking waitress guarding the full bar, which had a pitcher of water on it – she stole some anyway, since she’s a ninja

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