Meat and onions sizzle on the grill at El Poblanito on East Lake Street in Minneapolis. One of the women working in the kitchen uses a spatula to flip the meat and separate the onion. The other woman makes a red salsa. The aroma is rich and intense as it hits the senses. There’s no need to taste it to know it’s hot.
Earlier this summer, El Poblanito celebrated 23 years in business. Co-owner Cesar Morales said the past two years haven’t been easy for the business founded by his father.
And there was a time after the unrest following the police murder of George Floyd, they seriously considered moving from Lake Street. Morales said he understands that people want to feel safe and secure.
“But the thing is, if we leave we’re going to abandon Lake Street. And all that hard work we put into this street is going to go out the window. So we were like, ‘We’re going to tough it out. We’re going to stay.’ This is our history. They’re not going to kick us out,” Morales said.
El Poblanito, like other businesses, also saw sales go down because of the pandemic. And it was vandalized during the riots that followed the Floyd murder.
But the day following the riots and vandalism, Morales said something incredible happened.
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“The next day, we saw the whole community come together, people that we haven’t seen in a long time, came over to help us out,” he said.
El Poblanito not only stayed, but on Saturday, Sept. 24, it will be part of the self-guided Taco Tour along East Lake Street between Clinton Avenue and 19th Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Taco Tour returns after a five year hiatus, said Henry Jimenez, executive director of the Latino Economic Development Center — which sponsors the event.
The event is a way to give back and help the many Latino businesses along Lake Street, Jimenez said.
“We know that these very same entrepreneurs are the reason why Lake Street has been revitalized in the last 20 to 30 years. And the last two and a half years have been difficult for everybody,” Jimenez said.
He said now is the time for everyone to come and support these businesses.
“Lake Street is an important economic corridor, not just for Minneapolis, but really for the entire state and the region,” Jimenez said.
Taking part in the Taco Tour is simple. Head to Lake Street and look for the big pink signs that say “Arriba Los Tacos.”
This indicates that a restaurant is participating. Some may have Taco Tour specials or people can just order from the menu.
But Jimenez said don’t let a lack of a sign stop you from exploring the other businesses.
“Don't be afraid to go into another restaurant as well. We want to encourage people to come get a taco, but you might want to get some dessert next door. You might want to get your nails done while you're here. There's so much on Lake Street. I always tell people once you come to Lake Street you get everything you ever would want,” he said.
On Saturday, people will be able to buy a sampling of tacos — and other foods — from several restaurants. Although it’s a self-guided event, Jimenez encourages people to register at ledcmn.org so the organization can plan for the event, and make sure they have enough resources available.
In addition to the food, there will be several activities for the entire family. Jimenez said there may even be a taco eating contest.
During the Taco Tour, Morales said people who stop in his restaurant will have a choice of tacos with three different types of meat, in addition to other items from the menu.
But with so many tacos to choose from, what makes a taco from El Poblanito stand out? It’s the tortilla, Morales said.
“We make our own tortillas here. We cook and grind our own corn — we don’t bring them frozen from other places. We also make tacos a mano which is masa from the same corn that we cook. And so that’s what makes our tacos a little bit special apart from our special seasoning that we add to our meats,” Morales said.
Vicki Adame covers Minnesota’s Latino communities for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.