Traditional Mexican flavors typify the menu at El Parian, from the spicy chorizo that adds a kick to nachos, burritos, and chilaquiles to the mole sauce that covers enchiladas. Vegetarians can also get their fill with mushroom quesadillas, chile rellenos, and bean burritos, boosting spiciness from a selection of hot sauces that graces tables in the dining room and on the patio. To wash down meals, guests can sip tequila, imported Mexican beers, or monster margaritas that measure up to 60 ounces and growl if left unattended.
Cocina Latina has been featured in Mpls.St.Paul and Heavy Table for its authentic and affordable Ecuadorian dishes. Gently dip your taste buds' toes into the menu's waters with a trio of empanadas ($4.50) or maduro con queso, plantains so lovingly fried they make bananas yellow with jealousy ($3.99). Bandera combines rice, goat stew, beef-tripe stew, and shrimp ceviche into an adventurous appetite's dream come true ($11.99), and bandeja latina presents a mix of pork cracklings, fried egg, rice, beans, corn cakes, avocado, and sweet plantains so hearty it will stick to neighbors' ribs ($12.99). Despite the restaurant's mastery of meats, vegetarian options exist, such as plato vegetariano, a four-legged-friendly medley of rice, beans, red potato, avocado, plantain, and cassava root ($9.99). Finicky tykes unimpressed with cultural authenticity can nibble chicken fingers or mac 'n' cheese ($3.99 each).
Renato Zagal, originally from Morelos, Mexico, opened Gorditas El Gordo in 2004. In the kitchen of the unassuming restaurant, chefs knead corn flour into masa dough for fresh tortillas, huaraches, sopes, and other vehicles for savory meats and grilled vegetables. Diners choose from fillings such as beef shoulder, pork ribs in red sauce, or longaniza— a Mexican sausage. Mexican sodas, horchata, or refreshing hibiscus water washes it all back.
The ruleta wheel at Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant sends tablefuls of friends into a frenzy when one of the bunch is chosen to take a spin. Landing on the right space in this wheel can grant the entire table free drinks from a selection of specialty margaritas and cocktails. This is just one of the ways the staff amps up the festive atmosphere in the restaurant—there's also karaoke every night Thursday through Sunday. And thanks to the flat screen televisions, patrons can keep an eye on their favorite teams as they face off with rivals or trade secrets for keeping their shoelaces tied.
Patrons come as much for the atmosphere as they do for the menu of chicken flautas, cheese enchiladas, shrimp chimichangas, pork ribs, and other traditional Mexican cuisine. When the weather's nice they can dine outside, where umbrellas protect their entrees from the sun's sticky fingers. Regular lunch specials and the Monticello location's lunch buffet make midday dining even more enticing.
Drawing on their love of tequila and Latin street fare, Ryan Burnet and Tim Rooney founded their first Barrio restaurant in 2008. The duo aimed to create a space where chefs pair gourmet Mexican small plates and entrees crafted from organic and local ingredients with more than 150 tequilas. By spring of 2010, Tim and Ryan were running two Barrio locations and the Barrio Taco Truck, which distributes its gourmet grub to summer festival attendees and adrenaline-addicted snowmen.
In fall 2010, Ryan and Tom opened Cocina del Barrio, or "Kitchen of the Neighborhood," which builds upon its sister restaurants' success with a new slate of large plates, salads, and ceviches. Its dining room is adorned in bull-themed artwork and accommodates guests for brunches, lunches, and dinner. A cozier event space comes equipped with a flat-panel television and iPod connection and treats up to 18 visitors with a custom menu of Barrio favorites.