2700 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612-728-1778
Review published September 2004
If you’ve been whining about the cost of the Hiawatha Line, hush. You haven’t discovered its best feature—that you can get from downtown Minneapolis to Manny’s Tortas in a little more than 10 minutes.
Though Minneapolis’s Chicano/Latino population has increased roughly 300 percent in the past decade, there are very few places that sell tortas (a word that can mean many things—in this case, Mexican sandwiches). When Mercado Central opened on East Lake Street five years ago, all the other vendors wanted to serve burritos, tacos, and enchiladas, says Manny Gonzalez (the Manny behind Manny’s). Determined to do something different, he opened a booth that serves a gourmet version of the everyday torta—the kind Dagwood might make if he were Mexican.
Three years later, Gonzalez opened a second Manny’s, at Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue. It has a contemporary look that contrasts starkly with most ethnic restaurants: shiny metal stools, a funky bauble-shaped water dispenser, fabric scrims on the ceiling, and a color palette of lime green, yellow, orange, and fuchsia. Two questions are painted boldly on the wall. ¿En qué piensas? (What’s on your mind?) If it weren’t for the Mexican flag, piñatas, and inflatable Corona beer maracas, you could almost mistake the back wall of the restaurant for the entrance to a modern art exhibit.
Accordion riffs and blaring horns of Tex-Mex mariachi music mingle with the scent of cooking meat. The grill cook tosses thin slices of beef and veggies between two metal paddles. Juices sizzle. Fats crackle. He spreads avocado and refried beans on French bread with a spackling motion. He cracks an egg, scrambles the mess together, then folds it into a compact pad that fits neatly inside the roll.
Of Manny’s 10 varieties of tortas, those with multiple ingredients are best, including the Huevos con Chorizo (eggs and Mexican sausage), the Vegetariana, and the everything-on-it Manny’s Special. Frequent customer Mayor R. T. Rybak is rumored to favor the ham/pork/Swiss cheese Cubana. The sandwiches blend soothing avocado and refried beans with chewy grilled meats and multiple sources of spicy hotness: the dry, dusty heat of chorizo, the searing burn of pickled jalapeños, the smoky chipotle in the orange mayonnaise sauce. Your nose may run a little, but you can always temper the spiciness with a Jarritos—the Mexican soda available in fruit flavors like tamarind and pineapple—a Tecate beer, or a bottle of sangria.
Desserts, kept in plastic containers in the beverage refrigerator behind the counter, don’t seem to receive the same attention as the sandwiches. The flan, for example, had a nice caramel flavor but the texture of a mealy apple. Have a sweet coffee or chocolate drink instead. And settle in: you can stay until 3 a.m. on weekends. Gonzalez explains, “Latinos like to eat late.”
For now, though, the Hiawatha trains can’t bring you to Manny’s much past midnight—might be something to bring up with the mayor when he doesn’t have his mouth full of torta.