We may be at peak taco in the Twin Cities: You can get tacos from holes-in-the-wall, tacos from food trucks downtown, tacos from that one amazing food truck in the parking lot of the Uptown K-Mart, and, now, more tacos in Uptown, from one of the Twin Cities’ most talented chefs.
Alejandro Castillon made his name as part of the team that opened Sonora Grill in Midtown Global Market (now also in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood). Castillon put in time at Bar La Grassa and Solera and has worked with some of the best chefs in Minnesota: Daniel del Prado, Isaac Becker, Tim McKee. He reimagined the idea of the taco in one of my all-time favorites: the red tempura shrimp taco at Sonora. And now, Castillon has sold his stake in Sonora Grill to strike out on his own with Prieto Taqueria Bar.
Castillon took over the former Hasty Tasty in Minneapolis’ Lyndale & Lake area, a nice restaurant with a smoker in the kitchen that never really caught on. When this talented chef saw the smoker, he saw an opportunity to create some of the flavors he loves from his native Mexico.
The menu offers nine tacos. The silliest is El Pollo, with chicken, serrano crema, árbol mayo, and French fries. I feared disaster, but my fears were assuaged by the first bite. Tender chicken, a slight zip from the mayo, a crunch from the French fry: a crazy and joyful combination.
The shrimp taco is just cabbage, pico de gallo, and, again, that árbol mayo. Very simple construction—but the sweetness of the shrimp, combined with the smoky árbol mayo, made this a really fantastic bite. Five dollars might sound like a lot for a single taco, but when you consider that the tortillas are made from scratch, in house, and account for the care given to these top-flight ingredients, it starts to feel like maybe you’re not paying enough.
I adored the top-notch vaca frita salad. Flash-fried shredded beef becomes the crouton of your dreams in a greens salad with a glorious ancho-pepper-and-lime vinaigrette. (Editor’s note: the menu has changed as of October, so this salad isn’t available anymore.)
Castillon’s skill with subtle-yet-bold flavors shines in the ceviche: smoked skate and scallops, punctuated with a luscious avocado-serrano salsa. Truly one of the best ceviches I’ve had in years.
The cocktails are simple and delicious. Castillon got help from his friend Marco Zappia, the cocktail genius behind Martina and Colita. We really liked the Oaxacan Negroni, with mezcal and mole bitters; the You Frog and I Jump, with tequila, Curaçao, mango, and tajin; and the mezcal Old Fashioned, with amaro. All the drinks had punch, tasted great with the food, and were priced right at $10.
Maybe taco restaurants are today’s version of pizza or burger joints: You can never have enough. And even in an area already crowded with good-to-great taco spots, Prieto stands out.
Prieto Taqueria Bar
701 W. Lake St., Minneapolis