Anticipation has been high for Centro, the new taco shop in Northeast that opened Friday—and we’re still waiting for Popol Vuh, a fancier Mexican option to open later this summer in the same building.
Much of the team working at Centro met while working at Lyn 65, easily the best dining experience in Richfield. Out there, chefs in a collective all have input on the menu—and ditto for the exceptional bar program. It was at Lyn 65 that chef Jose Alacron started his Popol Vuh pop-ups. He teamed with bar manager Jami Olson to open what they thought would be a fine dining restaurant. That is, until they stepped inside this unique former adhesives-manufacturing building in Northeast. (It’s across the street from Indeed Brewing, in that cool/still artsy industrial pocket of town by the railroad tracks.)
What would have been one restaurant became two: Centro is the more casual taco spot that just opened, and Popol Vuh will serve fine-dining Mayan cuisine, expected to open at the end of August.
The room at Centro has been given a serious makeover thanks to Shea, the prolific Minneapolis design firm. Above the ordering counter are bright-yellow doors, covered in plastic that feels like perpetual sunshine, and there are reclaimed windows above the centrally located bar. The light fixtures are the same that hung when this place was a factory. Other reclaimed details dot the room.
It feels like Mexican warmth, with music, hospitality, and color. Behind the bar is the best collection of agave-based spirits I’ve come across in Minneapolis. They’ll be available in flights, or you can skip ahead and order the Guava Goddess Slushie for $10—a drink sure to become a new summer favorite. It’s icy cold and just the right balance of smoky sweet, with mezcal, guava nectar, and kombucha.
The tacos I sampled at the press preview were all delicious, but the best had to be the nopales (cured cactus paddles) with a roasty peanut-and-black sesame sauce, inspired by something Alacron had in Oaxaca. Peanuts are mixed with all those little seeds, along with a bright chili oil that isn’t spicy and a little bit of vinegar. That accompanies the cactus, just a tiny bit of fresh cheese, mushrooms, and kale. It’s a wholly satisfying dish that just happens to be vegetarian. Who doesn’t want that for summer?
Side dishes include some truly spectacular black beans and papas chingones. Delivered to my table of ladies, the chef/server said, “Chingones, named for strong women, perfect for you.” That flattery might not be an entirely accurate translation, but I’ll take it. Fingerling potatoes are crispy, smashed, and served in a spicy mayonnaise. Divine.
On media night, there seemed to be a few glitches with the ordering system. So, go knowing that the staff deserves some patience and flexibility as the new restaurant gets rolling. But, by all means, go check out this lively new spot.
712 NE 15th Ave., Minneapolis
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.