I was in Minneapolis earlier this year and one evening I was just in the mood for a little taqueria, someplace to get a couple three small tacos and call it good. The only problem was that I couldn't find any place that I knew was in the Bloomington/Edina area. I ended up going to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in the area, El Tejaban in Richfield. (Click here to see the Road Tips entry on El Tejaban.) Then about two weeks later, I was home switching through channels when I happened upon an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on the Food Network. They were in the Twin Cities and were showcasing a place in Richfield - it turns out it was just down the street from El Tejaban - that was a combination taqueria/mercado. "That's exactly what I was looking for when I was up there a couple weeks ago," I exclaimed to my wife. When we were back up in Minneapolis a few weeks later celebrating our anniversary, we went to Andale Taqueria & Mercado to get some lunch.
Fernando Mellado and Jorge Robles were partners in two small Mexican markets in the Twin Cities. They had done some light cooking in the mercados and were looking to branch out with a combination taqueria/mercado somewhere in the area. However, when they went to a handful of banks to get financing, they were turned down by all.
Embers was a national chain of slightly upscale family restaurants that were slowly dying on the vine, or their franchise owners were changing them into a different model once their leases ran out. The Embers in Richfield opened in 1961 near the I-494 interchange on Nicollet Ave. By 2008, the franchise owner decided that when his lease was up in early 2008, he would be closing down. The building's owner left the space empty for a couple years with a "for lease" sign out front.
Fernando Mellado just happened to drive by the old Embers location one day in late 2009 and decided to call the number on the sign. The building's owner, John Gross, was so intrigued by Mellado's idea of a combination taqueria/mercado that he entered a limited partnership with Robles and Mellado to develop a new building for them. Gross hired an architect to design a new space and a contractor to demolish and build a new structure. Gross - whose father built the building for the Embers franchisee in 1961 - and the two partners split some of the costs of the build-out of the new spot and within a couple of years they were ready to move in. Andale Taqueria & Mercado opened in August of 2011.
Business was slow at first, but a couple three local publications in the Twin Cities did articles on the small restaurant and attached market. Within no time they had tripled their monthly business and were forging ahead. It certainly didn't hurt that Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives came in October of last year to highlight Andale Taqueria and their Al Pastor Marinated Pork Recipe.
We found Andale Taqueria & Mercado just off I-494 just south of the corner of 77th Ave. and Nicollet Street, straight across from a Menard's. (see map) When we got to Andale Taqueria around 11:30 on a sunny Sunday morning, the parking lot in front of the place was absolutely packed. We had to go down and find a parking spot on a side street between Andale and the freeway. The restaurant wasn't that full when we walked in, so most of the people parked in the lot were at the grocery store next door.
The interior of Andale features windows on two of the walls, high-beamed wood ceilings, and a sort of utilitarian approach to seating with colorful metal chairs and stainless steel table tops. The menu is on the wall above the counter that is in front of the kitchen. It's a full menu with a number of Mexican specialties including fajitas, chimichangas, burritos, enchiladas, flautas and alambres - your choice of meat mixed with sliced green and red bell peppers, chopped white onions, bacon bits, ham, melted mozzarella and placed over corn tortillas. They also have breakfast at Andale and it's served all day.
One of the things that I was very impressed about Andale were the number of meats they had to offer. All the meat they serve are butchered in house and prepared fresh each day. They had three different types of chicken, four different pork meats, and five different types of beef to choose from. They also had specialty meats such as buche (pork stomach), lengua (beef tongue), beef tripe, and cabeza (slow roasted beef head) - all of which I was not going to order.
We went with tacos for our initial visit to Andale. Cindy went with carne asada, carnitas and the Pollo a la Mexicana - seasoned shredded chicken cooked with poblano peppers, tomatoes and white onions. She also wanted rice and beans with her tacos. She got a Mexcian Coca Cola to go along with her meal. (No beer or margaritas are available at Andale.)
I went with a beef barbacoa taco, a carne asada taco, and a taco made with their house specialty - al pastor. They soak their pork for the al pastor for 24 hours in a house-made marinade that consists of guajillo peppers, orange juice, lime juice, apple juice, cumin, black pepper, Mexican oregano, bay leaves, anciote paste, garlic, onions, salt, and white vinegar. (Click here to get the full recipe.) When it's cooked on the flat grill, they toss in chopped onions, chopped bacon bits and chopped pineapple with the al pastor. It is off-the-hook delicious.
But the one that really got me was the barbacoa taco. They slow cook a beef chuck roast in a guajillo sauce, chop it up and cook it on the flat grill. The taste of the tender beef was out of this world. All the tacos were served with chopped white onions and chopped fresh cilantro on double corn tortillas.
They had three different types of salsa to choose from at Andale - a mild green sauce that was made with smoked jalapeños, cilantro, onions and tomatoes that had a bit of a bite to the taste; a spicier red sauce made with spicy and potent arbol chiles; and an "Oh My God!!" green sauce made with fresh jalapeños that was just frigging hot. They called the red sauce as the hottest of all three, but the jalapeño green sauce was burn-your-face-off hot. I had to go back and get another bottle of water to help cut the spicy taste from the salsas.
After eating at the restaurant, we had to run over to the mercado to check things out - as many people do who have a meal at Andale.
One of the reasons the parking lot was so full on that late Sunday morning were the number of Mexican-style baked goods and pastries they had to offer at Andale's mercado. As we learned on a tour of the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago a year and a half ago, Mexican pastries aren't as sweet as their European or American counterparts. The self-serve bins were full of fresh baked goods that people were picking out.
They also had a full meat counter at Andale featuring many of the same meats they use in the restaurant. There was a small kitchen off the back of the meat counter where I could see some preparations were going on for the restaurant.
The tacos we had at Andale were just excellent. My wife really enjoyed her Pollo a la Mexicana taco, while I thoroughly enjoyed both the al pastor and barbacoa tacos that I had. Everything was so fresh in its taste and so authentic to traditional Mexican cuisine. The salsas were good, but the jalapeño green sauce was overpoweringly hot. Still, Andale was a great place to get tacos, one that I will definitely be back to when I have a hankering for great tacos when I'm in the Twin Cities.