Monday, March 11, 2013

Lago Tacos

I love my town of Excelsior.

Officially, I live in Chanhassen, which is loaded with its own charms and glories, but my hometown is Excelsior and I am lucky enough to live in one place and drive 5 minutes to the other.

Excelsior is having a lovely re-imagining of itself.  New restaurants, new businesses, new events and promotions.

Recently, a TACO place opened.  Taco place.  Sounds rather cheap and fast-food-ish, does it?

NOT my taco place.

Here they are on Facebook:

These people know what they are doing.  First of all, they opened up in my favorite town.  Then they chose a location only a few jig-steps from my Irish pub.  And positioned themselves next to the movie theater.  And are close enough to the lake to enjoy all that it brings.


Fresh.  Really fresh.  No shredded colby-jack.  No saucy taco beef.  No margarita mix.  No sloppy sauces or plates out from under the broiler with pools of gooey sauce and beans and melted cheap cheese blurring the lines of good taste.

Not this place.

That's me.  Notice the wavy blue paint, a nod to the waves of Lake Minnetonka.  And the whole nautical rope wrapped around the bottom of the pole.  We had to wait 20 minutes for a table.  Not a problem.

What is a problem?  My only complaint?  The 5 televisions in the bar.  It's a small restaurant, no distinction between the bar and eating area.  Do we need 5 tv's?  Not my favorite thing.

But let's get to the food!

I talked to Roger, the owner, and told him I am less about the margarita and more about the tequila.  Thankfully, they have about 149 to choose from.  Ok, exaggeration, but they have many.  He recommended a lovely Don Julio Anejo.  Smooth sipping, friends.  Comes with a "sangrita" back - some sort of blend of tomato juice, simple syrup, and Tabasco.  Oh my joy, it was perfect.

We started out with their Tortilla Chips and Dips.  House made, all.  Four dips - their tomato salsa (tasted like summer tomatoes), their salsa verde (very good, but the least best of the offering), guacamole (fresh creamy herby delicious avocado, cilantro and lime), and - the best part of the evening for me - their beans.  Oh, blessed pinto beans.

That's the dips.

And here's the bean-closeup.

I was so completely overcome by the smoky roasted flavor of these beans, I had to inquire.  WHAT do you do to make these beans become this silky goodness?

The claim was the usual cooking, the addition of pork fat, and well, we're just really good at them.

I could crawl into a vat of these beans and spend the rest of my days in the kitchen attempting to re-create their flavor.  It's a happy task I accept.  There's a bowl of pintos soaking on my counter as we speak.

I ordered the Carnitas Tacos.  Eric ordered the Walleye Tacos.

Those, dear food-lovers, are the walleye tacos.  And you will never, ever, ever, put a better fish taco past your lips in your life after you dine at Lago Tacos.  EVER.  As the menu says "beer battered, chipotle mayo, cabbage blend, pico."  Lime on the side.  A hint of queso fresco.  A side of more of the beans (you can choose rice or a corn cake, but why not have more beans?).  The walleye was MEATY.  The beer batter was light and crispy.  The pico was fresh-fresh.  These, and a margarita in the summer, could make up a weekly part of my diet.

The carnitas were great as well.  Not as caramelized and crispy on the edge of the meat as I like, but the flavor was excellent and again, it was fresh and flavorful.

Eric and I declared (well, I declared, he concurred), that at Lago Tacos, nothing gets in the way of the honest flavors of the food.  It tastes like EACH ingredient, if that makes sense.  You can pick out the flavors, name them, feel them, savor them.  Each one.

I will be back.  Breakfast, lunch, happy hour, dinner.  All year long.

Plus, they have a really cool backsplash of tile in their bar area.

Well done, Lago Tacos.  Welcome to the Lake.  Welcome to the neighborhood.  We've been waiting for something like you for years . . .