Digging in: El Taco Riendo is a tried-and-true community favorite

The restaurant has brought inexpensive, tasty Mexican food to the Twin Cities for a decade.

Jose Gonzalez prepares tacos at El Taco Riendo on Central Avenue in Minneapolis on Friday, July 19.

Tony Saunders

Jose Gonzalez prepares tacos at El Taco Riendo on Central Avenue in Minneapolis on Friday, July 19.

Liv Martin

El Taco Riendo is a mainstay on Central Avenue, a street lined with restaurants with cuisine from all over the world. In the span of a few blocks, one can find Thai, Ecuadorian, Middle Eastern, American-style food and some deliciously authentic Mexican food.

The restaurant opened just over a decade ago. Owner Miguel Gomez’s philosophy has been the same since the start: to serve inexpensive, efficient and fresh food.

Even on a recent 93-degree day, there was a long line of customers at the counter. Joey Himmelspach, who lives nearby, was eating their usual order: a vegetarian quesadilla. Not only is the food low-cost and good, they said, but eating at a local chain helps the community.

“It’s supporting small businesses. It’s helping POC,” Himmelspach said. Their friend, Kevin James, agreed.

“Here the money goes back into pockets … back into the community. You know where it’s going,” James said.

Himmelspach eats at El Taco Riendo at least once a month — and they aren’t alone. Gomez says the restaurant has many regulars. Cashier Vanessa Ramos says there are some who come every day.

“We are surprised sometimes, because we can have a winter storm and yet we still have customers coming in,” Ramos said.

The menu has been reliable for a long time, too. Favorites include “elote” (roasted corn with toppings), “pastor” (a marinated barbecue pork) and the famous foot-long burrito, made with two 6-inch tortillas (which weighs between 2.5 and 3 pounds).

Though Gomez is from Mexico City, the menu has influences from all over Mexico.

General manager Carlos Morales, from Oaxaca, had a hand in making the special salsa used in the pastor and barbecue dishes.

“I [brought] the recipe from Mexico,” he said. The recipe is secret, but Morales says it has pineapple and is more sweet than spicy.

The restaurant’s walls are painted bright yellows and oranges — “colors from Mexico,” said Gomez, — creating a festive atmosphere.

In March, a new location in the northwest suburb of Crystal, Minnesota, opened. It’s much smaller, having previously been a Subway, but the concept is the same. It, too, features the business’s logo: a laughing, running taquito — an image hidden in the name “El Taco Riendo.” 

“Corriendo means running, because we are a fast food restaurant. ‘Está corriendo’ means ‘it’s running,’” Gomez said. 

“Everybody walks out of here smiling and happy because they have a great meal.”

This is the sixth article in “Digging In,” a series about the stories behind beloved Twin Cities restaurants.