It can be a challenge to find great restaurant food when eating out far away from home. And finding great Mexican food in the Midwest is even more of a challenge. When we hit the jackpot at Marissa’s Deli on “Eat Street” in Minneapolis, I knew there was only one reason: Flor the cook is from Mexico — Puebla to be exact — and she knows her stuff. In between serving customers, she was pressing corn tortillas on her wooden press, a sight that is, to me, the gold standard of authentic Mexican cooking. ¡Que milagro!
My son orderd a quesadilla al pastor (top photo). He liked it enough to immediately order another. My daughter-in-law had pork stewed in a tomatillo-green chile sauce, served with beans, rice, tortillas and sweet grilled onions, just like they make them in Mexico. You may know already that I don’t eat pork (see About on masthead at top), but I have to say that her dish looked delicious.
I more or less stayed true to my eating habits, and order beef — tacos de cabeza. I really wanted tacos de lengua (tongue), but Flor was already out of it. I guess I’m not the only one who knows how good tongue tacos can be. So I settled for cabeza, muscle meat of the head. To the squeamish, this may be more information than you really want to know, but this is how it is in Mexico — all parts of the animal are eaten. This culture does not waste much. I was glad to see that this culinary value can stay with cooks, even when they are out of their motherland.
The tacos were served exactly like you would see them in Mexico, with lots of chopped cilantro, a great salsa verde and lime wedges. The only difference was that the plastic plate was not encased in a plastic bag to facilitate dishwashing, a practice common in Mexico. Flor was the dishwasher as well, and obviously has some sense of restaurant decorum to serve plates without plastic bags.
The setting is simple — a few chairs and tables near the counter where you place and pick up your order, a TV on the wall tuned to a telenovela, one of Mexico’s beloved soap operas, and a tub of jalapeños en escabeche on every table. Marissa’s Deli is attached to Marissa’s grocery store, and there is also Marissa’s Bakery, a muy mexicana panadería selling pastries glowing with brightly colored icing and tons of sugar. Hot pan de muertos, egg-rich “bread of the dead” with dough formed in the shape of bones on a skull, was ready for All Saints Day, Dia de los Muertos.
Sugary churros and flakey pastries were tempting, and I would be lying to say we did not take home a bag with almost something of everything.
Maybe Flor will move back to Mexico someday and open a restaurant. Until that day, if you are anywhere close to Minnepolis, Marissa’s Deli is worth seeking out. It doesn’t get any better in or out of Mexico.
Marissa’s Deli; 2750 Nicollet Ave.; Minneapolis MN; (612) 871-4519