The Twin Cities’ gastronomic bio-diversity seems to be concentrated in three main hot zones: Eat Street (Nicollet Ave.), with its mix of Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese and German eateries; Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis, where the blend is Indian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Middle Eastern; and University Avenue in Saint Paul, where Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, and Thai restaurants predominate.
But another hot zone seems to be emerging — in recent months, several new ethic restaurants have opened up along East 38th St. in south Minneapolis and on nearby streets. The former Jamaica Jamaica at 3761 Bloomington Ave. S. is now home to Marla’s Caribbean Cuisine. It’s a sister restaurant to the original Marla’s at Lake and Emerson, but with a different menu — more Caribbean fare and fewer Indian dishes — except for those that have taken root in the East Indies. Marla Jadoonanan herself is now cooking at the new restaurant, and is keeping the Lake St. store open until she can find a buyer.
Some of the new Caribbean dishes on the menu — like the Callaloo, and the salt fish and ackee — are carry-overs from another family restaurant. Marla happens to be the sister of Harry Singh, who has been dishing out Trinidad-style West Indian cuisine at Harry Singh’s Original Caribbean Restaurant in various locations for the last three decades. Fans of New Orleans gumbo will love the callaloo, a savory and slimy stew of shrimp, spinach, okra, and spices. Many other favorites from Harry’s menu are also featured, including Caribbean curries, Jamaican jerk, Caribbean-style fried rice and chow mein, and a big selection of roti wraps and parathas, stuffed with jerk or curried meats, fish, or vegetarian fillings
A few blocks down, the retro ’50s diner at 1024 E. 38th St. that cycled quickly through incarnations as Mary Eileen’s Café and Mazzitello’s Restaurant is now La Bahia Picanteria Restaurant. It’s got a few tables and a tiny counter. The menu promises Spanish & Italian food, but it’s really mostly Ecuadorian, with a little bit of everything else thrown in — a few spaghetti dishes, broasted chicken, buffalo chicken wings, a hamburger, and a burrito. Ecuadorian restaurants are popping up all over town — we now have Sabor Latino and Charly’s Polleria in Northeast, Guayaquil and Los Andes on Lake Street. Ecuadorians make up a big part of the local restaurant workforce, or so I am told. La Bahia is small and unassuming, but the waitress and cook were friendly — and maybe a little surprised to see a non-Ecuadorian customer.
My churrasco ($10.50) was typical — a generous portion of thinly sliced grilled marinated top sirloin topped with a savory sauce of grilled onions, peppers, and carrots, accompanied by rice, seasoned French fries, two fried eggs, and half a ripe avocado. There is a lot more that I would like to try — the caldo de bolas — a stuffed plantain dumpling soup traditionally made with beef, that has an odd resemblance to matzo ball soup ($9.25); hornado (roast pork) served with mote (hominy) and llapingacho (fried mashed potatoes with cheese) ($9.25); and ceviche de camarones ($8.25) — a shrimp cocktail marinated with onions, tomatoes and lime. Weekend specials include cows foot soup, catfish soup, and morcilla a la brasa, a grilled homemade Ecuadorian sausage, stuffed with rice and veggies ($9.50).
Not too far away, at 4157 Cedar Ave. S., the former Paradise Pastry Shop is now the Lucuma Bakery & Deli, offering a unique combination of Peruvian, Colombian, and Mexican cuisine. The selection of baked goods in the pastry case looked a bit forlorn, but there is lots to explore on the menu. Breakfast options include Mexican and Peruvian tamales, or chorizo sausage with arepas (Colombian corn cakes.) I haven’t tried any of the Mexican burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, etc., but I can recommend the Peruvian seco de carne ($8.50), chunks of beef in a very savory cilantro and spinach sauce, served with steamed rice. There’s lots more that sounds interesting, including the carapulcra, sundried tomatoes in a Peruvian aji salsa ($9.50), and the cau cau, a beef tripe stew with hierba buena sauce ($9.50).