The landscape of Lake Street looks a little different today than it did in 2014, when the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) first held its popular Taco Tour.
Back then, the event drew more than a thousand people eager to sample Lake Street's culinary wealth, including sizzling carnitas, zesty chorizo and juicy al pastor. The goal was to make this an annual event, but economic challenges put the festivities on hold long before civil unrest changed the neighborhood.
Now the tour returns on Sept. 24 with more tacos, more fun and an opportunity for the city to reacquaint itself with one of Minneapolis' most famous thoroughfares.
"There are traditions that are clear for everyone," said Henry Jiménez, executive director and president of the LEDC. "Everyone has their own family traditions. We think of the Taco Tour as part of our tradition."
It's also an opportunity for the group, which started in 1999 as a way to help Latino entrepreneurs, to highlight Lake Street and support its small, BIPOC-owned businesses.
"East Lake Street is a magnet for anybody who loves food," Jiménez said. "If you love Lake Street, you love food."
The first Taco Tour was an effort to promote many of the area's Latin-owned restaurants, and 10 restaurants participated. Some hired entertainers, while shuttles drove hungry attendees from spot to spot. Luchadores roamed the street, pausing to pose for photos. The LEDC deemed the event a success, with restaurants and diners enthusiastically relaying positive experiences and a new or renewed love of Lake Street.
It seemed like an auspicious beginning for a perennial celebration of this taco hub, but after a few years the annual event was put on indefinite hold. Then history arrived on their doorsteps. The pandemic closed businesses. George Floyd was murdered and people marched. The unrest that followed was broadcast internationally, and E. Lake Street's reputation became more sinister than its current reality, where on any given day there are families waiting to hop on the Route 21 bus, workers taking a midday break outside a food truck, cars bumping to music and passersby pausing to take in colorful murals.
Businesses eventually took down the plywood protecting their windows, pandemic restrictions were eased and most restaurants resurfaced. Old favorites like Manny's Tortas returned with renewed vigor. New restaurants like El Guanaco, a Salvadoran pupuseria, opened on the street.
This year's Taco Tour will feature more than two dozen restaurants and taco trucks along a milelong stretch of Lake Street. The free event runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with food available for purchase at participating restaurants. Expect a family-friendly day: In addition to perhaps sharing some birria from Las Cuatro Milpas with the kids, there will be music and activities like bounce houses, face painting and a taco eating contest, all at the U.S. Bank parking lot (919 E. Lake St.).
"The taco tour is a way to show what your commitment to your community," said Jiménez. "If we don't support these businesses we can't support and continue these traditions."
East Lake Street Taco Tour
When: Sept. 24, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Lake Street between Clinton and 19th avenues.
Cost: Free to participate, plus the cost of food at the restaurants
Getting there: Organizers suggest biking or taking mass transit. Metro Transit is offering free hop-on/hop-off rides on the Route 21 bus that traverses Lake Street.
More info: ledcmn.org