Solo Road Trip Home Part III: Caldo 7 Mares at Mercado Central & RoadBBQ from QFanatic

On Sunday, I met-up with my old and wonderful friends and we walked to Mercado Central.

Mercado Central
1515 E. Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407

It seems that the only Mexican restaurants in Fargo are quite Americanized so I couldn’t wait to indulge at the Mercado.

After exploring the menus at the many restaurant stands, I chose Restaurante El Huache, which seemed offer the most seafood options.  I also noticed El Huache maintained brisk business.

With assistance from my Spanish-speaking friend, I leapt at the chance to order Caldo 7 Mares, only available on Saturdays.  When I ordered the soup, the employee asked if I wanted one type of seafood or “mixed.”  I chose the mixed bowl of mystery sea creatures.

My friends and I gathered at a large table in the dining area.  J. brought her two young children who were content among many happy families with young children.  It seems that Mercado Central is a wonderful place to bring young children.

My food was the last to arrive but it was worth the wait.

I received a tray loaded with a giant bowl of soup, three, small, fried tacos filled with potatoes, fresh onion and cilantro, and warm corn tortillas.  My bill was $15, which included all of this, plus an ice cold horchata.

The soup was scalding hot.  It’s flavor was briny and its spiciness built to a pleasant tingle.  The slightest bit of oil shimmer added richness to the broth.  I fished out a large white fish fillet, lots of shell-on shrimp, chewy bits of squid and what may have been octopus, and mussels inside the shell, and out.

This was my first bowl of Caldo 7 Mares.  I also enjoyed a taste of a friends at Pancho Villa last year where I enviously eyed a crab leg saluting us from its bowl.

My friend had ordered fried tortillas filled with mildly-seasoned, roughly mashed potatoes.  While I waited for my soup, I tried a bite of her tacos and loved them, along with the kids who eagerly polished off the rest.  I was thrilled that my soup came with three of my own.

They were covered with tangy crema.  I spooned onion and cilantro into the openings and dunked them into my spicy broth.  El Huachi displayed a trio of vibrant salsas on their counter top for self serve that I would have indulged in, if not for the soup.

Overall, I enjoyed the soup.  For my taste, the broth was a little briny, though I liked the addition of fresh onion and lime.  My favorite seafood were the snappy shrimp, though they were not de-veined.  The octopus and squid tasted fine, but were quite chewy.  I noticed many hunched over bowls of Caldo 7 Mares, so I gather it’s a popular Saturday treat.

As if this wasn’t enough of a food adventure for the day, I promised Jake I would stop by QFanatic for BBQ.  I’ve been vicariously living through You Care What We Think’s epic BBQ Quest and decided to visit after reading their (and many other’s) review.

QFanatic
180 Miller Road
Champlin, MN
763-323-6550

Champlin is mostly on the way home from Minneapolis to Fargo and I brought back this classy Styrofoam cooler for the occasion.  It once transported a glorious Surabhi feast from Bloomington and we will bring it back for Easter.

I’ll try to keep my commentary as fair as possible, considering the food traveled for a few hours on ice, before it was eaten.

I ordered the Deluxe Sampler for $28.95 (feeds three) which came with one pound of pork ribs, 2/3 pound of beef brisket, pulled chicken, and pulled pork.  Plus, my choice of three sides and a selection three-four sauces.  As sides, I chose the corn fritters, Asian coleslaw, and baked beans and as sauces, I chose the Pepper Vodka BBQ sauce (a 95 cent up-charge), Espresso BBQ, and the vinegar-based sauce.

The ribs had a nice flavor and texture.  Very tender to the tooth, but not falling off the bone (which loathe).  My only critique is that they seemed just a touch fattier than what I am used to and wonder if fattiness has to with a smoking time to amount of fat rendered ratio.

The brisket was moist and tender.  Really amazing barbecued brisket is treasure I have not loved outside of Texas.  Like the ribs, my only complaint is that it tasted a little bland without the sauce.

The corn fritters were light and puffy.

A little bit sweet but savory enough, and accented by sweet kernels of chewy corn.  I enjoyed dunking the fitters into all three of the sauces.

The Asian coleslaw had an Asiany flavor and added much-needed crunch and vegetal freshness to the meal.

It was heavy on the sesame oil, and I would have preferred a touch of more acid and salt.

The baked beans were bathed in a tasty sauce that wasn’t too sweet.  What tasted like brisket chunks generously accented the beans.  My only complaint is that the beans, too, could have used more salt.

I was surprised to find I preferred the pulled chicken and pork, since I usually prefer ribs.

Frankly, we literally could not tell the difference between the Espresso and Pepper Vodka sauce.  We enjoyed them both, though neither seemed much spicier than the other.  Is it possible we received two of the same kind?  I thought the two sauces had a wonderful “round flavor” (as in not too tart, not too sweet, not too sour, etc).  Though I did not consider either sauce to taste spicy, they built a pleasant tingle after cumulative eating.   The vinegar sauce was tart and cut the richness of the meat.  Especially good with the pulled meats.

Although I liked our meal, we were still reminiscent for Ted Cook’s.  I think Ted’s ribs are usually lean and mean and I like their vinegary, hot BBQ sauce.  Not that we didn’t enjoy our QFanatic meal, but we learned that we’re still loyal to Ted’s.

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