FARGO - The Fargo-Moorhead area - a land where you would think lutefisk, lefse and klubb would rule - is in the midst of a wave of Mexican restaurant openings.
Starting this past summer, and leading up to Christmas, a half dozen new restaurants will have joined the competition for residents’ dining dollars with their takes on south of the border cuisine.
Recently joining the fajita-for-all have been Casa Mexico in the Time Square East mall and La Fiesta Mexican and American Grill, on 38th Street South, just north of West Acres.
Pancheros Mexican Grill, an established casa of quesadillas and burritos, recently upped its game by moving its grills, guac and chips closer to West Acres in the T.J. Maxx Plaza. It reopened Nov. 15 after a brief closure to move.
Expected in December are Plaza Azteca in southwest Fargo, El Torero Mexican Restaurant on Highway 10 East in Moorhead (about Dec. 20), and a second Chipotle Mexican Grill (Dec. 18) just east of the Fargodome. That Chipotle will be twice the size of the southside location, General Manager Alandra Matthews said Wednesday, Nov. 20.
Summer also saw Incognito Burrito establish itself in the Bison Block by NDSU and El Vaqueros Taqueria and Mexican Restaurant open for a while on 13th Avenue South (though it has since closed).
Embracing the burrito blitz
The openings mirror a larger taco-loving trend in the U.S.
CHD Expert, which specializes in food service, restaurant and hospitality industry data analysis, said Americans have embraced the burrito blitz, with restaurants featuring Mexican menus making up 9% of all U.S. restaurants as of 2017.
Texas is tops among the states with 18% of its restaurants being Mexican menu types, CHD Expert said. That’s twice the national average. High percentages exist throughout the southwest, with New Mexico clocking in at 14%, California (13%), Arizona (13%), and Colorado (12%).
- Casa Mexico opens in south Fargo's Time Square East mall
Fargo-Moorhead already boasts a robust Mexican restaurant scene with a number of independent restaurants, as well as regional and national chain outlets. Among them are a couple Mexican Village locations, Paradiso Mexican Restaurant, Mango’s Mexican and American Grill, Acapulco Mexican, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Vinyl Taco, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, Taco John’s, Red Pepper, two Taco Shops, Mia Familia Taco Company, Maria’s HomeStyle Mexican Food, Tacos Trompo, and Moe’s Southwest Grill.
The el Restaurante Independent Mexican Restaurant Report, released in November 2018, said there were 48,000 independent Mexican restaurant locations (stand-alone or in chains of no more than 50 locations). That was up 1,500 from from 2017.
Most of that growth was pegged to stand-alone restaurants or chains with fewer than 10 locations. There were 46,300 of those restaurants reported in 2018, up from 45,000 the year before.
More daring diners
Amelia Asperin, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management at NDSU, says that her students’ journals indicate that F-M residents are getting more daring in their dining choices. That’s not limited to the occasional burrito binge, but visiting Asian, Indian and African eateries
“In general, I think our population in Fargo is more open to more things, more authentic experiences,” Asperin said.
Asperin said Mexican food is so popular, that “a lot of Americans no longer consider Mexican food as ethnic. …. It’s very popular, regardless of where you are.”
If a restaurant closes locally, it may not be because of the quality of the food, but because the job market is so tight that it makes it hard to keep enough staff to effectively stay in business, she said.
“I think there’s enough demand and curiosity” in the area for more ethnic eateries, Asperin said. “It’s great that our community if open to more diverse tastes now.”
With the competition hotter than a habanero, you’d think some of the area’s newest restaurateurs would be getting nervous.
That’s not necessarily so.
“I think it makes me feel good,” said Samuel Bobadilla, who with Erika Gutierrez opened La Fiesta on Oct. 2 in the former Santa Lucia restaurant building near West Acres.
Bobadilla is proud of their new restaurant, showing off a photo of their recent Chamber of Commerce ribbon-cutting ceremony. They have their liquor license in hand and they’re now catering, he said Wednesday.
He’s ready for some healthy competition, he said.
Gutierrez said the popularity of Mexican cuisine here is a good indicator of the area’s willingness to embrace diversity and is helping the Hispanic community grow.
Gutierrez said Mexican cuisine is particularly popular among young people.
“I have friends who tweet about it, post about it” online. “It’s a good feeling,” Gutierrez said.
“If it looks good, they’ll take a picture of it. Phone eat first!” Gutierrez said.
Bobadilla’s wife, Maria, said they came from the Boise, Idaho, area. “There’s a Mexican restaurant on every corner” in that area, she said.
But even with competition, they work together and are “enjoying each other’s food,” she said.
Bobadilla agreed, adding that there are a number of Mexican restaurant chains co-existing well in Boise.
“That’s why I’m not worried,” Bobadilla said.
“This area’s big enough” for more Mexican eateries, he said. “There’s room for four, five, six more.”
“The secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” - Mark Twain, American humorist
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” - George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright
You cannot make everyone happy. You are not a taco. -- anonymous internet meme
"Yesterday I really wanted tacos. Today, I’m eating tacos. Follow your dreams.”- Anonymous internet meme
“I’m convinced that anyone who doesn’t like Mexican food is a psychopath.” ~Jim Gaffigan, from the book, "Food: A Love Story"