The spring roll house is now the place of tacos.
The longtime 1st Wok home in Bloomington closed over a year ago, and a long transformation of the restaurant that served Chinese food for 37 years slowly turned into Las Cuatro Milpas, an extension of the taqueria. and the birrieria that the owners established on Lake Street in Minneapolis in 2018.
A taqueria is not unheard of in the greater Minneapolis area. It’s the birria, the spicy stew made with beef, lamb, goat or chicken, that sets the restaurant apart from other Mexican destinations, according to owner Francisco de Haro.
De Haro and his business partner James Barger established their first restaurant at the intersection of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue, which was not an easy place to enter the restaurant business, according to de Haro. There are seven Mexican restaurants within a one-block radius of the intersection, he noted.
But his love of cooking, encouragement from family and friends who appreciated his traditional recipes, and the lack of on-site birria restaurants all encouraged de Haro to trade keys, working as an auto mechanic, for ladles, he explained.
The initial business plan called for both a restaurant and a food truck, allowing de Haro to develop business both at the Lake Street restaurant and beyond their immediate shopping area through the food truck. The pandemic and the riots that followed George Floyd’s death in 2020 have been a challenge for their business, but that hasn’t deterred partners in their plan to expand the business south to Bloomington and Richfield, explained by Haro.
The 1st Wok slot offered many benefits, he noted. It is easily accessible from the Portland Avenue exit of Interstate 494 and is close to many hotels in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America, which attract many visitors to Bloomington in a typical year. And what do many people do when they visit an area outside of town? They are looking for places to eat, he noted.
Converting the 1st Wok to Las Cuatro Milpas was an ambitious project, according to Barger. It would have been easier to demolish the building and reposition their restaurant on the property rather than gut it down and start over, according to Barger. The interior and exterior of the building have been renovated. The new restaurant has a bar as well as seating for the restaurant, and there are plans to dine on the terrace next year, according to de Haro.
Her kitchen provides space for both food preparation and storage associated with the three food trucks that restaurants now manage. De Haro takes pride in both its recipes and its ingredients, choosing to use fresh spices to flavor the tacos and quesabirria – birria-style beef folded into a tortilla, like a taco – served at Las Cuatro Milpas. The restaurant also serves nine flavors of agua fresca, a homemade flavored water, he noted.
The partners bought their properties through for-deed contracts, according to Cory McClure of Maple Grove-based McClure Properties. Deed contracts allow partners to start the business without owning the properties they sit on, but allow them to repossess ownership as their business grows, rather than just continuing to pay rent. , McClure explained.
The restaurant opens at 10:00 a.m. daily and closes at 10:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and stays open until 2:00 a.m. Friday through Sunday. Unlike the Minneapolis location, the Bloomington Restaurant is liquor licensed and serves margaritas as well as beer and other cocktails.
The restaurant is at 415 E. 78th St., on the main road between Portland and Nicollet avenues.
Restaurant information is available online at tr.im/taqueria.
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