Midtown Global MarketCredit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
East Lake Street Scenes
By Natalia Mendez
I’m not from Minneapolis. But to me, East Lake Street has always felt like home. When I moved to the Twin Cities in the fall of 2010, I had a brief three-month stint living in Northeast. However, I was never more than a mile from Lake Street on purpose for the following decade. I moved here from Wisconsin, because I fell in love with the bike paths, the quick access to lush green parks, and the ability to escape the city within the city. Regardless of how I traveled, moving by bike, bus, car, or on foot, East Lake Street is a prime example of just how easy it is to explore so much in very little square footage.
I’m a queer person of color of Mexican descent. Living so close to the East Lake Street district offered me a sense of familiarity and comfort, during a period of adjustment, when I was getting my bearings in a new city. The paleterias, carnecerias, and panaderias peppered along East Lake Street remind me of the scenes I left back in Milwaukee 11 years ago. There are puppets, museums, dance parties, queer communities, and great food. East Lake Street has seen so much over the years, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. But the community continues to flourish as a place that makes room for immigrants to not only land but thrive. The district is currently very Latine and East African, but it wasn’t always that way.
Mercado Central | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
East Lake Street’s History
At the turn of the 20th century, Minneapolis was rapidly developing. Scandinavian immigrants looking for work and opportunity settled in the neighborhood, as Minneapolis began to grow and prosper. Initially for bikes and then buggies, Lake Street was the main thoroughfare for those seeking to explore the area’s natural beauty, with one notable destination being Minnehaha Falls to the southeast. In the 1880s, a streetcar system brought in workers from Excelsior and beyond. By 1928, shoppers flooded the shiny new Sears-Roebuck store at the corner of Chicago Avenue and Lake Street, today known as the Midtown Exchange building. By the 1950s, the streetcars were torn out. The paved road was widened. And Lake Street became car-centric, favoring the adults and teenagers who cruised the strip.
Small businesses were abundant until the late 1960s when Highway 35W failed to include a Lake Street exit. This lack of access led many businesses to leave the area, and storefronts along portions of East Lake Street became vacant. The Sears-Roebuck store closed, crime rose, and along with it came white flight. Lake Street’s demographics began to change.
An influx of Latine immigrants seeking cost-effective housing and spaces established small businesses. Neighborhood mainstays like Latine marketplace Mercado Central, today featuring 35 Latine-run businesses, like a butcher shop, a tortilleria, a bakery, a beauty salon, realty, and more, were established by industrious immigrants—just like in the 1880s. By the early 2000s, the old Sears building was undergoing a renaissance. The neighborhood had not only amassed a fair number of Latine immigrants but East African immigrants, too. Local Latine and African development centers worked with neighborhood cultural development organizations, the city, and developers to reestablish the old Sears building as a global marketplace with office space and apartments above. The neighborhood, too, started to see positive changes with crime rates dropping, employment rates rising, and more development resulting in small businesses along East Lake Street by Black and Brown entrepreneurs. This was the East Lake Street I was fortunate to encounter, when I moved here in 2010.
Zahra Fashion | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
A Perfect Day Along East Lake Street
Although one day is not nearly enough time to spend along this bustling cultural district, let me help you map out, in my opinion, a perfect day along East Lake Street.
Unfortunately for the late sleepers in my life, I’m a bit of a morning person. I love to hop out of bed and go for a bike ride or run first thing in the morning, and the Midtown Greenway is a beautiful place to start the day. The 5.5-mile haven for cyclists, which stays plowed throughout the winter, runs along a former railroad corridor with convenient exits that drop cyclists near Lake Street shopping, dining, and entertainment. I feel it’s one of my safest options, day or night, when traveling by bike. The Greenway connects to the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and 50 miles of Grand Rounds Scenic Byway for those seeking a longer ride. Afterward, leave your bike at home. Much much of East Lake Street is best visited on foot lest you miss a tiny bakery, taco stand, or Somali cafe.
Midtown Greenway | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
Time to Eat
After you’ve worked up an appetite, stop at Panaderia el Mexicano in Mercado Central for a big, fluffy concha and the first cup of coffee of the day. If you can think far enough ahead, start planning dinner and grab some cuts of meat from Valerie’s Carniceria—their arracheras (thinly cut and flavorful skirt steak) are my favorite for summer grilling. If you’re craving a heartier breakfast, head over to the Midtown Global Market to Andy’s Diner for freshly made omelets, chilaquiles, or biscuits and gravy. If you happen to visit them later in the day, they have excellent burgers and shakes. Although a whole day could be spent at the Midtown Global Market tasting food from around the world, explore even more culture on this stretch.
I write about food for my day job, so I’m thinking about my next meal or snack even when I’m off the clock. There is no better place than East Lake for expert eaters like myself. Cool off on a hot day with a refreshing mangonada or paleta from La Michoacana Purepecha on Lake and Park—my favorite is the bubblegum-pink piñon (pine nut) flavor. It’s creamy, rich, and pleasantly sweet without being overwhelmingly sugary. For dinner, stop at Quruxlow for Somali fare. They are known for deliciously spiced sambusas and large plates of reasonably priced seasoned rice covered in various meats and stews. If you want an adult beverage, grab a refreshing locally brewed beer at Eastlake Craft Brewery and enjoy their taproom or patio.
La Michoacana Purepecha | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
Embrace the Culture
Learn more about the history and culture of Minneapolis’ Somali community at the Somali Museum of Minnesota. Here, you’ll get a primer on the United States’ largest immigrant and refugee population living in the Twin Cities. To explore the culture of some of East Lake’s first immigrants, visit Ingebretsen’s on 16th and Lake, which is celebrating its 100th year on Lake Street. Here, you’ll find gifts and deli items from Nordic countries. The beef jerky is still among the best I’ve ever had and is perfect for packing along for long bike rides.
Ingebretsen's | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
As you walk through the area, browse the murals along East Lake. Local artists have decorated buildings along this stretch for years, showcasing neighborhood pride. After the uprising, many more artistic expressions of solidarity for the community appeared on building facades. A mural tour on foot is an easy, fun, and free way to spend an immersive afternoon.
The old Robert’s Shoes lot on Chicago and Lake has been a hotspot for community events. Enjoy a queer BIPOC dance party or comedy show hosted by the community organization Lake Street Truth Collective. Xochi de la Luna (they/them), a multi-disciplinary artist, producer, curator, and an organizer of the collective, says the corner in the middle of the East Lake Street district has been one of healing and repair for the BIPOC community since the uprising of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd. As the boards come down, they are working to welcome people back to East Lake with music, dancing, and an environment for Black and Brown joy. This past summer, I masked up and enjoyed a drag show, then danced my nalgas off at their event, Pachanga, and loved every moment.
Poet Isabel Lopez performing at Former Roberts Shoes Lot | Credit: Paola Carlson-Sanchez
If there’s one thing I learned during my time living near East Lake Street, it’s that you will leave feeling full in your body, mind, and your heart. This enduring district is one that’s paved the road to prosperity for many newcomers. Its legacy continues today in the form of independent, immigrant-owned businesses that are more than deserving of any visitor’s energy and attention and certainly require more than one visit to create their own favorite places and memories with food, culture, and movement like the treasured ones I hold today.
Karmel Mall - Source for African clothing and home goods along with a variety of small business needs and markets.
Las Cuatro Milpa - or “four cornfields” is a taqueria y birrieria that is not to be missed. Hector Hernandez brings birria of Zacatecas to Minneapolis and it does not disappoint.
Marhaba Grill- Unique mix of Mediterranean foods and sumptuous desserts in a relaxed, casual setting with lunch and dinner buffet options on Nicollet.
Modern Times - Cafe offering hearty breakfasts, sandwiches & salads, with vegetarian & organic choices, in a colorful, family-friendly setting.
Taco Taxi - Authentic and traditional Jalisco style Mexican dishes that you can grab at their counter-service eatery open until 2 am, or from their food truck that is often found a little further east on Lake Street by S 19th Ave.
Pho Tau Bay - A hidden gem at the end of "Eat Street" on Nicollet serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine, soups, coffees, and bubble teas.