Paczki Day is over and all I have to show for it is this animated GIF.

I was so caught up in the fever of Valentine’s Day this year – making mugs for besties, baking peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies for care packages, and planning a fun day with Bear – that I totally blew it on Paczki Day! In case this is the first time you’ve encountered the word, paczkis (pronounced PUNCH-key) are basically a glorified Polish jelly donut filled with either a custard or fruit preserve. They usually have a glazed or powdered sugar exterior, though on occasion they’re left plain. The dough is rich and buttery and, in most cases, the pastry is deep-fried.

Pause. Take it in. Maybe wipe away the drool. Do we need to re-cap? Custard, jellies, glaze, powdered sugar, butter, and fried sweet dough. What’s not to love? These decadent little puffs are traditionally made in early February and kept around at some bakeries through Easter Sunday. But official Paczki Day, which traditionally falls on the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (commonly known as Fat Tuesday), is for some bakers the only day in the whole year that they make and sell them! Just a taste of gluttony before that month of fasting and penance. Oh, Catholicism!

While we had plans to track down and sample paczkis from the small handful of locations in the Twin Cities and prepare a formal dossier, we only managed to try two versions. We had a set from our local grocery store last week, which were decent enough for a donut fix. Their fillings were custard, raspberry, and lemon; all a bit too sweet for my tastes and pretty artificial in terms of flavor. Considering the dearth of decent, cheap donuts available though, they definitely filled some sort of void…which was later replaced with some feelings of regret.

We also made it to Sarah Jane’s Bakery in Northeast Minneapolis and sampled their selection – chocolate-covered custard, glazed raspberry and peach. These were much better in that you could taste the butter in the dough and they had that yellow hue that only comes from real eggs. The dough itself was my favorite part, with their glazes also being really delicious and slightly crunchy. I would have been one content cupcake with just a glazed, un-filled paczki, but this is tradition we’re talking about and there are to be no substitutions. The custard and raspberry confiture were average, but the peach paczki really out-shined them both. The woman behind the counter convinced us to try one and I’m glad we gave in because it was the best of the bunch.

Having not been able to seek out paczkis on actual Paczki Day, we missed a few local spots to sample from, but there’s always next year. Considering the number of paczkis we’ve eaten in the last few weeks, coupled with Valentine’s Day sweets and candy, our pancreas are probably all the better for it.

If you’re looking to try making paczkis yourself, this looks like a really fantastic recipe.

Taqueria La Hacienda

You know how people of a certain region often think they’re the only ones who know what real [insert food of choice] tastes like, how it should be prepared, how it should be served? I totally hate those kinds of people. While, certainly, there is truth to specific ingredients, generations of people and ethnicities, and the water, all being located more in one region of the country than another, and this does factor into availability and, sometimes, quality, a lot of it is posturing. Plus, to say that there’s “no good Vietnamese food here,” for example, brings into question the notion of authenticity and who really decides what “good” or “real” Vietnamese food is anyway? One thing I know for sure: it’s not me.

So, when people lament there being no “good” Mexican food in Minneapolis or question how, in a place so cold and so geographically far from Mexico, could you have possibly had some of the tastiest tacos you’ve had in your life, you just shrug. ‘Cause hipster foodies and close-minded fools aren’t going to get it. And, really, let’s not be heroes and convince anyone otherwise because, well, it means more tacos for those of us who believe in the hidden gems and the strip mall finds. It means we’ll always have the best date spot to woo our sweethearts, best friends, and other VIPs in our lives. Win, win!

I had heard whisperings here and there about Taqueria La Hacienda, but had never made it to any of their three Twin Cities locations until two weeks ago. Bear and I had to go out to the suburbs to run some errands when I was reminded of their Burnsville location and knew it was our to-be lunch spot for the day. We’re big fans of Mexican food, but seem to rarely have it and I knew going into this that if Taqueria La Hacienda was good, I was going to have a problem on my hands. Can I tell you how we ate our four tacos each, considered getting more, left, and then proceeded to discuss throughout the rest of the day if we should go back and get take out for dinner? Would that be embarrassing? Did we care? Should we go to the location on Lake Street closer to home where we hadn’t already eaten that day? Ultimately, self-control won out, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about the carnitas and the al pastor (bbq pork) tacos at least twice a day since. It doesn’t mean I haven’t actually dreamt about the horchata.

It took us a while to decide what we wanted to have, but sampling the different tacos seemed the best way to jump in, so we ordered two of each – carnitas, al pastor, barbacoa, and carne asada. I made Bear try them one-by-one with me, even waiting to take first bites at the same time, and give each other the play-by-plays. Everything was tasty and fresh, but the clear winners were the carnitas and the al pastor. They were both super flavorful, tender, salty, everything you’d want. The simple serving on corn tortillas with the tiniest, most perfectly diced white onions and fresh cilantro were all either meat needed, save for maybe a drizzle of their spicy salsa.

I liked the barbacoa quite a bit too, but I once over-cloved barbacoa when I was making it at home and Bear’s sense of taste has never forgiven me for it. The carne asada was char-broiled and especially great with the salsa, but didn’t stand up to the carnitas and al pastor. I can’t wait to go back and try the chorizo taco and, maybe even the lengua. The tacos were a mere $1.85 a piece, but since the al pastor tacos were the special of the month, they were only a $1! I mean, just typing all of this makes me wonder why we’re not there right now. Oh, Beeeeaaaarrrr….