Chino Latino is a hip kind of place. So hip, in fact, that Mike and I couldn’t find the door. There was an unmarked black door between the valet parking kiosk and the cluster of smokers forced outside by Minnesota’s indoor smoking ban; could that be the main entrance, or was it a service door? After ascertaining that there was no other door and there were indeed diners in the restaurant, we opened the door to find a short black hallway with another unmarked door at the end. Behind the second door was a poorly lit but chicly decorated hipster domain, staffed by servers wearing black t-shirts reading “Wanna Bangkok?” or “Oh Phuket”.
Chino Latino’s menu is dedicated to “street food from the hot zones”, with Caribbean, Latin American, Polynesian, southeast Asian, Indian, and African offerings. Since we were there for happy hour, we ordered a few appetizers (a major benefit of dining at a hipster bar with global influences is the extensive vegetarian appetizer options on both the happy hour and regular menus). I settled on the steamed vegetable potstickers, Mike got the Shanghai wings, and we shared an order of poblano fundido.
The poblano fundido was listed on the menu as a “spicy cheesy concoction”, which was halfway correct. Other than the modest garnish of diced poblano peppers, the dip seemed to consist entirely of unseasoned melted cheese. Not that I have anything against melted cheese, per se, but the poblano fundido wasn’t spicy even by Minnesota standards.
Unfortunately, my steamed vegetable potstickers were similarly lacking in seasoning. The unbearably salty “ginger soy dipping sauce” on the side seemed to simply be soy sauce poured straight out of the bottle. To give my taste buds some relief, I would try a bite of potsticker without sauce; that was so bland that I would go back to the soy sauce “dipping sauce” for the next bite; then I would take a huge gulp of water and repeat the process. Perhaps the sauce is intentionally intolerable in the hopes that diners will quench their thirst with a more expensive beverage than tap water, but that still doesn’t explain why the potstickers themselves are devoid of flavor.
Mike’s Shanghai wings were the highlight of the evening. They actually were spicy (“flaming hot” as indicated on the menu by a little firecracker symbol), and the scallion garnish added a touch of freshness to the fried breading.
I realize that it’s unfair to dismiss a restaurant based on a few appetizers, but on the other hand, nothing I ate gave me a compelling reason to make a trip back for dinner. If a moody hipster atmosphere is your thing, Chino Latino is definitely worth a visit; if you’re more interested in the food, skip it.
★★ out of 5 (recommended with reservations)
If you go:
2916 Hennepin Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55408