MB Foodhouse, the Tex-Mex and taco restaurant by chef Kristen Martinez — leader of noise rap group Moodie Black — announced on Instagram last month it was closing its North Loop Galley location for good. But the bigger picture is much brighter: Next month, Martinez plans to debut MB Foodhouse as a food truck stationed at Five Watt Coffee and HeadFlyer Brewing in Northeast Minneapolis.
MB Foodhouse, which is trans woman-owned, has never been a traditional restaurant. Martinez identifies more as a musician than a chef — she started down her culinary path in 2019, when she hosted Moodhouse Fest, an all-day noise festival, and catered it with a breakfast taco buffet. During the pandemic, she and bandmate Sean Lindahl ran MB Foodhouse as a pop-up out of their house, before setting up in Five Watt Coffee’s annex space on Lyndale Avenue. In 2021, they took a leap and relocated to the North Loop Galley.
Throughout these transitions, MB Foodhouse’s identity as a restaurant has intertwined with Moodie Black’s music. (“MB Foodhouse is the first and only noiserap taco shop in the world,” Martinez posted on Instagram this March, and so far, no one has proven her wrong.) But juggling music and the restaurant has been challenging: She and Lindahl recently took six weeks away to tour, for example, which came with huge risks. The Galley’s management was great, says Martinez, but ultimately the high demand was hard to keep up with and the food hall’s revenue share was a financial strain. “We just don’t have backing or financing — we don’t have that cushion,” says Martinez. “We’ve literally been week to week for the last few months.”
So Martinez and Lindahl placed their hope in a new venture: A steel concession trailer with a Betty Boop and Wellington Wimpy decal plastered to the front. They drove eight hours to rural Missouri to pick it up. Starting this November, they plan to park it behind Five Watt Coffee and HeadFlyer Brewing (which share a building) and run two services, Thursday through Sunday: Tex-Mex with coffee in the morning, and Tex-Mex with beer in the evening. The truck won’t have traditional window service. Instead, customers can order inside with a QR code and Martinez and Lindahl will run it out. Five Watt co-founder Lee Carter is excited for the collaboration to kick off. “We’ve loved partnering with MB Foodhouse in the past,” says Lee Carter. “Having them back at E. Hennepin will be a welcomed return, with breakfast tacos for the first time ever at Five Watt.”
MB Foodhouse plans to operate through the winter. Martinez has adapted her menu to the chillier climate: Taco-wise, green chile chicken will sub for macha chicken, and a sweet potato kale hash will replace the smash-hit vegan charred cauliflower. And, in keeping with the restaurant’s Tex-Mex theme, she’s largely swapping out corn tortillas for flour.
That’s the other thing that makes MB Foodhouse unique: the menu. As Martinez puts it, it’s a “down-home, homemade, off-the-cuff, no-frills Tex Mex joint,” representing a regional cuisine that’s a relatively rare find in the Twin Cities. The “off-the-cuff” bit comes from Martinez’s grandmother, who taught her to cook without formal recipes. The menu is also El Paso-centric — sourcing flavors from the place where Martinez grew up. “Those comforting soul food flavors that I literally grew up with, that we’ve recreated — that’s what El Paso is,” says Martinez.
One key dish is the hardshell taquitos, filled with beef and potatoes, drowned in cheese and a guajillo red sauce, and topped with cabbage slaw and crema. “That’s something you don’t see often. Maybe you see taquitos, but you’re not going to see them covered with cheese and smothered with a red sauce, like a soup almost,” says Martinez. “That’s an El Paso staple at a place called Chico’s Tacos, which is an institution out there.” MB Foodhouse puts an emphasis on breakfast tacos too, a Texas favorite — the “weenie n egg” is made with chopped hot dogs. Martinez also ships in a specific hatch chile from Arizona, which lends a flavor she says she hasn’t found elsewhere in Minneapolis.
Northeast Minneapolis is home to some of the city’s most essential food trucks, like Boomin’ Barbecue, Animales Barbecue Co. and Animales Burger Co., and a rotating food truck residency at Sociable Cider Werks, to name a few. Martinez is excited to join the scene, and hopes that it continues to grow, as finicky city ordinances have posed challenges to food trucks in the past. “We see Portland, and we see Austin, and we see these awesome food truck communities in which there are all these trucks hunkered down — like permanently down — for months at a time,” says Martinez. “I feel like Minneapolis could be a place like that, and I don’t understand why it’s not. But then you look at the city and the licensing and you start to say, ‘Okay, maybe this is why.’”
Ultimately, Martinez’s vision for MB Foodhouse extends beyond the kitchen, and into Minneapolis’s larger arts and culture scene, where, she says, small businesses are essential. “We hope to be a down-home place that serves good tortillas and continues to cultivate the arts and music scene,” says Martinez. “You see these buildings going up, and they’re not necessarily local businesses. They’re not necessarily eateries or art spaces. I feel like a lot of that has gone away, and we want to be a part of bringing that culture back to the Cities.”
MB Foodhouse’s new trailer is currently being renovated, and Martinez is fundraising for the project. Barring any major road bumps, she plans to open on November 12. In the meantime, Moodie Black is on tour — catch them at 7th St. Entry on October 30. Keep an eye on Instagram for more food truck updates.