Cultural Cuisine in the Willmar Lakes Area

By Bailey Hovland

Walking through the streets of downtown Willmar, you can get a sense of the diverse community living in the Willmar Lakes Area. Signs display English, Spanish, and Somali, ensuring that all people feel welcome and represented. And with such great cultural diversity, the Willmar Lakes Area is also home to incredible culinary diversity. From traditional Mexican food to Somali cuisine, you’re sure to expand your palate by dining out.

Downtown Willmar is home to a number of local restaurants in Willmar, featuring plenty of opportunities to try foods from different cultures (photo courtesy of David Bowman).

The Latin restaurants in the area are many, featuring dishes with azúcar, especias y todo lo bueno (sugar, spice, and everything nice). Step into Estrella Bakery, also known as Panaderia Estrella, in downtown Willmar for a sweet treat at any time of day. My absolute favorite things to get at this bakery are the conchas (traditional Mexican sweet bread roll with a crunchy, sugary topping.), but they also have so much more to offer. From cookies to sweet bread to coffee, Estrella Bakery is a great place to pick up breakfast or have a delightful afternoon snack. Just a few blocks away is Azteca, a Mexican restaurant known for its great prices, huge portions, and satisfied customer base. Order a smothered burrito with a bottle of Jarrito’s and settle in for a filling and delicious meal. Also in downtown Willmar is Rosita’s Grill, featuring a 4.7 star rating on their Facebook page. They have an affordable $5 menu for cheaper eats and great breakfast items, including Huevos Rancheros (eggs served in the traditional large mid-morning style of rural Mexican farms), Desayuno Hondureno (a Honduran breakfast special), and Huevos con Chilaquiles (fried tortillas, salsa, and eggs).

Helllllloooo gorgeous. This Azteca dish is mouthwateringly fresh, seasoned with plenty of cilantro and lime juice (photo courtesy of Willmar Main Street’s instagram).

But if you’re looking for endless chips and salsa, pitchers of margaritas, and great lunch specials, try El Tapatio on First Street. With a huge menu, their food stretches from nachos to enchiladas to burritos. Plus the decor is incredible, with vibrant colors and gorgeous images that make you feel like you’re somewhere sunny and new. And finally, there’s the recently opened Giliberto’s Mexican Taco Shop, also on First Street. Breakfast is served all day, every day, and their menu options include tacos, tamales, tostadas, tortas, and so much more. The Latin American food scene in the Willmar Lakes Area is alive and well, thanks to each of these incredible restaurants in our area.

Somalian food is also well represented in the Willmar Lakes Area, thanks to the Somali Star and Faafan Restaurant. The Somali Star is cozy, with great interior design and plenty of seats for everyone to eat. They feature a full menu as well as coffee and tea, giving you plenty of reasons to visit. Try the mahargo with chapatti, with a blend of fresh vegetables, jalapeño sauce, and just the right amount of spice. Or try their Somali tea, a beverage my grandmother orders almost every time she visits. Whatever you order, you’re sure to enjoy. I mean, what more can you ask for? The Faafan Restaurant commits itself to bringing healthy, diverse, and tasty food to the community. With delightful samosas and impeccable customer service, everyone is sure to find something they enjoy.

Fry up your own egg rolls, crab rangoon, coconut shrimp, chicken, and marinated beef at the table with appetizer that comes with the family special.

The Golden Palace Restaurant adds another cultural layer to the Willmar Lakes Area food scene, bringing Chinese food into the mix. Their egg drop and wonton soups are great starters, the ideal way to prepare your stomach for the delicious entrees ahead. The General Tso chicken, named after Qing dynasty statesman and military leader, is a family favorite, rich with flavor. And the honey chicken is one of the most comforting foods you can eat, with a melt-in-your mouth aspect that keeps you wanting more.

So welcome, bienvenido, soo dhawow, and 欢迎 (huānyíng) to the Willmar Lakes Area, where cultural diversity is valued and well-represented in our wonderful local restaurants. Visit one (or more) of these eateries and experience multiculturalism at its best.

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