A couple of years or so ago, I was reading about Nikki's, a store and restaurant on East 10th Street- in the little strip mall where Subway is located, near Cliff Avenue. The point of the article was that Nikki's had become a sort of community center for the local Hispanic population, particularly those who speak very little English. I also noticed that the article mentioned good food.
Nikki's has opened a large new store on 8th Street and Indiana. The restaurant is still on 10th Street. (I don't know if a move is imminent.) I stopped in for lunch expecting a very authentic Mexican food experience and I am pleased to report that I was in no way disappointed.
Nikki's is the real deal. If your idea of great Mexican food is a Taco Bell Encherito or a big old burrito at Qdoba, the food at Nikki's is going to seem very foreign to you. On the other hand, if you have fond memories of some little tacos full of some really tasty mystery meat you ate during your last trip to Mexico, you are in luck.
Nikki's has a pretty nice selection of entrees and al a carte items. It was lunch and the taco special- four tacos for five bucks made a great deal of sense. The choices far exceeded beef or chicken, hard or softshells. (Actually, they make it pretty clear that there are no hard shells. As a matter of fact, the soft shells are corn, not flour- a plus on the authentic-meter.) There were tons of choices for fillings and you were free to mix and match them as you desired. Here are the choices I can remember: asada (spiced grilled beef), picadillo (shredded beef), pastor (a seasoned pork), carnitas (a different type of seasoned beef), chorizo, lengua (beef tongue), tripa (beef tripe), fish.
Naturally, I had to try the tongue, and rounded out my selections with chorizo, pastor, and the asada. Each taco is barely the size of an adult's palm and is comprised of two little corn tortillas with two or three tablespoons of your designated protein mounded in the middle. You can forget cheese, lettuse, sour cream, etc for toppings. In this case, you got onions and some chopped cilantro. There were also a couple of slices of fresh radish on the side.
As is so often the case with food, these simple little tacos were a great experience of flavor and textures. The soft and somewhat sweet corn tortillas palyed off the textures and subtle spiciness of the proteins. Then you get the sweet pungency of the onions and the salty-spiciness of the cilantro. Phenomenal.
Yes, the tongue was good. Tongue is an unfairly maligned cut of meat. Yes, it looks wierd in whole form and even I would have to do some research to figure out how to cook one, but it really is good stuff. It tastes beefy. Like so many odd beef cuts, the flavor is rather like the taste of a slice of cold pot roast straight from the fridge. That's probably because it has been stored in a fridge. The texture is not too soft and it's not tough by any means, either. It is very fine grained and yielding. Seriously, you have to give it a try.
I wasn't quite up for tripe- beef stomach. Don't get me wrong, properly cooked tripe is a beautiful thing. I actually had a meal at a much ballyhooed restaurant in San Francisco where the the best thing I had was the tripe appetizer. (I thought the rest of the meal frankly sucked- keep this in mind while you watch "The Next American Iron Chef" this fall because the executive chef at this particular restaurant is Nate Appleman who will be competing.) Anyway, considering the love and care put into the lengua, I bet the tripa is pretty darn good, too.
Truly, one of the best things about Sioux Falls these days is the absolute embarassment of riches we are experiencing in terms of diverse cultures. That means great food choices and Nikki's is a shining example. When you can get such a great sampling of flavors for all of five bucks, why wouldn't you?