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​Battle of the Taco Grinder Sandwiches

All About Food | March 3rd, 2023

By Rick Gion

rickgion@gmail.com

When thinking of popular sandwiches associated with the Upper Midwest, the sloppy joe immediately comes to mind. But let’s not forget the sandwich with a spicy side – the taco grinder. It’s a Fargo staple.

Now that outdoor temperatures have warmed up a wee bit, it’s time to get out of the house for a food competition. There are not two but three heavyweights in this sandwich match. Which sandwich will deliver the knock-out? Let’s get in the ring.

I recently ordered “deluxe,” everything,” and “ultimate” grinders at three area establishments - the Red Pepper, Spicy Pie and the Taco Shop.

The ingredients that make this sandwich ultimate and such include a meat medley of ham, salami, taco-flavored ground beef, turkey, and then cheese.

All three sandwiches were “warmed up.” I prefer this option, because the bread has a better texture. You’ll read why a little further down.

To our feathered friends to the north, the Red Pepper is North Dakota legendary. Visiting the Fargo location is not quite the same as eating at the old-school Grand Forks location on University Avenue…even if there’s that weird retro rug on the wall.

Okay, with those jabs now out of my system, let’s get down to the issue at hand. The Red Pepper’s grinder sandwich held up to the reputation. It had ample taco meat and was not full of bland-tasting shredded iceberg lettuce. It also had a surprisingly spicy kick.

Adding extra white sauce to the sandwich made it even better. The Red Pepper’s white sauce is excellent and readily available in a squeeze bottle right by the soda filling machine. To be honest, I really enjoyed the Red Pepper’s taco grinder sandwich. They know what they’re doing.

I next headed to the Downtown Fargo Spicy Pie location to check out what they have to offer.

Spicy Pie makes the bread for their taco grinder sandwich, so extra points go to them. It’s also warmed up in their large pizza oven. The bread gets crispy this way. Be sure to take them up on this option, because other places just use a microwave to warm up their grinders.

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by the amount of taco meat in this sandwich. During prior visits, the portion size was much more meaningful. I also didn’t enjoy the limp shredded lettuce that topped this sandwich. Lettuce should be crisp.

However, I do think the white sauce at Spicy Pie is superb. I slathered a bunch of it on the sandwich. I like the abundance of coarse-ground black pepper in their white sauce. It beats the competition. Grand Forks people can go ahead and fight me.

For the Taco Shop’s version of the grinder sandwich, I drove down to the only location left in the area which is just off of Fargo’s south University Drive.

From decades of experience, the Taco Shop’s sandwich bread can be somewhat dry. There’s also a lot of bread included with their version of this sandwich. My recommendation is to get this grinder warmed up. It solves the dryness issue and makes the bread much more enjoyable.

I’m not quite sure why, but you have to ask for extra white sauce for your grinder sandwich at the Taco Shop. Here’s a friendly suggestion for them: Please offer a little extra on the side with an order.

The cost for the Red Pepper everything half-grinder is about $6. The cost for an ultimate six-inch Spicy Pie grinder is about $7. At the Taco Shop, a half-deluxe grinder is about $7.

All things considered, I think the Red Pepper is the ultimate winner. The Taco Shop and Spicy Pie sandwiches were quite good though. It’s just that the sandwich artists at the Red Pepper did prove to be the most legendary.

P.S. If you’re from Grand Forks, I hope you’re happy. We all know which one you’d vote for anyway.

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Red Pepper, 1105 19th Ave N., Fargo

Downtown Fargo Spicy Pie, 322 N. Broadway

Taco Shop, 1825 South University Dr, Fargo

Rick Gion administers a Facebook group page called “Fargo-Moorhead Eats” that’s dedicated to the area’s great cooks and cuisine. The page now has nearly 15,000 followers. Check it out, join, and feel free to post items about your local culinary adventures and home cooking. And, while you’re at it, also join the Instagram page!

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