Chef Maria Estrada likes to feature a daily special, such as a tuna melt sandwich, a pepperoni pizza boat, a roast beef and swiss cheese sandwich or chicken wild rice soup at the Little Frida Café in FiftyNorth in Northfield. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
Chef Maria Estrada (in red and black) stands with her Little Frida Cafe & Taco Shop kitchen staff, Hilda Rosas, Yazmin Misarez and Ignacio Aguilar. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
Chef Maria Estrada stands inside her new Northfield restaurant tucked inside FiftyNorth. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
To keep up with her busy cooking and catering schedule, Maria Estrada does her grocery shopping early each morning. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
Each table inside Little Frida Café & Taco Shop features a small bouquet of fresh flowers grown in the FiftyNorth gardens. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)

Chef Maria Estrada knows her way around a kitchen after opening two food trucks, one mobile tent kitchen and five restaurants in Northfield since 2003.
Chef Maria Estrada likes to feature a daily special, such as a tuna melt sandwich, a pepperoni pizza boat, a roast beef and swiss cheese sandwich or chicken wild rice soup at the Little Frida Café in FiftyNorth in Northfield. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
Now, she’s expanded her ubiquitous food and catering business to include Little Frida Café & Taco Shop inside FiftyNorth.
When the doors opened to FiftyNorth members and the public alike on June 20, Estrada was ready with carefully crafted menus that alternate between Mexican specialties and American fare. One aspect of her menu planning that will not change is the ever-popular Taco Tuesday.
Each table inside Little Frida Café & Taco Shop features a small bouquet of fresh flowers grown in the FiftyNorth gardens. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
To keep up with her busy cooking and catering schedule, Maria Estrada does her grocery shopping early each morning. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
“I like cooking,” Estrada said one afternoon last week, still in her apron after the lunch rush. “It’s therapeutic for me. It puts my in my zone, so I can concentrate.”
Concentration sometimes feels like a luxury to Estrada, who also cooks weekdays for four public schools, three in Northfield and one in Faribault; prepares lunches every Thursday for Northfield Rotary Club; and runs a thriving private catering business.
To prepare for the diversity and volume of cooking each week, Estrada says she often goes grocery shopping at Cub Foods around 7 a.m.
Chef Maria Estrada stands inside her new Northfield restaurant tucked inside FiftyNorth. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
Since the soft June opening, Little Frida Café & Taco Shop has steadily been gaining customers, said Michelle Loken, program coordinator for FiftyNorth. Lunch is served inside FiftyNorth, 1651 Jefferson Pkwy., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. five days a week. The daily special is priced at $5 plus tax. Coffee is served free of charge.
Chef Maria Estrada (in red and black) stands with her Little Frida Cafe & Taco Shop kitchen staff, Hilda Rosas, Yazmin Misarez and Ignacio Aguilar. (Pamela Thompson/southernminn.com)
The menu for a typical week in September included BBQ pulled pork sandwich, potato chips and coleslaw; ham macaroni and cheese, broccoli with Caesar salad; beef stroganoff, steamed veggies with buttered bread; quesadilla with your choice of meat, side salad, mild salsa with tortilla chips; and a chicken enchilada platter.
So far, Loken said, the customers at FiftyNorth seem to be enjoying the convenience of eating lunch at the senior-oriented facility.
“The older customers are so nice and so appreciative,” said Estrada.
Little Frida Cafe & Taco Shop is located inside the sprawling one level facility in a large center room with seating for about 60 diners. The room is cheerfully decorated with colorful Mexican banners hanging from the ceiling. Fresh flowers grown in the back courtyard gardens grace each table. Diners can also eat outside on the FiftyNorth patios, weather permitting. Take out service is available by ordering ahead.
Estrada said the name of the restaurant derives from famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. “Frida Kahlo’s life story inspires me,” she said. “Also, my two daughters are both artists.”
Estrada and her team of five staffers: Fermin, Martha, Hilda, Yazmin and Ignacio, all appreciate the large modern kitchen that even sports windows to the east. She said her biggest supporter in her culinary endeavors is husband Rafael, a brick mason, who helps her whenever she has trouble staffing her cooking contracts.
“I love this new kitchen with all the bells and whistles,” she said. The spotless kitchen with two ovens. a blacktop, a range with six burners and a convection oven is a huge improvement from the tiny kitchen Estrada worked out of in Castle Rock.
Loken said sometime soon the café would like to expand its offerings to include breakfast, but for the time being lunch will remain the focus.
For Estrada and her constantly frenetic cooking schedule, maintaining the currently popular menu at Little Frida was probably a smart business decision.
“I’d rather be cooking than doing anything else,” she said with a shy smile.
{span}Pamela Thompson is the associate editor for the Northfield News. Reach her at 507-645-1115 or pamela.thompson@apgsomn.com.{/span}
The grand opening of Maria Estrada’s Little Frida Café & Taco Shop will be Wednesday, Oct. 12 from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. The daily special will be a chicken enchilada platter for $5 plus tax. Anyone dining at the café that day will receive a free dessert. Call 507-321-1884 for takeout.
Data included is taken from the Minnesota Department of Health Daily reports. Because all data is preliminary, the change in number of cumulative positive cases and deaths from one day to the next may not equal the newly reported cases or deaths.
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