Guilty Pleasure #002: ‘Red Pepper’

The Red Pepper is a much-loved institution in Grand Forks and with their signature item the Grinder, they’ve built a following of mostly bleary-eyed college students looking to soak up some alcohol with fluffy bread and loads of orange cheese.

Red Pepper central GF location

I call it a guilty pleasure because it’s really not quality Mexican food. You could up the quality and keep the speed with which staff shill out plates, although you’d lose a lot on food cost. The Red Pepper could really fill a niche with freshly prepared Mexican food in a sort of street food style.

Wait a second. That’s a good idea. Grand Forks (and all cities in ND and northwest MN) is really missing out on what is becoming hugely popular in some of the bigger cities across the country. Cooks are preparing fresh ingredients to order from mobile kitchens on food trucks.

I’m sure the Pepper could do an enormous amount of business by just setting up shop somewhere on 3rd Street in downtown Grand Forks and offer fresh steak and chicken. Carne asada and pico de gallo. Chile verde, picadillo, juicy carnitas. All made to order. The steam would fill up the cold winter night and draw a crowd, believe me.

But I don’t know if that will ever happen.

Spiced ground beef, slabs of ham, salami, turkey and nearly-nuclear orange cheese are good enough for the many fans of the mainstay for over 35 years.

The fabulous Grinder

There’s a central Grand Forks location at 1011 University Ave., a location right next to UND at 415 North 42nd St.

The grinder comes to you cold, but you can have them throw it in the microwave which actually makes it a bit better.


A Grinder is what I usually get when I head to “the Pepper.”


Their website claims the “best taco in town,” offering a hard and soft shell version. It comes with the usual nearly-white lettuce and the same orange cheese. Hot sauce is a must. The rest of the menu includes burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, taco burgers, chili, chicken tortilla soup and other items.


That’s a sad-looking tostada. A former employee once told me of the “garbage plate” which is, needless to say, not on the actual menu. I’m told it’s whatever falls down into a small catch under the area that tacos and other items are assembled. This is put on a tostada and covered with cheese, I assume. It’s like a treasure hunt! You never know what you’ll find. If this in fact does not exist, let me know in the comments.

But, the website says the Red Pepper uses local products and suppliers. Beef is from L&M Meats, beans are grown in the valley and supplied by GF Bean Co. and buns are from Hugo’s Bakery.

This type of food is perfect for the after-bar crowd. Stumble in until 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and leave probably feeling a bit better, filled with meat and cheese. At the University Ave. location, they’re open Monday through Thursday, it’s open until 1:30 a.m. and until midnight on Sunday.

One thing I have to say I know will ruffle some feathers. I’m fine with some lower-quality Americanized Mexican food, but one thing you have to get right is the hot sauce. And the Red Pepper sauce is not right. It’s an oddly sweet, exceedingly soupy mix that I can’t find apetitizing. There is no doubt that it’s sweetened with brown sugar. It needs more heat, too.

I’m sure some of you love it, though, but that’s OK.

But Grand Forks just wouldn’t be the same without the tall red building, with a buzz of 20-somethings at 2:25 a.m. and a slew of tacos, grinders and chips being devoured. Here’s to another 35.

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4 thoughts on “Guilty Pleasure #002: ‘Red Pepper’

  1. appetizing. The hot sauce is appetizing. Have you tried the Mexican Village hot sauce or Paradiso hot sauce…..Red Pepper is hands down better!

  2. A couple clarifications. The Red Pepper East in East Grand Forks, MN is owned and operated by different owners and has additional menu items. I’m not certain of the exact history, but I believe the original Red Pepper owner opened it and when he decided to close it an EGF resident (possibly an employee at the time) decided to but it and run it. They were given permission to keep the menu, although you will notice slight differences in the ingredients.
    I’m also guessing by “hot sauce” you’re referring to what accompanies the chips and not what is put on tacos and grinders. I know this is a common use of the term, but when an establishment has its own actual hot sauce it would be nice to clarify. I’d have to agree though, the salsa/hot sauce is a bit sweet. Although the actual hot sauce on grinders and tacos seems to vary between batches, some days it can be exceedingly hot.
    One advantage of the 42nd St location is it has a drive-thru.
    Two last things to mention: local favorites are the cheese tostada (over priced but excellent) and the infamous garbage plate.

  3. I’ve eat at Red Pepper a few times, but I did not grow up here, so I didn’t “get it.” It was pretty gross, but at least it was cheap, which is I guess the point. All college towns need places like this.

    As far as hot sauces go, we keep a bottle of Trader Joe’s Jalapeno hot sauce in the glove box at all times. It’s handy for those spur-of-the-moment Paradiso visits. In fact, we keep a stash of hot sauce in the pantry: That’s just the sauce in the pantry, not even what we have on the go on the counter (I just counted 12 bottles of various stuff, including Asian, African, and Bermudan hot sauces. I know there are some more perishable ones in the fridge.) Yeah, we have a problem. haha

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