The first time I went to Chino Latino on Lyndale in Minneapolis, I was on a date. The waitress came over and asked if we had been there before. He had. I hadn't.
The waitress leaned in to begin her explanation. We expected that she would highlight some of the specials or unique characteristics of the food as most waitresses do for new customers. To my surprise, this Chino Latino waitress proceeded to give me a brief explanation of a menu. You read correctly. Not THE menu, but A menu. As in, "here are the appetizers, which you usually start your meal with. These are the main courses. The desserts are listed at the end." I'm pretty sure I was not wearing my "I'm an idiot. Treat me as such" badge that night.
But I was falling in love and happy to be anywhere with this man, so I brushed it off as waitresss silliness. We had a good laugh about it. I even chalked up the tables of white guys with Japanese-style head wraps dropping sake bombs as Karate-kid-fantasy-fulfillment. I was swooning so badly that I barely noticed that asian-latin fusion food was mediocre at best.
A few months later, after moving to the Twin Cities, I read this article about the restaurant. The fact that a restaurant serving Latin food was mistreating its Hispanic workers is so ironic that it almost becomes a cliche. I had heard talk that Chino was known for its pushing-the-limits-of-good-taste-in-an-edgy-but-harmless-way billboards. The law suit brought against management seemed to indicate that Chino's offensiveness was more than billboard deep.
Last winter, I got to witness first-hand the mythical Chino billboard. It featured a slogan about going to the eatery to get "out of the $%*#! cold." But rather than "$%*#!", they had a series of Chinese characters. I wanted to take a pic and send it to a friend who reads Chinese, but by the time I got around to it, the billboard was changed to this one:
I'm glad that Rachel Hutton over at City Pages noticed it too and was equally turned off. Chino was never on the top of my list of places to go for food or drink, but now it's off altogether.