Traditional recipes

One of the top Pasta Joints in Twin Cities

One of the top Pasta Joints in Twin Cities


Topping the list is Bar La Grassa. Located at 800 Washington Ave. in North Loop, the wine bar and Italian spot, which offers desserts and more, is the most popular Italian restaurant in Minneapolis, boasting 4.5 stars out of 1,073 reviews on Yelp.

At this established favorite, expect antipasti and bruschetta, as well as dry, fresh and filled pasta dishes. Standout menu options include spaghetti with veal and pork gnocchi with cauliflower and orange and crab ravioli. Thirsty? Grab a glass or bottle of red or white wine to pair with your fare. You can take a look at the full menu here.

Birchwood Café

© Mette Nielsen of MettePix

With a focus on sourcing local, sustainable, organic and fair trade ingredients, Birchwood Café is a neighborhood spot serving up beautiful breakfasts that taste as good as they look. The menu ranges from pork belly steamed buns to the popular savory waffle, and of course satisfying quiches, omelets, scrambles and pancakes. Order at the counter but watch out for the fresh bakery items calling your name from the case, they nearly impossible to resist.

3311 East 25th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55406

Some of Chicago's Best Restaurants Have Been Here Forever

One of the country's best food cities is about so much more than what's new, hot and happening.

Decorated with Michelin stars, host city to the annual James Beard Awards, and the place you&aposll find some of the country&aposs most celebrated chefs, Chicago&aposs status as culinary giant on the evolving American food landscape is utterly assured.

The city has come a long way, in just a short time—not, of course, that there was anything wrong with the Chicago of old, not in the slightest. Less polished, surely, not quite so glamorous, okay, but there was always a sturdiness, an authenticity, a grounded energy that you don&apost typically get to touch when you lose yourself in this new Chicago, the shimmering new, updated edition of a metropolis that&aposs more eager than ever to leave behind that gritty past immortalized in the Carl Sandburg poem.

Not that you have to look too hard to connect with the city&aposs past, if you&aposre so inclined—once you start looking, you&aposll see it, all around you. As you run toward what&aposs new, what&aposs hot and what everyone&aposs talking about, take time to detour out into the city that&aposs always been there, that&aposs still here, and hopefully sticking around for a long time to come. Here are just a few standout remnants of old-school Chicago, still around and thriving today.

The Walnut Room
It may not be Marshall Field&aposs department store anymore, but give the new tenant (Macy&aposs) a little credit—the 17,000 square-foot dining room (the first restaurant ever to open in a department store, we&aposre told) perched atop Fields&apos former State Street flagship not only lives on, but lives relatively well, serving up simple chicken pot pies (based on a 19th century recipe), salads with a toasted sesame dressing that remains a staple in some local households, and other vintage-y dishes that you didn&apost know that you needed in your life, before you got here. The room alone is a marvel show up early, and you might get seated directly by the absolutely massive windows.

Lou Mitchell&aposs
Standing sentry near the original start of Route 66 (actually predating the inauguration of the Mother Road, by a couple of years), this neon-signed gem is one of the most celebrated breakfast joints in the Midwest, famous for handing out Milk Duds (a Chicago original) and doughnut holes to its customers, who crowd in for omelettes and waffles, just like always. Lou&aposs has hosted presidents, is on the National Register of Historic Places, makes its own marmalade, seemed to obsess over ingredient sourcing long before most, and you should absolutely eat here, if only to honor the fact that it has survived for nearly a century.

Manny&aposs Deli & Cafeteria
A corned beef on rye at Manny&aposs is just as important to Chicago&aposs food heritage as, say, an Italian beef sandwich, or pizza, perhaps more. The neighborhood this utilitarian, cafeteria-style joint once fed—the old Maxwell Street Market district—was torn apart and paved over in the name of progress, but Manny&aposs is still here, still being run by the same family that started it four generations ago. Recent renovations had old-timers worried, but if the addition of a more modern deli area and a significant coffee upgrade (La Colombe) had to happen, at least, in return, the city got what it had always wanted: Sunday hours, making a trip to the neighborhood for the updated (and still worthy) Maxwell Street Market, operating on Sundays only, even more of a winning proposition.

Vito & Nick&aposs
Believe it or not, there are plenty of Chicagoans who were never all that crazy about deep dish pizza—one of the lesser-known facts about the city, at least among people who have not lived here, is that Chicago has plenty of room in its heart (and its stomach) for more than one style of pizza, and often, you&aposll find Chicagoans eating something they call thin crust, which is not really an understatement—we&aposre talking cracker, almost communion wafer-thin pies, cut into small squares and eaten in a couple of minutes by a small group of hungry people. Or maybe just one, really hungry person. Way the heck out on the Southwest Side—not far from Midway Airport, actually—Vito & Nick&aposs has been living its best thin crust life since the Second World War, at least. Here, the crust may have a tiny bit more heft than some of the more basic corner joints scattered throughout Chicagoland, but it&aposs better than most of them, if not all of them. Oh, and they still do an all-you-can-eat Smelt dinner on Fridays, with salad, bread, butter and fries. Talk about old school.

Gene & Georgetti
Two of the most Chicago things—massive steaks, and big helpings of simple, Italian-American cooking𠅌ome together to create a winning formula that has kept this charming restaurant open for roughly 75 years now it may have long ago been eclipsed as an innovator on the food front, but when it comes to classic service and ambience, this place is in a class all of its own, particularly in this part of the city.

Al&aposs Italian Beef
Italian beef joints in Chicago are like pizza slice joints in New York, or taco trucks in Los Angeles𠅎verywhere, but not necessarily created equal. And while it&aposs not entirely clear who really did invent the Italian beef sandwich, this vestige of the city&aposs much-diminished Little Italy neighborhood is pretty sure their founder, Al Ferreri, did so, back in the 1930&aposs. What&aposs much more important than the exact facts surrounding a thing that happened the better part of a century ago, is that Al&aposs—the original Al&aposs, not the franchise Al&aposs you see littered about—is still one of the best places to eat the Chicago favorite. Here, the thinly-sliced beef that goes into a hunk of spongy, Chicago-style Italian bread is a much better cut, and the jus that the whole thing is dipped in, for wetness, uses the beef drippings, for a vast improvement over the thinly-flavored liquid some other places use. But you&aposre not done yet—last but not least, comes the giardiniera, the classic Italian pepper relish that&aposs been a Chicago staple since the first Italians settled in Chicago. Al&aposs makes their own.

Colossal Cafe

Egg and sausage sandwich on a biscuit from Colossal Cafe on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. (Jess Fleming / Pioneer Press)

Every neighborhood needs a consistently awesome breakfast spot, and Colossal Cafe delivers.

Honestly, we would order again every last thing we have tried on the menu. Some favorites include the breakfast burrito, which ups the game on this morning staple with the addition of pickled onions, tender, juicy pork shoulder and queso fresco the ridiculously delicious biscuits and gravy (there’s a vegetarian wild mushroom version, too!) the knee-weakening-good breakfast sandwiches and the giant, yeasty pancakes.

If you weren’t thinking about breakfast before, we bet you are now.

1340 Grand Ave., St. Paul 651-414-0543

Hometown Hungers: Best Juicy Lucy Outside of Minneapolis

No need to mosey over to Minneapolis — or anywhere else in Minnesota, for that matter — to bite into a cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucy. These jumping joints across the country offer their own riffs on the meaty, cheesy burger.

Related To:

Cheese It Up

The premise behind the Juicy Lucy (or Jucy Lucy, as it&rsquos sometimes spelled) is fairly simple, but the results are profoundly delicious. This ingenious culinary creation is essentially a burger stuffed full of cheese (often cheddar or American). Building the burger that way ensures that a bite of the patty brings with it a hot explosion of melted cheese. The concept of this cheese-filled burger originated in Minneapolis, and its initial creation is claimed by two bars &mdash Matt&rsquos Bar and 5-8 Club &mdash who argue over the bragging rights. The dish has gained popularity outside of Minnesota and can now be found in bars and restaurants across the country. Check out these Food Network-approved spots putting their own spin on the Juicy Lucy.

Photo courtesy of Lucy&rsquos #7 Burger Bar

Cobblestone Café, Boston

With two Italian restaurants already under her belt when she opened Cobblestone Café in the North End, Carla Agrippino Gomes wanted to deliver something a bit different to Boston&rsquos Little Italy with her third endeavor. This spot is a coffee shop with a somewhat eclectic spread, as breakfast burritos, Sicilian pizza slices, chicken tacos and more than 12 sandwich options all crowd together on the menu. There&rsquos also an extensive selection of burgers, including a Juicy Lucy. A bit of liberty has been taken with this iteration, as it is stuffed with Gouda cheese instead of cheddar or American. The burger is then topped with more cheese, Dijon mustard, caramelized onion, lettuce and tomato, and served on a pretzel bun.

Photo courtesy of Cobblestone Café

The Royale, Dallas

This hip spot may have a whimsical vibe, but the kitchen is all business when it comes to the burgers, turning out upscale takes on the classic American comfort food. More than a dozen different options are available on the menu, plus there&rsquos a weekly burger special, which is often the Juicy Lucy. The Royale&rsquos version stars an 80/20 Black Angus patty stuffed with American cheese and served on a brioche bun.

Photo courtesy of The Royale

Dusek’s Board and Beer, Chicago

This Pilsen gastropub serves elevated dishes that go well beyond standard bar fare. It&rsquos no surprise, then, that the Juicy Lucy on Dusek&rsquos menu is a touch more sophisticated than the traditional dish. To start, the beef is sourced from Slagel Family Farm in Fairbury, Ill., which is known for raising high-quality, hormone-free meats. And the toppings for this cheese-filled patty add to its high-end allure: red onion bacon marmalade, an heirloom tomato and butter lettuce, all served on a challah bun.

Photo courtesy of Dusek&rsquos Board and Beer

Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar, Beloit, Wis.

The lineup of brews at this spot is pure Wisconsin, but the burgers seem to give a nod to Minneapolis. After all, the &ldquoLucy&rdquo whose life story is charmingly detailed in the menu is actually a fictional namesake. And every one of the joint&rsquos nine patties comes crammed with cheese. The Plain Jane most closely resembles a classic Juicy Lucy, with its simple combination of a patty stuffed with your choice of cheese. It&rsquos placed on a fresh roll and served unadorned, unless optional toppings of tomato, onion and lettuce are requested. Other options veer into completely new territory, such as the Sweet & Sassy Lucy, which is brimming with curry and ginger-infused cheese and topped with a sweet and spicy slaw.

Photo courtesy of Lucy&rsquos #7 Burger Bar

M.E.A.T. Eatery and Tap Room, Boca Raton, Fla.

With a Juicy Lucy on the menu at this restaurant in sunny Boca Raton, Fla., the kitchen here is proving that you don&rsquot need frigid weather to appreciate a burger patty bursting with molten cheese. It seems no amount of sunshine can dampen the enthusiasm for the version served at M.E.A.T. Eatery, where the meats are smoked on the premises and the condiments are made in-house. This joint boasts a riff on the Juicy Lucy that&rsquos made with a brisket-and-beef burger. This flavorful patty is stuffed with pimento cheese and bits of housemade applewood bacon, then topped with American cheese, crisp lettuce and a sliced tomato.

Photo courtesy of M.E.A.T. Eatery and Tap Room

Whitmans, New York

Locals head to Whitmans for the comforting dishes that pull in locally sourced ingredients, with the craft burgers being chief among the menu choices. And arguably the most popular burger of them all is the Juicy Lucy. This Southern-tinged version features two beef short rib-blend patties brimming with pimento cheese and crowned with a tangle of caramelized onions, spicy pickles and Bibb lettuce stacked on a slice of tomato. The whole lot comes served on a sesame seed bun. The menu also offers a second variation, the Bluicy, which trades the pimento cheese for blue cheese and subs out the caramelized onion and Bibb lettuce for red onion and arugula.

Photo courtesy of Whitmans

BRGR Kitchen + Bar, Kansas City, Mo.

This burger bar turns out impeccable patties in more than a dozen different creative combinations, including two different cheese-filled variations. The kitchen sticks close to the classic recipe when it comes to the Juicy Lucy, mixing the patty with a little Worcestershire sauce, then cramming it with American cheese and nestling it in a kaiser roll. For those looking to amp things up a bit, though, there&rsquos the option of the Juicy Lupita. This burger, which comes served on an Asiago bun, has a bit of bite &mdash it&rsquos bursting with pimento cheese and crowned with green chile relish.

Photo courtesy of BRGR Kitchen + Bar

Parlor City Pub & Eatery, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Located in Cedar Rapids&rsquo New Bohemia district, this pub serves sandwiches, salads, pizza and burgers &mdash including not one, not two, but three versions of the Lucy. The most-classic spin is the Jucy Lucy, which stars a half-pound burger crammed with molten American cheese. The Spicy Lucy steps up the heat factor a notch by subbing in pepper Jack, while the Jucy Bleucy is a completely reimagined riff that comes stuffed with blue cheese crumbles and topped with mushrooms, onions and Swiss cheese. A drizzle of blue cheese dressing and an onion ring complete the creation.

Photo courtesy of Parlor City Pub & Eatery

Olivers on Lynn, Columbus, Ohio

Two different variations on the Juicy Lucy grace the menu at this bourbon, steak and burger bar in downtown Columbus. For a slight twist on the original, opt for the Downtown Jucy Lucy. This burger comes crammed with not one but two types of cheeses &mdash cheddar and Swiss. The hefty patty, which is finished with a slick of chipotle aioli, holds up well to the pile of bourbon onions perched on top. If you want a completely reimagined version of the real Minneapolis dish, order the Jalapeno Popper Jucy Lucy. Cream cheese and jalapenos are tucked into this patty, which comes crowned with bacon, pepper Jack cheese and a creamy garlic aioli.

Photo courtesy of Olivers on Lynn

Kenny’s Burger Joint, Frisco, Texas

This casual Texas joint is as unfussy as they come, with a family-friendly ambience, accommodating staff and straightforward menu dominated by more than a dozen burger combinations. All of the patties weigh in at a half-pound and are cooked on a wood-fired grill. This spot stays true to the original concept for the Juicy Lucy by keeping the dish simple, as it was intended to be. A hickory-grilled patty is stuffed with white American cheese, adorned with a swirl of mustard and ketchup, and then finished with onions and pickles.

Lagniappe Menu

Now 100 items from the classics to my creations, and no it’s not all spicy! That’s just a part of this huge menu, and remember, we cook with spice for flavor, not for heat!

Lassaiz Les Bons temps Rouler!


Tues-Sat, 11am 'til 7:00pm!

Tuesday thru Saturday:
DINING ROOM OPEN 11 am til 9:00 pm. featuring our full menu!
Thurs, Friday & Saturday additional Brunch menu 11am til 2:oo pm!


Jackson Cut Entrance:

Washington St. Entrance:

First Look: Tim Love Opens His First Italian Restaurant, Gemelle

The Fort Worth eatery, named in honor of his twin daughters, includes bocce courts and vegetable gardens. You’ll also find a Texas twist on Italian classics.

Chef and restaurateur Tim Love—best known for brawny Texas flavors at his eateries, which include Lonesome Dove, in Forth Worth and Austin—has gone rogue: he’s opened an Italian restaurant in Fort Worth. But because the Denton native has a reputation to uphold, the menu is sprinkled with Texas touches: venison porchetta, chile-rubbed lamb chops, jalapeño basil pesto, and brisket pizza. The indoor-outdoor venue, which began service this week, sits across the Trinity River in a small building that most recently housed a couple of short-lived joints, Thurber Mingus and Froggy’s. Completely refurbished, the site now houses Gemelle, which seats eighty inside and out and features bocce courts, a small stage, and a long table where kitchen workers make pasta in real time. There’s also an emerald-green lawn (made of artificial turf) and extensive vegetable gardens (those are real). The restaurant’s name means twins in Italian, but it doesn’t refer to the well-known pasta (that’s gemelli). Instead the reference is to Anna and Ella, the sixteen-year-old twin daughters of Tim and his wife, Emilie. The teens will be helping out as hostesses as often as they can. Gemelle,4400 White Settlement Rd, Fort Worth, 817-732-9535. Lunch Fri–Sun dinner 7 days.

A Return to Nordic Roots

THERE’S no escaping Scandinavian heritage in the Twin Cities. At every turn, there’s a billboard for Norwegian language-immersion camp or a “Drool if You’re Finnish” baby bib for sale.

But in food terms, it’s long been easier to get an authentic taco al pastor, Thai green curry or a grass-fed beef slider than a good kanel snegl (cinnamon roll). There hasn’t been a successful Scandinavian restaurant here since 2003, when Aquavit, a slick expense-account-fueled import from Midtown Manhattan, closed after a lackluster run.

“When I was growing up, if we wanted to have meatballs and lingonberries, we had to go to Ikea,” said Kathryn Anderson, a student at the University of Minnesota. “That’s how bad it was.”

There are plenty of good restaurants in the Twin Cities: at least one great Mexican tamale joint (La Loma), several Vietnamese pho specialists and storefronts that cater to the cities’ large Somali and Hmong communities. Several upscale places, like Tilia, Heartland and the Red Stag Supper Club, focus on local ingredients like bison, walleye, juniper berries and cheese curds. Wild rice, harvested by Native Americans in northern Minnesota, is braised relentlessly in cream at the restaurant Hell’s Kitchen until it finally lapses into a nutty, luxurious porridge.

But last year, along came the Bachelor Farmer, a modern (even chic) restaurant that playfully blends Scandinavian design and tradition with a handmade-food ethos and friendly Midwest unpretentiousness. With roasted rutabagas and reinterpreted cinnamon rolls, pickled Lake Erie perch and house-made rye toast, all served in an airy, reclaimed industrial space softened by country-Swedish wallpaper and cleverly deployed gingham, the Bachelor Farmer has given Scandinavian food a much-needed adrenaline shot.

The Bachelor Farmer is not the only evidence that cooks in the Twin Cities are suddenly embracing Nordic heritage. A glossy new wing of the American Swedish Institute opened in July, with a cafe called Fika that serves top-quality Swedish treats like a smorgas (open sandwich) made from local ingredients, bakes its own sourdough rye bread daily and serves powerful coffee with kladdkaka (sticky chocolate cake) and thumbprint cookies, crusted with chopped almonds and filled with gooseberry, lingonberry or raspberry jam. Izzy’s, a playful, artisanal ice cream shop in St. Paul, has a flavor called Swedish Garden Party: elderflower ice cream with raspberry swirl and crumbled gingersnap cookies. At Haute Dish, a kitschy spot for reworked Midwestern classics, the chef Landon Schoenefeld has transformed the usual horseradish-spiked Scandinavian steak tartare into a composition of hot brioche toast, runny egg yolk, chilled raw beef and a shot of bloody mary.

And although Minnesota is not generally considered a nexus for new ideas in world cuisine, this Scandinavian surge is intersecting with the most avant-garde movement in food today: New Nordic cuisine, based on cold-weather crops, traditional foodways and naturalistic presentations.

“We kind of stumbled into the New Nordic thing,” said Eric Dayton, an owner of the Bachelor Farmer. “Our goal was something that was authentic to Minnesota, not necessarily authentic to Scandinavia.”

Paul Berglund, who is Swedish-American and originally from St. Louis, has been the chef at the Bachelor Farmer since it opened last summer. While developing the menu, he applied the skills he developed over seven years in the celebrated Italian kitchen at Oliveto, in Oakland, Calif. (like curing, smoking, pickling, foraging and cheesemaking) to a Midwestern palette of ingredients.

“I knew that I would be able to make pork sausage with allspice and ginger, instead of chile flakes and fennel,” he said. He did research on foods like smoked reindeer, pickled herring, dried mushrooms and cardamom, a popular spice in Finnish baking.

But he did not know that, halfway around the world, chefs like René Redzepi, Magnus Nilsson and Mathias Dahlgren in Scandinavia were doing similar research and developing the cuisine that has become hugely influential globally at restaurants like Noma, Relae and Faviken — and now at United States restaurants like Acme and Frej in New York, and Plaj in San Francisco.

After decades of French-based cuisine, followed by Mediterranean flavors and then Spanish modernism, the most trendy ingredients for chefs to work with now include preindustrial Nordic staples: root vegetables, fish roe, wild greens, venison, dried mushrooms, seaweed and cow’s milk.

This might not seem like a promising basis for a popular Midwestern restaurant. But by serving comforting foods like popovers (a nod to legendary ones at the restaurant in Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis) alongside invented dishes like dill-cured sea bass scattered with flowers, Mr. Berglund has threaded the needle. And he’s developing his own versions of less-familiar Nordic foods like Danish krydderfedt, a spread for toast made from rendered fat of various meats, some smoked and cured it makes a salty, luscious base for lean, mustard-pickled perch.

At Minneapolis' popular Colita, Oaxacan flavors shine with a hint of barbecue

We know how fortunate we are to have chef Daniel del Prado cooking in our midst, right?

The Buenos Aires native could be working anywhere — and he has, in Colorado, and Portland, Ore. — but he chooses to plant roots in the Twin Cities.

He worked with chef Isaac Becker at Bar La Grassa and Burch Restaurant before venturing out on his own, opening Martina in Linden Hills in the fall of 2017. But Colita , his dynamic people magnet (5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls.), was supposed to come first.

Instead, it was delayed by more than a year, and during that time it evolved, changing locations and shifting its emphasis from del Prado’s fascination with smoked meats to his affection for the foods of Oaxaca, the Pacific-hugging southern Mexican state.

“Barbecue is too heavy for a customer coming in two or three times a week,” said del Prado. “We started moving toward healthier food. We took a trip to Oaxaca and loved the food, and it just made sense.”

Although no one could reasonably point to Colita and call it a taco joint, this humble staple feels startlingly new under del Prado’s aegis.

For starters, he’s importing various organic Oaxacan corns, grinding them in the restaurant’s cramped kitchen and producing distinctive, colorful and intensely flavorful tortillas on a daily basis. For those wondering why a pair of tacos costs $16, that labor-intense process is a reason.

And that double-take-inducing price is so worth it, especially if they feature lamb shoulder that has been meticulously rubbed with peppers and sesame seeds, carefully smoked for six hours and ingeniously dressed with an anchovies-and-capers sauce, a combination that performs the equivalent of a taste buds tango.

I don’t know if there’s a better taco in the Twin Cities right now. The closest competition could be Colita’s version that places juicy, jalapeno-fueled fried shrimp at the forefront.

Del Prado is also a master of the tostada, whether they’re dressed with velvety raw tuna and a bright tomato jam (and herbaceous celery leaves, a staple in the del Prado pantry), or sweetly luscious lobster with a mild guajillo-fueled rémoulade, or earthy mushrooms accented with sweet onions, or the don’t-miss blend of smoky eggplant and roasted tomato.

Barbecue hasn’t entirely left the building. Traversing a tricky tightrope, meaty pork ribs — glazed with a glorious blend of habaneros, garlic and tamarind — are teased with smoke but aren’t smoky. Drop in on a Friday and you’ll luck into improvised dishes inspired by the whole pig that’s delivered weekly they disappear, fast.

The restaurant doesn’t entirely adhere to the Mexican travelogue model, with del Prado’s far-flung interests popping up in dishes up and down the menu.

He’s obsessed with mackerel, a dense and oily fish that’s an unorthodox choice for the aquachile treatment. But in del Prado’s hands, it works, with razor-sharp contrasts: the cool, tender fish contrasted against blazing fresno chiles and crispy fried chapulines , aka grasshoppers, imported from Oaxaca. If anyone can mainstream the consumption of insects among cautious Minnesotans — turns out, it’s one of the kitchen’s top-selling dishes — del Prado can.

Chicken liver pâté, another del Prado staple, lands at Colita as the filling in a sope-shaped tart. Traditional, no, and yet Oaxaca is never far away here the shell is composed of freshly ground blue corn — a spot-on way to accentuate the liver’s unctuousness — and it’s finished with hints of dried and powdered hibiscus, which cleverly inserts an acidic tanginess without introducing liquid. The results taste as good as they look.

One of the more unusual items is a cacio e pepe -style tostada. Del Prado and the classic pasta dish — it’s a staple at Martina — go way back, and he was trying to find a way to acknowledge it at Colita.

“I’m trying to respect Oaxacan flavors, but I also want to have some of me on the menu,” he said.

At Colita, he’s basically taking the pepper-butter combo of cacio e pepe and folding it into a cheese tostada, incorporating mild, semisoft Mexican cow’s milk cheeses but not quite enough black pepper to give it the requisite punch.

On paper, two first-rate dishes make absolutely no sense, and yet I can’t imagine the restaurant without them. Both commit the farm-to-table sin of including offseason sweet corn — del Prado imports it from, gasp, Florida — and he relies upon heat to intensify the kernels’ sugars.

One invokes shimmering scallops, seared in a hot pan until the surfaces bear a delectable caramelization, and served with a lively corn salsa. The other is an eat-every-molecule shotgun marriage between elotes — Mexico’s take on grilled sweet corn — and Minnesota hot dish. Here the kernels are removed from the cob, blended with chipotle-infused mayo and topped with a small snowstorm of freshly grated ricotta salata, a replacement for the traditional cotija to avoid its salt content. I witnessed the occupants of several tables fighting over the last spoonful, a decidedly un-Minnesotan behavior. Oh, I almost forgot: green tomatoes, made more palatable with buttermilk and their acidity heightened by vinegar, make for a splendid salad diversion.

While the menu isn’t exactly running apace with the seasons — those sweet corn dishes, for example — it also isn’t fixed in stone.

“I can’t change the menu much at Martina, because people get upset, and they complain,” del Prado said with a laugh. “So, from the beginning, this one I will change more often.”

It’s geography that makes the restaurant entirely gluten-free.

“In Oaxaca, there were no flour tortillas,” said del Prado. “Wheat is not an ingredient there, because of the latitude. My challenge was to create a wheat-free menu. I like a challenge.”

It shows. As a prodigious consumer of wheat flour, not only did the absence of gluten go unnoticed, but once it was pointed out to me, I didn’t miss it, not for a second.

Even in the cleverly composed desserts. Churros, the dough piped into flattened, spiral-shaped palmiers, are marvelously crisp and flaky. They’re fashioned from white and brown rice flours and utterly irresistible.

“I have to stay away from them, because I used to eat too many of them,” said del Prado.

I know the feeling. A passion fruit panna cotta had just the right palate-cleansing zip. And kudos to what is essentially horchata presented as melted ice cream, a not-too-sweet, not-too-rich way to conclude a meal.

Physically, Colita follows the happy trend of repurposing auto service stations into food-and-drink landmarks. The horseshoe-shaped, dramatically illuminated bar inverts the stereotype of socially cautious Minnesotans who will stop at nothing to avoid close contact with strangers I can’t help but wonder how many friendships have been forged by folks bonding over the appearance of a showy cocktail or a fragrant plate of ribs.

The dining room’s cool minimalism plays to the building’s strengths. The outdoors are never far away, thanks to enormous walls of glass that, in warm-weather months, open to the fresh air (can’t wait for patio season). One caution: the acoustics aren’t always conversation-friendly.

It’s one of those rare places with a built-in sense of fun. What del Prado and his colleagues have accomplished is giving us what we didn’t know we needed but we now can’t live without. Well done.

Rick Nelson is the Star Tribune’s restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter: @RickNelsonStrib

Info: 5400 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-886-1606,

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Reservations accepted and recommended.

Service: Delightful and knowledgable service staff. One glitch: Standing in a cramped and drafty vestibule for 50 minutes past a confirmed reservation, as I did, is an unacceptable scheduling failure. No reservation? Show up before the doors open for first dibs at the bar and a few unreserved tables.

Price ranges: Most dishes hover in the $12-$16 range, with a few in the mid-$20s.

Recommended dishes: Chicken liver memelita, mackerel aguachile, tuna tostadas, scallops, corn elote, pork ribs, lamb barbacoa tacos, churros, horchata.

Beverage program: Bartender Marco Zappia’s exceptional and ingenious cocktails ($11-$13) embrace fermentation in intriguing, refreshing and playful ways love the four imaginative and highly drinkable ($5) non-alcoholic options. The well chosen, covers-the-bases wine list could only be improved by adding more value-conscious choices.