Chimborazo is the kind of restaurant that it’s impossible not to root for. Relatively far off the radar (kudos to Mecca Bos-Williams at Metro for an early and accurate review), Chimborazo doesn’t have a PR firm and doesn’t flog a signature item like Guadalajara-style tacos or gringo-friendly fajitas in order to get folks through the door — if you’re going to step into the restaurant’s humble dining room, you’re probably going to do it on faith.
The good news is that faith, here, is rewarded with really well-balanced and expertly executed food. This includes a number of surprises that will charm the snow pants off of anyone not already familiar with Ecuadorian cuisine.
An appetizer of llapingachos ($5) is a great way to start. These soft, mild potato patties stuffed with cheese and onions are served atop a fried egg with two kinds of sauce on the side: peanut and cilantro. A bite of warm, soothing llapingacho perks up and gets frisky with the addition of the cilantro sauce; add the peanut sauce instead, and the dish is all smooth, comforting mellowness. You can, of course, dress them up with both sauces, and the two somehow marry nicely.
A fried trout lunch special ($12) was equally affable — neither greasy nor dry, well-balanced, mellow, and pleasingly crunchy without obscuring the tender flesh of the fish.
The star of the menu may be the camarones encocado ($10), a dish of shrimp covered in a vibrant red pepper / coconut sauce that’s so pleasingly balanced and mildly sweet that you’ll sop up the remainder with white rice long after the shrimp have been eaten. Along with the llapingachos, it’s a dish that you’ll be hankering for shortly after leaving the neighborhood.
It’s worth noting that Chimborazo is not for cilantrophobes — the controversial green herb made its way into nearly everything on the table, even the side dish of beans. If you like the stuff, you’ll find its use — in thoughtful moderation just about everywhere — to be a pleasing common thread tying together most to all of the dishes on the table. If you think it tastes like soap, you’ll be in trouble.
That caveat aside, there are some wonderful things going on in this softly spoken but soulful Northeast kitchen. And while we didn’t make it to the restaurant’s breakfast (which happens on Saturdays and Sundays), the plantain pancakes alone are enough to compel another visit — on top of other culinary achievements, Chimborazo nails the art of frying up a sweet plantain.
BEST BET: The shrimp or halibut encocado. The creamy, mellow, balanced coconut sauce would be worth buying were it bottled.
Ecuadorian in Northeast Minneapolis
2851 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / No
ENTREE RANGE: $7-12