Never underestimate the human element. Past the brushed steel and dark wood decor, beyond the up-to-the-minute menu concept (“Mexican street food,” in this case), even divorced from the flavor of the food that hits your palate, there is the human vibe of a place — how you’re greeted, how you’re served, and how you feel when you walk out. It’s not why you went there, but it determines whether you’ll come back.
Bar Luchador, a new lucha libre-themed place opened by the Stub and Herb’s people in the old Campus Pizza location, doesn’t initially appear to promise much in the humanity department. It’s a tequila-driven joint slinging trendy bar food. And yet, on a recent visit, we experienced one of those ray-of-light service moments all too rare around here. Before that anecdote, a capsule review …
The decor at Bar Luchador is neat, clean, modern, and put-together. It’s all business in a Chipotle-esque way, with tidy furnishings arranged beneath a big chalkboard listing tequilas and bourbons. The menu is dominated by tacos and nachos with some clever twists, but a rock solid street-food core. And most of what we ordered was executed competently or better.
Our taco al pastor ($3) had a bold hit of lime, decently charred meat, and the pleasant grace note of grilled pineapple.
Our chorizo taco ($3) was still better, with an even spice burn and a satisfying earthiness to it. Both tacos came with a creamy salsa verde of moderate heat — rich and spicy in equal portions — a delicious condiment choice.
Our Avocado Toast ($10) wasn’t subtle — charred crostini with large amounts of creamy avocado, Kewpie mayo, onion, and a nearly raw egg that brought a ton of unctuous richness to the party. But who needs “subtle” when you’ve got “soothing and intense”?
Ironically, it was the one miss of our visit that sold us on Bar Luchador: Our smoked-paprika-powered Pimenton Wings ($9) had a nice crispy skin and a good depth of flavor, but they arrived soggy, swimming in a pond of red grease, the remnants of a broken butter sauce. The wings weren’t bad (we’ve had bad wings before), but they weren’t ideal, and after a few bites we abandoned them to their sodden fate.
Our waitress noticed. She asked. “Not bad; just a bit greasy,” we said. She apologized and took them away. She also took them off the bill. And then one of the bar’s owners walked up. He apologized for the wings, asked if the flavor was OK other than the grease (it was), explained the recipe concept and the temperamental nature of the butter sauce, apologized again, asked about the rest of our food, and express a hope that we’d come back.
That sort of attentiveness is what I remember about my last visit to Brasa, or how I typically feel at The Kenwood. To find this kind of thoughtfulness and care at a campus joint staffed and frequented largely by college students — well, it inspires hope for the future.
Mexican street food in Stadium Village
825 Washington Ave SE
Minneapolis, MN 55414
HOURS: 11 a.m.-midnight, daily
PARKING: Lot behind Hong Kong Noodles
ENTREE RANGE: $7-$25
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited