There’s a mini empire on the march down Grand Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis.
At 38th Street, tiny Rincon 38 serves tapas like bacalao croquettes and braised octopus with chorizo.
At 46th Street, Cafe Ena serves upscale, European-influenced South American dishes like pimenton-dusted shrimp in delicate consommé and empanadas with aioli.
And now, because there is apparently no end to our appetite for Latin fusion and no end to its facets, chef and owner Hector Ruiz has brought La Fresca to 47th and Grand. La Fresca, the bright and casual, family- and neighborhood-friendly little sister of Rincon and Ena, opened last month and, according to our server, already has neighborhood regulars. While we’re not regulars yet, our first bites were delicious — especially the flotilla of primeros that are all some variation on the unbeatable formula: round masa + slow-cooked meat + sharp, fresh sauce.
At La Fresca, Ruiz, a native of Mexico who has cooked at Un Deux Trois, Zelo, and Prima, has thrown some Mayan influences into his Latin fusion mix. Two of our favorite Little Round Masa Things in particular have Mayan roots: the panuchos and the salbutes.
Panuchos have a thin, rich layer of pureed black beans right inside the thin circle of pan-toasted cornmeal, about the size of a delicate coaster. Ruiz tops his with cochinita pibil (tender shredded pork), a slice of avocado, a splash of tomatillo salsa, and thin pickled onions that our server swore really weren’t that hot. (“But I live with an Ecuadorian family, so maybe I can’t tell anymore.”) In truth, to this Minnesotan, at least, they had a very sharp, fresh heat. Thank goodness for the avocado.
While the panuchos are sharp, the salbutes are creamy and smooth. This variation on the Little Round Masa theme is made with fried tortillas and topped with mild shredded chicken and a swirl of crema. With a swipe of pepper-infused oil from the plate, these were the most popular at our table.
The sopes were the most complex of the Little Round Masa Things we tried. Ridged at the edges to hold a thick swirl of roasted poblano pepper sauce and a generous spoonful of black beans, this vegetarian variation was just as hearty as its carnivore-friendly cousins.
All three — along with the tacos, the most straightforward variation on Little Round Masa Things — were best eaten folded in half in one, two, three, four quick and satisfying bites. Altogether or one at a time, alongside the thick, smooth, complex tortilla soup or the generous, tart ceviche, they all make an excellent meal. And they promise good things to come at the latest Latin outpost staked out on Grand Avenue.
La Fresca, 4750 Grand Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55419; 612.825.4142