When I lived in Spain during college, my friends and I walked to our neighborhood bar as often as we went to class. It helped that the little watering hole was just a short cobbled incline away from our beds and our windows, which we always left flung open to the sizzling air.
Back then I thought tapas were precious and expensive. But in fact, enjoying true, walk-like-a-native tapas isn’t that hard for a cash-strapped kid. All I had to do was order a beer, and on its heels came a complimentary pile of fries or breaded pork, and always a healthy pot of mayo. Tapas permeate bar culture in Spain. And they’re not really that special. The Spanish just know that snacks should never be far from a good drink.
Rincón 38 — South Minneapolis’ tiny new tapas joint — seems to understand this most basic purpose of Spanish small plates. Sure, Chef Hector Ruiz’s (of Cafe Ena) menu sports seafood, cured meats, and celebrity vegetables like kale. But the tone and flavors of Rincón equal that simple brand of satisfying that goes best with a glass of cava.
Ruiz’s tapas are inspired by French, Italian, and Spanish themes. He keeps the flavor palette tight, featuring peppers, paprika, chorizo, and fennel all over the place, a sign of clear intention as well as the wisdom of an experienced restaurateur. Our favorite combination was the Pulpo ($9, top photo), a pile of tender braised octopus, soft cubes of chorizo, and crisp fried potatoes. Bite after bite, this high-end hash wrapped in smoky paprika was full of textural surprises and the delightful interchange of delicate sea meats and salty pork.
A plate of Cannoli ($9, above left) was much gentler. Fat rolls of pasta filled with creamy mascarpone, ricotta, and a fine chop of lobster and crab made for a sweet and surprisingly light snack. Similarly, the Serrano ($8, above right) was far from gut-busting. Thin slices of cured ham packaged spears of asparagus with just enough crunch. A nutty truffle-almond sauce brought out the vegetal voice, keeping meat in the supporting role where it sometimes belongs. Rincón’s Mejillones ($9) were some of the best mussels we’ve had in a while — not a bit fishy, and swimming in a deeply savory broth steeped with rosemary. But as is almost always the case with mussels, we needed more crusty bread!
My memories of Spain blazed brightest when we bit into the Bacalao ($8) croquette. Though a little dry, the crispy golden orb of salt cod was the more virtuous apparition of those greasy, meat-filled snacks we found at our neighborhood bar in Spain. Some tangy mayo would have completed the picture.
One of the best things about Rincón is that the menu includes tapas that are truly small, and others that act more as entrees, so you can choose your own adventure. The staff offers easy smiles and warm service, and the place is open until midnight every night. I can already see young people stumbling inside after a long afternoon at the beach, a little sandy and a lot exhausted, reaching for a glass of sangria. Perhaps Rincón 38 is not exactly extraordinary, but its warm embrace and satisfying bites are exactly what is so great about going out in the world.
Spanish-inspired tapas in South Minneapolis
3801 Grand Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55409
OWNER / CHEF: Hector Ruiz and Erin Ungerman / Hector Ruiz
HOURS: Mon-Sun 3pm-midnight
BAR: Beer & Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Limited
ENTREE RANGE: $5-$12