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Do You Miss El Meson? La Ceiba Is a Love Letter to You

La Ciba will have a Caribbean influence with lots of paella and other rice based dishes

La Ciba will have a Caribbean influence with lots of paella and other rice based dishes

Chef Hector Ruiz, already chef/owner of three restaurants, says he is very busy and doesn't necessarily need another one. But, you see, his clientele is demanding it.

"My customers say they miss El Meson, which was Spanish and Caribbean, and they're always asking, "When are you going to bring back the paella, the mofongo, the arroz con gandules?"

The answer to those customers: in three weeks.

See also: La Fresca is Grand Avenue's latest star

Each of Ruiz's restaurants, Cafe Ena, La Fresca, and Rincon 38, pays subtle homage to a different Mexican or Latin American tradition, with the chef's own signature take on that regional cuisine.

He says that his original restaurant, El Meson, did not close due to any problem with the food or lack of business. Instead, he says that the building was falling apart at the seams and he wasn't interested in fixing it.

"If it was raining outside, it was raining inside too! If it was 20 degrees outside, it was 25 inside!"

Customers might not have been impressed with dining next to drip buckets, but, says Ruiz, they were impressed with the Caribbean-influenced cuisine he served there: Dominican dishes, Puerto Rican ones, jambalayas, paellas, arroz con pollo.

The new spot, La Ceiba, will be located in the Powderhorn neighborhood, at 3500 Bloomington. Ruiz says he spent a lot of years living in an apartment building in the neighborhood, so it's very much like a homecoming to him.

"There are some great restaurants already in the neighborhood, like Tiny Diner and Matt's Bar, but maybe not anything quite like what we do, so I'm looking forward to adding another great restaurant to the neighborhood."

He feels confident that he's well poised to open his fourth establishment, as he's had kitchen staff who have been with him a decade. "When I make these decisions, it's not just me. My staff are the backbone. I run it from the dishwasher and then go all the way up to management."

The space will have a casual vibe and incorporate a lot of tropical colors, tropical paintings, a Puerto Rican flag, and clean and modern lines. A couple of other menu sneak peeks include casserole de mariscos, Jamaican chicken, fried yucca salad, and bistecca de cebolla. And yes, the famous El Meson 45-minute paella will be back.

Oh, and La Ceiba? It's a large, native-to-the-Caribbean tropical tree with a huge, spreading canopy. Fitting for Ruiz's rapidly growing empire.

Look for it around the third week of April.

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