First look: La Fresca

Panuchos: tender, tart, crispy, savory -- all in one little bite

Panuchos: tender, tart, crispy, savory -- all in one little bite

For Hector Ruiz, life in South Minneapolis is Grand. The chef is owner of three restaurants -- Cafe Ena, Rincon 38, and now, La Fresca -- all located on Grand Avenue, all within blocks of each other. His latest venture opened last weekend, promising nuevo Mexican cuisine, and we stopped by for a first bite.

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The room is welcoming, with a mix of colored shapes painted on the walls and an open window to the kitchen so guests can watch the chef work.

The menu is divided into primeros, segundos, and terceros (first, second, and third). The primeros are packed with little snacky options, all in easy bite-sized portions and made from scratch, priced at $12 and under. These pair perfectly with a glass of wine or beer. The segundos consist of salads and soups, such as the sopa de tortillas with chicken barbacoa and corn tortillas submerged in a spicy guajillo broth and topped with crema, mint, and avocado. The terceros section comprises larger, more entree-sized portions like the traditional carne asada flank steak ($16) and the seafood cornucopia, mariscada ($18), made with red snapper, shrimp, scallops, calamari, squid, and vegetables in a peppery broth.

We primarily sampled the primeros, beginning with the sopes, little masa cakes pressed thin with raised edges to contain their goodies. These were topped with a tart, fresh green salsa, black bean puree, fresh, crumbly cheese, and a drizzle of crema, and served three to a plate for $7.

The quesadillas (two for $7) were stuffed with mushrooms, creamy cheese, and a creamy pumpkin seed sauce, and a sprinkled with cotija and pepitas. The result was a little sodden, but the citrus spiked slaw added a powerful burst of freshness and a welcome crunchy texture.

The best dish we sampled was the cochinita pibil panuchos ($8). Cochinita pibil is pork, swathed in a banana leaf and steamed. A mound of this succulent and tender meat along with creamy avocado, pickled onion, and micro greens topped little tortillas that had been stuffed with black beans. We'll be certain to return for seconds soon.

4750 Grand Ave. S.

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