Jefe Urban Hacienda serves up tacos and romantic atmosphere on the river

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Ropa vieja tacos are generously portioned and served over handmade tortillas.

What if you could take your favorite taqueria and mash it up with a romantic river vista, complete with candlelight, a full bar, excellent service, and, just because we're dreaming, make it reasonably affordable? 

With a little fine tuning, Jefe Urban Hacienda may just turn out to be all of this and more. 

Jefe on St. Anthony Main comes to us from the same people behind Aster Cafe (also on St. Anthony Main). Its expansive room has floor-to-ceiling banks of windows that allow light and views of the roaring river to stream in. Mile-high ceilings give it an air of importance, but rustic fixtures, virtually all of which have been recycled, reused, or repurposed, tamp down the vibe. It's casual but fashionable, a delicate balance that makes it nice for a date night or a nothing special night. 

The full cocktail list favors brown liquor and boozy summer hits like a colorful whiskey smash with blueberry, or a rummy Mai Tai. A classic margarita went down smooth and easy. Prices between $10 and $12 bump right up against expensive. The beer selection is mostly Mexican and local, and the short wine list is thoughtful and mostly affordable by the glass and bottle. 

The menu seems designed to please everyone, which could be a feature or a bug depending on your proclivities. The now familiar menu header "street food" lists the likes of elote, ceviche (called "aguachiles" here), cut fruit with chile and lime, and fried plantains garnished with pico, cheese, and salsa. The elote was top-notch and admiringly not overcooked. The ceviche was better than comparable ones we've had elsewhere recently; the intact fingers of hamachi were dressed lightly with citrus and layered with plush avocado, jalapeño, lime, cucumber and red onion. Both this and a trio of house salsas are served with big, house made deep-fried tostadas that add a bit of drama, instead of the standard tortilla chips.  Eight taco selections include all the faves (tinga, carnitas, ropa vieja), plus some more signature stuff like fried oysters with pork belly. They arrive in sets of two for $7 to $10.  The generous portions made a meal of two ropa vieja tacos, traditionally garnished with onion, radish, and cilantro, but also capers, olives, and jalapeños. Tortillas are handmade and offer rustic bite with fragrant fresh masa. Everything is done with care.  We left the entrees section (smoked duck tamales, chile relleno, a loose take on pernil) to investigate next visit, but most of these fall in the very agreeable $15 or so range. The "Americano" section (a burger, a ubiquitous seared salmon, a steak) is more expensive (up to $25) and is there to appease... we're not sure exactly. Ditch those out-of-place offerings and focus on what's already being done well.  Staff is attentive and pro, and the expansive bar lets you choose your own adventure: margs and tostones, or a full-on dinner with churro bread pudding for two at the end?  The inclusiveness strikes a sort of balance that not too many other Mexican restaurants are doing right now. Barrio still feels like a bar first and a restaurant second, and some of our favorite places (Maya, El Taco Riendo, Taco Libre) still have that grab-and-go feel.  Uptown's Tinto might be in a similar class with Jefe — enough atmo to make it dress-up worthy, a cocktail list that encourages snackers and drinkers, and reasonable prices for generous portions. But the riverside location might put Jefe in a class all its own, which is a pretty boss place to be.  Jefe: Urban Hacienda  219 SE Main St., Minneapolis 612-255-2000 jefeminneapolis.com


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