Uptown has been desperately wringing its hands in hopes of some good Mexican food. Recent transplant Salsa a la Salsa has largely disappointed, as have Lagos Tacos and Nico's for really good, craveable tacos with a dose of authenticity. Real-deal handmade corn masa tortillas, well seasoned roasted meats, nose-running chile, and lots of fresh cilantro with shaved radish and lime. Tinto Cocina + Cantina might just be poised to fit that bill. Jesus. We pray.
See also: Spill the Wine Has Closed
Owner Rebecca Illingsworth (formerly of the ill-fated Bin Wine Bar in St.Paul's Lowertown) hails from Mexico City, and her chef, Carlos Garza, comes to Minneapolis by way of Chicago restaurant Carnivale. He is also a Mexico native. "It's all in the tortillas," says Illingsworth when we happily report on our first tastes. They're made with fresh masa, griddled to order, and are sturdy enough that they needn't be be doubled up, with zero hint of that structural integrity problem that usually ends with salsa all over your tie. They're fragrant and delicious, too. Brilliant.
Steak was cooked nicely to a plush medium-rare pink instead of getting overrun by too much time on the grill, and the green salsa was a complex blend with serious fire but not forcefully so. Pork belly was lavishly fatty within, but not without a good crisp exterior. Smoked cheese and pepitas are uncommon and interesting garnishes.
"We don't just put cheese all over our tacos," she said, noting the American habit of doing so. (Not that a good gringo taco doesn't satisfy.) But the neighborhood is ready for more complexity than the flour-tortilla platitudes of Lagos and the careless presentation of Salsa a la Salsa.
The space, formerly Spill the Wine, underwent a quick makeover. It didn't need much -- it's mostly Lake Street-facing windows, open kitchen, simple wood, and now some colorful Latin-inspired murals and lots of fresh flowers.
Both Illingsworth and chef Garza could be seen circulating, presenting food with thorough explanation.
The menu is not just the usual suspects either, showcasing some more unusual (for these parts) dishes and ingredients like pozole, pibil (a Yucatan-style banana leaf roasting technique), mole, and pernil (another Caribbean-style roast preparation using piquant accompaniments like plenty of garlic, olives, capers, and sofrito).
The bar staff was keeping busy with plenty of scratch margaritas and hand-muddled mojitos. They're already open for brunch on both Saturday and Sunday, as well as twice daily happy hour.
Tinto Cocina + Cantina 901 W. Lake St., Minneapolis 612-354-2130 tintompls.com
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