The Twin Cities have gone a little crazy for Mexican cuisine all at once. Suddenly, we’ve got Mexican-themed restaurants to fit just about any mood, group, or persuasion.
Out in Wayzata that mood is “Surfs up!”
Baja Haus, the new seafood-centric Mexican joint from the people who bring you the truly excellent Sushi Fix has beach cruisers hanging from the rafters. Surf boards edge around the corners in the super colorful, bright space, a refreshing antidote to all the dim drinking dens and "speakeasies" of the past decade. The casual, tropical vibe feels like a fresh, clean surprise in the same dusty old Wayzata strip mall that houses one of the best sushi restaurants in town.
When owner Billy Tserenbat decided to open a Mexican spot, he knew he had to stick with what he knows, and that’s fish. You'll find plenty at Baja Haus, along with some playful mashups of East-meets-Mexico and a few altogether new and singularly fun items, too.
Naturally, their calling card here will be raw fish preparations (the restaurant is directly adjacent to Sushi Fix) and based on the strength of that restaurant, you may want to reach for ceviches and aguachiles first.
Yellowtail ceviche with Mexican-style ponzu, jalapeño, and orange is simple but strong, as is a pretty strip of raw tuna, kiwi, papaya, chile, and scallion, each lined up like a domino. This is what all of last year’s Italian crudo craze wished it could be.
The menu is a relatively short 30 or so items, and leans mostly toward small plates and family-style preparations designed for sharing and pairing with drinks. The large bar area is front-and-center, and an unsubtle signifier that this here is a drinking place.
All of the requisite margaritas and tequilas are here, along with a bunch of fun takes on the classics, including a Paloma Smokeshow with Mezcal and grapefruit crema by Tattersall.
A list of a half-dozen rotating tacos served on handmade tortillas go from basic chicken tinga to the more interesting (and highly recommended) tempura avocado, which is just as it sounds— creamy wedges of avocado cloaked in lightest-ever tempura battered and fried. Better than the sum of its parts and served with chile, cabbage, and sweet corn pico, it's something I want to be eating all the time.
But the truly show-stopping item is sure to be the somewhat mundanely labeled “crunchy cheese roll,” a genius creation of grated Manchego cheese spread into a pan and crisped until it reaches the consistency and texture of the edge bits of a really nicely grilled cheese sandwich. You know the bits that frizzle on the griddle and turn brown and toasty and you peel them away first? That.
Then, the whole cheesy pancake is formed, while still warm, around a cocktail shaker until it resembles, well, a cheese funnel of sorts. Crisp, crunchy, cheesy, it’s everything that’s good about a nacho, while eliminating those trifling corn chips. Served with a trio of salsas for dipping, this thing disappears as if by magic so ordering two would be wise -- especially if you've come with a group, which you should because this is a party place. Mmmmm. Fried cheese.
As a sort of companion dish to the cheese roll, consider the masa cake, which arrives with a confetti of corn fried in the oil reserved from the cheese roll, a clever move allowing you to have your fried cheese and eat the fat too.
Also, turn to Baja Haus for whole snapper, whole prawns, whole squid— basically your whole roster of whole sea creatures. While Baja Haus is not an inexpensive restaurant (ceviches are $17-$18, and the family-style entrees go for $31-$36), you're paying for the peace of mind that comes with knowing the prawns are caught in sea-turtle safe nets and scallops are diver-caught.
With all of this lighter fare, find something heartier in their uniquely excellent yucca preparation. This dish takes the more commonly known fried batons of the tropical root, and mashes them like a potato. Seasoned with coconut, lime, and chile butter, it’s a rich, Island mix befitting the Midwestern appetite for starch and fat, but still altogether sensible for pairing with the surrounding menu items. Delicious.
As summer slowly, slowly approaches, get a blast of sun and color at Baja Haus. The oysters are topped with tequila, and the corn is fried in cheese fat.
Now open for dinner only starting nightly at 4 p.m. Closed Mondays.
830 Lake St. E., Wayzata