Local chef Hector Ruiz’s latest and boldest concept deserves high praise.
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
It’s perhaps a telling observation about our local food scene that very few chefs at ethnic restaurants seem to receive a ton of media recognition. This incongruity came to mind as I was dining at La Fresca, the most recent venture of Hector Ruiz, a talented French-trained restaurateur whose name rarely appears in print. Not only does Ruiz operate popular independent restaurants—Café Ena and Rincón 38 being his other two hits—but his kitchens uniformly knock out one great dish after another. His food is inspired and fresh, and I would rate Ruiz’s latest nouveau Mexican- and Mayan-themed La Fresca as his most audacious, enjoyable, and deserving concept yet.
The extensive menu offers everything from a collection of small-plate choices to a solid group of luscious desserts. A few of the selections hew toward conventional expectations—think a fresh, citrusy guacamole bolstered with a like-it-or-not roasted tomatillo edge and a trio of fried corn tortillas topped with a mildly seasoned heap of shredded chicken barbacoa and queso fresco. But there are also numerous bold options. A good example is the panuchos: tortillas that have been stuffed with black beans and perfectly layered with roasted pork, habanero-pickled onion, sliced radish, and tomatillo-avocado salsa. Another chart topper is the ceviche de huachinango—impeccably fresh slices of red snapper mounted on small, crispy taco rounds and paired with accents of jicama, avocado mousse, ancho oil, and yellow tomato. If this is how Ruiz treats raw fish, I say, “How about bringing on a ceviche bar concept?”
I wasn’t wild about the soups—they struck me as a bit bland and wayward—so if you want something simmered in broth, a much better bet is the thoughtfully prepared mariscada entrée, a fish and shellfish stew brimming with all manner of protein and veggies. For carnivores, don’t miss the lechon, a serving of perfectly roasted, herb-crusted pork tenderloin with well-matched sides of fennel potatoes and fresh asparagus, or the carne asada, a serrano pepper–marinated flank steak with beans borrachos and an onion confit. As for dessert, definitely consider creamy coconut flan and fried bread with fruit confit and vanilla cream.
The brightly colored and painted interior is tightly packed and offers only about a dozen tables. An outdoor terrace provides some additional space for the summer months. Food is delivered as it’s plated, and the knowledgeable wait staff does a noteworthy job of handling that challenging assignment. Count me as a critic who thinks there are a lot of spots around town that should get a larger spotlight, and I absolutely recommend La Fresca as a place to try for anyone who is serious about global eats. 4750 Grand Ave. S., Mpls., 612-825-4142, lafrescampls.com