When searching for great Mexican cuisine, Twin Cities diners know to head to St. Paul.
The capital city’s east side is filled with authentic Mexican eateries, serving up burritos, enchiladas and fajitas.
Now, there’s another restaurant to add to the list.
But this one is bringing those flavors to the west.
Pajarito is the new restaurant from chefs Stephen Hesse and Tyge Nelson. Located in the C.S.P.S. Hall on West 7th Street, in the former site of Glockenspiel, the remodeled space is serving a remodeled Mexican menu.
Instead of trying to compete with an already full market of authentic Mexican eateries, Hesse and Nelson decided to take the flavors and spices of the cuisine and apply them to all sorts of food.
It’s traditional with a twist. Something Nelson, formerly of Chino Latino, is very familiar with.
And something that is serving them well.
Take, for example, the Brussels sprouts. The trendy vegetable is served “elote” style, meaning they are covered with a combination of salt, chili powder, lime juice and cotji, roasted in the wood fire grill and then topped with a spicy mayo-like sauce.
These are so popular, Hesse said they are often sold out before the end of the night.
Another fusion dish – the smelt tacos.
“We wanted to have a fish taco on the menu,” Hesse said. “And everyone does walleye.”
There are, of course, items that more closely resemble traditional fare.
Salsas come in six different styles, all made on site and served with homemade chips.
There’s also guacamole and queso fundido. The queso is made with Monterey jack cheese, roasted onion, green chorizo and flour tortillas.
Tacos comes in several variety, including carnitas, al pastor and barbacoa. Using Hesse’s Libertine background, the carnitas and barbacoa are both whole roasted for 24 hours.
There are vegetarian taco options as well, and all are served on corn tortillas.
For those looking for larger entrees, there is the parilla potion of the menu.
Hesse’s experience is once again put to use as the restaurant uses a wood fire grill to cook large cuts of beef, pork chop, chicken or fish. Each with a distinct rub or glaze.
Hesse and Nelson take care to ensure their vision is carried out throughout the entirety of the restaurant.
This means their twist-on-traditional follows through to the cocktail menu.
Kara Smith, formerly of Café Maude and Libertine, runs the bar program at Pajarito. As with the food, Smith’s eclectic drink menu features recognizable flavors paired with unusual additives.
The margarita, for example, is a habanero cilantro margarita. The tequila is mixed with house-made habanero and cilantro syrup, which has sat for hours, to create an herbal, spicy, tangy cocktail. The A Mexican Monk Walks Into A Bar pairs tequila with hibiscus and Yellow Chartreuse Honey.
There is a range of flavor from sweet to bitter, but all of the cocktails are well-balanced. Smith made sure none of them were overly-sweet, as she herself prefers drinks on the bitter side.
Smith also took care to include several different liquor options, straying from the typical tequila.
“When people think Mexican food, they think tequila and mescal,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to do the expected, so I turned to rum.”
151 proof rum to be exact! Watch out for The Trouble With Tipples!
Though only open for five months, changes are already coming to Pajarito.
Hesse said they hope to open for Sunday brunch soon, and tems like the Brussels Sprouts may also make way for more spring-seasonal dishes.
There may also be a special event for Cinco de Mayo; Hesse said they are hoping to celebrate the holiday Pajarito style.
Pajarito is located at 605 7th Street West in St. Paul. For more information, visit Pajarito online.