At first glance, La Chaya’s menu seems odd: Mexican and Italian? Really? Please, let there be no lasagna burritos.
Don’t worry. La Chaya mostly serves simple, casual, ingredient-first Italian food alongside a handful of artful, upscale Mexican dishes, and it does so for pretty basic reasons: For the last decade, much—if not most—of the kitchen staff of Minnesotan restaurants has been Mexican or Central American. When the most talented of that generation heads out on their own, their personal food touchstones will, of course, be from south of the border. The talent here is La Chaya chef and co-owner Juan Juarez Garcia, who spent the last few years as a key chef at global-fusion Sapor and the upscale Mexican restaurant Masa in downtown Minneapolis; before that, he cooked in Italy. Mexican and Italian, of course!
On the Italian side, there’s a large lively green salad adorned with candied walnuts, slices of pear, and Gorgonzola; a fresh house-made fettuccine with chicken, spinach, and grilled asparagus; and a simple Margherita pizza topped with bright-green ribbons of just-cut basil. None of it is particularly earth shattering, but the pizza costs $8.95 and is sized to feed two as an appetizer or one as an entrÃ©e. In addition to the solid, simple, organic-when-possible Italian fare is a smattering of artfully upscale Mexican dishes, such as the tiny, perfectly tender poached baby octopus, served with an elegantly understated potato salad, or a large halibut fillet in a green-pumpkin-seed mole.
If you know your south Minneapolis restaurants, picture La Chaya as a big helping of Prima served with a side of Masa. If you don’t, just know that La Chaya is the sort of comfortable, casual neighborhood spot every neighborhood needs, and, given current demographic trends, every neighborhood may well get—with an unexpected, welcome accent.