New Restaurant: Colita Makes an Exciting Start

In south Minneapolis: bold Oaxacan-Argentinian food, eccentric cocktails, good service, and—grasshoppers?

Scottish Salmon l’Unilateral

Photos by Kevin Kramer

We live in a world of unlimited possibilities. An Argentinian chef can master and elevate the flavors of southern Mexico’s Oaxaca. An acclaimed cocktail wizard can experiment with pre-Hispanic Mexican fermentation and make you laugh at the same time. An abandoned gas station in south Minneapolis can be reborn as a lively restaurant with a living garden on the wall. These possibilities are reality at chef Daniel del Prado’s newest project, Colita.

Del Prado has been packing them in at his part-Argentinian, part-Italian masterpiece Martina in Linden Hills. (It was recently named Minnesota Monthly’s best new restaurant of 2018.) National acclaim has come to drink master Marco Zappia for his Instagram-friendly and boundary-pushing creative cocktails. And general manager Morgan Lent’s well-trained service team has created a vibe that’s hip and energetic but still friendly and Minnesotan.

So why not open another restaurant?

Drink master Marco Zappia (left) and chef Daniel del Prado (with Colita’s beautiful wall garden behind them)

I’m glad they did. Colita showcases Oaxaca, the most fascinating culinary region of Mexico, and infuses barbecue and smoking techniques from Argentina. Oaxacan cuisine is known for regional varieties of mole, a complicated sauce combining 20 to 30 ground-up ingredients including toasted chili peppers, tomatoes, chocolate, nuts, cinnamon, and clove.

Del Prado uses a green mole atop the mind-blowing Scottish salmon. Perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin and nearly raw inside, the salmon lies on a bed of creamed quinoa (which I’d eat by the bucket) and vibrant broccolini, lime, tomatillo, and cumin-heavy mole verde. At $15, this is the absolute bargain at Colita.

Hard to say, but easy to eat: Chochoyotes (cho-cho-yo-tays) are Mexican dumplings usually made with corn, but del Prado gets a slightly sweeter result by using yucca root. That flavor just explodes thanks to a yellow mole, made with lots of corn, fresnos, onions, and garlic. There’s also shaved cotija cheese, a hint of spice from serrano chilis, and a lift from fresh mint.

Del Prado proved his skill with raw fish at Martina, but he takes it to another level with his mackerel aguachile, a Mexican ceviche. The fish “cooks” in a marinade of lime and chilis and is plated with tamarind, serrano, red shiso herb leaves (sort of a cinnamon/spearmint combination), and crispy chapulines. What are crispy chapulines, you ask? You sure you want to know? Grasshoppers. (I know.) I didn’t tell my dining companions, but those little buggers are actually quite tasty. The slight crunch really makes the texture of this dish sing. This isn’t a gimmick: Chapulines are common in Oaxaca—good protein in the rural areas, high cuisine in the city.

Kansas City Pork Ribs

There are other showstoppers. The Kansas City Pork Ribs had a perfect smoke ring, with perfect acidic counterpoints in the form of pickled cucumbers and red onions, plus the perfect price of $15. Our group adored the cacio e pepe stacked tostadas, which are a combination of three cheeses (melted and shaved) topped with a heavy dose of black pepper. The raw tuna tostada and the fried green tomatoes salad are both excellent shareable plates to start your meal.

A sameness can develop with the presentation of Colita’s food, something I call “the gourmet nacho effect.” The tuna is served on a chip, same with the cacio e pepe, same with the tlayuda—beans and cheese on a chip. You get the idea. Granted, the chips are homemade and taste incredible, but something to keep in mind.

The Naked Dani

Bar manager Marco Zappia’s cocktail menu features a variety of fermentations—like a combo of kombucha and a vinegary shrub—which brings an earthy funk to the drinks. The Instagram star is the Naked Dani, a slightly earthy and sour margarita. No salt rim here: It’s topped with a bubble-bath mountain of salt-flavored foam—and a miniature rubber ducky! Clever, funny, and tastes great. The spectacularly bright-red Negrita is a play on a Negroni using the agave liquor espadin, a cousin to mezcal and tequila.

Colita’s early days remind me of Martina’s fast start: Food, already dialed in. Service, friendly and informed. And beautiful cocktails, unlike anything else in Minnesota. Unlimited possibilities, indeed.

Reservations: A must—the restaurant has been full even after 9 p.m.

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.

5400 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis