New Restaurant Review: Oro by Nixta Is Solid Gold

Food critic Jason DeRusha says it’s the most exciting food he’s had all year

Let’s cut to the chase: you need to visit Oro by Nixta. Chef Gustavo Romero is cooking the most exciting, most interesting, most unique food in town. And somehow he’s doing it with precision, beauty, and speed. It’s so good, he should be an absolute lock to be a finalist for the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: Midwest.

You may know Nixta from Romero’s passionate work elevating the value of heirloom corn in his truly toothsome and flavorful tortillas. During COVID-19, instead of opening a restaurant, Romero and his talented wife and chef, Kate, created amazing meal kits and launched take-out taco nights. But the whole time, Romero had an eye for doing something special.

And special it is. This is beautiful cooking, celebrating flavors of Mexico, executed at the hands of a chef who has worked throughout the country in top-notch restaurants. The Berkshire pork carnitas, exploding with a rich avocado salsa and balanced with cured onion are rich and satisfying. But explore beyond the safe: I can’t get the flavor of the bok choy taco out of my mind.

The crispy, green vegetal flavor of the bok choy on a bed of Huitalacoche-black beans are fermented to a combination of funk and heat, with a mind-blowing salsa macha, and then cut again with the acid of pickled veggies. And if you see a duck confit taco on jicama, cut impossibly thin yet thick enough to support the duck and orange, get it. This tastes even better than it looks.

Romero has a talent with mole: the menu has five different versions of it, so if you only think of mole as a deep, dark, chocolatey sauce, you’re about to have your expectations exploded. A head of cauliflower is doused in mole negro, topped with sesame, and pickled onions. It’s perfect dish to share.

The chicken is a show-stopper. A beautifully-constructed roulade of chicken thigh is served with one of the most haunting mole sauces I’ve ever enjoyed, the mole Nixta. Served with platinas and chochoyote, a masa-based dough cooked in soup. And it’s only $18! The technique in this dish alone could easily make it worth $50!

Don’t miss the tlayuda, a large crispy tostada that is the base for the best Mexican pizza you’ve ever had. Each element just a joy—the beans, the chorizo, the avocado, the charred salsa.

And the non-meat options are absolutely thrilling: the mushroom ceviche with hearts of palm and pico de gallo was creative and so good with those beautiful Nixta tostadas (but maybe a titch undersalted on our visit). And there’s a cool version of esquites took a stew of corn, epazote leaves, garlic aioli, and chiles.

Mahi-mahi and shrimp made for an amazing version of chiles rellenos with a guero chile cut in half, filled with seafood, topped with a smoked salsa of guajillo and seaweed and roasted zucchini.

The only thing I didn’t love was the surely crowd-pleasing gorditas: stuffed masa cakes with chiccaron prensado, the pressed crispy pork bits. The avocado salsa didn’t provide enough flavor contrast to get passed the one-note of earthiness for me. It was good, just not great: the fact that I only liked this dish, tells you how hard it is to find a nit to pick about the food.

The original concept was to be counter-service, but the Romeros have switched to a more traditional table-service model now that they have a liquor license. Kate curated the wine list.

This is a humble setting for such incredible food. It’s a nicely decorated dining room next to Nixta, but just like the down-to-earth service and the incredibly reasonable prices, it’s all designed to bring this sort of top-notch Mexican culinary experience to everyone. The art on the wall is a true celebration of Latino talent in the Twin Cities featuring local artists such as Luis Finch, Gustavo Lira Garcia, and Jimmy Longoria. (Check out this story on the bathroom mural in New Prensa by Isabella Silva-Biotti and Chris Alvarez) The art punctuates the fact that Latino talent in the Twin Cities is beyond ready to step into the culinary spotlight. Oro translates to gold, and this restaurant earns every aspect of its name.

Oro by Nixta, 1222 Second St. N.E., Minneapolis,
Reservations at Tock, Open Wednesday-Saturday 4-9 p.m.