Pajarito: Mexican With a Modern Twist

Jason and Joy sample the brussels sprouts, torta and more at Pajarito in April’s Restaurant Rumble

Each month, in our “Restaurant Rumble” conversation, MnMo food critics Jason DeRusha and Joy Summers review two restaurants and pick a winner.

Joy: For years, I called St. Paul’s West Seventh neighborhood home, and it’s so exciting to watch the incredible growth happening there. This new restaurant
from chefs Tyge Nelson and Stephan Hesse is part of the revitalization.

Jason: Both worked at restaurants run by the esteemed chef Tim McKee: Tyge at La Belle Vie and Chino Latino; Steve at Masu and Libertine. 

Joy: The room is big enough to feel comfortable, but small enough to feel cozy, with both a tin ceiling and a prominent Day of the Dead mural. And the menu is fairly brief.

Dining room at Pajarito

photos by tj turner

Jason: You’re going to get the queso fundido. Well-spiced (but not too spicy) chunks of chorizo sausage are mixed into a decadent, melty Monterey Jack cheese served in a cast iron pan alongside pillowy, housemade flour tortillas. Confusingly, the queso is in the middle of the middle section of the menu (labeled “platillos,” or plates). That doesn’t make sense: Why are the chilaquiles and the Brussels sprouts and pork ribs in the same section?

Joy: Those Brussels sprouts were pouring out of the kitchen and instantly disappearing at nearly every table. They’re fried crispy, tossed with chili salt, a little mayo, lime juice, and topped with cheese—your new favorite excuse to eat your vegetables.

Jason: The wood-charred sweet potato might be your second new favorite excuse to eat your vegetables. Well, it’s marginally a vegetable after being smothered with salsa and crema, a salty Mexican sour cream. Still, the char on the skin lent a lovely depth of flavor.

Brussel Sprouts

Joy: The torta is also a must-try dish. It’s a Mexican twist on the Philly cheesesteak with thin slices of beef and jalapeño cheese sauce.

Jason: Weirdly, the tacos were disappointing. For $8, you get two tacos basically dumped on a plate. Nothing pretty, nothing inventive. Perhaps this is a result of Pajarito trying to dance the line between foodie destination and neighborhood hangout. The al pastor (pork with pineapple) was fine and the matamoro (ground beef with cheddar and tomato) was fine, but am I wrong for wanting something a little more?

Joy: Those ground beef tacos are exactly what you remember mom making, if you grew up with a Midwestern palate. And I loved the succulent, spicy chicken tinga tacos. The only place they faltered was in the consistency of the tortillas: some were too dry and fragile, some too chewy, but others were masa-based manna.

Torta with “A Mexican Monk Walks Into a Bar” cocktail

Jason: I know some of you will bristle at paying for chips and salsa, but the $7 is worth it. The lime green avocado-serrano salsa has a sneaky spice; the ancho-guajillo is smoky without being hot. And the tortilla chips are all made in-house and just as delicious as you’d like them to be.

Pajarito Quick Tips:

Reservations: Nope. Expect to wait on weekend nights.

Game Day: There are two giant TVs on top of the bar, and a free shuttle takes you to Wild games.

Dessert: Save room for their play on a Choco Taco, a soft, chocolaty “tortilla” stuffed with cinnamon corn flakes and ice cream. It’s amazing!

This month’s “Restaurant Rumble” pitted the craveable dishes and fun atmosphere of Pajarito against artful dining at Esker Grove in the Walker Art Center. Find out which restaurant Jason and Joy chose as the winner in the April 2017 issue of MnMo.

605 Seventh St. W., St. Paul, 651-340-9545,