Review: Colita’s Many Charms Are Tough to Resist

The bar at Colita // Photo by Aaron Job

The bar at Colita // Photo by Aaron Job

Daniel Del Prado’s two restaurants may be sisters, but they aren’t identical twins. Martina has made a mark for itself in Linden Hills with its mirror-polished sheen of upscale glamor; Colita is newer and offers more funk. Colita is less “art reception” and more “party!”, a bit less seafood and considerably more masa, less polish and more soul. Despite that, there are some important commonalities, too: both spots feature thoughtful food, cunningly built cocktails, and an overall buzz of popularity that sometimes bubbles up into a veritable frenzy. Neither of these spots are for those who want a quiet night out on the town—on the contrary, they’re beautifully styled places to see, be seen, and celebrate.

“Chic” doesn’t really capture the atmosphere at Colita, which certainly starts at “stylishly attractive” but then goes to other more interesting places. A massive wall of plants sprawls above the bar and serves as the room’s visual anchor, infusing the cactus-ringed dining room with a sense of lush drama.

One of the walls of the dining area, which is almost entirely lined with various plants and cacti // Photo by Aaron Job

One of the walls of the dining area, which is almost entirely lined with various plants and cacti // Photo by Aaron Job

Nothing, of course, is more aggravating than piles of pricey style backed up by uneven or forgettably competent food, but the Colita team has clearly put as much energy into the menu as they have into the decor. The menu’s creative, Latin-infused flavors (with dishes arriving in many cases on delicate house-made corn tortillas) is a parallel to some of the exciting things happening in Northeast Minneapolis at Hai Hai (see our December issue)—both restaurants lean into deep, bold, layered flavors and present menus that offer dishes not found at any other restaurant in town.

Chicken Liver Memelita // Photo by Aaron Job

For example, when’s the last time you had a Chicken Liver Memelita ($14)? This was a first for us. The crispy toasted masa cake “bowl” featured a chicken liver pate, pickled plums, preserved blackberries, and shiso leaves, and it was drop-dead gorgeous. Many high-end modern restaurants understandably cater to an Instagram demographic, but this particular dish goes beyond that aesthetic and floats somewhere between “inspired” and “legitimately artistic,” a  somber collection of rust reds that belie the engaging pairing of earthy, full-flavored pate and tart berries.

Our Corn Elote ($8) was nothing fancy… and yet. It may have been the hit of the evening, as we ended up ordering a second round after the first vaporized within minutes. It’s an intoxicating mix of corn, cotija cheese, scallions, cilantro, lime, and salt, and good enough to eat by the heaping spoonful. 

The Corn Elote // Photo by Aaron Job

A presentation of lobster meat on delicate tostadas with flying fish roe, corn butter, chervil, and guajillo remoulade had to do a lot of work to justify its $25 price tag, but it just about made it work: the tender, perfectly cooked meat was lifted up by its bright accompaniments but not lost in the shuffle. And the portion size was big enough that our table of four were able to all enjoy meaningful tastes of this elegant dish.

Kansas City Pork Ribs ($19) are a callback to Colita’s originally declared focus on barbecue, and arrive dressed with accoutrements including tamarind, cucumber, and cilantro. The ribs were tender without being soggy, they paired beautifully with an accompanying carrot puree, and the portion size was generous.

Our Niman Ranch Lamb Barbacoa Tacos were a bit dear at $15, but we appreciated their smoky depth of flavor and the brightness provided by caper berries, onions, and cilantro. 

The Kansas City Pork Ribs (orange plate) and Niman Ranch Lam Barbacoa Tacos (white plate) on the bar at Colita // Photo by Aaron Job

A word on cocktails: whatever you do, make sure that you order some. The three cocktails we tried were delightful in appearance, mesmerizing in composition (we asked our waiter to explain what we’d ordered but lost focus about halfway through his dissertation), and shockingly reasonable in price—all were less than $11. 

Here’s a description of the Trevino, vis-a-vis Colita’s beverage director, Marco Zappia:

“This cocktail starts with our reposado tequila blend infused with a Japanese bourbon barrel pu-erh. We milk wash to remove the tannins and combine the spirit with our pulque. Pulque is traditionally from the meil of the maguey, but we don’t have an agave plant to hack into, so we use agave nectar as our base. It’s two-thirds fructose, so this ferment takes around a month, averaging 8% ABV. We’ve spiced the ferment with agua de Jamaica, which consists of hibiscus, clove, allspice, coriander, ceylon, saigon, and cassia. The serving vessel is a traditional Mexican squash gourd. A smaller version is the original copita, the mezcal producers’ glass of choice. Dustin [Nguyen, of Martina] took this bevy to Cochon and won Punch Kings, which is super dope.”

Top: Mike Hidalgo places a flower while making the Trevino (below) which is made with reposado tequila, golpe de leche, and pulque (agave ferment) // Photos by Aaron Job

Our reaction: this is a subtle, mellow, complex sipper that is all the more charming for being served in a bowl-like half gourd. And for $9, it’s an absurdly interesting and enjoyable cocktail experience. The other cocktails we tried (the Colita Old Fashioned and Puerto Rican Heartbreaker) were similarly complex and sippable, layered with flavor and pleasantly punchy without being outright dangerous. And the restaurant’s non-alcoholic options deserve a tip of the hat, too—our non-imbiber was delighted with her drinks.

Dessert was on par with the rest of our meal—thoughtful, inspired, and engaging. A flat, spiral-shaped twist on traditional churros was a real highlight—the chewy / crispy complexity of the beautifully worked dough was unexpected and terrific.

We’ve gone through the small plates and cocktails gauntlet before and usually find ourselves feeling some combination of charmed and fleeced. But Colita hits its mark as a junior partner to the spendy majesty of Martina—we walked out full, cocktail-ed, and highly entertained with a check price that felt entirely reasonable. 

Where: 5400 Penn Ave. S., Minneapolis
Phone: 612-886-1606
Hours: Sun–Thu: 5pm–10pm; Fri–Sat: 5pm–11pm