Juan Yunga and Ann Carlson-Yunga spent two years searching all over Minneapolis for a spot to house their restaurant, and they were thrilled to land a couple of blocks from their front door in Bryn Mawr.
Now they’re serving mahi mahi tacos and wood-fired pizzas to their neighbors at 230 Cedar Lake Rd. S., the former Sparks restaurant, and their nine-year-old daughter is quickly planning a career in waitressing.
“We’ve seen a lot of familiar faces,” Carlson-Yunga said. “It’s a nice comfortable spot for people to go and hang out.”
The couple met 19 years ago while cooking at the Nicollet Island Inn. Carlson-Yunga currently works at TEA2 Architects, where her design for a Lynnhurst garage, woodshop and potting shed earned a BLEND Award last year.
The restaurant showcases her photographs of plants like the tree tomato (tamarillo) that forms the base for the gently spiced Andean condiment aji, which shows up throughout the menu in dishes like the shrimp or chicken skewers.
“[The restaurant] celebrates all the wonderful things we love about Ecuador,” she said.
Yunga-Chicaiza grew up in Cuenca, a temperate city set in the Andes Mountains where hillside residents keep plots of land to grow corn and other vegetables. The city inspires some of the restaurant’s warm and hearty dishes, including the wood oven-roasted chicken served with roasted potatoes, tomato-onion salad and Cholula aioli.
The couple chose a wine list with quality and reasonable pricing in mind. They also serve Andean flower tea, traditionally made with amaranth flowers, lime and sugar; and Fioravanti, an Ecuadorian strawberry soda that’s said to be one of the world’s first commercial sodas.
Looking ahead to patio season, the restaurant is planning lush planters with the help of the Bryn Mawr Garden Group.
La Mesa is open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and dinner starting at 5 p.m.