A tweet alerted me to the opening of Pajarito (“little bird”), featuring modern Mexican cuisine in the former digs of Tejas. The 50th & France Pajarito location marks the second iteration for the successful St. Paul restaurant.
Its slightly expanded menu reads like a wish list of Latin flavors, starting with riffs on mainstream salsas (three for $7; six for $12). The tlayudas ($11) are inspired by the cooking of Oaxaca, arguably Mexico’s best culinary outpost, and make good use of this kitchen’s wood-fired oven. (BTW, it’s in Oaxaca that I first ate roasted crickets, which did not make the transition to Pajarito’s menu.)
For my tlayuda, I chose the eggplant version: two saucer-sized wood-fired flour tortillas, each loaded with sweet, juicy chunks of tomatoes topped with mild, melty queso fresco atop a thin (and almost undetectable) skim of roasted eggplant, scattered with sesame seeds (again hard to discern), along with an unannounced and fiery (to put it mildly) burst of hot, hot peppers. Use caution or risk your tongue’s dissolving.
On to the Oaxacan-based enmoladas ($13) on the restaurant’s “not tacos” list, which also includes the likes of celery root, sweet potato and pork ribs, which all sound terrific. Similar to enchiladas, the enmoladas feature one of the famous moles of Oaxaca — this one, dark and rich with (maybe) unsweetened chocolate. The smoked chicken breast it flavors proved moist and sweet under its tortilla wrap, dusted with a shower of finely grated white cheese — nothing revolutionary, but tasty. Save a lime wedge from your taco order to temper the combo.
That taco list ($9) reads well, from beef barbacoa to chicken tinga. I chose the potato-mushroom version — a pair of loaded tortillas plump with thin-sliced, chewy mushrooms and mealy cubes of potato in chorizo seasoning, all dotted with bits of melted queso fresco and, supposedly, an avocado- serrano hit, which went undetected. Satisfying, if not earth-shattering.
On to the excellent crab tostada ($13, or choose tuna), which features three mini tortillas loaded with lots of sweet, moist crab meat among matchsticks of celery root in a mild, almost unnoticeable dressing the menu dubs as Caesar. Each pretty little helping gets a topknot thread of preserved lemon.
Chilaquiles, my favorite Mexican breakfast, date back to the Aztecs and originated, I like to imagine, when some thrifty granny sought to use up yesterday’s tortillas. This ample version ($13) is pure comfort food and could feed an entire family. Moist, softened bits of torn tortillas are melded with lots of tender, juicy, pot-roast-like beef barbacoa blended with a mushroom crema and topped with a runny egg — all nice innovations to granny’s dish.
The menu also offers wood-fired main dishes: chicken, pork chop, beefsteak, octopus ($16-$20). And, of course, dessert. The sole choice is a cinnamon-laced rice pudding ($8), so why not? It’s limpid with palate-cooling grains of chewy rice from which a few bits of fruit emerge.
If you’re dining in-person rather than takeout, consider the generous pricing (mostly $5) of its happy hour list of food and drinks, too.