Colita opens today at 54th & Penn

Staff install the finishing touches at Colita.

A self-watering green wall covered in prayer plants and ferns stretches up to a skylight behind the bar. Carboys on display are filled with ferments awaiting infusion into cocktails. Red clay dishes are made by potters the restaurateurs personally visited in San Marcos Tlapatzola. Cacti line glass walls, brought in from the Southwest by the local Madre Cacti Co.

Colita 7

“We wanted to do something different,” said chef Daniel del Prado. “…Most chefs only care about what they have on the plate. I like to be in the front-of-the-house operations. You can’t get bored.”

Chef de cuisine Brendan Denne described Colita as a restaurant that might open in Mexico City. It serves traditional Mexican dishes revisited, not afraid to pull from other influences. Del Prado’s Italian and Argentine background meets Mexico in dishes like cacio e pepe stacked tostadas, made with Oaxaca cheese, parmesan, Chihuahua cheese and black pepper.

A smoker adds barbecue to the menu, including pork chops with a Latin-style rub and Kansas City pork ribs.

Staff reportedly love the tuna tostada with avocado, sesame, tomato jam, cilantro and tangerine lace.

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To describe the cocktail list, creator Marco Zappia talks about Aztec and Mayan fermenting traditions. A ferment in the Five Suns cocktail (a reference to the Aztec origin story) incorporates natural yeast from the bark of the balché tree that grows on the Yucatán peninsula, combined with Minnesota birchbark and raw honey. The brightest cocktail on the menu is the Puerto Rican Heartbreaker, featuring the ispahan ferment (inspired by pastry chef Pierre Hermé) made with guava and dragonberry, and combined with pamplemousse, lime and Weber Blue Agave Tequila.

Colita opens today after nearly two years spent redeveloping the former Marathon station and Jensen’s Car Care site.

Colita exterior

Del Prado said he hopes the restaurant earns loyal clientele who visit multiple times each week.

cactiIn the final days before opening, staff watched tropical plants fill the bar back — with a cat photo temporarily filling a gap in the greens — and anticipated giant cacti coming soon.

“We need more greenery in Minnesota in the winter,” said General Manager Morgan Lent.