Southwest Minneapolis chef and restaurateur Hector Ruiz knows the local culinary market well and has a sense of when to adapt.
So, with the coronavirus pandemic raging on and the restaurant scene struggling to maintain itself, he’s changing course on his latest project at 50th & Xerxes. Don Raúl, which opened last April serving upscale international cuisine rooted in traditional Mexican flavors, has closed. But Ruiz isn’t done with the Fulton location and is opening a new taqueria, El Travieso, in its place.
Don Raúl was great, Ruiz said, but the current pandemic conditions, with people out of work and earning less money, mean there’s less demand for fi ne-dining experiences.
“It’s not about fine dining right now; it’s more about comfort food, great food,” he said.
Comfort food will be on the menu at El Travieso. Simple, traditional tacos such as barbacoa, braised adobo pork and octopus topped with onion, cilantro and fresh salsa made in-house. Quesadillas and Honduran-style tamales (made with banana leaves instead of corn husks) will also be available, and Ruiz plans to build from there.
The new restaurant will also have take-home-and-heat family meals for customers.
While Don Raúl was named for his grandfather, El Travieso, which roughly translates troublemaker in Spanish, was inspired by his late son.
“He was all about living life to the fullest,” Ruiz said.
The space at 50th & Xerxes is getting a new look to go with the new restaurant. Ruiz said he has hired a local artist to do some murals and the walls have been given a new coat of bright green paint.
The goal is to be open by the end of September.
Ruiz, who also operates popular Southwest spots Café Eña, La Fresca and Rincón 38, said his other locations did well this summer between takeout and patio dining, but now he is trying to prepare for colder months with fewer outdoor options for customers amid the pandemic. Other than Café Eña, all of his restaurants are making some tweaks to better fit the pandemic times.
Ruiz has also closed his Northeast eatery, Costa Blanca Bistro, and said he is working on a new concept for that space as well.
4953 Xerxes Ave. S.