New tapas bar helps elevate 38th and Grand

South Minneapolis diners — and owners (and spouses) Hector Ruiz and Erin Ungerman — may have lost El Mesón, but in the intervening months since that Spanish stalwart closed its doors, the couple have bestowed upon the neighborhood a marvelous new dining-out asset.

It's Rincon 38, a doozy of a tapas bar that has instantly pushed the intersection of 38th and Grand — already home to Grand Cafe, Victor's 1959 Cafe and Sugar Sugar — deep into culinary hot-spot territory.

By some miracle of engineering, 40 or so elbow-to-elbow seats (yes, personal space-conscious Minnesotans, you're going to be close to your neighbors) have been wedged into a storefront no larger than the living room of your basic suburban McMansion. The stools at the tile-topped bar offer a peek at the kitchen staff, hard at work in an equally minuscule kitchen, busily cranking out 26 small-plate choices, with a little something for every taste: beef, pork, chicken, seafood and meat-free dishes.

A great deal of thought is clearly invested in this cooking. Crostini topped with cool, silvery marinated anchovies boast sweet (sherry glaze) and acid (yellow tomato) flavor nudges, plus a lively fennel finish. Hints of citrus peek through gently sweet piquillo peppers stuffed with pungent tuna and salty capers.

Pops of saffron perfume both poached cauliflower and creamy salt cod croquettes. Juicy roast chicken tops a colorful and comforting toss of tomatoes, asparagus and arugula. Fiery chorizo livens up potatoes sautéed with asparagus. Garlic seems to infuse every molecule of big, meaty prawns.

Prices average $8.50, portions make it easy to share and Ruiz places an emphasis on great-looking plates.

Kudos also to the moderately priced wine list (sold in three pour sizes) and the late-night (for Minneapolis, anyway) hours.

3801 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-824-4052, Open 3 p.m. to midnight daily.