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Nico’s is at 2516 Hennepin Av. S. in the former Birdhouse location.

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Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar co-owners Jenna Victoria, Alex Victoria, center, and Tim Ross are bringing authentic Mexican cuisine to Uptown.

Photos by Richard Sennott • richard.sennott@startribune.com,

Hennepin Av. casa goes Mexican

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 7, 2013 - 4:13 PM

 

If the customer is always right, Alex Victoria is ready for a cuisine change. Since 2005, the chef/co-owner of Uptown’s Amore Victoria has been whipping up pollo parmigiana and other pasta-bedded delights at the Italian bistro he runs with his wife, Jenna. But after eight years of tortellacci, Alex is taking on the taco.

Over the years, Alex (whose mother is Mexican) occasionally would make dishes from Ma’s homeland to hand out to Amore diners. His impromptu taste-testers repeatedly asked the Victorias to bring classic tequila-country cuisine to the neighborhood, and now they have obliged. “I heard it enough times that I actually started paying attention to them,” Alex said. “I thought, ‘They’re right. There’s not an authentic Mexican restaurant in Uptown.’ ”

Aiming to remedy the situation, the couple is opening Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar in the former Birdhouse space on Friday. For Alex, the “authentic” part of the equation is in the details. That means tacos al pastor made with pineapple-marinated pork, topped with nopal (a cactus native to Mexico) or queso Oaxaca and other Mexican cheeses instead of mozzarella.

Co-owner Tim Ross, who helped open Amore, is heading up the tequila bar. Ross is coming off a stint tending bar in Las Vegas luminary chef Andre Rochat’s restaurants and will roll out a selection of 50 tequilas, a scratch-made margarita menu and a Latin American wine list. Ross said he also plans on barrel-aging tequilas in small batches of 3 to 5 liters, offering sipping shots at different stages so tipplers can taste how the aging process affects its profile. “There’s a lot more to tequila than people realize,” he said. “It’s a fine spirit when it’s made properly.”

While Alex and Jenna had been toying with the taqueria idea for five years, Nico’s came together relatively quickly. The day after Birdhouse closed, the landlord called Alex to see if his taco-hawking concept would work in the Hennepin Avenue location. With the space needing little more than a fresh coat of paint, Nico’s is up and running just three months later.

Alex said picking a name was a no-brainer, as their 6-year-old son, Nico, has a bit of a taco obsession. “He puts everything in a taco, whatever we cook at home,” Alex said. “His French fries, his eggs; he even grabs a slice of pizza and he puts it inside a tortilla.”

Victoria family ties run through their new restaurant and bar. Alex’s brother and Jenna’s sister, who are married to each other, are also partners in Nico’s. Sid Victoria, Alex’s brother, is also a chef and runs Victoria’s Ristorante & Bar in Rochester. Their two sisters are the resident salsa experts, who picked up the recipes from their mother. “It will be just like when we get together for Cinco de Mayo, but every day,” he said.

Summit throws a party

Celebrating 27 years of suds, Summit is throwing its annual Backyard Bash at the brewery Saturday with loads of local music (and beer, too). This year’s lineup features the Twin Cities Funk & Soul All-Stars, Haley Bonar, the New Standards, ballistic Chalice rapper Lizzo (with Lazerbeak), twang-psych trio Night Moves, Charlie Parr and friends, Hotpants DJs and hosts Dave Campbell of the Current and the Minnesota Music Coalition’s Ellen Stanley. On the beer front, look for specialty casks of Summit’s Oatmeal Stout, Saga IPA and Another IPA. Fifty percent of ticket-sale proceeds benefit the MMC.

Noon-8 p.m., Sat., $18-$20, 21-plus, 910 Montreal Circle, St. Paul, www.summitbrewing.com

Can’t stop the beat

It seems like nothing can stop Chicago house hero Paul Johnson. The Dust Traxx founder has logged more than 25 years behind the decks and produced club hits like sly throbber “Get Get Down” and the undeniably funky “Follow this Beat.” Due to separate injuries, Johnson has had both of his legs amputated, but the professional party rocker hasn’t missed a beat. Local proper house promoter House Proud has tabbed the veteran DJ for its monthly party at Honey.

10 p.m. Fri., 21-plus, $10, 205 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-746-0306, www.honeympls.com

 

Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.

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