Corn is sacred, filling and foundational. But in the hands of chef Gustavo Romero, corn is also art. Inside the new casual restaurant Oro, Kate and Gustavo Romero expand their presence in the Twin Cities as masters of the kernel.

Named for the Spanish word for gold, Oro is partly an extension of the Romeros' original takeout restaurant and tortilleria next door. Nixta opened during the pandemic, selling pre-ordered family meals and tortillas.

The tortillas are more than the run-of-the-mill taco base — they're a vast history of Aztec ingenuity and skill distilled down into one basic element. The Romeros import varieties of heirloom corn; the giant sacks are stacked in back, adding an art-installation vibe. It's also practical, because there isn't a ton of space inside Nixta, which is a long, narrow kitchen and storefront, or Oro.

The new restaurant is a mix of neighborhood casual comforts and fine-dining pedigree. The Romeros both have impressive résumés, and what arrives at the table is more elevated than the average counter-service spot.

Location: 1222 NE. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-200-8087,

Hours: 4-9 p.m., Wed.-Sat.

The vibe: The room blends Northeast and Mexican pride with plenty of local art, include a mural by Gustavo Lira Garcia, wall art by Luis Fitch and a dazzling bathroom mural. The setting is casual, but there's no question that the kitchen is fine-dining caliber. It's a refined celebration of Mexican culture that the city has sorely been lacking since the closure of Popol Vuh in 2020.

Guests can order online or at the counter and then grab a number and one of the seats in the dining room. Staff delivers dishes to the tables as they come out.

This summer, Oro will take over a small adjacent alleyway that's sheltered from the street for an urban patio oasis.

The food: Masa is at the center of the menu: dumplings with the chicken mole and tostadas with the vegetarian ceviche. The flavors are an exploration of regional Mexican cuisine. The mole sauce is rich and balanced between chocolate and dried chile bitterness with a lush texture. The chicken is rolled and poached, sliced into coins for dipping along with the chunky little masa dumplings, all built to dredge through that sauce.

Like its sibling restaurant, there are tacos ($6-$7) served on signature Nixta tortillas, which are far more substantial than most found in grocery stores. They imbue flavor, serving a greater purpose than food vessel. There's a vegan taco option, a rainbow of colored carrots cooked until tender, and a seasonal special of soft shell crab, coated in a black cornmeal and fried, in addition to the more traditional carnitas, chicken and barbacoa.

The aguachile ($16) is also black, served with a scallop sliced thin and presented like a small flower with a dark pool of citrus-scented sauce. Accompanied by crispy tortillas, it's a fancy tostada affair. Other snacks range from lamb birria ($18) and that vegetarian ceviche ($14) to chips and dip ($12) and guacamole ($13).

Sides such as esquites ($9), an entire masa section ($12-$14) and entrees ($17-$18) round out the menu.

The drinks: The restaurant has hopes for a liquor license, but for now the N/A options include the tart-sweet hibiscus Jamaica and creamy, cinnamon-dusted horchata, both are $4 and are made in-house.

Getting there: It's not far from the bus line and parking is on-street only. It's fully accessible with zero stairs.

Noise: Moderate, easy conversation with the table, but we could also hear the conversation of our table neighbors.

To tip or not to tip: Oro is a no-tipping restaurant; a 20% service charge is added to dine-in checks, 15% to takeout orders.