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Apr 18, 2007 12:04 PM

St. Paul old Chico Chica space

I had heard that the Taco Morelos owners were taking over this space on West Seventh and calling it something like Mexico Patio Grill. Supposed to open in April some time. Anyone heard any updates regarding this?

Decent Mexican food in this gorgeous space would be a welcome addition to this neighborhood.

Nancy in St. Paul

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  1. Kathie Jenkins wrote about it in today's Small Bites column in the Pioneer Press--it's called El Patio Mexican Grill. She says it's the best of his three restaurants (the other two being Taco Morelos in Mpls and Richfield) and that the carnitas are the stand-out dish. Woo hoo! Just in time for patio season! She doesn't comment on whether she tried breakfast there, but she says they are open for breakfast on weekends.

    She also has nice things to say about Tea House, or T2 they are calling it, on Suburban Ave in the strip mall behind Target off White Bear Avenue in St. Paul. She says they do Shanghai-style (no carts) dim sum on weekends, that several of the staff are from Wu Liang Ye in NYC and "know their stuff" (forgive me, I don't know that place in NYC, but, maybe that will mean something to someone else...) Pork belly drizzled in garlic sauce, sesame pancake, fried pork buns, gui chow chicken, and spicy eggplant all topped her list of favorites. It seems like we're getting darn spoiled for Szechuan food in St. Paul lately! I can't wait.


    6 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      Wow. I'm sitting in New York, eating spicy, cold mung beans and spicy tofu skins from Grand Sichuan, reading chowhound, and am now anxious to get back to St. Paul. I can't believe Taco Morales and Tea House both in one week listed as opening in my home city. I cannot wait. Please someone report back about these.


      1. re: jeanmt

        Went to El Patio Mexican Grill for lunch on Saturday. And I will be going back. Appearance-wise, it looks pretty much the same as Chico Chica did. But that's where similarities end. Free chips with a fresh salsa and another sauce that I couldn't identify. Looked like a thin cheese sauce, but didn't taste cheezy. Had a great kick to it. Tasting-sized bowls of a Mexican noodle soup also came with the chips. Very comfort-foodish.

        Their menu is very extensive and mostly geared towards complete meals with beans and rice versus a la carte. There is special section of very hot food on the very back of the menu that I had to try. I got the hot version the camarones (shrimp), which were prepared in a very spicy chile-flavored cream sauce with hints of what may have been tequila. The shrimp were slightly overdone, but still delicious and plentiful. My dining companion got the pork tamales and they were fantastic. Even the presentation is worth mentioning. Margaritas were decent, but nothing special (I will have to wait until I go to Frontera Grill next month to get my margarita fix). Also worth noting, are the homemade, as in still warm, white corn tortillas they serve. Wow, I could have made a meal out of just them.

        Go check it out.

        Nancy in St. Paul

        1. re: nancyd

          Hmmm...I too wondered if the tortillas were handmade (because of the griddle marks) but concluded, no, they were too uniform and thin. Yes, they were warm and had griddle marks--are you sure they aren't just hand-heated?

          We went for breakfast. Huevos rancheros and some kind of huevos specialty of the house (it was called huevos el patio or something similar and was basically eggs scrambled with bacon and diced ham and all kinds of other goodies). Both dishes came with rice and refried beans, both very ordinary as the genre goes--they brought a basket of tortillas which we think were for the huevos el patio, since the huevos rancheros were served atop tortillas, of course.

          They also brought (for breakfast!) a big basket of chips, salsa cruda (fantastic), and that orange/cheesey-looking but not tasting, salsa. (What is that stuff? I, too, thought it was going to be some kind of cheese sauce. It's fine, although, I preferred the salsa cruda, which was just really a nice balance of flavors with none really dominating.) We thought chips were a weird accompanyment for breakfast, but enjoyed them, with our coffee, nevertheless.

          Service was very attentive, which isn't surprising because it was early and not that busy.

          The patio itself is so lovely--it looks like it's going to be a definite nice weather /west 7th destination for us.

          Two meals + coffees came to about $20. I can't say the meal was in any way transcendent, but we didn't really order anything that would lend itself to such an experience.

          The lunch & dinner menus looked interesting, including several dishes meant to be shared among 2-3 people that looked fun. Oh, and they have a full bar and oodles of space.


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Yes, I am sure the tortillas were handmade. When we got there, there was a woman in the front window patting out the tortillas from a big hunk of dough. They may have gotten the masa mix from somewhere, but they were hand formed.

            Someone needs to find out what the orange-cheesey looking salsa is.


            1. re: nancyd

              Hey, that is cool about the tortillas. So much for my non-scientific assessment of "perfectly shaped tortillas can't be handmade..." The tortilla lady has quite the talent, forming them so perfectly!

              I know, next time I'll have to ask with the cheese-looking sauce is that makes it look orange. It really tasted (to me) like normal salsa, but there was something in it that made it more opaque than other salsas. I don't know if the opaqueness made it seem more orange...


              1. re: nancyd

                Ate here last night. VERY good.

                The second sauce, according to our waiter, is tomatillo & arbol chile. Has a nice little kick to it.

      2. After reading your post, I went to El Patio for lunch on Friday. Looks just like Chico Chica ( a good thing - it's a very nice space and lovely patio). nancyd covered the menu's personality well. I too enjoyed the cheese-looking spicy chip dip. The noodle soup was a welcoming gesture.

        We had problems with the service. I was with a group of eight (which I understand can be a challenge). They seated us at one table and gave us our menus then several minutes later showed us to another table that they had "set up" for us with the chips, salsa, etc. In an empty dining room. Which was just kind of weird. Like why not move the stuff instead of moving the people. But whatever, I know new places have their kinks to work out.

        I ordered the carnitas burrito and one of my companions ordered a ground beef burrito (blech). They mixed up our orders so I ended up with the ground beef. It was good for ground beef, but I really hate ground beef. I called the waiter's attention to the mix-up, and explained that I was disappointed because I really wanted to try their carnitas and he happily brought out a small plate of carnitas for me and comped my agua tamarindo, but he didn't offer any resolution for my less-assertive companion who didn't get the ground beef she was expecting. The waiter was very friendly and seemed well-intentioned, but again, kinks to work out.

        Due to the mix-up I can't comment too much on the food. The carnitas tasted great, and had that lovely tender/crispy combo texture that makes carnitas so beautiful, but on their own they were quite greasy. Having never eaten carnitas on their own before, I'm not sure whether that degree of greasiness is par for the carnitas course or not.

        The agua tamarindo was nice, not too sweet. This was my first foray into agua tamarindo though - so I can't compare it with others.

        I'll be back, hoping that things will go more smoothly next time.

        1. El Patio. Good food, but pricy for mexican fare. I might recomend Acapolco, or the El Patio in Lakeville (I dont think they are related.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: showercapcrazy

            I don't think it's unreasonably priced for a prime West 7th location with table service. Our breakfasts, with coffee, chips and salsa (!), averaged $10/per person. I think that's pretty reasonable for good food, Mexican or otherwise.


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              (I asked the mods to delete a post I made early today because it contained some misinformation--this is an edited-repost with the correct info):

              showercapcrazy, after reading your post I did go home and have a look at the take-out menu I snagged from El Patio on my way out. After scanning the menu prices, I still think my breakfast was totally reasonable, but, you're right, the food here isn't always cheap.

              Breakfasts generally range from $8-$9, with the most expensive at $10.50.

              Salads are in the $9 range.

              Lunches range from $8-$12, though tacos are cheaper. They have a kids menu.

              Dinner ranges from $12-$15, with the exception of a couple of seafood dishes that are a little more and a couple of dishes meant to be shared among 2-3 people that are about double the "single" price.

              Desserts are all under $5.

              In general, the most expensive dishes in every category tend to be the seafood items.

              Given that they are making lots from scratch like tortillas and salsa and such, and given that that they have this huge West 7th location with a glorious patio, a full bar and table service, these prices probably aren't out of line. As long as the good is great, this price range is fine with me. But you're right, there are certainly probably cheaper places to go...


          2. went back to El Patio on saturday night. this is going to sound ranty and I guess it is, but so be it:

            - still love the cheesy-looking sauce for the chips
            - the tortillas are wonderful
            - companions loved their tamales, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos
            - my husband ordered a steak entree. i can't remember its name, but it was seasoned with lime, cilantro, jalapeno, and onion. it was divine. so tender, so flavorful. i miss it! i dreamt about it last night!
            - service was very friendly
            - patio is lovely

            - had even more problems with the service than we did the first time (see my similarly ranty April 23 post). 1) server was asked three times what beers they had and gave different answers each time. 2) another order was mixed up (maybe this is a kitchen problem?). 3) server handed me a beer but there was nowhere on the table to put it. I tried to hand the server my empty margarita glass, and he said he'd have to come back to take it later, leaving me to hold my beer until he came back. i elected to put my empty glass on the ground.
            - i ordered the cazuela de camarones (a seafood medley in a tomato-based sauce). It was really lackluster. in fact, i ate my beans and rice accompaniments with more enthusiasm than the entree itself. it kinda tasted like shrimp and oysters in Campbell's tomato soup. i expected more for $20. also, the menu said it included scallops, which were nowhere to be found in the dish.
            - margaritas were extremely sweet. a companion couldn't even drink hers because she found it so sweet. i choked mine down, but wouldn't order them again.
            - according to the menu, most of our meals were supposed to come with avocado. none arrived at our table with avocado, no explanation.

            i really want to like el patio and i'll probably give it one more try (in a few months), but so far eating there has been. . . well, just really annoying. which makes it hard to leave feeling satisfied.

            am I the only one who's had these problems?

            3 Replies
            1. re: diesel

              We were there recently and experienced some of the service issues, too, in part to due language barrier and in part due to ....well, I don't know. I asked for a beverage a couple of times before it finally arrived. They brought us soup twice, not that we minded, but we were pretty sure we weren't supposed to get it. We ate the second soup, though, because it was different from the first and wanted to try it.

              Seafood tacos were okay--the fish seemed like it had once been frozen.

              The roasted pork on the pork burrito was fantastic. All the salsas are still good, the chips are still homemade.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                By the way, when they brought us our second soup, we protested saying we'd already had our soup (we didn't just quietly accept it thinking we were getting something for nothing...), but, the gal didn't understand us. When we saw that the second soup was different than the first --it had some different vegetables in it--we stopped protesting, wondering if the soup was brought deliberately and was a different course, perhaps. It didn't take us long to conclude, though, that we weren't meant to have a second bowl because it was more or less the same as the first, with the exception of another vegetable. And what kind of cuisine has TWO soup courses, anyway, silly us?

                The soup problem didn't really affect our meal, except to call attention to the service issues (the whole time I was thinking, "diesel was right...") so it was only the beverage problem that ultimately made me crabby.

                The food was good enough (the roasted pork was really tender, and I love the salsas. The cheese-looking one is growing on me.) The patio glorious and not too crowded. The prices reasonable, with lots of extras like free-flowing homemade chips and salsa and soup. We'll probably keep going back, just ordering the things on the menu that they seem to excel at, unless we have a truly awful experience with the service. A good patio+good food+convenient St. Paul location, is just too irresistable this time of year, even with confused service. I'm hoping they can turn the service around with more training and better scheduling.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  This post was in a different thread but I thought it'd be more helpful if it was here w/the others..

                  We went there on Cinco de was pretty busy but we still got a booth right away. Foodwise..and I almost hesitate to say this becuase it's so new and I think it's still worth a try..but it was not so good..or maybe ok. Husband had the torta which he described as ok and not as good as the ones at El Burrito Mercado. I ordered a chimichanga,,not sure why. I don't think I've had one since high school but the idea of the chicken mole one intrigued me. It was not good,inedible even.I forgot I don't really like Taco Morelos mole'. It's kind of thick and too sweet. When they came and saw the two bites missing from my plate they offered a box which I accepted just to be nice.

                  The service was pretty scattered it seemed like there was a manager who would kind of go around and make sure people were getting drinks etc. We asked if they had any sort of margarita list or a special margarita. Our server took that to mean a "price special" rather than a special mix. So we said we'd
                  just have a regular marg on the rocks. When the guy came over we asked if they had a special margarita and he said yes. He went and changed our order and got us these really tasty ones. A more expensive topshelf version w/grand marnier and better tequila. We also really liked the chips and salsa (I have always liked Morelos' salsa)

                  We ate inside but the patio looked really inviting.Colorful lights and cute setting in general. Too bad. We'll try again though and I will try to avoid a bout of temporary insanity and order something other than a chimichanga.