A Bywater Oasis

Written by Mary Leigh Fitzmorris January 21, 2021 16:38 in Dining Diary

I always say that self-awareness is the most important quality one can have, and I do my best to hold myself to that. I may not always be accurate, but there are two things I can tell you with conviction--I could eat solely Mexican food, and winter is absolutely not for me.

Fortune smiled upon me last week when I found myself in the Bywater on that first afternoon we broke out from a week of very wintery winter. Since I’m not out that way too often, I try to take advantage of a meal whenever I am.

Rosalita’s fell on to my radar last fall when word began to get out about great tacos from someone’s backyard in the Bywater. It immediately jumped on to my list, but I never made it before Covid struck, and here we are. Now, a year later, Rosalita’s has blossomed into a bonafide restaurant. They opened their doors on St. Claude just a few weeks ago, and knowing that I could sit outside and recharge my solar power there, the choice was obvious.

The building doesn’t lend itself to a restaurant, but it’s perfect for a kitchen that made it work in a private backyard. Like an enclosed taco cart, the lime green storefront on St. Claude opens up to just a walk-up counter set in back of a colorfully painted empty room, and an acrylic shield separates you from a set of curtains behind which pure pepper magic is being made.

The menu is long, but simple, and allows for creativity and customization. This list of very reasonably priced building blocks cries for mixing, matching, and sharing. I was alone, and showed unusual restraint in keeping it to just four items. A side of chips and guac, elote, a brisket taco, and an al pastor taco seemed a good sampling and a reasonable amount of food. $13.

Upon ordering, diners are directed to head down the adjacent string-lighted alley to the backyard, after a pit stop at the salsa bar of course.

My hopes for the place tripled on sight of the self-serve toppings section. Most such set-ups dried up last year, and this was certainly not the place I expected to find them making a comeback. What’s more, this was an exceptional spread. Every readily accessible pepper variety made an appearance in its own fresh salsa. Roasted Serrano Salsa, Habanero Sauce, Roasted Jalapeno, Charred Tomato, Tomatillo, Chile De Arbol--the gang’s all here! I filled as many little cups as I could carry and headed to the famed backyard.

This was the perfect day for Rosalita’s. The sun was trickling into the enormous backyard space splattered with crisp new metal tables. There were several other parties there, but the space allowed for a peaceful atmosphere, and live music wafted through the fence from the backyard next door.

I only had to stare longingly at my salsa cups for six or seven minutes before a hodge podge of paper boats was delivered to my table. Portions were small, but quite fair for the price.

I dove into the chips and guac first. The guac was good but not memorable, but the chips were thick and crunchy and still glistening with that freshly fried sheen. They vastly outnumbered the teeny scoop of guac, but they were perfect for salsa testers.

The elote was a classic rendition of street corn, and the single small cob was the perfect little something extra.

But, as one should expect at a place called Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos, their namesake dish was the real star. These were a good size themselves, much more generous than the typical two-bite number born from the recent taco craze. I topped the al pastor with a bit each of the assorted green salsas--jalapeno, tomatillo, and serrano. The spice level was high from the salsas, but the large chunks of pineapple balanced everything out. 

The flavor was classic and excellent, but the most notable characteristic of this taco was the complete lack of gristle. I tend to find most al pastor contains at least a chunk or two of undesirable meat, but this was really flawless.

I was two-thirds through the al pastor before I realized I should break things up and sample the brisket. I got bold with this one and went with just the habanero salsa. Most of their tacos come topped with a basic slaw, as this one did. The salsa had quite a punch, and I would recommend some caution with that one, but it paired perfectly with the unspectacular slaw and the spectacular meat.

The brisket itself was stellar. It seemed shredded not sliced (quite frankly it was so good I didn’t think to stop and look) and the flavor was perfect. Smoky, but not so much that you’re eating BBQ in a tortilla, but done with far more intention than just having brisket on the menu to be hip. It was a taco made with smoked meat, not a BBQ taco.

It was such a delightful meal I briefly considered going to order another round. It was thirteen bucks, after all! But the menu allowed me to get just the right amount of food, and still have plenty to look forward to trying on the next several visits. It’s a perfect spot to enjoy the next mid-winter spring day. You’ll probably see me there.