Photo by Eric Best

Aster owner opens new Mexican restaurant Jefe

Updated: May 18, 2016 - 12:07 pm

Jefe, the new Mexican restaurant from Aster Café owner Jeff Arundel, opens Wednesday, May 18.

The concept, located on the main level of the former St. Anthony Main Event Center space just a few doors down from Aster, aims to serve authentic Mexican street food. In opening Jefe, Arundel told The Journal earlier this year that he wanted it to be classic, not kitschy with a vintage Spanish feel.

Amy Spartz, Arundel’s wife and business partner, said Jefe will be their first full-service restaurant, given Aster’s cold kitchen. Chef Drew Ledo, who also mans the kitchen at Aster, will head Jefe’s menu. “He’s thrilled to be cooking with a flame again,” Spartz said.

Jefe’s dinner menu features Mexican street food staples ($5-8) like sopes, elote and huge servings of guacamole. For the restaurant’s eight main tacos ($6-10 for two), Ledo gets creative with fried oysters (ostras con tocino), oxtail, chicken tinga and fish (opakapaka). Spartz said they use masa tortillas, which make them a little thicker and chewier. They also help make most of Jefe’s dishes gluten free.

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For main entrees ($11-23) Jefe offers a wide variety of options like smoked duck tamales ($21), cauliflower pastor ($11) and a unique take on a Juicy Lucy burger (Juicy Lucia, $15) with a poached egg instead of cheese inside.

It’s not the only burger on the menu. As Arundel promised, Jefe is serving a more traditional Gringo Burger ($12), plus a few American-style options like a steak with fries ($21) and even a Minnesota State Fair-style pulled pork sandwich ($11).

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On the bar side, Spartz said Jefe will be more focused on cocktails and margaritas than its café neighbor. The smaller wine list features several Spanish wines, and among Jefe’s 12 taps there are a few Mexican beers next to Minnesota craft beers. There are also sangrias with fresh fruit.

The restaurant’s house margarita ($10) can be customized with fruit and herb options, including a few unique add-ons like mint, blackberries and cucumber. The house old fashioned ($12) is made with Ancho Reyes chile liqueur so “there’s a little bit of a bite to it,” Spartz said.

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One last unique item is the house-made horchata. At $2.50, the non-alcoholic, non-dairy rice drink is made light and refreshing for sipping on Jefe’s 60-seat patio.

Arundel told The Journal earlier this year that Jefe’s most important component is comfort. Spartz said while there are great Mexican restaurants around town, they wanted to open a place that would marry both the authentic food, beverages and welcoming atmosphere that they wanted in a restaurant.

“What we didn’t find was a space that we would want to go in and just spend the night there and have cocktails and meet friends and gather,” she said.

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Much of Jefe’s décor is reclaimed. There’s a vintage 30-seat bar from Pennsylvania, secondhand tables from Duluth’s Pickwick Restaurant & Pub, a sofa from Arundel’s old office and other classic Spanish-style decorations. The most notable thing is the welcoming metal Zorro statue designed by artist Paul Tierney, who also did the restaurant’s stained glass, metalwork and the portico outside.

Jefe opens for dinner on May 18 at 219 Main St. SE in Marcy-Holmes. Its hours will be 4-12 p.m. The kitchen is open until 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends.

The plan is to add weekend brunch in about a month after things get settled. Lunch is also in the works.

For more information, visit jefeminneapolis.com.

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Photos by Eric Best