Nico’s Tacos, a quirky taquería tucked inside a house on Hennepin Avenue, is stretching out for its third location in the former Tinto Kitchen space at West 50th Street and Penn Avenue South.
Officially called Nico’s Tacos Agave Bar, it opens Tuesday, Feb. 6 in a space that will allow the business to spread out its tortilla-making and catering work. And serve the tacos and cocktails for which Nico’s is known
The new Lynnhurst location is also a homecoming for married co-owners Jenna and Alejenadro Victoria, who live with their kids in the neighborhood.
“We always thought it'd be really nice if we landed in this area,” said Alejandro in a phone interview with Southwest Voices. “The fact that this opportunity arose was just the icing on the cake.”
In a city where restaurant success is not a guarantee, Jenna said a silver lining of COVID-19 was harnessing the Nico’s Tacos catering business.
“We felt like we really needed more space,” Jenna said, sharing the phone with her husband. Nico’s St. Paul location has a big kitchen, but there’s no room to grow at its Hennepin Avenue location.
“Anybody who’s been there, they probably know. It's a house. It's a really small kitchen,” Jenna said, describing the Hennepin Avenue location.
Nico’s Tacos also needs more space for its nixtamal tortilla-making process. Nixtamalization is a traditional Indigenous process that involves soaking corn and grinding it down to masa to make fresh tortillas.
“The corn tortilla has gotten away from us, because it's been processed,” Alejandro said. “Just like the flour tortilla. So just like bread coming back to whole wheat, it's basically when you make nixtamal, you come back to the whole kernel.”
Along with the Indigenous approach to cooking, Nico’s Tacos serves food largely from Central Mexico.
“When we started about 10 years ago with our recipes, as a full-service restaurant, I don't think anybody was being, like, honest to the heritage,” Alejandro said. “I wanted to bring real traditional salsas and meats to full-service menus. And ingredients like cheeses, having their real names on the menu, and using the actual cheese that I’m naming.”
Same goes for tequila drinks. You won’t find any margarita mixes at Nico’s.
“I wanted to bring the traditional margarita from my region in the middle of Mexico, which is Jalsico,” Alejandro said. “Jalisco is one of five states that make tequila.”
Nico’s agave bar will include mezcal, tequila, tepache, and pulque an Indigenous drink that Alejandro compares to kombucha.
Nico's Tacos and Agave Bar moved into the former Tintos Kitchen space, another Mexican restaurant.
“We have know the Victorias for many years so when we decided it was time for us to spend time as a family, they were the perfect choice," Tinto Kitchen owner Rebecca Illingworth Penichot said over email. "Not only will Mexican cuisine stay in the neighborhood, they also committed to rehire our staff. Two musts when choosing who to pass the torch on to.”
Alejandro and Jenna's nephews, Andres and Isidro, are also co-owners of Nico’s Tacos and plan to help with the third location. The new Nico’s Tacos and Agave Bar at 4959 Penn Ave. will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.