New taco/tequila bar in Uptown

MICHAEL RIETMULDER | Updated 9/4/2013

Amore Victoria family opens Nico’s in the former Birdhouse space.

The former Birdhouse location in Uptown is reopening as Nico's Taco and Tequila Bar.
Photo by Richard Sennott

If the customer is always right, Alex Victoria is ready for a cuisine change. Since 2005, the chef/co-owner of Uptown’s Amore Victoria has been whipping up pollo parmigiana and other pasta-bedded delights at the Italian bistro he runs with his wife, Jenna. But after eight years of tortellacci, Alex is taking on the taco.

Over the years, Alex (whose mother is Mexican) occasionally would make dishes from Ma’s homeland to hand out to Amore diners. His impromptu taste-testers repeatedly asked the Victorias to bring classic tequila-country cuisine to the neighborhood, and now they have obliged. “I heard it enough times that I actually started paying attention to them,” Alex said. “I thought, ‘They’re right. There’s not an authentic Mexican restaurant in Uptown.’ ”

Aiming to remedy the situation, the couple is opening Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar in the former Birdhouse space on Friday. For Alex, the “authentic” part of the equation is in the details. That means tacos al pastor made with pineapple-marinated pork, topped with nopal (a cactus native to Mexico) or queso Oaxaca and other Mexican cheeses instead of mozzarella.

Co-owner Tim Ross, who helped open Amore, is heading up the tequila bar. Ross is coming off a stint tending bar in Las Vegas luminary chef Andre Rochat’s restaurants and will roll out a selection of 50 tequilas, a scratch-made margarita menu and a Latin American wine list. Ross said he also plans on barrel-aging tequilas in small batches of 3 to 5 liters, offering sipping shots at different stages so tipplers can taste how the aging process affects its profile. “There’s a lot more to tequila than people realize,” he said. “It’s a fine spirit when it’s made properly.”

While Alex and Jenna had been toying with the taqueria idea for five years, Nico’s came together relatively quickly. The day after Birdhouse closed, the landlord called Alex to see if his taco-hawking concept would work in the Hennepin Avenue location. With the space needing little more than a fresh coat of paint, Nico’s is up and running just three months later.

Alex said picking a name was a no-brainer, as their 6-year-old son, Nico, has a bit of a taco obsession. “He puts everything in a taco, whatever we cook at home,” Alex said. “His French fries, his eggs; he even grabs a slice of pizza and he puts it inside a tortilla.”

Victoria family ties run through their new restaurant and bar. Alex’s brother and Jenna’s sister, who are married to each other, are also partners in Nico’s. Sid Victoria, Alex’s brother, is also a chef and runs Victoria’s Ristorante & Bar in Rochester. Their two sisters are the resident salsa experts, who picked up the recipes from their mother. “It will be just like when we get together for Cinco de Mayo, but every day,” he said.

Nico’s Taco and Tequila Bar

Where: 2516 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.