One of the most charming restaurants where we occasionally dine is La Cocinita, fittingly located in the most charming little town of Bayport (two miles south of Stillwater, one of my favorite cities for dining, shopping, running, and, of course, getting married), which is situated along the beautiful St. Croix River. St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and I most definitely will be celebrating my Irish heritage, but knowing that many will be celebrating on Saturday night, we chose a restaurant that wouldn’t be the obvious choice of the early St. Paddy’s Day Crowds.
A small, cozy, ten-table place, just off Bayport’s main drag, La Cocinita bills itself as a “Mexican-inspired, slow-food restaurant.” It has all the typical Mexican restaurant staples, enchiladas, quesadillas, tostadas, burritos, and tacos, but they aren’t at all like your typical Midwest Mexican restaurant versions. Everything is made from scratch, fresh-to-order and it tastes like it.
And they have a few extra-special dishes that aren’t on most of the Mexican restaurant menus I’ve experienced. Like a flavor-packed vegetarian tortilla soup served with homemade cornbread made like cornbread should be—bursting with plump kernels of corn! The soup is a meal in itself, filled with carrots, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, corn, and chayote squash, cooked in a tasty vegetable broth, mixed with corn tortilla strips and a hint of of cheese. Fresh, ripe avocado slices are served on top and the buttery cornbread rounds out the meal. Light, healthy, but so, so satisfying and filling.
They also serve a not-so-light, but oh-so-delicious black bean chili ladled over that amazing cornbread, topped with veggies and cheese, oven baked and then crowned with some lettuce and sour cream (I always skip the sour cream—just don’t like it). This dish is huge, one you’ll be taking home as the lunch for tomorrow you’ll be dreaming about all night. Many of their other dishes can be prepared vegetarian too, so I always have choices here.
Each meal starts with a basket of three different types of chips, yellow corn, white corn, and my favorite variety, chips that I think are made from flour tortillas. Their award-winning salsa is fresh with chunks of onion and bits of cilantro, but I prefer my salsa with some spice. It’s flavorful, but totally without heat—it would be nice if they offered a choice of mild or hot.
They have a small, but adequate beer and wine list, with Modelo Negro on tap (at $2.50 a pint during happy hour, it’s a steal!) and a several decent choices of both red and white wine—just wish their pours were a little more generous. A red sangria, which I think is homemade, was brought to a table next to us and it looked fabulous. They also have margaritas, which Pete has given the thumbs up to on previous visits.
They do have a dessert menu, but we’ve always been too full. Those desserts, if anything like the rest of the menu, would definitely be worth ordering if you saved room!
Time now for our own little night-before-St. Patrick’s-Day celebration with beverages by the fireplace. I just may have room later for one of the beautiful Buttermilk Berry Muffins I made this afternoon, another amazing recipe from 101cookbooks.com.