The Arts District, a slowly expanding ’hood just south of Downtown, fools us into believing we are in Los Angeles, except in summer, when the searing desert heat tells a different story. A Bohemian vibe pervades these quiet streets, which are dotted with art galleries and modest storefronts that look like covers from record albums you probably wouldn’t buy at a garage sale.
Now Mingo Kitchen & Lounge has opened at Art Square, a new collection of venues anchored by Artifice bar, just across the way from the long-established Arts Factory. Mingo Collaso, a Las Vegas native who also has the Mexican restaurant Mundo in the Design Center, is young, eccentric and hip—three of the adjectives I’d also use to describe his interesting new dining spot.
The restaurant is in a rear location, just behind an art gallery called RTZ. Mingo’s is sort of an art gallery unto itself, what with the clear plastic chairs, white plastic tables, black sofas, black napkins and a forest of teardrop-shaped crystals strung overhead. The gray tile floor looks almost subdued in this context. Votive candles line a white room divider.
The last time I dined here, hip-hop music emanated from an unmanned DJ booth, but the soundtrack, too, is eclectic. At the bar, which opens to the walkway you’ll take to find the place and where there’s an iPhone charger at every bar seat, a couple sipped on a pair of Mingo’s tongue-in-cheek signature cocktails: the Boner, featuring ViaGuara guarana vodka, and the All Night Stand, a tequila-based drink. I tried a simpler libation called Pink Lips (Plymouth gin, Aperol and grapefruit juice). How I wish I was 25 again, which is about the average age of this clientele.
But anyone is apt to enjoy the cooking of chef Robert Solano, who manned the burners at La Madonna and Mundo before creating the small, but impactful menu here. Solano loves big flavors. He smears horseradish cream onto his steak salad, and puts a sneaky-spicy and sweet glaze onto his mahi mahi entrée, which is just about the best treatment of the fish I’ve tasted outside Hawaii.
Even Small Bites have big flavors. Most places that serve edamame—the steamed green soybeans you find at any sushi bar—are content to add a touch of salt. Solano is doing an original take on this standby, adding garlic, sesame seeds, ponzu, red chili and fresh lime. I had two orders the first time I ate here, three the second.
Seared Brussels sprouts are another winner. The chef cooks them in brown butter, candied pecans, golden raisins and balsamic vinegar, until the edges blacken and they take on an almost caramelized sheen. I confess to being slightly let down by the spicy fried wings. They’re perfectly acceptable, but in this context, ordinary Buffalo wings seem, well, ordinary, despite the Maytag blue cheese dipping sauce.
But do make room for Notorious P.I.G., a terrific bacon-wrapped hot dog with pickled jalapeños topped with horseradish mac ’n’ cheese. What’s that, you don’t care for horseradish? Try the three-cheese baked mac with chipotle drizzle instead. It’s as rich as the law allows.
There are only three true entrées here: that spicy honey-glazed mahi mahi, a rib-eye steak with caramelized cippolini onion (which I didn’t taste) and roast free-range chicken with chimichurri, which is crisp, juicy and bursting with the very essence of bird.
There are no desserts, per se, although Mingo keeps some French macarons in the cupboard for those with a sweet tooth. The menu tells us to Facebook, Tweet and Instagram all pics to @EatMixMingo. I’ll think about it.
Mingo Kitchen & Lounge
1017 First St., Suite 180, 685-0328. Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon-Thu, 11 a.m.-midnight Fri, 11 a.m.-midnight Sat. Dinner for two, $37-$68.