clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Inside an Intimate Minneapolis Restaurant That Had the Audacity to Amid the Pandemic

Petite León finally gets its chance to fully shine

On a dark table are three drinks and three dishes. In the foreground, the first dish is fried masa wedges topped with swirling shred of vegetables and garnished with herbs and black sesame. On the plate is a pool of vibrant green sauce. The drinks are pink, pale orange, and green. The other dishes are a curl of black with edible flowers, and a barely visible collection of beets garnished with
Petite Leon was a dream long in the making. Now, the restaurant is striving to be a new neighborhood favorite.
Lucy Hawthorne

Petite León opened in Minneapolis’ Kingfield neighborhood at a time when most people were staying home to stay safe, and restaurants were pivoting to whatever they could do to stay afloat. Behind the ambitious opening was a team of experienced hospitality professionals who were determined to build something new inside a lovely, intimate and initially inaccessible restaurant space. Now, Petite León is open four nights a week, welcoming guests into a cozy space with impressive food and drinks.

It began with takeout, back in October 2020. Inside the kitchen chef/owner Jorge Guzman funneled his experience, including a James Beard Nominated turn at Surly’s Brewer’s Table and memories of Mexico, into dishes that could be transported home.

The bar menu was initially restricted by Minnesota’s liquor laws prohibiting selling drinks to-go. Still, owner and beverage expert Travis Serbus worked to create something special. These two along with fellow owners Ben Rients and Dan Manosack, finally opened with limited capacity for in-person dining in the spring of 2021.

The brick and window exterior of Petite Leon’s historic location on Nicollet Avenue and 38th Street in Minneapolis
Petite Leon took over the former Blackbird restaurant space last summer and opened for takeout in the fall.

From the beginning Petite León’s menu was built of deeply flavorful dishes that defied pat categorization. There is a burger — a beauty of beef on a bun, Mexican ingredients that leaned into Guzman’s heritage, and artfully presented entrees.

The interior of the restaurant with a side view of the bar. At the front, on the ceiling is a mural of an adolescent with a lion head and human body, in a zip up sweatshirt, jeans, and sneaks. The background is an abstract flower pattern in blue, white, and red.
The name of the restaurant translates to “little lion”

Located on the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 38th Street, the restaurant was last Blackbird, an all-day bistro. The dining room makeover has been gentle on the historic building, keeping the details, but designing a refreshed room with more table space. The high-backed wood booths have always allowed for a bit of privacy, perfect for deep conversations.

A view straight on of the dining room with black tufted booths, wooden chairs, and blonde table tops.
The dining room received a refresh. The tall wooden booths, so perfect for privacy remain

On one side of the restaurant, a bar is lined with seats where Serbus, who made his name working at Lyn65, has been able to stretch his skills and serve sophisticated, fun drinks that lean into tropical flavors, like a strawberry caprihlana or a bright, fresh green verde drink that’s made from a mix of tomatillos, mescal, and pineapple juice.

A dark brown wood booth set for four with bright, mustard-colored cloth napkins. Above it is a butcher paper specials listing the variety of mussels, fish, and salumi offered that day.
The menu is a fresh mix of European and Mexican dishes, reflective of the chef’s experience

Even as pandemic restrictions have decreased, Petite León remains opened with limited hours, only for dinner Wednesday through Saturday for dining in-person. Reservations can be made through Resy.

Two perfectly rectangular wedges of fried masa dough are stacked on top of a thick green sauce swiped on the black plate. On top are tenderils of rice noodles, micro cilantro, shaved carrot whisps and a smattering of black sesame seeds.
Dishes play with textures, like fried crispy tamal panisse with thick sauce and snappy vegetables
In a coup glass a bright, deep pink cocktail with a white frothy head sits on a black table with a black background. It seems as though there is a spotlight on the drink
Now that the restaurant is open to the public, Travis Serbus is able to share his considerable cocktail talents again, like with this strawberry caipirinha
Centered in the middle of a gray, mottled stone plate are a line of dark beets tossed with crumbled white cheese, micro herbs, and nuts.
Roasted beets mix with crunchy little greens, creamy cheese, and bright herbs
A stark black dish with a black central line of charred bits decorated with pops of yellow and lavender. A pool of golden sauce sits off to the side and a faint dusting of gold powder decorates the top left side of the plate.
The restaurant is open for limited hours, Wednesday through Saturday for dinner only
The paper menu on a black table with a green succulent nearby
Petite León is a no tipping operation, joining a new trend of re-opening restaurants, who add a flat fee to every check for more equitable pay and benefits for its staff
A light green colored drink in a tall glass filled with ice set at the end of the bar.
Verde, a vegetal refresher of mezcal, aquavit, tomatillo, pineapple, lime, and cava

Petite León

3800 Nicollet Avenue, , MN 55409 (612) 208-1247 Visit Website