Poor Laredo. Not even its most rabid civic boosters would call it a mecca for fine dining—or at least they wouldn’t have until last October. That’s when La Barranca opened, instantly creating a local venue for big nights out. In charge of the kitchen is 29-year-old native son Alberto Gutierrez, who earned his stripes at the Texas Culinary Academy, in Austin, and worked for two and a half years at Austin’s stellar Driskill Grill. At La Barranca, he is putting his French training to good use playing with regional recipes; witness his ethereal “chicken-fried” oysters in creole remoulade and succulent grilled quail in a heady pear-bourbon sauce, their plump little bodies spread-eagled atop pecan polenta. Occasionally, Gutierrez lets himself get a tad edgy, as in his mixed green salad tossed with a light, lovely citrus vinaigrette and topped by shaved fennel, red grapefruit, and feta. Lately, nobody in Laredo has been heard griping that they have to leave town to have a nice meal.