Churros, chilaquiles, and more at Barrio

Churros with chocolateEs verdad. I didn’t have high hopes for Barrio, especially as I’d eaten at the sister restaurant the night before, and wasn’t wowed. (Purple Cafe is perhaps a good drinking place, but even upon a return visit, the food was disappointing—especially the pork belly, which was again dry as a bone.) But my dining companion and I were invited to try a tasting menu of sorts, so we sat ourselves at the counter (we liked watching the woman make tortillas all night), relaxed with some cocktails, and then grew increasingly impressed as dish after dish arrived.

Sea scallop ceviche was our starter. Nice taste of the ocean, with mango subsidizing the sweetness of the sliced scallops, and serrano chili and red onion adding bite. Better still were the steamed local mussels. The dry-cured chorizo added porky fattiness, and I loved the large garlic slices and whole habanero floating in the crema. The bread slices absorbed some of the liquid, but I enjoyed eating the habanero and refused to let them take away the crock until I got a spoon and could drink the rest of the soup. I’m so glad Barrio wasn’t shy with the spice—a welcomed surprise.

Then came perhaps our favorite dish: chilaquiles del dia. This day, the tortilla casserole featured pork carnitas, cooked in duck fat and Coca Cola, topped with queso fresco and a fried egg. Why is everything better with a fried egg? Great dish that was rich and fatty (which, in my book, equals fulfilling).

We didn’t have the formal trio of tacos, but next up were three types of tacos: flank steak, chorizo and egg, and al pastor. A perfect selection from the kitchen, each with something likeable—especially the chorizo. (Tangy and tasty, with the egg again enhancing things.) The tacos were terrific as is, but would have been better with more heat and acid, though neither was to be found. This was the only hiccup of the night, as we were later told that everyone should have had salsas and limes; looking around, they weren’t on any times, much to the dismay of the manager.

We were feeling full at this point, but there was one entree to sample: braised short ribs. Hearty fare, with a nice sauce of poblano chiles and caramelized onions. Things were getting a bit meaty at this point, and still wanting spice, I spotted a side of sauteed hominy with habanero on the menu, so this was my one special request of the evening. Hominy’s an unusual appearance at more upscale restaurants, but I was glad it was here, as the dish provided acidic refreshment to accompany the ribs, and more welcomed heat. Pretty a-maize-ing, if you will.

From our seats at the counter, we’d spend much of the evening watching the churro-maker squeeze batter into hot oil, fish out the finish product, and then parade plates of churros with small cups of xocatatl chocolate past our eager eyes. Stuffed but stuck on our desire to sample them, we were surprised when our waiter brought frozen desserts. We loved both the passionfruit sorbet and blood orange ice cream, but just as we started feeling like spoiled brats in wanting to request churros, out they came: golden, glistening, and oh-so-good. And not just dipped in the chocolate. Here’s a tip: Try them with some orange whipped cream. (The cream comes with the chocolate mole decadence cake, but if you ask nicely, they’ll send you some on the side.)

Despite being stuffed from our supper, we wolfed down the churros and lingered over some French press coffee. An order of five churros will run you seven dollars, but go to Barrio’s happy hour (Sunday to Thursday, 5 pm – 6:30 pm and 10 pm – midnight; Friday and Saturday, midnight – 2 am, with food served until 1 am), and you’ll enjoy four for four dollars. In fact, I’m hoping to get happy at happy hour before too long, as I need to sample the made-to-order guacamole (I’ve heard it’s great), want to try more tacos, and, of course, leave room for more of those churros.

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