Barrio Cafe (PHX) - Reports from a 'hound gathering
Several of the local Phoenix Chowhounds who post on this board gathered this evening at the Barrio Cafe in Central Phoenix. Our goal was two-fold: first, we wanted to have some good chow and, second, we were saying goodbye to amkirkland who is heading off to some strange, foreign land called "Texas."
We gathered around 6:30 or so and were seated once all six of us were accounted for and paid our tabs at the bar. The six included myself, amkirkland, iamjacksbrain, abbefaith, winedubar, and tastyjon.
Right off the bat, the guacamole ($8.00) and the queso fundido ($9.00) were ordered. I decided to have a bowl of the Posole Verde ($6.50). Oh, and a Diet Coke ($2.00). For my entree, I selected the Marranito del Norte ($17.75), which featured pork tenderloin in a ancho chile/tomatillo sauce.
As we munched on some of the bread while we waited, I was getting uncomfortable because the table was really small for six people. I could not get both of my legs under the table and had to keep adjusting to make room for the others to my left and right. The noise level was also quite high and we were all repeating ourselves during conversation.
When the appetizers arrive, the guacamole was made table side and looked very good. On my last visit to Barrio Cafe, I didn't care for the queso, so I passed on that. My posole, however, was excellent. It was piping hot and very satisfying. I loved the ever so slightly thick broth and the flavor. This was a great way to start my meal.
The guacamole was a big hit at the table and disappeared quickly. The queso followed, although that didn't seem to be as big a hit.
When our entrees arrived, my plate contained thick, quarter-sized pieces of pork in a rich, dark sauce. The pork and sauce were served next to a small serving of mashed potatoes and this was accompanied by sauteed vegetables.
The sauce for this dish was amazingly good and I loved the tangy flavor of the tomatillos. I have to say, though, that I was disappointed with the pork. It was not as tender as it should have been. It also was lukewarm in temperature. The potatoes and veggies were very good and perfectly cooked. I was also surprised by the portion size. For $18.00, I expected a bit more. There were five or six small pieces of pork.
The service was decent but, due to the noise level, I had a difficult time hearing our server.
I will let the other 'hounds that gathered give their impressions, but my final take was that I thought my entree could have been much better and I wish I could have been at a table that was more comfortable.
Still, I did get to see amkirkland before he left and headed to the Lone Star State.
2814 North 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85006
Notes: Parking in back or on side streets. Valet available. No reservations accepted. Closed on Mondays.
I'm a tad tardy in my observations.
- the company we keep. Great people. Great company.
- the chiles en nogada was a fantastic dish. I normally never order a chicken as an entree and didn't this time. Fortunately abbefaith did and being full, gave the remainder up for adoption. It was popping with all sorts of tastes and textures and the sauce was great. I'd certainly drive across town for this kind of signature dish.
- Loved the use of pomegranate as an interesting sweetner.
- I give the place total props for being different and vibrant in an unhip and somewhat unvibrant area of town.
The ho hum:
- I was so looking forward to the Cochinita Pibil as it was mentioned in many news reviews. Mine was decent, maybe a tad dry. Maybe I was expecting something different. It's a tough call as it might have been executed brilliantly for the
prescribed dish. I simply wasn't wowed. I've also been cooking with pork at home (slow cooker and slow smoker) and know that it's tough meat to master.
- The tableside guac was nice, but apart from the pomegranate, there was nothing really unique from the usual ingredients. Just the week before in Tucson, we were at an event where they made guac to order and the server would strive to make each portion special to each person.. as in turning up the heat way high, if desired.
- The bar area. Something has to be done. They have 2 seats at the bar, and a 2 seat bench. Plus 200 tequilas. They don't take reservations, which means people linger. And they have 4 seats. Crazy.
- I got there a bit early and had to stand around while 2 guys sat at those 2 seats filling out job applications during rush hour. There were so many things wrong with that scene. They should have known better, but the manager should have impressed them to come back at another time.
Overall I had a nice time. Food wise, it was hot and cold, or rather hot and O.K. It's a nice eatery but I'm not sure if I'd say it was great across the board.
barrio cafe is pretty much right in the middle of my office and my house, so i figured it would be a great idea to try a new restaurant on the way home from work and maybe meet some cool people as well. i checked out the menu ahead of time, so i knew not to expect typical mexican food but other than that i didn't really have any expectations. i knew i wanted the ensalda del barrio and i was contemplating the chiles en nogada, the mojarra de san agustin and the tacos de pescado. any salad with vinaigrette, fruit and nuts is right up my alley (hence why i LOVE the asian pear salad at claim jumper... shh don't tell anyone.) and i love tilapia and halibut.
when i drove by the restaurant, it immediately reminded me of carly's bistro. someone recommended carly’s to me on chow a few weeks ago, and i remember being slightly skeptical about it upon entering the restaurant but i ended up loving it. i was hoping barrio cafe would be a similar experience. i didn't have too much trouble finding a parking spot, but later on in the evening i started to worry that i was too close to the stop sign and wondered if there might be a ticket waiting for me on my car when i left.
upon entering the restaurant i headed straight for the cuarto de bano due to my consumption of 2 bottles of water during my commute from the office to the restaurant. if i were to judge a restaurant's food by its bathroom i probably would not have eaten there. it wasn't terribly dirty but it was extremely cramped and unisex and something about it turned my stomach and made me desperate to expedite the process and get out of there (the bathroom not the restaurant).
we were seated a few minutes later, and i agree with the others that the table was very small (a pattern here?) for six people. i ordered the killer house margarita, and tastyjon or windubar commented that the chef recommended the chiles en nogada and that it was only seasonal, so i knew i had to order that. i'm not a huge chicken person (or meat in general for that matter), but again i love fruit and nuts combined and the almond sauce sounded great. i'm all about the sauce. i was curious about the tilapia though and asked the server what it came with since the menu only mentioned a banana leaf, and she told me it was served with veggies and potatoes but didn't mention a sauce. it sounded kinda boring to me, and she didn't seem to be a big fan of the tilapia and practically jumped for joy (i think this maybe the only time she showed emotion the whole evening in fact) when i ordered the chiles en nogada.
i feel like the tableside guacamole came before my margarita, but i can’t remember for sure. regardless, i feel like it took quite a while to receive my drink, however it was quite tasty once it arrived and a very good value at $5.50. there was bread on the table when we sat down served with a tapenade of sorts. when i finally got around to trying the bread, i was pretty disappointed with it. the tapenade tasted ok (not great) but it was difficult to spread on the bread, and the bread was really dry and would have been much better with olive oil or balsamic. i think things always have a way of working out though because if the bread had been great i may have eaten too much and not fully enjoyed what was to come... first of which was the tableside guacamole. this was fabulously fresh, flavorful and delicious. my favorite part was the pomegranate seeds. i love sweet mixed with spicy, and i never knew that i loved pomegranate seeds but apparently i do. i also thought they had very tasty, non-greasy chips. like seth i did not particularly like the queso fundido. the cheese was too thick and the taste was too strong and smoky for me. i thought it tasted like swiss cheese one of my least favorite cheeses.
my salad came next and while it was the item i was most excited for, it ended up disappointing me. the sweet and spicy dressing was very tasty, and i really liked how green the spinach was. there was too much cheese on the salad though, and i felt it took away from the flavors of the salad instead of complementing them. i would probably order it again without the cheese or maybe with it on the side. the salad was a good value though although maybe a little too big for a side salad. i offered some to the group and the partakers seemed to agree that it was only a mediocre salad.
when the entrees arrived, i was a little bit fuller than i would have liked but once i tasted mine i forgot that i wasn’t really that hungry anymore. the almond sauce was simply divine, and i loved the flavor and texture of the chicken and how well it mixed with the sauce, apricots, pecans, onions, apples and pears. this was so delicious that thinking about it now i almost regret giving away my leftovers, and i’m definitely bummed that this is only a seasonal item on the barrio menu. =/ oh and i almost forgot my entree also had more of the pomegranate seeds that i learned i love with the guacamole. i was so excited when i saw them on my plate, and they definitely added an extra bonus to my entree. yum!
i was kinda bummed i didn’t get to have a bite of crepes, but the churros were definitely the best i’ve ever tasted. churro lovers should definitely try barrio’s take on the popular mexican pastry. i was pleasantly surprised when i arrived at my car with no ticket to be found, but driving home i realized why they called it a killer margarita and was very happy when i made it home safe. i will definitely go back, and i’ll cross my fingers for crepes and chiles en nogada.
bon voyage amkirkland and great meeting everyone!
(wow, that was long winded. see i told you i was bored at work!)
Sorry I had to miss the gathering. I do hope to meet some of the regulars on this board face-to-face one day. As for Barrio Cafe, the description of the meal last night matches my own experience the one time I tried it. The food was certainly adequate, but I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. I seem to remember getting some enchiladas that were over the top in terms of creamy sauce without enough emphasis on the "stuff" inside them. Also, call me a gringo, but I really wanted some rice and beans with my meal, and Barrio Cafe doesn't offer that option. As I recall, there weren't enough good points to the meal to outweigh the negatives of a popular restaurant with a no-reservations policy, so I haven't become a regular. I'll try Barrio Cafe again some time, but I'm not in a hurry to do so.
i completely enjoyed meeting everyone and had a great dinner. i started with the lowrider marg, whch was tasty. the quac was great, i love the addition of pomegranate seeds *which may be the source of the purple spots, amkirkland??*
for my entree, i ordered Cochinita Pibil, as mentioned above, and it was succulent. i was also suprised by the vast quantity of food. i took a bunch to go, and when i packed it for lunch today, was quite suprised to see i still had a chunk of meat left that was the size of a deck of cards!! no wonder i couldn't finish!!
i opted for coffee instead of dessert, and it was brought in a gleaming french press...i make coffee that way at home, and love it. you can also buy their beans whole.
i echo the sentiment that it was rather loud. bordering on prohibitively loud. and our table was tiny.
i think their food is great, but i'll probably stick to going there for sunday brunch..its not such a loud affair, and the food is still great :D
and goodbye amkirkland. *sniff sniff* we'll miss your witty repartee!! don't be a stranger. and find us some good chow spots!!!!! best of luck to you in all you do!!
It was nice meeting everyone and sending amkirkland off.
Barrio Cafe was good, but not as good as I remembered it. It also seems to have gotten too loud for my tastes. I'll be back someday (for a quieter lunch maybe?), but I'll make sure they have a dessert crepe saved for me before I even order.
I was curious how your meal was, you didn't say too much about it while eating. I actually enjoyed the queso fundido quite a bit, especially when i got a bit of the queso fresco in the bite. The gauc was also very good... but $8??? Ok... so maybe I've been living on a college budget too long. I ordered the Pollo en Mole, and opted for the black mole. I accompanied this with some horchata, as I saw they had won best horchata at some point. First, the chicken. I commented at the table that it was dry. As I ate more i realized it wasn't so much dry, as overcooked, for my taste. The flavor of the chicken was quite good though. The mole had a wonderful flavor. More understated than i had expected, but very mouth filling with a little after kick of heat. The veggies that garnished the plate were fabulous for sure. I tried a bite of some other's as well. winedubar's Cochinita Pibil was wonderfully succulent roasted pork and abbefaith's Chiles en Nogada was a treat, but maybe a bit fruity for chicken to me. I also stole a bit of iamjacksbrain's churro drizzled with cejeta. My Churro experiences haven't gone further than theme parks, so that nibble was a real treat. But still, it's no crepe.
i think I agree with Seth's summary of the meal, but I think all will agree that the chance to get together was great. I really hope to start some of these up back in Texas. For what it's worth, I would find myself back at Richardson's before Barrio. Now I've got to get to the other places i never made it to. Matt's for breakfast anyone???