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Dec 23, 2011 02:14 PM

El Barrio -- Birmingham

For those of you who don't know, the guys responsible for Trattoria Centrale (aka Zaza) have just opened a Mexican street food restaurant on 2nd Ave North. Here's the online menu for those who want to peruse:

Currently, El Barrio is just open for lunch (11-3), but will soon extend their hours to include dinner six nights a week. The renovation to the building is fantastic. If nothing else, the restaurant will be a great place for an after-work margarita simply because of the atmosphere/location.

I went for lunch a few days ago, and ordered the duo of salsas, a taco carnitas, and a taco al pastor. The salsas were fairly typical: one was red, tomato-based; the other green, tomatillo-based. The salsas were chunky, and clearly fresh. But despite the freshness, the red salsa was still nothing more than a tomato mush (with a hint of cilantro). There was not an ounce of heat. The green salsa had a subtle flavor, but not worth the calories.

The tacos were a definite improvement. The al pastor was absolutely delicious and had a nice kick. I will be back for that one. The carnitas was solid. Service was slow, but that's to be expected during any restaurant's first week.

Despite the weak salsas, I will definitely return. I'm intrigued by some of the more inventive items on the menu, and the tacos are the best in the immediate area. And, hopefully, El Barrio will work out some of the kinks as they get in the swing of the things.

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  1. I've been for a couple of lunches since I live in the neighborhood. Willie I agree with magiccityfoodie about the tomatillo salsa, I thought that the roasted tomato salsa was very tasty (but could use more heat). The taco al pastor is the best taco I've had in recent memory and definitely my favorite item on the menu. The fire-roasted pineapple salsa has a good kick and really makes the dish. The steak taco was made with a fatty cut of skirt steak and was pretty tough. Hongas taco was full of sautéed mushrooms and a change from the standard taqueria fare. I thought that the pozole was chock full of flavor too. I can't wait until they start serving dinner entrees and margaritas. Overall a great addition to our own barrio.

    1. We went to El Barrio today. We really loved it. I had the chorizo (and beef) meatloaf served on mashed potatoes with spinach. The better half had chicken tacos and tacos al carbon. All were good. We opened with tortilla chips and a good chunky guacamole. The tortilla chips were a little off....some were chewy/rubbery. All in all, though, a great experience, and we will return. This is a nice addition to the Ham. I am surprised that the purveyors of Trattoria Centrale didn't use the space to expand the tiny space at TC, though...Maybe that will come.

      Ya know, not all Mexican or Tex-Mex food is picante/picoso hot. I love hot spicy food of all races and creeds, but I don't think I'd be critical of a Tex-Mex dish or salsa based on "no heat". Many places will serve you up a hot salsa on request, BTW.

      Still hoping someday we'll get a place with Mexican or Tex-Mex breakfast.....I'm thinking migas here.

      I've attached images of our lunch plates.

      4 Replies
      1. re: curej

        Heading down to El Barrio tonight to meet mt daughter and BFat 6:30 did I read that it is a pretty small space?? Hope we don't have to wait long - I am looking forward to it - it is on 2nd ave correct?

        1. re: hlsess

          It's not too small (unlike Trattoria Centrale). I've only been there at lunchtime, so I'm not sure what the crowd is like at supper time.

          2211 2nd Ave. North, Birmingham, AL 35203

          1. re: curej

            It is thick with people in the evening -- lots of downtown workers waiting out the traffic and downtown denizens hanging out. But it is worth the wait.

          2. re: hlsess

            I had lunch there today. The barbacoa and al pastor tacos continue to make me happy.