Sitting down for a meal at Barrio Café in central Phoenix is one of America’s most sought after Mexican food experiences. This highly acclaimed restaurant has been featured on ‘Diners, Drive-ins and Dives’, had countless write-ups and comes highly recommended on various social media platforms. That is how I came across Barrio Café, through research and by word of mouth. A long-time trusted friend had strongly recommended that I eat here- Thank you, April!
Gastronomes, foodies and culinary nerds can all agree that ordinary food becomes an extraordinary meal when there is passion and love behind it. There needs to be passion and intention behind the dishes created, if not it just becomes someone cooking in a kitchen. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has a lifetime of passion and love for her culinary creations.
Silvana Salcido Esparza comes from humble beginnings as a baker’s daughter in Central Valley California. She grew up in a multi-generational home, learning to cook with her Grandmother and working alongside her parents in the family bakeries. After culinary school, Chef Silvana traveled independently to all parts of Mexico. She brought that experience home to Phoenix when, in 2002, she opened Barrio Café with her business partner Wendy Gruber.– Barrio Café Website
If you are visiting Phoenix, take that visitation to the next level and plan a meal or two at Barrio Café. When you arrive, make sure that you park in the back and have your camera in check. For those who take pictures for the gram or just like mural art, you will love what awaits for you!
There are several exterior walls of exciting and colorful Mexican art murals by the parking lot. To enter, there will be a little red door that leads you to one of the most highly recognized Mexican restaurants in the nation.
Inside you will find fun murals and a gallery of Mexican artwork that line the white brick walls. Art, culture and cuisine- it is all intertwined.
I arrived before noon, so I was the first one inside but that also gave me uninterrupted views of the parking lot murals. I was met by the most friendliest server EVER and we chatted here and there about our travels. I enjoy meeting hospitable people wherever I go because you always find some common ground, in this case it was our travel stories.
—— On the Table ——
When it came to the food and drink of Barrio Café, I was pretty much blown away on the colorful presentation and the modern takes of traditional Mexican dishes.
— Lowrider Margarita —
My friend who strongly suggested Barrio Café, also strongly suggested the Lowrider Margarita. It was outstanding and to the point. As most of you know, I am not a margarita drinker because I have always found them too sweet and over done. Plus after trying the original margarita at Hussong’s in Ensenada, Mexico that does spoil you.
The Lowrider Margarita was straight up Don Julio Blanco tequila, Cointreau liqueur and a splash of lime. Now that is how not to sugar coat a margarita- Magnifico!
— Barrio Guacamole —
One of Barrio Cafe’s most famous dishes is their guacamole. This is no ordinary guacamole and trust me, I have eaten my share of guacamole in my lifetime. I grew up in the Los Angeles area where guacamole was something that I ate with french fries, rather than ketchup. Plus my childhood home had an enormous avocado tree in our yard, so I grew up around avocados. I am a true fan of ‘The Guac’ but have never tried it quiet like this.
Out came a colorful bowl of green and red- the green was fresh avocado chunks and the red was a handful of sweet pomegranate seeds. I appreciated that the avocados were are kept in chunks because it kept a firmer consistency and texture. Then Barrio sweetened their delicious guacamole with pomegranate seeds, which created an extraordinary taste combination. Their crunchy house made chips were excellent as well. They were very thick and firm, so it could hold all those luscious avocado chunks and colorful pomegranate seeds. This was one beautiful and bad ass bowl of guac!
— Cochinita Pibil Tlayuda —
Another of Barrio Cafe’s most popular dishes is their Award Winning Cochinta Pibil, which I did try but as a tlayuda. Cochinita Pibil is a traditional Mexican slow roasted pork dish and Barrio makes an epic one! Their 12 hour achioted-sour orange pork was very tender and full of delicious flavor. You can order their Cochinita Pibil as a dish in itself or a tlayuda. Either way, this pork dish is a perfect choice for those looking for authentic Mexican flavors.
So, what is a tlayuda? It is at regional style taco from the Southwestern state of Oaxaca. It is not like a taco that many of us in the states are accustomed to. This one is similar to a tostada as it is large, flat and the size of a plate. The corn tortilla was not crispy, it was softer but thicker than an average size corn tortilla. It was very fresh tasting and was strong enough to hold all the toppings without disintegrating. This was an excellent dish and I especially enjoyed the garnish of cilantro microgreens. They were not as strong as full grown cilantro and added a nice mild addition to this already flavorful dish.
— The Best Damn Churro Dessert EVER —
At the end, I did go for dessert and with my server’s suggestion, I ordered the Churros which became the best churro dessert I have eaten. I am serious! Typically, I shy away from this dessert at regular Mexican restaurants. I loathe the massive use of generic whipped cream and cheap maraschino cherries. Barrio Café has taken these sugary Mexican donuts to a whole other level!
This elevated churro dessert was filled and drizzled with a goat cheese caramel. That is correct, the inside of these fresh hot Mexican donuts was a creamy center of goat cheese caramel. They also added a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream and a sprinkle of fresh cut strawberries. Then more of their rich and thick goat cheese caramel was randomly drizzled all over this dessert. It was a sweet masterpiece and I would travel here again just to eat this dessert.
— French Pressed Coffee —
To finish things off and to prevent myself from slipping into a well deserved food coma, I ordered a cup of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised when my server said they served French Pressed coffee. Could this meal get any better?
I like my coffee, how I like myself: Dark, bitter and too hot for you.
When it came down to it, Barrio Café met and exceeded my expectations. Not only for their authentic flavors and the elevation of traditional Mexican dishes, but for their quality of service and the celebration of art. It is no wonder that Barrio Café is one of the most sought over Mexican restaurants in the nation.
Phoenix, you have quite a gem here and one that is worth traveling for!
For restaurant location and information, Barrio Café – Reservations are not taken, it is first come – first serve
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre