There is only one chef in the Valley who would have no qualms about referring to the majority of the men in the culinary world as "10-foot-high tokes."
With her cropped hair, unedited demeanor, eclectic art collection, and some of the best leg tattoos around, Silvana Salcido Esparza is clearly as badass as they come. Oh, and she's also one of the Valley's best-known and most respected chefs. Esparza owns and runs Barrio Café with her partner, Wendy Gruber, and serves up some of the best "Mexican-inspired" cuisine, as she calls it, that we've ever had.
It says, "Save water, drink tequila" in a footnote on her menu, but Esparza's secret, she says, is love. From the enchiladas del mar to the decadent slow-roasted pork with achiote rojo and sour orange with salsa Yucateca, Esparza puts her heart and soul into her food. "You cook with love," she says, and she makes sure of it every day (if she's angry or upset, she says, her food refuses to turn out right).
A baker's daughter from Merced, California, Esparza has her mother's recipes memorized on her heart, as she puts it, and she puts her father's bread on the table for every meal served at Barrio Café. She spent six years working in a bank in Miami, Florida counting the cash brought in daily by cartels, before she gave it up and went home when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She spent a year learning about her Mexican roots through her mother's food and helping her fight the disease before taking her place at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in the early '90s.
Then, in 2000, just as she turned 40, she quit her job, cashed in her 401(k) and sold or gave away everything she had but her '68 VW. She headed to Mexico to spend the next year of her life learning from — and cooking with — the people of Mexico. She slept on mats in huts in tiny villages and went from place to place by bus. She told the people she met that she had come to Mexico to get in touch with her soul, and to find her voice. She did.
Esparza has taken a true Phoenixbarrio, at 16th Street and Thomas, where her restaurant is located, and turned it into one of the Valley's culinary draws — all without selling out, or compromising her roots, or becoming any less badass.
"We put it together with love," she says of the restaurant. And we love to eat there.
PHOENIX NEW TIMES BEST OF 2009
We're pretty convinced that the more ingredients there are in a mole recipe, the quicker you'll be hooked on it once you try it. But of course, we'll never know for sure because the best mole recipes also happen to be the most closely guarded — and for good reason. The flavors are so rich and complex that it takes only one taste to fall under mole's charms. There are numerous styles of the sauce in
Mexico, all made with various kinds of chile peppers, herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Luckily for us, Barrio Café cooks up not one but two fantastic versions: a zesty mole rojo and a dark, potent mole negro, which contains chocolate. Slathered on a juicy chicken breast or rolled up in enchiladas, either one is worthy of licking the platter clean.
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
The ARIZONA REPUBLIC Best of 2009
Most Mexicans don't get to eat like the diners at Barrio Cafe, unless they have an inspired chef like Silvana Salcido Esparza in their kitchen. Start off with the tequila lobster quesadilla or posole verde with pork and tomatillo. Among her regional Mexican main dishes are cochinita pibil, a Yucatan specialty; chicken with black mole, a Oaxacan specialty; and chiles en nogada, a central-Mexican specialty that showcases poblano pepper stuffed with chicken, pecans, pears, apples and apricots, all smothered in almond sauce. Wash everything down with terrific cocktails, Mexican beers and the best Mexican wine list in town.
And then there's dessert. You want the churros: sugared fritters filled with cajeta (a butterscotchy caramelized goat's milk) and accompanied by ice cream. Like everything else at this cute festive spot, it's an instant mood enhancer.
Cochinita Pibil Torta
50 stars of Arizona's food world
May. 21, 2009 The Arizona Republic 32. Silvana Salcido Esparza Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza proves there's more to Mexican food than a taco-burro-enchilada combo plate. Her striking regional gems at Barrio Cafe include Yucatan cochinita pibil, slow-roasted pork in achiote and sour-orange sauce; Oaxacan black-mole chicken; and Pueblan chiles en nogada, poblano peppers stuffed with chicken, nuts and fruit. A pioneer of tableside guacamole, Esparza grew up in a family that owned and operated a Mexican bakery, which explains the magic behind her churros.
Chiles en Nogada a la Barrio Cafe
ARIZONA HIGHWAYS' B E S T R E S T A U R A N T S 2 0 0 9
BARRIO CAFE - PHOENIX Chef-Owner Silvana Salcido Esparza Explodes the myth that Mexican food is a bland assemblage of carbohydrates and cheese, taking her customers on a culinary tour of southern Mexico that invariably leaves them breathless - or would that be the potent margaritas? Succulent, achiote-rubbed pork roast, pomegranate seed-studded guacamole, dreamy chiles en nogada and cajeta filled churros are the not-to-be-missed signatures. Meanwhile Barrio's edgy local artwork and wildly decorated bathrooms, rife with Mexican kitsch, are always conversation starters, and the Mexican wine list is the best in the state. __________________________________________
AMERICA'S TOP RESTAURANTS
ZAGAT BEST RESTAURANTS IN THE WORLD 2008 GUIDE
ZAGAT AMERICA'S TOP RESTAURANTS 2008 GUIDE
El Moisés' mural behind Barrio Cafe in Phoenix features elements of Aztec culture next to Chicano symbols, such as luchadores masks; Barrio Cafe owner and chef Silvana Salcido Esparza wanted to put her heritage on proud display.
Click on photo below to read the full story from the Arizona Repulic's Living Section
photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic
Dining Out in PHOENIX by John Mariani
One of the best Mexican restaurants in Phoenix is Barrio Café, run by the ebullient and intensely authoritative Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (below) and her partner Wendy Gruber. Three colorful dining rooms and bar make up this engagingly funky place whose menu pictures a red-faced bandito who looks as if he's waited too long for his food. Be patient: this is truly excellent, very authentic Mexican food, the ingredients for which Salcido Esparza, who is nothing if not ebulliently serious about her cooking, goes everywhere, from Arizona to Mexico, which she visits once a month to gather things like fresh seasonal oregano.
Barrio Café carries 250 tequilas, and the margaritas are impeccably made, as is the creamy, rich guacamole, which she mixes with pomegranate seeds, adding a nice sweetness and texture to the blend. Tequila and garlic also lace the delicious shrimp quesadillas, and the house specialties here are tortas topped with items like slow-roasted Mayan-style achiote-spiced cochinita pibil (pulled pork), which is juicy and well-seasoned. The festive chilesen nogada—poblanos stuffed with chicken, onions, pecans, and fruits--a dish often only prepared for celebrations, are lavished with a rich almond sauce dotted with pomegranate seeds.
BC notes on its website that its food is not deliberately chile-hot, for Esparza wants the myriad seasonings and spices she sues to reveal them selves in her cooking, and, once you meet her, you'll trust your appetite to her and learn a lot in the process.
Barrio Cafe Churros
ALL-STAR PHOENIX * 2009 Commemorate Program
THE SCORE What To Eat
Named the Best Mexican Food Restaurant by the Arizona Republic six years running, Barrio Cafe also earns a gold star from Suns guard Steve Nash
Just so you know, Steve, you earn a gold star from your fans at the Barrio Cafe! We are BIG fans. Go Suns!
10 Restaurants to Sample in Scottsdale and Phoenix Los Angeles Times February 13, 2009
We asked area chefs and food experts to help us develop a list of some of the top restaurants. Here are 10 you should try:
BARRIO CAFE: This little neighborhood restaurant is another low-cost alternative with high-end dishes. Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza whips up striking southern Mexico cuisine and original creations. But you won’t find any combination plates or chips and salsa. You will find slow-roasted tequila lobster quesadillas ($16), chicken mole ($19) and enchiladas filled with chicken and tomatillo cream sauce. __________________________________________
FOOD & WINE
Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza says her restaurant is "just a neighborhood café." Her cooking suggests otherwise. Esparza's exceptional skill with southern Mexican cuisine comes through in the tender duck breast topped with a tamarind-and-chipotle sauce; the slow-roasted pork glazed with achiote and sour orange; and, for dessert, the fritters soaked in cajeta—a caramel-cream sauce made with goat's milk.
Flan de Mi Mami
B E S T T E Q U I L A S E L E C T I O N 2008 Best Of Phoenix Phoenix New Times
Finding the best liquor selection is just a matter of geography. If you want a killer poured pint, visit an Irish bar. For wine, try a European bistro. So, it's no surprise that we discovered the best tequila selection at a top-rated Mexican restaurant. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's neighborhood cafe boasts more than 250 top-shelf, premium, and Super-Jalisco tequilas, from the classic and relatively inexpensive Jose Cuervo to rarer, extra-añejo (well-aged) varieties. Because the choices are so vast, the Barrio's bartenders will recommend a great pairing, much as a sommelier would help you select the perfect wine. And they won't even fault uninitiated gringos for looking for the worm — which is only found in mescal, a different type of liquor made from the agave plant.
B E S T M O D E R N M E X I C A N R E S T A U R A N T 2008 Best Of Phoenix Phoenix New Times
Too many restaurants treat Mexican dishes like diner food — they crank them out quickly and cheaply, and if the stuff happens to be tasty, well, you're lucky. In the hands of a talented chef, though, Mexico's culinary traditions can be downright sophisticated, not to mention surprising. At Barrio Café, guacamole, prepared tableside, is anything but run of the mill, while even the humble chile relleno is transformed by a filling of shrimp and scallops. Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza's a well-traveled lady, and it shows, from Mexico City-style chicken enchiladas topped with tomatillo cream sauce to slow-roasted, fork-tender cochinita pibil (pork with achiote rojo and sour orange), a Yucatecan specialty. Even the desserts are unusual, including goat's milk-caramel-topped crepes, caramel-filled churros, and Oaxacan chocolate cake. With so many luscious flavor combinations and mouthwatering presentations, Barrio Café will give you a whole new perspective on Mexican cuisine.
chef Silvana's favorite Camaron Borracho
2008 BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT ARIZONA REPUBLIC
No chips. No burritos. No gloppy combination plates. You're not in gringo country anymore. At Barrio Café, you've landed in the Mexican food promised land. That promise is kept by chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, whose striking regional dishes can be a revelation. It doesn't take more than a bite of most anything on the menu to see the light. We're talking slow-roasted tequila lobster quesadilla, chicken mole and enchiladas Suizas filled with chicken and tomatillo cream sauce. We're also talking about fabulous cochinita pibil, slow roasted pork rubbed with Yucatán spices, and head-turning chiles en nogada, stuffed with chicken, pecans, apples, pears and apricots, then coated with almond sauce.Superb margaritas and this town's best Mexican wine list add to the festive south-of-the-border experience.
BEST MEXICAN BRUNCH
PHOENIX NEW TIMES BEST OF 2007
A lot's been written about chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza's creative, contemporary Mexican fare, from the fresh guacamole with pomegranate seeds, prepared tableside, to her hauntingly delicious cochinita pibil, fork-tender pork that's been slow-cooked for 12 hours.
Indeed, we still think Barrio Café is worthy of every "Best of" we've given it. But brunch here is still — 'til now, anyway — an unsung pleasure, with distinctive dishes you won't find anywhere else in town.
The crepa de chorizo is a dreamy concoction, with spinach, spicy sausage, and queso fresco rolled up in a hollandaise-covered crepe, while the pastel de calabazas con queso, a veggie-stuffed omelet slathered in spicy tomatillo sauce, will wake your taste buds right up. And if that's not enough of a morning boost, try Barrio Café's tequila-soaked version of the bloody Mary, the sangrita. Now that's our kind of eye-opener.
SIEMPRE MUJER MAGAZINE TOP TEN LATINO CHEF'S
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza has been named one of the Top Ten Best Latino chefs/restaurants of the year by Siempre Mujer magazine, December 2007. Here is the rest of the list; Douglas Rodriguez, Ola at the Sanctuary, Miami Beach, FL; Luis Fernando Caamal, Colibri Mexican Bistro, San Francisco, CA; Priscilla Satkoff, Salpicon, Chicago, IL; Lydia Sharpe, Little Havana, New York, NY; Jose Andres, Jaleo, Washington, DC; Archie Mejias, Sabor Latin Bistro, North Bergen, NJ; Rocio Gomez, Amaranta, Canoga Park, CA; Dunia Borga y Taco Borga, La Duni Latin Café, Dallas, TX., Sylvia Casares-Copeland of Houston.
Agua de Tamarindo
"Best of the Valley" PHOENIX MAGAZINE August 2007
BEST MODERN MEXICAN CUISINE: B a r r i o C a f e
Barrio's website boats a Spanish phrase, "Comida Orgullosamente Mexicana," which means something like "proudly Mexican food." And while that accurately depicts chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza's modern spin on the traditional cuisine of her homeland, it's not quite as accurate as the X-rated "comida chingona," printed on T-shirts the cafe can't keep in stock. It means "F---ing good food," and that's the best way to describe Esparza's tableside guacamole with pomegranate seeds, succulent achiote-rubbed pork roast (cochinita pibil) and dreamy chiles en nogada (a chicken and fruit stuffed poblano, smoothered with almond cream sauce). Margaritas, sangria, premium tequilas and wines from Baja's newly emerging wine region are pretty F---ing good, too.
. . . . . . . . . . .
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT The Arizona Republic May. 1, 2007 12:00 AM
Barrio Cafe 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix (602) 636-0240
So you think you know Mexican food? Maybe you do. But unless you've been to funky Barrio Cafe, you don't know Mexican cuisine.
Silvana Salcido Esparza shows you what a trained chef can do with Mexico's culinary bounty. She may start you off with guacamole prepared tableside, with pork and tomatillo posole, or with the amazing tequila lobster quesadilla.
Main dishes take you way south of the border. From central Mexico, there's chiles en nogada, poblano chile stuffed with chicken and dried fruit in almond sauce. Blue corn enchiladas del mar take you to the coast. Cochinita pibil, a house specialty made from slowly roasted pork seasoned with achiote and sour orange, takes you to the heart of Yucatan.
Barrio also offers one of America's most extensive Mexican wine lists, showcasing Baja California's up-and-coming vineyards. Like everything else here, it's a revelation.
11 Mexican restaurants in Phoenix
Howard Seftel The Arizona Republic Feb. 15, 2005
Barrio Cafe 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix (602) 636-0240 Price: $20-$40 Rating: ***** Superb Mexican food in a funky setting. A ravishing tamale in red mole, phenomenal chile-infused soups and a striking chile stuffed with fruit, chicken and cheese are the stars. The cajeta churro dessert is certain to become a tourist attraction.
ZAGAT GUIDE - 2007
Rating: 27 out of 30
Mobil Travel Guide & AAA Guide Star & Diamond Rated
________________ THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
7 BRUNCHES TO TRY
BARRIO CAFE ***** STARS
The Sunday brunch menu at this stellar Mexican restaurant includes a chorizo- and queso fresco-filled crepe, seafood crepes, and huevos rancheros
FODOR'S GUIDE - 2006
4.8 out of 5
No chips and salsa here; owners Wendy Gruber and Silvana Salcido Esparza have taken Mexican cuisine to a new level. Expect guacamole prepared tableside and modern Mexican specialties such as cochinita pibil, slow roasted pork with red achiote and sour orange; and chiles en Nogada, a delicious traditional dish from Central Mexico featuring a spicy poblano pepper stuffed with fruit, chicken, and raisins. This intimate two-room restaurant gets crowded easily, so plan to relax at the bar with one of the many specialty margaritas while you wait for a table
AOL CITY GUIDE 2007 BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT ________________
METROPOLITAN HOME MAGAZINE
At the Barrio Cafe in Phoenix, Arizona, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza cooks straight from her heart -- and her Mexican heritage. As her countless fans attest, it's impossible not to be charmed by the culinary enthusiasms of chef Silvana.
NEW TIMES BEST OF 2005 BEST MEXICAN DESSERTS
We've been sampling fancy desserts at Mexican restaurants in this town for so long that -- we're embarrassed to admit -- we remember eating deep-fried ice cream at Willy and Guillermo's. Thank goodness we've grown up, and so has Mexican cuisine in Phoenix. One of our favorite adults is Barrio Cafe, where you can top your meal with incredible French press coffee and a dessert that will make you happy you skipped that second basket of bread. We love anything chef Silvana Salcido serves that's stuffed with Oaxacan chocolate, but our absolute favorite -- the one we think about in the middle of the night -- is the Churros Rellenos de Cajera de Cabra, goat's milk caramel-stuffed fritters with vanilla ice cream. The churros bear no resemblance to that cardboard stick you choked down at the state fair. Instead, they're light and crunchy, soft inside, perfectly flavored next to the cinnamon-tinged ice cream, which, we're thankful to report, is not deep-fried.
Best of the SouthWest
"learn about the cooking style in each of the regions and attend demonstration of regional specialties like mole poblano"
NEW YORK TIMES
"the UPPER crust"
ARIZONA FOOTHILLS MAGAZINE
Voted by other Valley Chefs'
One of the Valley's most important restaurants. "Silvana cooks
almost as passionately as the heroine in 'Like Water for Chocolate.'"
PHOENIX NEW TIMES MAGAZINE
Silvana Salcido Esparza and Wendy Gruber are one of the Valley's "Cool Index"
PHOENIX NEW TIMES
BEST MODERN MEXICANA CUISINE 2006
A craving for Mexican food and a craving for Barrio Cafe's memorable fare are two completely different things. It's almost as if chef Silvana Salcido Esparza intentionally set out to defy diners' expectations, combining her own dazzling ideas with traditional flavors found in southern Mexican cuisine. Looking for chips and salsa to land on your table? Instead, you'll get a basket of soft, fresh bread with garlicky homemade olive spread. Think quesadillas are all about chicken and melted jack cheese? Not at Barrio. Here, try them with garlic and tequila lobster with Oaxacan cheese and queso de cabra. Esparza also creates wonderfully rich black mole, tender and tangy cochinita pibil (Yucatán-style slow-roasted pork), and melt-in-your-mouth pato en tamarindo (seared duck breast with zesty tamarind and chipotle sauce). Huge, beautifully presented tortas are worthy of knife and fork (we're fans of the torta del Barrio, with a Oaxacan-cheese-stuffed roasted poblano), and ethereal desserts like the churros rellenos de cajeta de cabra — warm, crisp fritters filled with gooey goat's milk caramel, paired with vanilla ice cream — end things on a high note. Dinner at Barrio Cafe just might rock your world.
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC 2005
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza conclusively demonstrates that, in the right hands, Mexican cuisine can go toe-to-toe with anything from Europe or Asia.
COCINA MEXICANA DE BARRIO, PERO A MUCH HONRA - el Heraldo (Miami Herald en Espanol)
Los mexicanos "no comemos burritos, los montamos", afirma de forma categórica Silvana Salcido Esparza, quien comanda los fogones de Barrio con severidad de ángel exterminador de platos desleales.
Salcido sostiene que, a pesar de que "la cocina mexicana ha mejorado en Estados Unidos", todavía falta mucho para que "los norteamericanos conozcan" la riqueza de sus platillos. "La ausencia de ingredientes -señala- y de habilidad ha creado platos que, como la enchilada roja o los burritos, no son mexicanos". Esta cruzada gastronómica emprendida por Salcido cristaliza en una carta que anuncia como preámbulo guacamole casero, ensalada de mango, aguacate y camarones, quesadilla de langosta borracha (de tequila, claro), mojo (con camarones gigantes en una salsa de vino blanco y ajo), o queso fundido (a base de chile poblano asado, espinacas salteadas, hongos y queso oaxaqueño fundido), entre otros.
My Phoenix Vacation
By BRANDON WILLIAMS - Fine Living Network October 2, 2006
Now I am no stranger to the culinary delight of anything you can dip a chip in, but I was truly overwhelmed when chef Silvana Salcido Esparza began to prepare our guacamole right in front of our eyes. I was in awe at how fresh, delicious and, above all, original it was. I felt as if I had stumbled into a Mexican cocina and was being taught how to prepare a secret family recipe. Above the bar where we sat were bottles of tequila. And more bottles of tequila. There were over 200 types of this precious cactus nectar, and they were serenading me like a mariachi band. Ken suggested that I stay away from the tequila because it was 115 degrees, and stick with the horchata, cold Mexican milk spiced with cinnamon.
We stuffed ourselves like a pinata ready for a beating. As Ken left to make sure he was present for an important vote, he turned and said, "Enjoy the valley!" So I did. I took a shot of Barrio Cafe's finest and headed for my next destination in the sun. I love this town!
Photo by; Fine Living Network
Ken Cheuvront introduces Brandon Williams (right) to a favorite dish at Phoenix's Barrio Cafe.
ZAGAT GUIDE - 2006
AMERICA’S TOP RESTAURANTS GUIDE
1,352 Eateries in 41 Cities
TOP 10 MEXICAN RESTAURANTS
2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
Barrio Cafe worth the trip from all corners of the Valley
Sept. 30, 2006
Like all of America's great metropolitan areas, the Valley boasts major-league sports, horrendous rush-hour traffic and a vibrant dining scene.
Among the Valley's culinary attractions are restaurants that brilliantly showcase a taste of the Southwest, places you'll want to take your out-of-town visitors or visit yourself. Barrio Cafe in Phoenix is a local favorite well worth the trip no matter where you live in the Valley.
Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza shows you just how sophisticated and far-ranging south-of-the-border fare can be, far beyond typical Mexican food.
We're talking tequila lobster quesadilla, chicken mole tamal (wrapped in banana leaf, not corn husk) and cochinita pibil, a Mayan specialty featuring slow-cooked pork seasoned Yucatán-style, with achiote and sour orange. The margaritas are good, too. Order one while you wait for your table.
8 GREAT RESTAURANTS TO TREAT THEM TO
Howard Seftel Nov. 30, 2005
In America, where it can seem like almost everybody has everything, buying gifts can be a real challenge. But every evening, almost everybody gets hungry. Why not give the gift of a good restaurant meal?
Here are eight superb Valley restaurants, in a variety of price ranges, that offer gift certificates. The suggested gift amount would roughly cover a three-course dinner for two, including tax, but not alcohol or a tip. Trust me: Over the course of the next year, the grateful recipients, hoping for an encore, will drop hints about how much they enjoyed their meal.
• Barrio Café - There's Mexican food, and then there's the Mexican food - no, make that cuisine - at Barrio Café. We're talking tequila lobster quesadilla; cochinita pibil, a dreamy Yucatan pork specialty; and the knockout poblano chile stuffed with chicken and dried fruit and smothered in almond sauce.
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT 2005
No wonder Mexican food doesn't have the cachet of French, Italian or Japanese cuisine. After all, according to misguided souls, it's just a mess of tacos, enchiladas and burros, thrown together by short-order cooks, not trained chefs.
It's time to rethink the stereotype. In the right hands, Mexican fare blows you away with its range, nuance and sophistication. Two of those hands belong to Silvana Salcido Esparza, the brilliant chef at Barrio Cafe
BEST of the VALLEY 2005
Best Beginning to End
118 of the Valley's Best Restaurants
2005 Dining Guide Issue
ARIZONA BUSINESS MAGAZINE
TOP 10 MEXICAN RESTAURANTS
image by WENDY L. GRUBER
36 hours in Phoenix
NEW YORK TIMES
New York Times Sunday Travel Section
A Taste of the Southwest... What's a trip to the Southwest without Mexican food? Be prepared - Barrio Cafe isn't your typical chips-and-salsa joint. Silvana Salcido Esparza serves her black mole sauce over chicken or enchiladas in her simple but elegant storefront restaurant...
This little high-energy spot is a riot of color. You won't find burritos, but you won't miss them with such comforting, robust fare to choose from.....
"BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT"
BEST NEW RESTAURANT
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
***** FIVE STARS
Barrio Café Chef-owner Silvana Salcido Esparza says her restaurant is "just a neighborhood café." Her cooking suggests otherwise. Esparza's exceptional skill with Mexican cuisine comes through in the tender duck breast topped with a tamarind-and-chipotle sauce; the slow-roasted pork glazed with achiote and sour orange; and, for dessert, the fritters soaked in cajeta—a caramel-cream sauce made with goat's milk.
The perpetually sunny Mr. Rogers believed every day was a good day in the neighborhood. Now, Barrio Cafe gives the rest of us a reason to believe, too.
AOL CITY GUIDE
****1/2 STARS A gourmet Mexican restaurant that can take its place among the finest anywhere has brightened an unlikely stretch of Thomas Road. You would expect to find the Barrio Cafe along the Camelback Corridor, not in a transitional neighborhood. There's no hint of a real barrio, just tables set with tall candle glasses and real linen, surrounded by walls covered with art from local artists. Owner/chef Silvana Salcido Esparza and partner Wendy Gruber have done a masterful job of decoration.
PHOENIX NEW TIMES
Okay. So maybe Barrio is perfect. And yes, I can feel the love.
I really like this little restaurant. The atmosphere is lively, the servers are charming, and both the food and menu are lots of fun.
FOOD & LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE
GOLDEN PLATE AWARD
for Pato en Tamarindo
FOOD & LIFESTYLES MAGAZINE
GOLDEN PLATE AWARD
for Chiles en Nogada
If you thought you were tired of Mexican food, you've not tried Barrio Cafe, and you've certiainly not tried this exquisite dish of chiles en nogada.
ARIZONA FOOTHILL MAGAZINE
"Such uncharacteristic departures in daily routines are the types of fresh, open-eyed behaviors Esparza and her food and drink ignite."
"Esparza is on a journey, and the barrio is ready to follow."
112 OF THE VALLEY'S BEST RESTAURANTS
"Funky, crowded and tons of fun"
"Best Mexican Restaurant"
"Best New Restaurant"
NATIONAL RESTAURANT NEWS
"Trend to Watch"
chef MICHAEL de MARIA
Says Chef Michael: "You won't find beans and rice on every plate at this Mexican restaurant, just simple, great tasting food that will enlighten your senses to a whole new way of thinking about real Mexican food. This is due to the enthusiasm and passion shown by Chef Silvana. Adventure through the menu and have a great time."
12 OF THE VALLEY'S HOTTEST YOUNG CHEFS
"these 12 chefs are turning heads and making names for themselves.
They're tomorrow's big shots"
PHOENIX NEW TIMES
Best of Phoenix 2004
Barrio Cafe may be the ultimate proof of the existence of karma. This slammin' little eatery on 16th Street has been hailed by all and sundry
You know you're in for a fun experience at this neighborhood eatery as soon as you walk in the door. Vintage Mexican movie posters line the hallway, while works by local artists brighten the walls in the two dining rooms. The tables are set with white linen and tall votive-candle glasses embossed with pictures and mini-bios of various saints. Whether or not you need it, be sure to visit the restroom - wildly painted, adorned with colorful tiles, and decorated with crucifixes, statues of the Virgin Mary, and pictures of Jesus, its somewhat irreverent and completely unexpected atmosphere is sure to stun you . . . and make you smile.
As will the food. Despite the name, there's nothing barrio about the cuisine, an eclectic mix of south-of-the-border dishes that eschews the typical combination platters that are geared towards gringo palates in favor of colonial Mexican cooking. As if to emphasize the fact that this is no Chevy's or a similar chain restaurant, the traditional chips and salsa are replaced by a basket of French bread with a tapenade of olives, garlic and capers. Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.
Because the menu is so extensive and everything sounds so tempting, this is a great place to come with a crowd that likes to share. Do not miss Guacamole Casero, which is prepared fresh tableside. A ripe avocado, moistened with olive oil, white vinegar, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, is mashed with onions, tomato, cilantro, and pomegranate seeds, and served with topopos (round, fried, chiplike corn tortillas). Queso Frito is fried Oaxacan cheese brightened with a spicy sauce. Mojo is a plate of five jumbo shrimp coated with lime-infused butter. Pollo Espinado is a skewer of grilled, spice-rubbed chicken and slices of mango. Tamal de la Huasteca, wrapped in a banana leaf, is stuffed with chicken and drizzled with a rich red mole.
The chile moron rojo is an incredible soup that blends roasted sweet peppers, white wine, butter, heavy cream, and white cheese into an amazing mix that's both spicy and soothing.
It's in the entrees that the chef best displays her successful break from the familiar. A deeply aromatic black mole enhances a generous chicken breast. Seared duck breast is sweet, spicy and tart, aided by the addition of a tamarind and chipotle sauce. Slow-roasted pork, rubbed with achiote, has a distinctive sour orange tang. Seafood enchiladas are comprised of blue corn tortillas rolled with scallops, cheese, and crab, and topped with a trio of meaty shrimp. The chile en nogada is a large poblano pepper stuffed with apples, pears, raisins, pomegranate seeds, chicken, and smothered in an almond cream sauce. A perfectly grilled medium rare filet mignon is topped with Roquefort and Mexican cheese and chorizo in a five-chile sauce.
If you still have room for dessert, you'll find much more than the obvious flan here. Cajeta crepes are prepared with caramelized goat's milk whose flavor is strongly reminiscent of butterscotch. Oaxacan chocolate and cinnamon-almond ganache cake is dense and rich, and the unusual combination of fresh guava, sweet potato, and ice cream in a sugar syrup is especially refreshing after a spicy main course. Justifiably, the most popular choice is Churros Rellenos, two cajeta-filled fritters soaked in espresso and Kahlua sauce, perfect accompanied by a steaming cup of strong, freshly ground Mexican coffee.
The extraordinary quality of the food is not reflected in the prices - all entrees are $20.00 or less.
The bar stocks nearly two hundred brands of tequila, wine from Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, and a wide variety of Mexican beers, in addition to domestic selections.
If you're looking for a meal totally different from the usual Southwestern or Tex-Mex fare found in the Phoenix area, line up for a table at Barrio Cafe.
Review submitted by: Tom Rizzo (06/11/2005)
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