Since 2002, Barrio Cafe has been dispensing “Comida Chingona” prepared by Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza, the resident “chingona,” or “badass girl.” Sunday brunch is an especially good time to eat at the airy Mexican cafe. Not only is the full menu available, there’s also a special brunch menu and a Flamenco guitarist strumming in the corner.
Tortilla chips are reserved for diners who order guacamole. Instead, we received a basket of bread with a dish of tomatillo, olive, and mild pepper salsa. The bread was nothing special, but I didn’t stop eating the salsa until my spoon scraped the bottom of the dish.
Shrimp Mojo ($12.50) arrived in roasted garlic-wine sauce, sprinkled with crumbled queso fresco (farmers cheese) and served with a pile of fresh pico de gallo. I was surprised to find such fresh shrimp in the desert, and the tangy sauce was a bonus.
One of the most popular Platillos Fuertes is Cochinita Pibil ($17.50), pork that’s slow-roasted for 12 hours with spicy achiote rojo and sour orange until juicy and fork tender. The pork’s then plated with salsa Yucateca, spice-crusted house potatoes, crumbled queso fresco, zucchini, squash and pickled onions. There was even a pair of mini corn tortillas, served hot and excellent vessels for the pork.
Barrio Cafe’s Chile en Nogada ($19.50) was an original take on a classic Mexican dish. A roasted poblano pepper was stuffed with a rich melange of chicken, onions, garlic, pecans, apples, pears and apricots, then plated with a creamy almond sauce and pomegranate seeds. The sweet, salty and spicy dish was another plate-scraper.
Cochinita pibil wasn’t the only dish to arrive with juicy veggies and crusty, chile-rubbed potatoes.
To drink, we ordered a glass of fresh guava juice and the cinnamon-seasoned rice milk called horchata ($5), the latter served in an empty Mexican Coke bottle.
There were other options, but there was never any doubt what to order for dessert. Churros Rellenos de Cajeta de Cabra ($8) were twin goat’s milk caramel-stuffed churros served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramel sauce and sprinkled with candied pecans. To create the fleeting illusion that the dessert was actually healthy, there were even a few fresh strawberries. Un-surprisingly, the sugar-coated caramel pastries were the best churros I’ve eaten.
After eating at Barrio Cafe, I can see why chef Silvana Salcido Esparza’s homestyle Mexican cooking was profiled in national publications like The New York Times and Food & Wine. I’ve eaten cochinita pibil and chiles en nogada many times, but rarely have they been so satisfying.