Saturday, May 1, 2010

Comida Chingona - Barrio Cafe Phoenix

Dr Desert Flower and I went to Barrio Cafe in downtown Phoenix Friday night after she got home from work. DDF had heard about it from her friend & esteemed research colleague Kendall who had enjoyed taking dinner there the night before. Either we would need to drive 15 miles to Arrowhead in the NW of the city, or drive 15 miles to downtown - we headed East.

Initial impressions upon driving up to the Barrio Cafe, honestly concerned me. Lots of road construction obscured the front of the building, and the mini-mall across the street had a variety of vagrants, addicts, and professional street people hanging around it. Not really a "family friendly" neighborhood at first glance. We drove around to the back side of the tiny cafe, and found a small parking lot, where I was able to wedge the car.

The place was packed, at 8pm. A 3 piece band was playing, the small bar area jammed with patrons, and the wait staff (all dressed in black with the slogan "Comida Chingona" on their T-shirts) moving busily around the narrow aisles, serving food, taking orders, cleaning tables. One song later, we were efficiently seated by our friendly host. Margarita for DDF and Corazon on the rocks for me, arrived in no time. GUACAMOLE CASERO, COCHINITA PIBIL, and ENCHILADAS SUIZAS were ordered.

Now, I gotta tell you... I've never liked guacamole. I don't know if it's the baby-food texture of it, or the "meaty" flavor coming from the avocado, or the feeling it leaves on the roof of my mouth... but I've never been a fan. 2 minutes later, our cordial waiter wheeled up a table cloth covered cart with bowls of jalapenos, cranberries, cilantro, onions, salt (and 2 other bowls I don't recall). He sliced a fresh avocado in about 2 seconds, removing the massive seed, and proceeded to make the guacamole in front of us, flavoring it as requested by DDF. He sets the bowl on the table next to the home made tortilla chips, and I curiously take a taste. WOW! Delicious! We cleaned out the bowl in a few minutes, and shortly thereafter, the main dishes arrived. Flavorful, exquisite, in a word, "amazing". The best Mexican food I've had in Phoenix, perhaps the best Mexican food I've had in the USA - the Monterrey MX dishes I've had in 2000 and 2001 were mouth watering. Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza cooks up some marvelous dishes. The wait staff is friendly, fast, efficient, working as a well organized, unified team - an cohesive organism, in synchronous with their customers' needs. It's a wonderful dining experience. Zagats had a favorable rating plaque in the front as well - for those people who care about such things.

Stuffed, we declined an offer to look at the desert menus... and then upon second consideration, as the waiter to make a Flan to-go, along with the rest of DDF's enchiladas that she couldn't finish - and which, before I went low carb, I would have wolfed down for her... but now, I was stuffed as well eating my moderately sized plate of slow roasted pork. At home an hour later, watching Real Time on HBO, and drinking fresh squeezed organic lemon juice spiked vodka martinis, we enjoyed the creamy "flan de mi mami". mmmmmm

I highly recommend you try the Barrio Cafe. Park around the back - you don't need to bring your Glock. The neighborhood's not that bad, and all the parking areas are clean, nicely mural-ed and well lit, though a large SUV won't fit in the narrow parking spaces. Who would want to drive a massive SUV around Phoenix anyways? If you come visit us in Phoenix, and you want to try delicious Mexican food, we'll take you there. Our apologies to Joe M for taking him to the Torta Rica cafe close to our home for the bland, lackluster Mexican meal last time he visited here - Torta Rica is now closed.

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