Sunday, November 29, 2009

Back from a Hiatus

Barrio Cafe
2814 N. 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ

I have been sans taco for weeks. Evanston is not home to many taco-serving venues and I have not yet ventured beyond the town's limits.

However, as Thanksgiving rolled around, I traveled to Phoenix, AZ to celebrate the holiday with my family. Knowing that Arizona is closer to Mexico than Illinois, I expected to find some good food in the Southwest.

For dinner we headed to Barrio Cafe, a small restaurant located in a strip mall in Phoenix. The walls were adorned with modern portraits by, what I assume to be, a local artist. The feeling was authentic and the statement "Please conserve water, drink tequila" that was added to each page of the menu made me confident that the night would bring good fun and good food.

We split the Quesadilla de Camaron Borracho (drunken shrimp) as an appetizer. The 4 small corn tortilla were topped with melted Oaxacan cheese and queso de cabra (goat cheese). The flavor of the shrimp, sauteed in tequila and lime, was well-balanced throughout the dish. And it was the perfect appetizer to share. My only complaint is on account of my laziness -- the shrimp were deveined and shelled, but the tail was still on therefore I had to remove mid-course. Not a deal breaker, however!

For my main course, I split the tacos de tinga de pollo (tinga chicken) and tacos de cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork) with my sister's boyfriend, Ben. The chicken was much spicier than I expected and a bit smoky tasting. This spice was overwhelming and detracted from the taste of the avocado, tomato, and cheese on the taco. I was not as satisfied with the chicken as the pork. The pork had a more balanced flavor and I was able to appreciate all of the ingredients put into the taco, especially the delicious and soft corn tortillas. Also, because the pork was less "wet" it was easier to eat than the chicken. The tacos dishes came with 4 tacos each and after 2 1/2 I was too full to keep going.

The highlight of the meal was the tableside guacamole. Prepared with pomegranate seeds and blended only slightly to retain the distinct flavor of each ingredient, the chunky consistency of the guac hit the spot and I kept wanting more.

For my first experience with Southern Mexican/Arizona inspired cuisine, I was a happy camper. Plus, the menu is extensive and there were many dishes I would go back to try!