I’m just going to come right out and say it. I’m not that crazy about Mexican food. To anybody who knows me and reads this, about now they’re asking “Then why in the hell have I been dragged to so many Mexican restaurants every time we go out?!”
It’s the margaritas. Seriously, if I’m doing a repeat visit to a Mexican joint, it’s because I’ve discovered a fabulous sweet and sour concoction at a great price and the reason I’m dragging you there is because I wasn’t really hungry, I just wanted a tasty cocktail and a side of something to keep me from falling out of my chair when we leave. There’s one reason I can’t visit Mexican restaurants and simply open myself to a dining adventure that could result in me trying a variety of new flavors and textures that could change my world of Mexican cuisine as I know it. That reason is coriander, more commonly known as its Spanish title, cilantro. Fear of that dreaded herb has kept me from enjoying tons of Mexican foods because it essentially tastes like a cup of dishwater was added to anything the green flakes touched. It’s just.that.bad.
However, I do love the smoky, spicy flavors as well as the basic ingredients—tomatoes, a variety of cheeses, beans (black or brown, but most frequently brown as chefs seem to love how the green cilantro leaves look freckled on the black), fluffy house-made tortillas, and grilled meats seasoned properly. Salsas, guacamoles, and all soups need thorough examination before consumption.
It’s easier to just stick to the cocktail. Imagine my horror when I discovered several cocktail menus with cilantro. Really? Is nothing sacred? I’d heard that Barrio in Capitol Hill served great margaritas and that their food was….. I didn’t really pay attention after “great margaritas.”
The place definitely has it for stylish design and decor. The huge wooden door and the hundreds of burning candles are gorgeous.
It doesn’t get more bona fide than looking over into the prep area and seeing tortillas being patted out and grilled. Barrio has great tortillas.
Happy Hour margarita ($6) and guacamole made to order ($5). The margarita is perfect, nicely tart and sweet (no salted rim for me). Definitely worth the visit.
The guacamole was surprisingly bland. While I avoid cilantro, I’m a firm believer in the jalapeño, both the pickled and the chipotle. I don’t think much of anything other than mushed avocados, a few onions, and a sprinkling of tomatoes with the inevitable cilantro leaf were present. James thought it to be bland and mentioned he wouldn’t order it again.
The yucca fries with chipotle ketchup ($3) were awesome. I could’ve stopped with the margarita and fries at Happy Hour and called it good. I’m glad we didn’t, because dinner was great, but I could definitely make Barrio a happy hour choice when I’m in the Capitol Hill area.
Friends joined us and one of them ordered the michelada de barrio ($6). Drinks with the tomato juices aren’t my bag, but she seemed to like it.
I had the salmon with Yukon golds, which I believe was a special since it’s not on the menu. The fish was cooked beautifully and the potatoes in a creamy sauce had not one hint of cilantro (I had asked the server to keep the cilantro away from my plate, but those requests aren’t always successful). Delicious meal, I’d order it again. Only problem was I couldn’t really work in the fresh tortillas as the combo wasn’t conducive to a taco. Next time.
James had the braised short ribs ($19). The meat was so tender, the bones must have fallen off on the way to the table. After trying a bite, I thought the vegetables had somewhat of a gas taste to them, which happens a lot with zucchini and squash because they’re so easily flavored by the way they’re prepared. However, the sauce was smokily delicious.
This is pretty much the same dish that appears on their brunch menu, the breakfast cazuela ($14). Egg, chorizo, potatoes, and manchego.
Smoky pork in cazuela ($15). There’s raisin and almonds in there–perfect dish for those tortillas.
Since it’s located on Capitol Hill, it goes without saying that the parking is iffy, but it’s worth the trouble for at least one visit. The service is good, the margaritas were tasty, and at the very least, you’ve got to see all of those candles.