Besides being an integral part of this neighborhood in Phoenix, Chef Silvana has created a place of legend with the original Barrio Café. Although she has now expanded to Barrio Queen in Scottsdale and even offers samples of her treasures to travelers at Sky Harbor Airport, it was a treat to be able to visit the place where it all began.
Barrio Café is not big, nor is it ostentatious with a ritzy location. Instead it is in Phoenix on 16th street at the entrance of an urban neighborhood and surrounded by strip malls with local businesses. The place is decorated in art by local artists which rotates every few months, showing Chef Silvana’s focus on promoting the people in our community. In addition, the exterior is covered in clever, colorful, and creative murals as part of the Calle 16 Mural Project, which celebrates the vibrant culture and Mexican heritage of the area. (for more on this check out our Links section!)
No reservations are accepted and seating is strictly on a first come, first serve basis. This means you need to get there early if you have a large group because Barrio Café has a reputation for magic and it is only growing with every passing day.
They do have a Happy Hour with super great discounts on their margaritas and Buck any Tacos but the downside is that it is only from 3-5pm on Tuesday thru Friday.
We tried a few different margarita options such as the Flaca (skinny marg with organic silver tequila, agave, and lime); the signature Lowrider (Don Julio Blanco with lime and Cointreau), and the Sergio el Suave (Milagro Anejo with pineapple, lime, agave, cilantro, and candid jalapeno). Warning these margs are smoooooth and go down like water but they pack a punch!
We started with the Guacamole del Barrio and Esquites (similar but not the same to the signature dish of Elote). The table-side guacamole was insane. So fresh with large chunks of avocado instead of just green mash. A special seasonal treat of pomegranate seeds were also included which gave it a nice bit of sweetness. Many of us also ordered the iconic dish of Chef Silvana which is the Chiles en Nogada (roasted poblano pepper filled with chicken, apple, pear, dried apricot, and pecans topped with almond cream sauce and cilantro, queso fresco, and pomegranate seeds). This dish was delicious! The sauce was much sweeter than expected and if you tried the pepper with just the filling it had a nice soft spice that could easily stand on its own without too much sauce.
We also tried a couple different Pescado del Dia since it was wild Alaskan Halibut; Veracruz style with onion, tomato, and black and green olives; and del Mar topped with shrimp, scallops, crab, chorizo, onion and roasted poblano. Yum!
Bill absolutely raved about his Enchiladas Suizas red onion, cilantro, Mexicana crema, and topped with chorizo. He said the chorizo was so perfectly done and not too greasy. It was so good he HAD to finish it all and left with “painfully full” tummy.
Don who is our resident Mole connoisseur ordered the Pollo en Mole and tried both the sweeter black and the spicier red. Both passed the Don test with a thumb’s up! Fred K had the center cut bone-in pork chop with chile sauce. He said it was cooked perfectly and the sauce was a sweeter chile sauce, which he enjoyed very much.
For dessert we sampled the Flan de mi Mami (traditional flan topped with candied pecans) and the Churros Rellanos de Cajeta de Cabra (churros filled with goat’s milk caramel and served with vanilla bean ice cream, more caramel, and candied pecans.) Whoo – talk about sweet but rich in flavor! But I wouldn’t expect anything less from a chef that started in a family Mexican bakery.
There is live music on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, as well as on Sunday afternoon. When we were there on a Saturday evening we enjoyed an upbeat duo with a guitar (and perhaps a conga drum?). Either way, they were fun, upbeat, and they graciously sang Happy Birthday to our very own Fred S. J
There was so much riding on this visit for me because of all the great things I had heard about it already and I am so pleased that they lived up to my every expectation! I can now say that I was able to enjoy the Barrio Café experience.