Thursday, January 12, 2012

Barrio Urban Taqueria Restaurant Review

Industrial Comfy Chic

Walking into Barrio Urban Taqueria (714 W. Diversey Pkwy, Chicago, IL 60614) is somewhat surprising (in a good way, and the surprises kept coming). I would call it Industrial Comfy Chic, as it masterfully blends exposed ceilings and ductwork, country-chic furniture, along with some street-style art to make a comfortable space to hang out in. Sitting in the front windows (the entire facade of the restaurant is large fenestrated doors), plenty of light and street action made for an interesting perch.

Amazing Artwork!

Dorian Menchaca, the young owner, said that, while Barrio Urban Taqueria is his first restaurant, he's been in the business for his whole life, working or being around several Mexican restaurants his family owned in Chicago's south suburbs. It looks like either some serious money and/or sweat equity have been put into this place. Dorian seemed to do most everything, from greeting guests to serving to moving around the space. Definite pride of ownership.

The bathrooms were impeccable, always a good sign in a restaurant. Too many places ignore this, to their (and their reputation's) peril.

Lunch Entrees

The menu is chock full of options, especially nice to see each lunch entree boasting a vegetarian option. Really a welcoming gesture and not that difficult to do. The wine list is small but serviceable, with my one true disappointment of the meal - the restaurant no longer carries the Campo Noble Airen from Spain that I was looking forward to trying. New varietal score spoiled! The beer list is heavily local, with some alternatives on tap, and plenty of mixed concoctions for those who may want something whipped up. As we had to get back to work post-lunch, we opted for lemonade, which was (surprisingly) not overly sweet, but rather very refreshing.

We started with chips and salsa, fresh tasting chips and a decent though underspiced salsa - could really have used some more kick, in my opinion.

Our appetizer was the Queso Fundido 3 Culturas -- melted chihuahua, gouda, and manchego cheese with choice of ingredients: homemade chorizo, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, roasted poblano peppers and your choice of homemade corn or flour tortillas. We opted for the wild mushrooms and caramelized onions and it was an inspired choice. Great starter and the tiny handmade corn tortillas were tasty as well as cute. Flour tortillas allowed the other ingredients to really shine.
As part of lunch, a small cup/bowl of a Mexican Noodle Soup was offered. I tasted just a bit, decent tomato soup, especially comforting on a winter's day, though I admit it didn't seem overtly Mexican to me. Perhaps with more spice?

  • Sopes (Corn masa boats sautéed to a golden brown) were vegetarian and included mushroom, tomato, onion with roasted corn and epazote topped with queso fresco. If you haven’t had sopes before they are a little Mexican tart -- this was a well-made version, with a good balance between toppings and base. I'm partial to crust, so was happy there was plenty of it.
  • The vegetarian taco was the surprise of the meal. In lieu of a tortilla (though available on request), the mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, apples, red onion, avocado, queso fresco with a balsamic glaze sit atop a Romaine leaf wrap. Alternately cold and warm (strange at first), this is an inspired creation and I would suggest that everyone try at least one.
  • Vegetarian tortas (a Mexican style sandwich on ciabatta bread), featured black bean spread, garnished with lettuce, avocados, tomato and sour cream. Not sure if there was vinegar included, though a tanginess surely suggested it.
    • Not being an avocado fan, I removed them from all the dishes where they appeared. They seemed fresh and were cut in large slices, so easy to remove for someone who didn’t want them.
  • My buddy opted for Skirt Steak and ChickenVerde tostadas -- 2 crispy open faced corn tortilla garnished with black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, queso fresco and sour cream. Served with rice and beans. The rice was in an artful pyramid shape and really added to the cool look of the plate. The only complaint? The blue corn crispy tortillas were really crispy and somewhat difficult to cut, otherwise a tasty option for lunch.

Queso Fundido 3 Culturas, Mexican Noodle Soup, Tres Leches

Dessert was a Pastel de Tres Leches, made with sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk and heavy cream, with the heavy cream also whipped up to use as the topping. Incredibly dense cake, one piece was more than enough for two of us. One thing I'd do is to ditch the artificial looking cherries, though their color (along with the strawberries) added a nice contrast to this otherwise simple-looking dessert.

Overall, I was really impressed with the service, the options, the feel of the restaurant, and especially the prices, which seemed very reasonable for the portion sizes and high quality. I think if the food was punched up with stronger flavors and more heat, this place would need no further improvements.


Barrio Urban Taqueria on Urbanspoon

More info, including hours, menus, and special events, can be found at the Barrio Urban Taqueria website, by liking them on Facebook, and following on Twitter.

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Barrio Urban Taqueria. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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