I unabashedly love authentic tacos. I’m thrilled about the recent influx of restaurants in the greater Cincinnati area where I can indulge in my addiction, particularly in Northside. The most recent addition is Barrio Tequileria. It’s a good one, too.
With more than 70 tequilas and a great selection of craft beers, ciders and wine, you could be forgiven for overlooking the wonderful food at Barrio. My new favorite drink is the El Diablo ($9), with El Jimador tequila, fresh lime, crème de cassis and ginger beer. I also sampled the Pomegranate Margarita ($10) and found it lovely. Ask questions of your server. I found ours quite knowledgeable and willing to admit to needing (and getting) more expert beverage help.
Barrio doesn’t offer a huge menu and I consider that a feature, not a bug. Few things irk me more than a restaurant with dozens of food offerings, none of them done well. In the food world, for me, specialization is better than generalization. Barrio does a few things and does them very, very well.
The starter selections (called “antojitos” at Barrio: “little cravings”) include one of the best guacamoles ($5) I have ever tasted. It’s not complicated and the avocado and lime simply shine. The queso fundido (melty cheese; $5) is piping hot, spicy and can be served with chorizo, which I highly recommend.
My favorite antojito, however, is the elote mexicano ($3), grilled corn dusted with chile and served with chipotle mayo and queso cotija (a wonderful Mexican cheese).
Its complex flavors, from piquant smokiness to the mellow smoothness of the cheese, are delicious.
For main courses, you can choose from burritos and tacos in various incarnations. All burritos ($7-$8) come with refried beans (vegetarian), crema fresca (Mexican sour cream), rice, romaine lettuce, pico de gallo and cheese. Fillings range from carne asada, marinated grilled skirt steak, to de hongos, Barrio’s vegetarian burrito. I sampled the pollo burrito with adobo marinated chicken. I would have liked to experience more spiciness, but the burrito was good and rather large — I couldn’t finish it alone.
The tacos are where Barrio wins my heart. From $2.75 to $4 each, every soft corn taco comes with limes to squeeze over and most come with cilantro and onions. Staying away from our usual taco orders, because we’re very predictable and wanted something different, we sampled the cameron ($4; shrimp with radishes and mexican slaw), the hongos ($2.75; portobello mushrooms with cherry tomato, cactus, pickled red onion and cilantro) and the pescado ($4; beer battered whitefish with Napa cabbage and crema fresca). I am not a fan of mushrooms in general, but the hongo taco was quite good.
Cactus is an ingredient I don’t have a lot of experience with, and it was delicious. I loved the pickled red onion, too. The cameron taco was adequate; the best part was the mexican slaw. That was a revelation — crunchy and sweet but also sour. I would eat the slaw alone any day.
I have never had a fish taco that I liked, until now. The pescado taco at Barrio is simply divine. The Napa cabbage must have some sort of other secret ingredient in it (our server either didn’t know or just wasn’t going to spill the beans) because it was amazingly complex. The fish wasn’t greasy or soggy, like fried fish can so often be. The flavors were so crisp and fresh that I ordered a second taco.
Even with all the wonderful antojitos and entrees, we had room for dessert. Barrio currently only offers two: churros ($4) and chocolate crème brulee ($6). The brulee is made with Mexican chocolate and cayenne, and while the flavor was fairly good the texture seemed a bit gummy. The churros, however, are just, in a word, stunning. Perfectly fried, not at all greasy, with just the right dusting of sugar. And the melted chocolate served with the churros is simply to die for. We were all fighting for the last drops and seriously debated getting another order. What I’m saying is, don’t miss out on the churros.
Barrio is a great addition to the Northside taco revolution. They also have a patio (dogs welcome!), movie nights on Sundays, brunch (Sundays and some Saturdays), live music, Taco Thursdays (all tacos $1 off) and Loteria (Mexican bingo with a twist). I predict a long and successful future for Barrio.
Go: 3937 Spring Grove Ave., Northside
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday