El Barrio is one of Five Points’ newest restaurants, with a cute whitewashed exterior, multi-colored Adirondack chairs and a large outdoor seating area. However, there’s more to a great summer eatery than the scenery.
El Barrio has a small yet expertly tailored menu to choose from, including appetizers like the classic chip and queso combo and Street Corn Fritters.
The Red & Black sampled all of the restaurant’s tacos. Tacos are the only entrée option on the menu, but the six specialty options are anything but boring. El Barrio offers three different shell types, including the classic flour tortilla, a more traditional corn option and a lettuce wrap fit you have dietary restrictions or are just looking for a healthier option.
The Blackened Cauliflower taco is meat-free, but any of the tacos can be made vegetarian-friendly by substituting the meat for black beans. Most of the tacos are allergen friendly.
The tacos range in price from $3 to $3.50, and each can be upgraded to a rice or salad bowl for an up-charge. During the happy hour special, which runs each day from 3-6 p.m., tacos are only $2.75.
However, the most important thing is how they taste. To help you have the best dining experience at El Barrio, here they are ranked them from most to least impressive.
1. Creole Shrimp
The Creole Shrimp taco is the only seafood option on the menu, and it features grilled shrimp, shaved cabbage, remoulade sauce and jalapeños. Be forewarned, this dish does have a kick to it, but it’s worth it for the burst of flavor that accompanies the spice. The remoulade sauce is delicious. Consider ordering an extra side of it if you get the rice or salad bowls.
Our only critique of this taco, which is a running theme throughout, is that the cabbage and jalapeño toppings were overused and at risk of overpowering the focus of the dish. Though they were nice additions, these garnishes were distracting and some needed to be picked out to taste the other great favors present in the taco.
A close runner-up for best taco is the Barbacoa taco. This taco contains barbacoa, a type of shredded barbeque brisket, roasted corn salsa and cotija cheese. The meat in this taco made it stand out, as the beef was flavorful and extremely tender. The salsa was also tasty and complimented the beef, while the cheese had a nice subtle taste. Unlike several of the other options, this taco was simple and had limited toppings, which made it a more appealing option than those with more adventurous flavor combinations.
3. Chicken Pastor
The Chicken Pastor taco is sure to be a favorite of those who enjoy the classic sweet and savory combination of pineapple on pizza. The Chicken Pastor contains grilled chicken, pineapple salsa and avocado. Of the two sweet and savory taco options on the menu, the Chicken Pastor is definitely the stronger option. The pineapple salsa isn’t overwhelming, so even those who don’t love pineapple could easily pick out the larger pieces and still enjoy the dish. The avocado added extra substance to the taco but could have served its purpose better as a guacamole.
4. Mojo Pork Carnitas
The Mojo Pork Carnitas taco was the worst offender in overdoing its ingredients. It features slow-roasted mojo pork, shaved cabbage and Mexican white sauce. This taco felt like it could’ve just been a cabbage taco, as large chunks completely obscured any of the other parts underneath. However, after taking a bite, there was a good bit of pork in the taco, but it wasn’t very flavorful. The Mexican white sauce wasn’t visible and either didn’t have a strong flavor or not enough was used to taste over the other two ingredients.
5. Crispy Chicken
This taco features an interesting Southern twist that ultimately underwhelmed. The Crispy Chicken taco contains fried chicken, red pepper and jicama slaw as well as jalepeños. Taco meat is flavorful and well-seasoned, but the fried chicken just didn’t bring that necessary punch. This might’ve been counteracted by a good sauce, but the only strong flavor in the taco came from a large heap of jalepeños on top. This made the dish too spicy, and didn’t add much else. The one upside of the Crispy Chicken taco was the slaw. Nothing like conventional coleslaw, it was made with jicama, a potato-like vegetable, and helped temper the overwhelming taste of the jalepeños.
6. Blackened Cauliflower
The Blackened Cauliflower taco was an ambitious attempt at a South Asian fusion taco, but it ended up being a sweet and savory mess. This taco has roasted sweet potatoes, crispy chickpeas and coconut curry. The blackened cauliflower had an odd mushy consistency. The kick of spiciness the curry brought was nice, but the coconut flavour combined with the sweet potatoes made the dish overwhelmingly sugary.