02 April 2011

Lunch at Barrio Lowertown, St. Paul, MN


That was the involuntary exclamation of a colleague after taking a bite of a grilled skirt steak taco at Barrio Lowertown.

“Whoa,” I said. “That must be one heckuva taco.” I think I must have made him self conscious, because he immediately down-played it.BarrioSP2

“No, no,” he said, “The pork carnitas taco was good too.” He’d already eaten half of that before taking a bite of the beef taco. I’ll take him at his word, that he couldn’t really say which taco was better. But I’ll stand by my journalistic standards that it was the beef taco that evoked a verbal response.

That little vignette capsulizes my enthusiasm for Barrio. The lunch that my co-worker and I had with our colleague was absolutely a culinary delight.

The ironic aspect for me is that I thought I’d never eat at the St. Paul incarnation of Barrio. I mean … why? Cucina del Barrio is right in my neighborhood. And for a sense of the original tequila bar ambiance, it’s much closer to head downtown Minneapolis than trek half way to Wisconsin for the Lowertown joint. But when my co-worker and I talked about where to have a lunch meeting in downtown St. Paul, Barrio just seemed like the logical choice.BarrioSP1

The place wasn’t very busy at noon on a Monday. I hope that’s not a bad sign. We had our choice of tables, and chose a high-top by the window overlooking Mears Park. Our server told us that when the weather gets nice, the windows open up and they set up tables on the sidewalk for a genuine al fresco dining experience.

While I’m on the topic of service, we had fabulous servers … two of them. They were friendly, accommodating, and prompt. I suppose that had something to do with the fact that the place was not busy. Still, they could have been bored and inattentive. Somehow, I don’t think either of them would be that way.

While our colleague’s steak taco earned the most verbal display of appreciation, the rest of the food was outstanding as well. My co-worker had a grilled steak salad. It had tomato wedges, tortilla strips instead of croutons, a generous serving of steak, and avocados with a chipotle-mango vinaigrette. I didn’t taste it, but it looked fabulous.BarrioSP3

My co-worker and I also split a bowl of corn chowder. It was rich and creamy with queso fresco cheese, fresh kernels of corn and roasted poblano peppers. It was drizzled with infused oil. Delicious.

I ordered mushroom quesadillas. On the plate were four quesadillas filled with an earthy mushroom filling, grilled and then served with cheese sauce, shredded romaine, radishes sliced paper thin, and jalapeno slices.

The food was fantastic, and it reminded me why I am such a fan of Barrio’s multiple incarnations.

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