Calling all Top Chef addicts! Another Top Chef contestant has opened a restaurant in Chicago and it did not let us down. Barrio is the new concept between DineAmic Group (think Siena Taven, Bull & Bear, Bar Siena) and Chef Katsuji Tanabe. Katsuji’s character and charisma comes through in many ways throughout the restaurant but especially in the cocktails’ names.
For our first round of drinks Edwin had the Hot Mezz (left) and I ordered the Pantera Rosa (right). Mine was a house-made cucumber infused vodka with watermelon and lime. Our wonderful waitress described it as light and refreshing and it truly did just that. Now for my mezcal-loving husband, the Hot Mezz brought the smoky flavor along with watermelon, jalapeño, lime, and sage.
The plates at Barrio are meant to be shared similar to tapas. For our first course we ordered the lump crab guacamole and the shrimp cocktail. The shrimp cocktail ended up being one of our favorite things. The crab was sweet, didn’t smell fishy, and paired nicely with the other ingredients. The grapefruit brought sourness, the jicama crunch, and the serrano the perfect amount of spice. Now the shrimp cocktail ended up being our least favorite item. The roasted tomato-habanero sauce and spicy mustard left much to be desired in terms of taste.
For our second course, we ordered the forrest mushroom tacos and the chopped salad. The tacos were, in my opinion, the best item we had. You got a slight hint of earthiness from the mushrooms and truffle oil that paired beautifully with the juice from the lime and that homemade tortilla just rounded things out. Our waitress told us that these tacos were an unspoken favorite of the staff and I can totally see why!
The chopped salad was also very tasty. The avocado brought creaminess to the plate while the corn and radishes brought sweetness and crunch.
For our main course, like we didn’t have enough lol, we ordered the tamarind beef short rib with a side of esquites-style corn. The short ribs were falling off the bone from how tender they were! The grits under the short rib were a perfect compliment to balance out the overall taste. These might not be the corn off the corner street vendor but the flavor was definitely something to brag about. The quest fresco paired with the epazote gave this corn its own unique flavor profile which I appreciated.
To round off our meal, we each ordered a last drink and the tres leches dessert. I ordered the Ring around the Rosé which was refreshing without being overly sweet. I enjoyed having the paleta and allowing it to slowing mix into the rosé. Edwin ordered the Smoke Show once again picking a mezcal drink.
Now, as some of y’all may or might not know, I am a chocoholic! I will always have room for something chocolatey in my life. This time I shocked Edwin when I told him to pick the dessert as I wasn’t feeling the cocoa taco. He decided on the tres leches dessert and I was so surprised with how much I liked it. The cake was moist, the caramel and strawberries brought some sweetness and freshness, and that almond crisp/almond crumb brought the perfect crunch to round out the dessert.
On a side note, while we were there we wanted to see Chef Katsuji but unfortunately he left that day to Cali. Don’t worry, we messaged him on IG and promised him we’d be back when he was there 😉 Luckily, we happened to spot Chef Fabio Viviani, another Top Chef contestant, sitting next to us and I got my fan girl moment lol.
If you’re up for Mexican food with a pan-Latin influence, go check Barrio out!