It was decades ago, but I vividly remember the first time I encountered what is now known among Americans as a “street taco.” It was a taco that I purchased from a street vendor operating a taco cart in Mexico City. I was a college student staying at the Hotel Tejas, which as the time cost $5 US per night for a room. One of the reasons I remember that taco so well was that I wound up that night with food poisoning. It may or may not have been caused by the taco. But even if it was, I nevertheless had just embarked on a lifelong love affair with Mexican-style street tacos. Prior to then, my only relationship with tacos was with the crunchy type sold at Taco Bell and Del Taco – something you’ll never find in Mexico outside of those sorts of franchises.
So, I’m always on the lookout for a good street taco. And recently, I came across a newish taco joint that serves up excellent street-style tacos. It’s called Barrio SLC which, as you might guess, is located in Salt Lake City on 900 South at about 300 East.
Barrio is a well-lit, clean and modern eatery with lots of woody warmth combined with contemporary polished steel decor and wide-screen televisions everywhere you look. It’s an inviting dining spot with vivid splashes of color supplied by fresh flowers, brightly colored pottery, painted skeletons and such. This is not the type of place where you’ll find sombreros and piñatas hanging from the walls and ceiling.
You’ll likely kick off a meal at Barrio SLC with an order of chips and salsa ($3) or chips and guacamole ($8). Both are just fine – there’s a self-serve salsa bar where you can customize your chips – but the chips themselves are a little disappointing and didn’t taste like they were made in-house.
The chips and guacamole are listed under the heading “Not Tacos” on the Barrio menu, which also encompasses chips & ceviche ($9), nachos ($7), and a salad loaded with black beans, pepitas, corn, guacamole, cucumber, pico de gallo, and a choice of tomatillo crema or cilantro-lime vinaigrette ($7).
But alas, we came for tacos. Barrio offers tacos that are a bit more upscale than typical street cart tacos, like the Arrachera taco ($4) which is seared Waygu steak, or the Surf & Turf ($4) which combines seared Waygu with shrimp grilled in butter and garlic. My favorite taco is normally carnitas ($3), which at Barrio is Michoacan-style pork that’s cooked for 12 hours before shredding and serving on soft, warm corn tortillas. Having spent a lot of time in Oaxaca, Mexico, I also have a fondness for mole and the chicken mole negro taco at Barrio is very good. Barrio also does a cochinita pibil taco where the main attraction is pork that’s roasted in banana leaves with sour orange, achiote, cloves and cinnamon. I found it interesting and a little surprising that the restaurant doesn’t have a basic carne asada taco on the menu, nor tacos al pastor which are the mainstay of many taquerias.
I was happy to see that vegetarians aren’t ignored at Barrio, which offers a couple of vegetarian tacos on their menu. There is a Chorizo Vegano taco ($4) made with plant-based chorizo sausage, and the Calabacitas taco ($3.25) which is spiced, sauteed zucchini with onion and corn.
The beverage list at Barrio SLC is considerably more robust than most taquerias and includes a range of beers, tequilas, margaritas, mojitos and more. Non-alcoholic drinks include sodas, jarritos, horchata, fresh limeade with mint and sweet hibiscus tea.
Included on the Barrio menu are a couple of side dishes: a pretty basic side of black beans ($3), and a not-so-basic side of “Street Corn in a Cup” ($4.50). The latter is corn with lime aioli in a bowl topped with cotija cheese and ancho chile powder.
Other tempting menu items include a mini quesadilla for kids ($3), jalapeño poppers ($2.50), and mac & cheese bites ($4). There’s also a bowl of pozole ($4) with hominy, stewed pork, guajillo peppers, and onions, topped with radishes, avocado, sour cream, cabbage, and comes with fresh lime and a handful of chips on the side.
All in all, Barrio SLC is a very good choice for street-style tacos fairly priced. And I like the good vibes and sense of humor that the owners have, extending even to the non-gender specific restroom door which has a sign that reads, “Whatever. Just wash your hands.”
Culinary quote of the week:
“Great art is horseshit. Buy tacos.” — Charles Bukowski
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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