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3937 Spring Grove Ave Cincinnati, OH 45223
When I read the details of Barrio Tequileria on the evil facebook my interest really peaked. Lots of interesting live music with a super cool band list, open until 2 am, Classic Jazz Brunch, Sunday Night Movie on the Patio, and not to mention... “Garage Rock Taco Fest” (July 4th) doesn’t that sound awesome! I was geared up for this review. Plus I have been addicted to real deal tacos since 1998.
Walking in, the room is dark, bathed in red & black, it conjures up subconscious burlesque images. Walk on past the bar, towards the music and you come out on the cozy patio. It reminded me of a great bar patio I was at in Key West (don’t remember the name). The eclectic decor and lighting was comfortable, inviting, laid back. So far I was diggin’ Barrio.
Needing a place to sit and seriously study Barrio’s habits I went back into the dining room. A sleeveless tattooed server greeted and sat me but never returned. I intentionally sat in the seat close to the service POS for best service. Servers passed by constantly, yet none would make eye contact or acknowledge us whatsoever.
Reacting to our obvious frustration, a manager (I assume) rushed over with menus and water, instructing a young server to take our table. Had he not noticed.... we would have been so neglected we would have walked out pissed off altogether. I’m certain of it. Service here needs serious Attention Training.
The menu is sweet and simple. Burritos & tacos, appetizers and lots of drinks. We ordered all the tacos, except the tongue (Gringos I know), one carne burrito, chips & cheese and a chicken quesadilla. Plus, one pomegranate and one tamarind margarita.
The chips came out with a side of bubbling cheese. Screamingly hot. After a brief rest, we tore into it. Oil floated to the top. Cheese formed stringy lumps and became unmanageable. Every passing minute, more oil was pooling. This dish needs serious work to have a creamy consistency. Jesus, it’s just chips & cheese! How hard could it be?
Next came the tacos and the quesadilla. The quesa was so-so. Fresh yes. Flavorful? Kinda. Nothing special. The tacos are the star attraction though and overall they were good. Especially the carne asada. Beautiful steakhouse flavor on the meat, which was cooked medium and quite perfect.
The Shrimp tacos were tasty, but petite. Well seasoned shrimp but the sauce overwhelmed the spice completely. Nevertheless it was decent.
The chicken taco was fresh and pretty. The subtle seasoning was way too mildly spiced for my tastes. It had wonderful guacamole.
The pork was nearly the same. It featured a nice “pot roast” flavor I found attractive.
The fish taco looked unusual as it was breaded fish. This one also shined with brighter flavors and a nice crunch from both the breading and the slaw. A clean finish, I liked this one best of all.
Overall the ingredients and presentation are on par. Freshness rules and anything less would be out of place. The issue is nearly everything is under-seasoned (by authentic standards). The flavors are good, just not necessarily Mexican. I also would prefer two tortillas per taco the way they are usually served. One tortilla can easily come apart on you with a quickness. I also prefer my torts are grilled until they puff (with charred edges too). Barrios are steamed or steam grilled and robs them of the great grilled tortilla flavor.
I’ve devoured hundreds of tacos when I lived in Arizona and Vegas and I know the “grill” on the tortillas is a thing of pride with the Mexican taco joints there. Some do it in oil, others lard, others meat fat. All different, but they all are grilled. The single steamed tortilla tastes & feels cheap.
After the tacos came out, the drinks came out (way wrong order). The $10 a piece drinks tasted great with their fresh juices and heavy pour of tequila. Ten bucks great? Not so certain.
After we killed all the tacos and apps and drinks the young server came back and asked if we needed anything else? I put her on the spot hard by saying “No I guess just the check and the carne asada burrito that never came out” (she suggested it even). A look of “Oh sh!t!” flushed her face and I laughed. She was ready to cash us out and didn’t even notice we had not received all of our order. Sad sad sad.
Between sitting for 15-20 waiting on a server and then 15-20 again waiting for a check (maybe due to the burrito to go) I had plenty of time to take a close look at my surroundings. Chip crumbs & spills on the floor, thick dust on the chair rails, spider webs, sticky tables that seemed to be wiped down with no cleaner and a very dirty rag (moldy rag smell). Many tables were left bussed but not wiped down all evening. All this, is server territory.
I get the image the owner is a very talented, creative, ambitious person. No doubt well liked and laid back. I suspect the servers are all cool work friends who love their job and therefore have no pressure from the top to keep the cleanliness up to standards. Slackers! That’s what happens when you a have “cool” manager. Someone has to put the hammer down here.
Barrio Tequileria is a wonderful concept. It’s alive and screaming with personality. It’s inviting and comfortable. It’s everything a boring corporate joint like Chipotle is not. I thought the seasonings were all too far towards the mild side for me but you can always add hot sauce. I love the freshness and the creativity. I also appreciate the effort in the fresh juice drink mixes. Not to mention the exceptional music. I would be here often if I lived nearby.
Sure they suffer from the lack of focused service and standard cleanliness (and the sleeveless thing is a no no folks). All are server responsibilities, as is waiting on guests. Servers can be trained or replaced. And when enough customers bitch or walk out, they will be.
Overall, the Barrio is well worth patronizing. I highly recommend it to any taco lover, music fan, or curious foodie. Bad service is no reason not to go, that’s easy to deal with... just tip accordingly (or not at all), they’ll get the picture.
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