Barrio Coreano is the fourth and latest addition to the Playa Cabana family of restaurants. As the name suggests, this new 75-seat concept is a mix of Mexican and Korean influences that nods towards its new digs on Bloor in Koreatown.
Keeping with their signature style, owner Dave Sidhu employs an intentionally distressed aesthetic. Exposed brick, miss-matched tile flooring, salvaged neon lighting, bowling alley floors repurposed into wood table tops, rough-hewn metal seating sourced from an Indian cricket stadium. It's an obliging space for casual dinners and raucous nights drinking.
The menu, similar to its sibling restaurants specializes in small plates and sharable snacks. The fusion of flavours is not a first for Toronto, though it's one I'd especially like to see more of. Banh Mi Boys, Jang Bang (R.I.P) and even Grand Electric (who've credited their squid tacos with inspiration from Guu) have all appropriated Asian flavours into this popular street food format.
Here, my first taste is of Grilled Octopus ($5) topped with pickled daikon and pico de gallo over a wasabi-slathered tortilla. Meanwhile, there's also Korean beef, yuzu tuna, chipotle kampungki chicken and spicy carnita varieties sold for $5 an order.
K-Mex Slaw ($12) doesn't sound altogether appetizing and yet somehow, even with the improbable inclusion of cubed cheese... it works. It's a fresh and crunchy mix of rice wine-dressed corn, black beans, jalapeno slivers, crunchy tortilla sticks, pico de gallo, scallions, shredded cabbage, carrots, radish, daikon and cheese.
Up next, Grilled Calamari ($14) served over a vibrant kimchi'd cucumber and diced pear, specked with charred arbol chili pepper.
The bar slings cocktails like Soju Sangria ($8), Kimchi Sours ($9) and Goji Negronis ($9), the last of which is a blend of Tromba tequila, Campari and goji berry vermouth. The beer list ($6-$7) is abbreviated featuring half a dozen Mexican brands like DosXX, Tecate, Sol and Negra Modelo.
Barrio Coreano is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5pm. When packed, they'll send waiting diners to the newly opened Raika Bar around the corner.
Photos my Jesse Milns