Barrio has taken over the former Joy Bistro space. It's a homecoming of sorts for owner Ted Koutsogiannopoulos, who started Joy Bistro before selling it in 2008.
In the years since, Koutsogiannopoulos has opened a gaggle of eateries, including McGugan's , GBK and Aprile Bambina Cucina . Meanwhile, his Loaded Pierogi concept continues to expand in Toronto. This restaurant, like all of Koutsogiannopoulos's establishments feels very neighbourhood oriented. The vibe is relaxed and approachable.
The best feature at Barrio is its east side patio. Here, string lights crisscross overhead and a colourful mural painted by McGugan's manager Tom Mallerman advertises tacos and tequila. There's seating for 100-plus people. A bar, fire pit and the promise of serapes (Mexican blankets) in the cooler months makes the place even more appealing.
The menu from Guadalajara-born chef Manuel Romero opens with tortilla chips and guac' ($8) followed by a collection of hot and cold starters, including a scallop aguachile ($13), whitefish ceviche ($12), quesadillas ($7) and carnitas torta ($11).
I'm happy to see Mexican street corn ($4) on the menu too. Coated in crema, queso cotija and ancho chilis, it's a cheap and cheerful dish I order anytime I see it.
Next up is the watermelon ensalada ($9), which features a refreshing medley of juicy fruit paired with queso cotija, avocado crema and spiced sunflower seeds. Tajin (chili powder) supplied on the side is a welcome DIY addition.
Tacos for $5 each come in six flavours. Battered cod with salsa morita, cabbage and crema is my favourite of the night, but I also try the chicken tinga and chicharron topped carnitas. Barbacoa, chorizo queso and vegetarian corn and pepper tacos will have to wait for another visit.
Summery drinks like margaritas and sangria are practically flying out of the bar. The passion fruit marg ($14) is one of seven variations on offer and this frothy, two-ounce concoction boasts a tangy blend of tequila with peach schnapps, passion fruit juice and lemon.
Beer-wise, find eight taps sourced from local and Mexican labels. Eighteen-ounce pours start at $7 and beer Micheladas go for $9.
Indoor seating is limited to just 60, while the multi-purpose room upstairs can handle overflow as well as private parties.
Photos by Jesse Milns