By Dane Feldman
Photos by Dane Feldman.
In the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side sits Barrio Chino, a highly rated Mexican restaurant in an area filled to the brim with both hip and solid eateries.
I stumbled upon Barrio Chino by sheer accident. I was with a few friends and we were heading to Mission Cantina just a few blocks over, but we were early and the doors hadn’t opened yet. So, we walked around to kill some time and found ourselves standing in front of Barrio Chino on Broome Street wondering why in the hell we hadn’t seen this place sooner.
The restaurant serves both lunch and dinner and the menus are not large, but the selections still vary enough that I found myself torn between several items.
Our table started with chips and guacamole and I have to say that this was most impressive. The guacamole was chunky just the way I like it and the chips were fantastic. The homemade tortilla chips were crisp, thick, and deliciously salty.
I was close to ordering the calamari tacos (sauteed calamari with guajillo chile sauce and avocado salsa), but when I saw that an order of three tacos ($10) is rather small, I decided instead to order from the platos grandes, or large plates, section.
The enchiladas verdes stood out to me instantly. The green enchiladas are filled with shredded chicken and Oaxacan cheese and topped with queso fresco. The enchiladas are also served with black beans, which was a big deciding factor for me. It’s rare that I’ll eat Mexican food without a side of black or refried beans.
So, of course, I ordered the enchiladas verdes. I inhaled my food. The flavor pairings were perfect; the sauce was just a bit tart as is traditional for green enchiladas.
I did also try the enchiladas de mole (chef’s mother’s secret recipe mole sauce with chicken, queso fresco, crema Mexicana, onions, and lettuce inside, served with black beans). The mole was some of the spiciest mole I’ve had anywhere, but it managed to maintain the cocoa flavor perfectly.
Guacamole and hibiscus margarita.
Frankly, Barrio Chino’s drinks menu had me at hello. This place does not mess around when it comes to margaritas. Patrons can order traditional lime, but why do that when there’s jalapeno lime to try? Aside from that, patrons can also find habanero grapefruit, hibiscus, tamarind, and pineapple on the list, among others.
I went for the hibiscus and was completely blown away. Just the right amount of tart and sweet come together in this one in a way that is almost dangerous. Drinking just one at a place like this isn’t easy.
Thankfully, the bar also offers beer, micheladas, and cheladas. I went for a chelada with a Pacifico and was greeted with about a half cup of fresh squeezed lime juice to go with my beer. This is an absolutely fantastic way to finish a meal at Barrio Chino.
The restaurant itself is quite small, but in the spring and summer the floor to ceiling windows open out so that tables can be perched right at the edge. Thanks to this, the restaurant feels cozy in a way that isn’t claustrophobic and, in fact, paints quite a lovely old New York picture in a neighborhood that has changed so drastically in recent past.
The tables seem to turn at an average pace, so no groups were waiting too long even though the restaurant is small, but because there were consistently at least two groups waiting to be seated, we worried that we’d be rushed out. However, the wait staff was extremely friendly, attentive, and patient with us. We took our time, but didn’t feel at all as if we had overstayed our welcome.
Overall, Barrio Chino owns up to the hype. It may be a popular spot in an even more popular neighborhood, but a nice atmosphere, great drinks, and good food helps the restaurant earn—and keep–its stripes.