Is this it? Cool, this place looks awesome. I look over my shoulder at my brother-in-law, sitting in the backseat. I cant tell if hes being serious or sarcastic. You might indeed wonder what youre in for as you pull into Mi Barrios tiny parking lot. The boxy restaurant sits at the run-down corner of Boulevard and Memorial Drive, between a check-cashing place and a vacant lot. Its painted glow-in-the-dark peach.
I raise an eyebrow. "I'm serious. I can tell this place is going to be good." The boy has a point. I've come to realize that the sketchier a place looks from the outside, the better your chances of finding the real deal. And folks, Mi Barrio is the real deal.
Once Upon a Time in Mexico: Mi Barrio plays that wonderful trick of transporting you to another country when you step over the threshold. Mexican families and groups of young single men populate the clutter of tables, mariachi music competes for your listening attention with the protests of a distraught woman in a Mexican soap opera on the giant-screen TV, and dusty shelves hold bottles of tequila and colorful knickknacks. Chips and mellow salsa are delivered to the table post-haste, followed by Mexican beers and chilled mugs. Orders are taken in a flurry, and as soon as it's ready, food begins to flow out of the kitchen. Guacamole is served with just a little salt and lime juice. It's more smooth than chunky, which makes it a lot easier to scoop with delicate, crisp tortilla chips. Those who prefer their guac chunky aren't forgotten, though. It arrives with ramekins of chopped onion, cilantro and pickled jalapeños on the side to mix in if so desired.
Bite Your Tongue: "These are nothing like the gorditas at Taco Bell," my husband commented as he bit into a steaming packet of shredded beef, beans, rice and tomato. Thank goodness for that. Gorditas look a little like pita pockets, but here the container is a fat corn tortilla that's been fried on a griddle, split in half and stuffed with filling. The regular tacos are something special, too. Crispy, handmade shells overflow with aromatic stewed pork, shredded lettuce and sour cream. It's not what you're used to, and that's a good thing. Much of what's served here will be familiar to non-Mexican patrons, but there are some items that haven't quite yet made it onto the standard Tex-Mex menu. I passed up the menudo (a soup made of tripe and hominy), but couldn't resist the tongue tacos. The tongue had a pleasant beefy flavor and had been stewed until it was good and tender. If you come by on a Saturday, you can try Mi Barrio's version of posole, the wonderful pork and hominy stew that serves as Mexico's national hangover cure.
Enchilada Epiphany: Enchiladas were another happy surprise, totally unlike the mushy, over-sauced specimens I'm used to seeing. There's no sauce at all on Mi Barrio's enchiladas, just lettuce, a drizzle of crema (Mexican sour cream) and a generous handful of queso fresco on top of fresh corn tortillas stuffed with spiced shredded chicken. The flavors are fresh and unadulterated -- I may never look at enchiladas the same way again. A chile relleno, batter-fried and oozing melted cheese, definitely makes the list of most artery-clogging meal I've had all week. Pass the Lipitor -- I'm going in for seconds.