El Barrio

April 08, 2011
El Barrio is a restaurant on East Hastings featuring Latin American cuisine in a casual setting. The place looked kind of shabby, but the food was surprisingly high-quality and well-presented. We started off with an appetizer of patatas ($9.95), deep fried potatoes tossed in aioli or chipotle sauce. I opted for aioli as I was worried that chipotle would be too spicy. There was less sauce than I had anticipated, but the potato was fried well and tasted great with the creamy aioli.

We were looking at "a la plancha" dishes for the entree, which means the food is grilled on a hot metal plate. We originally wanted to order the tiger prawns, but changed our minds when the waiter told us they had bison a la plancha ($16.95) in lieu of the carne (beef) a la plancha on the menu. Due to lower fat and cholesterol content, the texture of bison meat is a lot denser than beef. It also tastes slightly sweeter and has a stronger meat flavour due to higher levels of iron.

The bison was served with 4 corn tortillas, guacamole, chipotle and salsa. The tortillas were wrapped in a towel to keep them nice and hot. Details like this really make me appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the preparation. I didn't find the salsa very special, but I was impressed by the guacamole and chipotle. I was used to the plain green guacamole made almost entirely of avocado sold in supermarkets everywhere. This guacamole had diced tomatoes and onions that gave it a much fuller flavour, and redefined my thoughts of what guacamole tastes like. I tried wrapping the bison meat inside the tortilla and found that they tasted better separately because the corn flavour was too strong and covered the delicate sweetness of the meat.

I ordered the pollo en mole ($15.95) as our 2nd entree. Pollo means chicken and mole is a chili sauce with a hint of chocolate which is what tempted me to try this dish. The chicken breast was free-range and served with sauteed bell pepper strips, mashed beans and Mexican rice. The chicken had already been sliced into pieces for easier serving - another detail that was much appreciated. The chili chocolate sauce was glistening-brown with a smooth and velvety texture. It tasted great with the tender chicken breast and the soft fluffy rice.

The desserts were all quite expensive with prices up to $10. I ordered the most expensive one on the menu: the organic flourless chili chocolate cake ($9.95) served warm with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream. The cake was made with almond meal, organic chocolate and 2 types of chili peppers. The portion was small given the price, but it was delicious. The texture of the cake was like a very light and airy brownie with a spicyness that builds up. The combination of warm chocolate cake, cold vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries and raspberry coulis was just perfect. Was it worth $10? Maybe not, but personally I think it was worth trying.

El Barrio Restaurante Latino on Urbanspoon

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