In Michigan, I was introduced to some incredible food experiences as a young adult. Rattlesnake Club, Les Auters, and most especially Pontiac’s Chimayo invoke vivid memories of flavor-filled meals with friends and family. The owner/chef of Chimayo was great at including numerous nuanced flavors in one inviting dish.
In November, those memories flooded back as I sat amongst gleeful guests at the community table surrounding a fire pit at the soft opening of Barrio Bistro downtown. Suddenly, conversation begins and strangers become friends. A genuine sense of community is felt on this night.
Gregarious owner Kelly Gomez had invited me days earlier. Joy filled the air. Guests dressed UP, not casually, for this special event. Brother Joe reminded us that food is what brings us together. The building received a traditional native cleansing and blessing with sage and feathers. Prayer and singing filled the air, including two songs of the mountains – here and in Mexico.
The spacious restaurant includes a bar area, private dining room and lounge seating. Native art graces the walls. The quickest opening I have witnessed – ten weeks – from start to her grand opening!
The restaurant shares “contemporary Native American cuisine grounded in traditional roots.” Chef Eduardo Leon uses foods from our native desert and modernizes recipes of the Yaqui and T’Ohono people.
The excitement of the evening was that you didn’t know what main entree you would receive. Whatever came out of the kitchen next was yours! Diners feasted on a three course meal.
Each of us fed on a salad where nopalitos were front and center. My entree was a tender (off the bone) prickly pear beef spare rib, with calabacitas, tepary beans and pico. At first taste, my memories of Chimayo came back! So many different flavors and textures in one dish. It was divine. Dessert was a roasted corn and poblano creme brulee. Again – absolutely divine – not overly sweet, with just the right bite. It was incredibly delicious. Neighbors on either side of me were equally raving about their dishes.
In the plethora of burgers and pizza, Barrio Bistro is a welcome addition to downtown dining. This is a place the Gomez family, and Tucsonans, can be proud of. Thanks, Kelly, for bringing your dream to life!
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