Review: Barrio Queen, or Handmaiden?

Barrio Queen offers more than 20 types of tacos, including the nopal y chile verde tacos. Photo by Alex Forestier.

As a Mexican food lover, I was naturally anticipating my first visit to Chef Silvana Esparza’s newest creation, Barrio Queen. Said anticipation was quickly dashed, however, when I realized how incredibly overhyped the restaurant has been. Barrio Queen has potential, but currently, the food is no more than “pretty good,” and the desserts and service are positively sub-par.

In a city with culinary gems such as FnB and St. Francis (the former lying directly across from Esparza’s eatery), “pretty good” is both disappointing and often a waste of a meal. I don’t mean to imply that every dish at Barrio Queen is lackluster; this is certainly not the case. The mole (a dish which I am powerless to resist) is excellent, if not a smidge sweet for my personal palette.

Some of the tacos (several of the more than 20 offered – more on the size of the menu to follow) are uniquely delicious. Both the steak, bleu cheese and huitlacoche and chorizo tacos are excellent.

Of course, the success of these dishes is tempered by the quality of some of the other taco options; as interesting as the smoked salmon and cactus taco sounds, it was severely under-seasoned.

Mexican desserts are usually a point of ire for American diners – they’re just not as sweet as the typical death-by-chocolate confections we as a nation are used to. Mexican desserts, however, usually deliver that airy pastry quality which is so elusive and delicious.

Unfortunately, the desserts at Barrio Queen fail to deliver such a quality, clocking in at just “dry” and “dull.” This could have been partially due to an extended time in the dessert case, but this in and of itself is inexcusable.

Photo by Alex Forestier.

As I mentioned, Esparza offers more than 20 varieties of tacos. If each type was distinctly different, this would be too many. Given that each varies only slightly, this is far too many. And, given that tacos are not the only items on the menu, Barrio Queen’s range of selections quickly becomes overwhelming.

This is only a superficial fault, but one which somewhat cheapens the cuisine and the atmosphere of a restaurant. I do honestly believe that Esparza means well by the size of her menu, but one phrase comes to mind upon witnessing its seemingly endless pages: The Cheesecake Factory.

Barrio Queen’s food has potential, to be sure. What does not have potential, however, is the service at the restaurant. I can say with complete confidence that I have never experienced waitstaff who have less knowledge of their restaurant’s menu.

Perhaps not as serious – but every bit as baffling – is the fact that some of the waitstaff did not understand my order. I should point out that the names of every dish on the menu are in Spanish, and while I appreciate this authentic touch, I also speak Spanish. My waiter, however, spoke absolutely none, and thus, when I told him that I wanted “arrachera y huitlacoche” tacos, he acted as if I was speaking in tongues.

I really dislike pointing at menus.

Though I was somewhat disappointed in Barrio Queen, it does have potential to become an Old Town classic. With some slight adjustments to the food, a paring down of the menu and a “re-evaluation” of the staffing, the restaurant could stand the test of time.

 

Reach the reporter at cbkelly@asu.edu