El Barrio (Spanish for “the neighborhood), is located in Birmingham’s increasingly hip loft district. Don't let the name fool you, however, this is not your standard Tex-Mex restaurant. This is Tex-Mex with a twist because the chef/owners are not your typical Tex-Mex kinda guys. Brian Somershield and Geoff Lockert are graduates of Frank Stitt’s French-inspired kitchens, while the chief de cuisine, Neville Baay, is a classically trained private chef from New Zealand, who didn’t know anything about Mexican food before coming to El Barrio. No matter, because these guys are taking local, fresh Southern ingredients, classical cooking techniques, and using Mexican flavors as a building block to put together some of the most creative dishes in Birmingham.
For example, take their meatloaf. This is not June Cleaver’s meatloaf, but rather chorizo meatloaf with spinach, cotija-mashed potatoes & ranchera sauce. This being the South, there is even a corn dish, called Elote Asado (grilled corn on the cob, cotija, cilantro, chile and lime) and okra with fried with masa and served with spicy cabbage, chipotle, sour cream, cilantro and lime. Of course, you can still get tacos here, which you can order al a carte. There is the classic al pastor, made with chile-marinated pork and charred pineapple salsa. This is my favorite. Then there is the barbacoa, made with slow roasted beef, queso fresco, chipotle, cilantro, onion; and veraduras, made with avocado, charred corn, jicama, pico de gallo, pepitas, and house-made sour cream. There’s even a hamburger, the Barrio Burger, which is juicy and served with pickled onions and spicy mayo. Either bring a friend or ask for a to-go box.
Because this restaurant is built on a Tex-Mex chassis, you can still find chips and salsa and margaritas on the menu. But even these staples are given the El Barrio twist. The salsa is made fresh daily and is a little bit different every day. Some days, it may have corn, while other days, it could even have pineapple or mango. You just don’t know.
Now let’s talk about the margaritas. El Barrio serves four different margaritas, and I must confess that I’ve tried them all and, yes, all in one evening. They are the El Barrio
(Sauza, Patron Citronge, lime, orange, & tamarind); the Tradicional (Cazadores, Grand Marnier, and lime); the Grapefruit Margarita (Sauza, lime, and grapefruit); and the Mescal (Monte Alban, El Jimador, lime, and agave nectar). While the El Barrio usually works in a pinch, if it is a Friday night, and I’m happy the work week is done, and I’m feeling particularly festive, then I go with the Mescal.
All this great food is served in a casual, but chic setting with reclaimed, rustic wood, zinc-top tables, and lights made from industrial roof-vents. (Think nice jeans and crisp plain black t-shirts.) One side of the restaurant consists of a floor-to-ceiling, Diego Rivera-inspired mural of curious complexity. Finally, all this is served by an efficient and attentive, but friendly wait and bar staff.
Show up hungry, but be prepared to wait. El Barrio doesn’t take reservations, and the place fills up quickly. By 6:15pm you're waiting at the bar (not such a bad thing, however).
el barrio restaurante y bar
2211 2nd Ave. N., Birmingham, AL
Rustic, casual chic and cool lighting; large mural worth a table with a view.
Loud and lively.
Chorizo meatloaf, Al Pastor tacos, and Barrio Burger
Drinks and wine
The wine list is not extensive, but has some good basics in all price ranges. Your best bet is to stick with Spanish or South American reds. My favorite is the Spanish red, Atteca Garnacha. Of course, the aforementioned margaritas never disappoint.
Tue–Fri Lunch: 11am-3pm
Tue–Fri Dinner: 5pm-10pm Saturday Brunch: 10:30am-2pm
Saturday Dinner: 5pm-10pm Closed Sunday & Monday