At the tail end of our vacation this summer, we ended up in Minneapolis for the weekend. Cindy wanted to do some shopping and I took her over to the 50th and France shopping and entertainment district in suburban Edina on the west side of Minneapolis. As we exited the parking garage, it began to sprinkle. After visiting a couple stores, the rain had turned into a steady shower. I took a look at the weather radar on my smart phone and determined the line of rain wasn't going to last too long, so I suggested we go get lunch and wait out the rain. On France Ave. just before 51st street is Cocina del Barrio (see map). I asked Cindy if she wanted to go in and get something to eat (even though I had taken her to one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Minneapolis - El Tejaban - for a great meal the night before). She said Cocina del Barrio would be fine.
I had eaten at the Cocina del Barrio's sister restaurant - Barrio - earlier this year. (Click here to see that entry.) The meal was fabulous with a number of great "tapas"-style tacos on the menu. And, like their sister restaurant in downtown Minneapolis, Cocina del Barrio features over 150 different tequilas to choose from. We were staying downtown at The Marquette and we walked by Barrio the day before. I couldn't quit telling Cindy how good the food was at the place.
Cocina del Barrio is actually the third of the "Barrio" restaurants owned by partners Tim Rooney and Ryan Burnet. Rooney and Burnet opened the original Barrio on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis in 2008, a location in St. Paul a year later, then they did the reverse of what many Mexican restaurants have done - they opened a food truck that features catering or sets up at different venues or locations around the Twin Cities. Then in late 2010, the partnership opened Cocina del Barrio in Edina.
The first two Barrios are billed as "Tequila Bars" while the Barrio in Edina features the Spanish word for kitchen in its name emphasizing an expanded food menu over the other two locations, as well as a children's menu designed to make the restaurant more family friendly. It's mainly because Edina has an ordinance that says that restaurants which sell alcohol must have a 60%-40% ratio of food vs. alcohol sales. And it's strictly enforced. Cocina del Barrio has already been cited by the city for a violation of the 60-40 rule when they were audited in early 2012 and it was found they sold just over 51% food vs. alcohol. They had to pay a $500 fine and were put on probation. A second audit earlier this summer found that they had grown their food to alcohol ratio to just over 58%, but still under the minimum. Coupled with an infraction for selling a beer to a minor working for the local police department, Cocina del Barrio had to pay a $1000 fine and their license to sell liquor was suspended for one day.
One of the reasons they're having trouble with the 60-40 food vs. alcohol ratio is that the cheapest margarita on their drink menu is $9 bucks. The drinks are not big and as I found at the dinner we had at Barrio in downtown Minneapolis earlier this year, the liquor bill gets inflated rather quickly if a person is having two or three margaritas. You have three tacos at $4.50 to $6.00 each along with two or three margaritas, it's easy to see that you'd have a much larger alcohol bill over the food bill.
With that all said, Cocina del Barrio features a brunch menu, a number of small plate entrees, and a handful of larger plate entrees including grilled mahi-mahi, lamb chops and a natural farm-raised rib eye steak. Oh, they still have the tapas style tacos at Cocina del Barrio that made them famous. But the expanded menu is designed to steer people away from the tacos and into higher priced plates.
The Cocina del Barrio location on France Ave. used to house the Coldwell Banker Burnet realty offices. Ryan Burnet's father owns the realty firm and the younger Burnet also dabbles in real estate and developing boutique hotels in downtown Minneapolis. When the Edina office moved down the road on France Ave. early in 2010, the building became available for Cocina del Barrio to move in. The addition of Cocina del Barrio is a welcome one, not only in my book, but for a number of diners who have been coming to the 50th and France area for years. One of my all-time favorite Tex-Mex restaurants - the very popular Tejas - was just around the corner. It wasn't far from the hotel I like to stay at down the road in Bloomington and I was upset when they closed their doors almost three years ago. Finally, there's a good Mexican restaurant back in the 50th and France district.
We walked into Cocina del Barrio around 12:30 p.m. and there was a growing lunch crowd in the place. We were greeted by a hostess who wanted to know if we would like to eat in the bar area up front or in the long dining room looking into the open kitchen toward the back. We decided to sit in the bar area with Cindy seated in a banquette seat along the south wall and I took a chair at the high table. It's much larger at Cocina del Barrio compared to the cramped conditions that I found on my first visit to the Barrio location in Minneapolis. With a lot of wooden walls and a hard wood floor, even with the place half-full, it was pretty loud in there. I can almost imagine the sound level when it's packed at night.
Since we were going to eat at the famous Manny's Steakhouse that evening (look for that entry in a couple three weeks), we decided that we were probably just going to have drinks and tacos. Our server for the afternoon, John, came over to greet us and I immediately ordered a Trinity margarita for both of us - Milagro silver label tequila, Cointreau and lime juice over ice - and a bowl of their wonderful guacamole. Although we've had margaritas like that at home (the recipe taught to me by a former colleague), Cindy said that she didn't care for the taste of it. I ended up drinking both mine and hers, then I ordered a Skinny Mommi margarita for her - it's basically a traditional margarita. She seemed to like that better.
John brought out the guacamole and it was fresh and flavorful as I remembered it to be from my previous visit to Barrio. A small bowl of very fresh corn chips, crisp and warm, were brought out along with a small dish of a smoky sauce. The guacamole at Cocina del Barrio has large chunks of fresh avocado, cilantro, radish slices and chopped tomatoes. It would be stupidly easy to make at home and the Barrio restaurants are extremely proud of it - it costs $8.50. Hey, anything to get that food vs. alcohol ratio up!
We took a look through the menu and I was telling Cindy of some of the tacos I'd had at the Barrio in downtown Minneapolis. They didn't have as many tacos on the menu in Edina as they did downtown. They didn't have the beef tongue or pork belly tacos in Edina, not that I would have gotten either one of those. They also didn't have the chorizo enchilada on the menu in Edina. That was very good on my original visit.
I noticed that they had a fried mahi mahi taco on the menu, but noticed elsewhere that they had a grilled mahi mahi entree. I asked him if we could get the grilled mahi mahi on a taco instead. He said, "Oh, yeah. Sure! We can do that." Cindy ordered up a chicken enchilada and a grilled mahi mahi taco. I got one taco each of the grilled mahi mahi, skirt steak and pork carnitas. I ordered up another Trinity margarita to have with my lunch.
Our food came out and from just the smell of the tacos, I was ready to eat. From left to right in the picture at the left are Cindy's chicken enchilada with a salsa verde sauce on top, the grilled mahi mahi taco we both ordered topped with a couple slices of fresh jalapeno and chopped tomatoes, the pulled-pork carnitas which had a green sauce on top, and the skirt steak taco with cilantro and sliced radish strings (they're big on radish at the Barrio restaurants).
And just like the original Barrio, the tacos were all very good. The mahi mahi taco had a great seafood flavor to it and the jalapeno slices added a little bite to the taste. The pork carnitas were moist and flavorful with sort of a citrus taste to the meat. The skirt steak was tender and had a great grilled taste to the meat. Cindy was also very happy with her chicken enchilada and her mahi mahi steak. She said, "Now I understand why you were raving about this place."
Unfortunately for Cocina del Barrio that day, we spent much more on alcohol ($36.50) versus food ($32.50). With a nice tip for John who did a fine job of taking care of us, well, it wasn't a cheap lunch. But, hey, we're on vacation, right? We splurged a lot over the course of our vacation and Cocina del Barrio was no exception. But the food is always fresh and tastes wonderful. Barrio isn't the kind of place that I'd go to all the time for a quick fix of Mexican food, but it will still be on my radar on my trips to the Twin Cities.