$$ – Barrio

By Marissa Warden

$$ – Barrio
235 E 6th St, St Paul
11 a.m. – 1 a.m. M-Th.

11 a.m. – 2 a.m. Fri- Sun.The Barrio Tequila Bar in downtown St. Paul has an antiquated modern feel, with high sleek black tables and deep red accents livening up the black industrial space. The food outshines the décor by far, offering a carefully crafted display of classic Mexican dishes with a modern spin.

Barrio is a Mexican tapas bar, so it is best to order from the small dishes and share to get the full impact; it is an excellent place to go on a date because the portions often come in twos. The food arrives on crisp white square plates that offset the delicately and precisely placed dishes against a slice of lime and a drizzling of green salsa.

The made to order guacamole is served in a traditional Mexican molcajete and is a blend of fresh avocado tomato and onion. No one flavor overpowers another and the chunks of avocado are always a nice surprise. And the homemade corn tortilla chips are fresh and crunchy, with just the right amount of salt to keep you coming back for more. The fried mahi mahi taco was served with a soft corn tortilla and a shredded cabbage and citrus-cucumber pico de gallo that together offered the perfect balance between crispy, tangy and sweet, while the sugarcane skewered tequila shrimp was seasoned with lemon-ginger and grilled to perfection. The crab empanadas were fried perfection, crab meat encased in crispy dough, served with a tangy avocado salsa. The steak taco, topped with the seeminlgy ubiquitous radish slices, was stuffed full of juicy chopped steak, a solid counterpoint to the other, lighter dishes.

And if you are of a legal drinking age, may I suggest a daring margarita. “Enter the Dragon” is a multilayered passion fruit margarita with muddled pepper and a splash of cava. The muddled pepper give the drink an immediate, almost unexpected kick, while the generally sweet passion fruit seems almost over-powered by the pepper’s intensity. But as you keep drinking, the flavors meld into a spicy and a hint of sweet.