Late on a Saturday night, I texted my friend, Vildana asking for an inexpensive, yet fun, place for dinner in her neighborhood, the Lower East Side. Immediately, she responded Barrio Chino with tons of exclamation points, followed by elaborate descriptions of the margarita choices I needed to try. Trusting her insight, my friends Rachel, Amanda and I hopped on the subway to try our luck at this LES Mexican hot spot.
We would never have found this place without an address. A little chalk board sits outside revealing its identity, but in the dark of night, that’s not much help. The orange exterior and windows signify the fact that you have arrived at your destination.
The place is tiny, with tables and chairs filling every crevice in the dimly lit, all wooden room. The three of us squeezed into a table, clearly made for two, with my back against the radiator, keeping me warm from the gusts of cold wind that filled the restaurant every time someone opened the door. We hardly minded the squeeze, happy to get a table after being told the next available table would be ready in 45 minutes. (I would later learn that walking in at 10:30pm on a Saturday night and being immediately seated was an extreme rarity and our luck was unusual).
Shortly after sitting down, I ran into an old friend from abroad who was celebrating her friend’s birthday at the large communal table situated in the middle of the room. I quickly realized that this place was exactly what we wanted, fun for any occasion, with the drinks constantly flowing and awesome food.
We started off by ordering margaritas, a raspberry one for me and grapefruit for Amanda and Rachel.
Easily one of the best, strongest margaritas I have had in a while. Fresh pieces of raspberries were muddled at the bottom of the glass, making it difficult to slurp the liquid through the straw. I found myself trying to figure out a methodic way to eat the pieces of raspberry, soaked in tequila without making a mess of myself and staining the white shirt I choose to wear. I succeeded, barely.
The drink itself was delicious, with the tartness of the raspberries and lime, creating a fresh take on a classic pairing, which simultaneously enhanced and subdued the strong potent flavor of tequila. A little bit of sugar was added to enhance the sweetness of the berry, rounding out the entire drink. The addition of the salted rim provided a necessary contrast that I love with margaritas.
We ordered guacamole to start, as we tried to figure out an appropriate game plan for ordering. The simple dish arrived, with fresh chips on the side and we dug in like vultures.
I’ve had plenty of guac in my day, and this was one of the best. I am a huge advocate of cilantro, thinking its addition makes any dish significantly better, and that was clearly the case with this guacamole. The large chunky pieces of fresh avocado and tomato composed the majority of the dish. The hints of acidity from fresh lime and infrequent pieces of red onion rounded out the dish. But the star was really the cilantro, making this guacamole one for the books, which I wish I could replicate.
For the meal, we ordered the fish tacos to start, followed by the mole enchiladas and tequila shrimp entrees.
The fish tacos were really good. Pieces of tilapia were grilled to give the fish a dark char, which added a smoky flavor. However, the smokiness was almost overwhelming, outshining all of the other elements on the plate. The avocado salsa was necessary to add some moisture and flavor back to the tilapia. When combined in the delicious corn tortilla, I thoroughly enjoyed the fish tacos; they just weren’t the best variety I have enjoyed in the city.
Next, the main dishes arrived, which were clearly the stars of the meal. I started off with the tequila shrimp.
Presentation is definitely not Barrio Chino’s strong point, but when the food tastes this good, you quickly forget about aesthetic appeal. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, with the heat of the chiles kicking the flavor up a notch. The sliced pieces of avocado acted as a counter balance to the heat, adding a necessary creaminess and richness to the dish. Although the green rice lacked any physical appeal, the taste was spot on, with an unusually light sweetness to the grain. I didn’t really find any need for the corn tortillas, enjoying the shrimp and avocado together with just my fork.
Finally, our last and quite possibly the best dish of the meal was the Enchiladas de Mole.
Piled high over crisp pieces of chicken enchiladas, this mole clearly steals the show. A family recipe, the flavor is unique with a sweet bitterness that one can only find in a great mole. The thick sauce is one of the hardest Mexican dishes to create, and when done right, there’s nothing better. This variation seemed different then many other moles I’ve tried, steering away from heavy use of chiles, instead focusing on more subtler spices, such as cinnamon to enhance the sauce. The tart queso fresco and crema added a necessary tartness to cut through all of the heaviness of the mole and chicken.
If you have never tried mole before, or it’s a favorite dish, the version at Barrio Chino will knock your socks off. It was awesome, messy and full of wonderful, rich flavor.
If you’re looking for a fun night out with friends, to enjoy awesome margaritas and authentic Mexican food, Barrio Chino will fill all of your needs. While the prices might seem modest, a few drinks and entrees later, the bill definitely adds up quickly. But it is definitely worth it.
Barrio Chino – 253 Broome Street – New York, NY
Location: Lower East Side, NY
Perfect For: Authentic Dining, Impressing Foodies, Girls’ Night Out, Drinks
Reservations: Not Accepted
Favorite Dishes: Mole Enchiladas, Tequila Shrimp, Raspberry Margarita, Guacamole