Barrio Tacos and Tequila repairs the dearth of respectable Mexican cuisine north of Vernor Hwy.

When it comes to Mexican and Latin food, most local options are of the (long gone, but sadly influential) Chi-Chi’s variety — where refried beans and Spanish rice are requisite sides with any meal. Of course, there’s always Mexican Town, which provides a little more authenticity, but surprisingly not much variety despite the number of restaurants there.

Last summer, the Dali Restaurant Group, hoping to mirror the success of its other Birmingham offerings, Chen Chow Brasserie and the Hamilton Room, threw a sombrero in the ring and opened Barrio Tacos and Tequila. The restaurant’s Mexican fare manages to be both streetwise and casual, yet obviously fussed over by Executive Chef Hammond Lawton.

Lawton is a South Texas native who grew up with the flavors of Mexico. Learning his trade at culinary school and various kitchens, he ultimately honed his interest in Latin fare with the highly respected Southwestern chef Stephen Pyles.

It’s apparent upon entry that Barrio is designed for a gathering. Walking inside leads you directly to the long, festive bar, framed by graffiti-like wall murals, which help generate a vibe of coolness. Around the corner, tables and several high-back booths make up the dining area, which gets plenty of light and fresh air (weather depending) from the tall, roll-up windows running the length of the room. Couples, small parties and families manage to mingle without stepping on one another’s toes. 

Lawton’s dishes are traditional but creative, and strongly encourage social eating — i.e., sharing. Three versions of guacamole (traditional, cucumber, and mango) and six different salsas, all tempting, offer interesting ways to pair sweet and savory. The traditional guac — chunky, with a little spice — and the caramelized pineapple-serrano salsa were highlights at my table.

The menu also encourages drinking. In addition to several very good margaritas — there’s a tequila list 95 offerings strong. These are sold as shots (you can ask for your drink in a snifter, which is nicer for sipping) and 250ml (just over a cup!) servings. Prices range from $5 to $115 a shot.

There is a selection of different tacos to choose from (three tacos per dish), including chorizo, carne asada and mahi mahi, and two vegetarian tacos — mushroom and goat cheese or avocado with green rice and black bean reduction.

Elote Mexicano, a grilled “street-style” corn on the cob, is a popular and sweet side dish; and the Naranja la Batata, slices of sweet potato with a citrus-chipotle glaze, goes well with any main course.

Well-made and fairly priced Mexican food is enough to draw attention and crowds, and Barrio hits the mark on both fronts.

Barrio Tacos and Tequila
203 Hamilton Row
Birmingham, MI 48009
(248) 593-6060
$$ out of $$$$