Every once in a while, an email exchange with chef Silvana Salcido Esparza might come back with one of those automatic, out-of-office replies. Her subject line? I’M AT THE BEACH, all caps.
The four-time James Beard Award-nominee deserves a break now and then, from a culinary trajectory that started with the 2002 opening of Barrio Café with its menu of marinated pork cochinita pibil and chiles en nogada (a poblano pepper stuffed with almond-cream sauce). She recently opened a second Barrio Café location at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport—and Esparza’s not done yet. “I’m looking for something on the west side of Phoenix,” she says, “right in the heart of the city’s immigrant community.”
Known for her exploration of regional Mexican cuisines, Esparza spent part of her adult career in banking before following her heart to culinary school. At the age of 40, she ditched corporate kitchens to spend “two years on a bus in Mexico, living out of a suitcase” to learn about the country’s cooking, from everyone from home cooks to street vendors, before opening her first restaurant.
“That shaped my personal agenda,” Esparza explains, “which is to teach people about the food and culture of Mexico. When I hear people say, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know Mexican food could taste that way,’ I know I’ve done my job.”
Half and half, olives, plus too many cheeses and salamis that I’m never home to eat.
Matt’s Big Breakfast. I like everything, but I love their potatoes!
I go for ice cream at Sweet Republic.
Any Mexican restaurant on the west side on a Saturday night. They’re packed. People are dancing to bandas. It’s like walking into Mexico.
Tacos from Taqueria Los Yaquis, a food truck.
Mexico, definitely. It’s where I’ll find a simple ingredient or see a little old lady selling something great out of a bucket.
Photo via Kai on Facebook
Pepe’s Taco Villa. It’s economical, they have great menudo, and it can feed a few carfuls of Salcidos.
Los Reyes de la Torta and the Mini Mercado Oaxaca. Their black molé tamales are to die for.
The west side. It has serious potential. It’s not trendy, and it’s ethnically diverse. This is the next place where Phoenix will flourish.
Barrio Café — 2814 N. 16th St., Phoenix, (602) 636-0240;
Barrio Urbano — 5632 N. 7th St, Phoenix, (Located inside “The Yard” complex), (602) 287-9000
Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva — 1301 W Grand Ave., Phoenix, (602) 525-2777
Barrio Cafe — Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Terminal 4, Gate D
By Nora Burba Trulsson. Originally printed in the 2015 Phoenix Official Travel Guide, published by Madden Media.
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