MON – TUES CLOSED | WED – SAT | LUNCH 12PM-3PM, DINNER 5:30PM – 10PM | SUNDAY 11PM – 5PM | WESLEY SQUARE, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, NE1 3DE
When interviewing Anna Hedworth, the owner of Cook House, she named a few new openings in the toon that I should check out. Shaun Hurrell’s Barrio Comida was one of them, so Archie and I wandered down the other evening. Weirdly enough, like Cook House, Barrio Comida is also situated in a pair of renovated shipping containers, this time down on the quayside, by the Millennium Bridge. The containers used to host Riley’s Fish Shack, the Newcastle counterpart to the famous chippy in Tynemouth. Barrio Comida is actually a collaboration between the two owners — after the Fish Shack hosted Shaun’s successful Mexican pop-up a while back, the two decided to get together and relaunch the container as the permanent home of Barrio Comida.
Barrio Comida serves up Mexican food and drinks, and in particular, tacos. Hang on, though. Not tacos as you know them. Well, I might have just been pretty ignorant, but to me tacos were those boat-shaped crisp things, that look like a huge Dorito bent into a U. And although they’re filled with nice goodies, they’re always impossible to eat because as soon as you bite into them they break and splinter, dropping chilli con carne all over the funky outfit you put on to try and look like you fit in at a trendy taco restaurant. It’s all ok though, cos I was wrong! Those aren’t real tacos, they’re horrible deep-fried bastardisations of them, and Barrio Comida serves real ones, which are warm and soft and more like mini tortillas if anything.
Tacos in a minute — back to setting the scene. Barrio Comida reminded me of what all those pop-up food stalls in Shoreditch try desperately to be like, but fail at because ultimately the majority of their clientele are assholes and they’re horribly commercial at their core. This place actually succeeds, however. The dark wood-metal interior, with its tall tables and stools, is kept from being gloomy by bright, exotic table-covers and tons of little glass candles. Half of the space is taken up by the kitchen that’s open to view, where a wood-burning oven and charcoal grill slowly smoulder. When we arrive, the chef pulls out a hunk of dark, smoky meat from the grill and begins slicing it up on the surface into thick chunks of flaky, gooey deliciousness. It’s drool-worthy.
The menu is simple; scrawled chalkboards on the wall list the eight different taco options, a couple of starting snacks, accompanying salsas, and drinks. The chef recommends three tacos per person, and at only £2.50 a pop, we’re more than happy to agree. We also order some home-made corn chips with chipotle and verde salsas for good measure.
At the table, with a bottle of corona and a feisty grapefruit tequila cocktail, the corn chips arrive. They’re an overflowing paper bowl of puffed goodness. Light, airy, and super crunchy. The dream vessel for the two salsas – the verde (tomatillo, green chilli and lime) is zingy and refreshing, a perfect contrast with the saucy, flavoursome chipotle (chipotle adobo, charred tomato). Once finished, I’m unsure whether I’ll ever be able to have standard crisps and dips again without feeling sad. Things are off to a great start.
Then the tacos arrive, and oh my god they’re good. The Carne Asada was a pile of oozy slow-cooked steak, scattered with grilled spring onions and a dollop of salsa negra, the spicy cousin of salsa chipotle. Next up was the Lengua – ox tongue, salsa chipotle, avocado and sliced radishes. They were both super rich and buttery, and as smoky as an open fire. The Camaron (grilled prawns, wood roast peppers, salsa verde) made for a lighter palette cleanser before we returned to the big boys with an Al Pastor (roast pork, salsa roja, pineapple), a Mole (wood roast chicken, mole pobiano sauce) and a Cabeza (braised ox cheek, feta, radish, lettuce). Blown away, we mopped our hands with the no-frills kitchen roll that comes on each table.
The stars of the show were definitely the Mole and the Carne Asada, which are glorious mixes of melting meat and rich sauces, offset by their sharp trimmings. Other than these two, I’d be lying if I said we knew exactly which meat feast was which – we were told by our server (who was as piff and trendy as the food, by the by) at the time, but when confronted with such delicious grub this went out the window and we just munched. Luckily, they’re all pretty divine, and transported us to an authentic tacqueria with bold flavours and sticky-sweet juiceyness. The Camaron could possibly have done with a little more sauce, but the success of the others well made up for it.
The cherry on the top (radish on the taco?) is the beautiful view out onto the quayside and the millennium bridge; at night it’s particularly atmospheric. It’s also a pretty cheap eat, which is crazy considering how high the quality is. For about £15 each we had six tacos, tortilla chips with salsas, three beers and one tequila cocktail. You could pop in for a quick lunch or dinner and be full for £7.50. With a host of Mezcals and other alcoholic bevvies to choose from, we’d have been happy to make a night of it, but a play beckoned, so that’s for another time! Perhaps a review solely of their liquid fare…
There’s more to come from Barrio Comida as well; the menu is due to expand with ceviche and daily specials such as pozole, tamalas, aguachile and menudo. They also do an egg-based brunch affair on Sundays.
P.S, they serve tequila shots with watermelon and chilli salt. Go, go, go!