4223 Blanco Road
(just south of Basse Road)
I can't recall a time when my favourite Tex-Mex restaurant was some place other than Los Barrios. It's beaten the odds by staying around a long, long time — at least 30 years — and by remaining high in quality that entire time. The only reason I don't go there more often for dinner is that I hate to wait that long for a table. Despite multiple expansions, including the addition of a really nice patio area, with high walls à la Lomas to keep out the traffic noise, the crowd on Friday evenings is out the door by the time I can drag myself the three or four miles up Blanco to their doors.
But today, my friend Rick and I went there for breakfast, something I'd never done. (And Rick believes he'd never been to Los Barrios at all. Poor boy: he doesn't get out enough.) Technically, Los Barrios isn't open for breakfast during the week. We got there right at 11AM, and were almost the first customers of the day.
It was a slightly eerie feeling, being so alone in that large, pretty, fairly elegant dining room. Considering that, no matter what time of day, in all the years I've been going to Los B, I've never seen it less than half-full, I felt like I had entered a parallel universe. It gave me a chance to reflect on just how nicely decorated the place is: the colours of the walls, in the dining room and the patio; the signage; the floors, the plants are all like what you would expect to see in the finest restaurants in San Angel or Coyoacán. Really, everything except the tables, which are nice but not that special, and the area that was the original dining room at this location, enclosed in a low wall and maintaining a feeling of separateness, as if to show just how far Los Barrios has come from its humble beginnings (which are even more humble than that dining area indicates: before moving to this part of Blanco, they opened in a sort of hut downtown).
With so few people there at that hour, we expected to have exceptional service. We were a little disappointed. The service was good, even a touch better than average; but it was about as good as we'd get at Los B during a moderately busy time. Our coffee cups weren't refilled quite as quickly as they might have been. The water we asked for took just long enough to appear that its eventual arrival was briefly in some doubt. The check was a bit slow in coming, too. Those things being said, the service was attentive and accurate, and otherwise timely: we got seated immediately (I'd have been shocked if it had been otherwise), and got menus right away; our drink orders were taken at once, and the drinks, and chips and salsa, were delivered speedily. The chips and salsa were replenished before I'd even noticed that they were running low.
I wish I could say the food was exceptional, but that would be unmerited hyperbole. It was good, certainly better than average, but not exceptional. The chips were average, the salsa runnier than usual and lacking its usual piquant edge; though it had an excellent colour and flavour. The coffee was oddly reminiscent of the 1970s; I'm thinking it was the slightly bitter aftertaste that took me back to that time, a remnant of a memory now lost. Not that it was bad, mind you, just that it was ... old-fashioned. Like the cups it's served in.
The breakfast section of the menu is sparse: chilaquiles plates, machacado plate, flour tacos three-to-an-order, and so on. The prices shown there struck me as high for Tex-Mex breakfast foods. I ordered two machacado tacos, Rick two beef fajita tacos. Neither was on the menu as such, but it was no problem. It's a sign of an experienced staff when they aren't phased by such orders (I'm always amazed when I'm told that I can't have some dish that's not on the menu, even if all its ingredients are there in other places). The waitress at Los Barrios didn't bat an eye, didn't have to "check and see if they can do that."
The tacos that arrived were on the high end of good. I thought my machacado tacos had a very good texture, and an excellent flavour other than being a little too salty for my taste. I unfortunately poured too much salsa on them (lacking a spoon), causing them to drip. I hate that: the first one fills the plate with liquid, and the second one gets soggy. There were plenty of napkins on the table, but I didn't think to lay one on the plate to absorb the juice from the salsa. Duh! Rick's fajita tacos were, he said, probably the best he's had anywhere, but I have to discount that some. They were probably only very good, based on his expanded description of their attributes; and after he'd finished lauding them in some detail, he came upon a punishing chunk of gristle.
|Last city inspection: September 2010|
And then the check came. Now, I can't deny that the presentation of our tacos at Los Barrios was a cut above what we'd've seen at, say, Manny's Taco Shed: the bit of lettuce-and-tomato salad off to one side, the guacamole decoration with the tostada tower. But when it comes to breakfast tacos, that stuff is lipstick on a pig. And even with the window dressing, $6.50 is way too much for two fajita tacos, and $5.00 is too much for two machacado tacos. (Coffee, at $1.50 per bottomless cup, was about right.)
Well, Los Barrios didn't earn its well-deserved reputation for excellence over the breakfast table. I still think it's about the best Tex-Mex around for lunch or dinner, in all aspects of my ratings. But for breakfast ... well, there are lots and lots of taquerías around, many of them excellent. I'll go there instead.