Any restaurant that the great Bobby Flay chooses to have a throwdown with is certainly worthy of eating at. That is the case of Los Barrios and its owner, Diana Barrios Treviño, who apparently taught Flay how to make puffy tacos back in 2000, and who had to defend her culinary treat earlier this year when Flay challenged her to a “Throwdown.” I’ve been to Los Barrios a couple of times in the past but felt it necessary to refresh my memory.
Located in the midst of a predominantly Hispanic working class neighborhood in San Antonio, Los Barrios has offered what they call Mexican Continental Cuisine for over 25 years. Due to their popularity and the opportunities available at the ever expanding Northside of San Antonio, the restaurant has recently opened a second location, known as La Hacienda de Los Barrios. We visited the original location and it was already very busy at 5:30. The establishment is clean and updated and someone with a green thumb takes very good care of the plants indoors.
To begin with, diners start off with the customary chips and salsa normally expected at Mexican restaurants. Over the course of dinner we were served five bowls of chips and each one came out crispy and warm. You might be thinking that this is a given, but it is not uncommon that I am served stale chips. The red sauce is tasty and not spicy, and each table also has a green table sauce made of cilantro, chives, garlic, and oil (like a type of pesto). Although it needed salt, it was nice to see an alternative.
My son ordered the Crispy Flautas, three rolled tacos filled with shredded chicken and fried. It is served with guacamole and sour cream and a side of rice and refried beans. Most restaurants only serve two flautas and they are normally on the skinny side. You certainly get your money’s worth here on the quantity side, except that the chicken is somewhat tasteless.
My wife ordered the Enchiladas Mexicanas, which are filled with white Queso Fresco (a moist and crumbly farm cheese similar to feta) and topped with a red pepper sauce. Unfortunately, my waiter could not tell me what type of pepper is used for the sauce (I think its Arbol or Pasilla). Honestly, I liked the taste. The tortilla was a little too soggy and the overall taste was a little salty, but I really liked the choice of cheese in lieu of the more traditional gooey Monterrey Jack mess. I also appreciated this chile option instead of the typical Ranchero/chile sauce, which is way overdone. For those that are not familiar with the flavors, there are a few sauces on the menu with a side note to ask the waiter for a taste of the sauce before ordering.
I ordered the Fish Tacos (which are not on the menu at the new location) and my wife ended up stealing one from me. It was a thick slab of tilapia filet with a blackened seasoning (probably a chile ancho and cumin mix) served in a corn tortillas with a side of mango pico de gallo. The fish was thick and moist and the corn tortilla is made in house. The pico is a mix of mango, red bell pepper and cilantro. I really like the taste of a fruit pico with fish or pork, so this is a welcome change to the traditional. The side of white rice was spotted with peas and carrots but was totally bland.
What was really disappointing is the conspicuously absent puffy taco. At our location, you can only get a puffy taco a la carte, (which I completely forgot to order). How can this place leave this item off the menu after building on its reputation with the likes of Bobby Flay. Any internet search on this restaurant leads you to this story, and will lead to a disappointment if you want to order it (the new location only has one puffy taco plate).
Despite a few welcome offerings, the rice and beans were typically bland all the way around. These three dishes and a kid’s plate for my girls to share ran us about $42 with tip. Depending on where you are from, this may be cheap. For me, in San Antonio, this is a little more than I’d like to spend for a meal that was only semi-memorable.