BEST MODERN MEXICANA RESTAURANT (2004)
Barrio Cafe may be the ultimate proof of the existence of karma. This slammin' little eatery on 16th Street has been hailed by all and sundry, from the New York Times and Food and Wine magazine to nearly every rag in P-town, save maybe for Erotica Phoenix. All Barrio needs now is for Yahweh to part the heavens and reenact his Sistine Chapel shtick with a nekkid chef Silvana Salcido Esparza playing Adam with tattoos and breasts. But, hey, we ain't here to playa-hate. Esparza and business partner Wendy Gruber have earned all the plaudits, huzzahs, kudos, laurels, and six-packs of Corona they can carry. Barrio's thing is authentic Mexican cuisine prepared with a gourmet flair, in sauces that are so good you'll want to smear them all over someone you love á la 9 1/2 Weeks. We're especially enamored of Barrio's black-as-night mole, and its "delicate" green tomatillo sauce, for which we're willing to offer up our first-born, if need be (whenever we get around to procreating). The interior is vibrant and fun, with decorative local art on the walls, and there's often live music on tap. And if you happen to see a bearded dude in a white robe and sandals, nose-deep in a queso fundido, that's Jehovah, yo. Told you this place is popular.