Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe on What She's Most Proud Of and Her Biggest Regret

"I'm in no fucking hurry," says chef Silvana Salcido Esparza about opening Gran Reserva.
"I'm in no fucking hurry," says chef Silvana Salcido Esparza about opening Gran Reserva.
Evie Carpenter

From now until we publish the 2016 edition of Best of Phoenix, New Times is naming 100 Tastemakers — members of our local culinary community who help shape the way we eat, drink, and think about food in Phoenix. Some you'll know, and for others, it'll be a first introduction, but each person on our list deserves a nod for helping make our city so delicious. Oh, and while you're here, be sure to check out our list of 100 Creatives.

2. Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe, Barrio Urbano, and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva

You can't talk about Mexican food in Phoenix without mentioning Silvana Salcido Esparza and her award-winning restaurant Barrio Cafe. Over the last two decades, the chef has helped shape the way Valley diners see Mexican cuisine, bringing regional specialities to the masses and establishing dishes like her cochinita pibil and chiles en nogada as nothing short of legendary. 

"Born into a family 800-year baking legacy, I try to keep the family legacy alive in my food. No chips and salsa here, pan y salsa," Esparza says. The chef was raised working in the family bakery and tortilla factory, where she dreamed of businesses she would invent within the bakery. She would go on to make and sell carnitas by age 15 and developed a rural bread route after school by age 16. "Being of service to our community is also a family legacy, one I try to still carry out today," she says. 

"I dedicated my career to the memory of my Mexican gourmet mother, baking father, and chingona grandmother Silvana," Esparza says. "I dedicated my career to the betterment of my culture through my food. No yellow nasty-ass cheese, no fake New Mexico-style flour-fortified red sauce. Just southern Mexico-inspired and chef-created cuisine. I traveled each and every state in Mexico, all the while eating the regional cuisine. I fell in love with the simplest of foods that are the most complex.

"I am working class, and I aim to serve my raza their cuisine. I live my tattoo: SI SE PUEDE – Gracias Dolores Huerta!" 

Today, Esparza dishes on her go-to place for Mexican groceries and what she always stocks in her kitchen. 

My go-to place for Mexican groceries in Phoenix is Los Altos Ranch Market. 

The best-kept secret in Phoenix is Tacos Chiwas on McDowell, but honestly the entire west side. Maryvale. 

My restaurant pet peeve is snooty people. 

My kitchen isn't complete without chile and lime. 

I'm most proud of the Barrio Cafe and my biggest regret is Barrio Queen. 

The 2016 Tastemakers so far: 

100. Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Cafe
99. Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour 
98. Debby Wolvos of DW Photography
97. Anibal and Salem Beyene of Café Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant 
96. Bo Mostow of Uptown Farmers Market
95. Julian Wright of Pedal Haus Brewery
94. Stephen Jones of The Larder + The Delta
93. Eric Glomski of Page Spring Cellars
92. Richard Bock of Giuseppe's on 28th
91. Walter Sterling of Ocotillo 
90. Daniel Sevilla of Angry Crab Shack
89. Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco and Otro Cafe
88. LaDawn Driscoll of Liberty Market
87. Jason Calhoon of The Shop Beer Co. and Side Kick Cold Brew
86. Tim and Kim Cobb of United Lunchadores Street Gourmet
85. Micah Olson of Bar Crudo and Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails 
84. Paola Embry of Christopher's + Crush and The Wrigley Mansion
83. Jared Porter of The Clever Koi
82. Diane Corieri of Evening Entertainment Group
81. Erich Schultz of Steadfast Farm 
80. Jeff and Leah Huss of Huss Brewing Company
79. Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup
78. Diana Santospago of The Maine Lobster Lady food truck
77. Gio Osso of Virtu Honest Craft and Nico Heirloom Kitchen
76. Lauren Bailey of Upward Projects
75. Rodney Hu of Arizona Distilling Company and Yucca Tap Room 
74. Jacob Cutino of Homeboy's Hot Sauce
73. Country and Sergio Velador of Super Chunk Sweets and Treats
72. Dean Thomas of Cornish Pasty Co.
71. Jennifer Caraway of The Joy Bus
70. Scott Holmes of Little Miss BBQ
69. Jared Allen of Proof Artisan Breads
68. Steve McFate of McFate Brewing Company  
67. Mel Mecinas of Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North
66. Jessa and Dan Koppenhofer of Gilbert Farmers Market
65. Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks
64. Ryan Probst of Odelay Bagel Co.
63. Diana Brandt of AZFoodie
62. Benjamin Butler of Hayden Flour Mills
61. Jim and Maureen Elitzak of Zak's Chocolate
60. Michael Babcock of Welcome Diner and Welcome Chicken + Donuts
59. Nick Ambeliotis of Mediterra Bakehouse
58. Peter Kasperski of Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz World Wine Bar
57. Kimber Stonehouse of LGO Hospitality
56. David Tyda of EATERAZ and Arizona Taco Festival
55. Pavle Milic of FnB
54. Pat Christofolo of Santa Barbara Catering Company and The Farm at South Mountain
53. Brandon Casey of The Ostrich
52. Jonathan Buford of Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co.
51. Sasha Raj of 24 Carrots
50. Rob Fullmer of Arizona Craft Brewers Guild
49. Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys of AZ Bitters Lab
48. Ramona Button of Ramona Farms
47. Justin Piazza of La Piazza Al Forno and La Piazza PHX
46. Andrew Gooi of Food Talkies
45. Jason Raducha of Noble Bread and Noble Eatery
44. Ty Largo of Awe Collective
43. Christopher Gross of Christopher's and Crush Lounge
42. Heidi Lee of Into The Soup
41. ET Rivera of Tres Leches Cafe
40. Monika Woolsey of Hip Veggies
39. Bobby Kramer of The Brickyard
38. Jenna Reeves of Press Coffee Roasters 
37. Sarah Chisholm of Phoenix Public Market Cafe
36. Bill Kennedy of Futuro
35. Jan Bracamonte of J. Lauren PR & Marketing
34. Erin Romanoff of the uprooted kitchen
33. Baker Mandy Bublitz
32. Tony Chanthavong of Snoh Ice Shavery
31. Donald Hawk of Welcome Chicken + Donuts
30. Krystal Bittner of Arizona Society of Homebrewers
29. Garrison Whiting of Counter Intuitive and Cowboy Ciao
28. Michelle Jacoby and Mark Lipczynski of Bite Magazine
27. Chris Osborn of Western Retail Advisors
26. Yasu Hashino of Yasu Sushi Bistro
25. Jennifer Russo of The Market Restaurant + Bar by Jennifer's
24. Bret Pont of Hobe Meats
23. Josh Hebert of Posh Improvisational Cuisine
22. Tracy Dempsey of Tracy Dempsey Originals
21. Andrew Fritz of In Good Spirits
20. Eddie Hantas of Hummus Xpress
19. Matt Taylor of Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden
18. Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine Company 
17. Tom D'Ambrosio of Aioli Gourmet Burgers
16. Randy Walters of Wimpy's Paradise
15. Urian Torres of FrinGo's Kitchen
14. Armando Hernandez of Tacos Chiwas
13. Lindsey Magee of Ollie Vaughn's
12. Travis Nass of CaskWerks Distilling
11. Nino McCurley of Nomadic Ice Cream Rolls
10. Kevin Binkley of Cafe Bink
9. Anthony Canecchia of SanTan Brewing Company
8. Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot
7. Dee Logan of Arizona Community Farmers Market Group
6. Kazuto Kishino of Hana Japanese Eatery
5. Rob Berkner of North Mountain Brewing Company
4. Richie Moe of Square One Concepts
3. Julia Peixoto of Peixoto Coffee


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