Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza is adding another restaurant concept to her family of Phoenix eateries. But unlike her other ventures — lauded Mexican restaurants Barrio Cafe, Barrio Urbano, and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva — this new restaurant will focus exclusively on what Salcido Esparza calls "clean and conscious" eating. The menu will include gluten-free, sugar-free, and all-natural items, and is based on a Norwegian diet designed to mitigate the symptoms of a relatively rare disease called sarcoidosis, which Salcido Esparza was diagnosed with earlier this year.
The new restaurant, called Barrio Nopalero, is slated to open early next year on Grand Avenue. Salcido Esparza will debut potential dishes for the concept at New Times' Tacolandia festival in January. The building on Grand, which formerly housed vegetarian restaurant Bragg's Pie Factory Diner, will be Barrio Nopalero during the day, and Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva for dinner.
The menus will be completely different, with Barrio Nopalero relying exclusively on ingredients like daily fresh produce and vegetables, farm-raised chicken, GMO-free ingredients, brown rice, beans and lentils, and boiled potatoes.
They are exploring the idea of becoming a completely vegan concept, but Antonio Cruz, vice president of operations and development for Salcido Esparza, says "everything is still very fluid at this point." Barrio Nopales will feature vegan and vegetarian dishes at Tacolandia. "Veganism and vegetarianism is part of conscious eating," Cruz says. "But what we're really trying to do is make healthy food based on Silvana's new lifestyle and the diet she needs."
Salcido Esparza was diagnosed last month with sarcoidosis, which affects an estimated 595,000 people globally. Sarcoidosis causes clusters of abnormal inflammatory cells, which form lumps known as granulomas. The disease usually begins in the lungs and lymphs nodes, causes painful inflammation, and is commonly treated with steroids like prednisone.
"I am using the recommended diet [from the Norwegian Association of Sarcoidosis] as a base for ingredients to build upon. Think, for example, of a mole made with ingredients that would help inflammation," Salcido Esparza says. "You are what you eat. For me, it's a lifestyle change. I am refusing Western medicine, so I need to rely totally on food, exercise, meditation, love, and an excellent mindset. I have a rare disease that has no cure, so living on steroids is not [my] personal choice."
Cruz says the food at the new spot will continue the Barrio tradition of innovative Mexican cuisine.
"Mexican cuisine lends itself to a gluten-free diet," he says. "Corn tortillas are gluten-free. You can do things like make a taquito, but with shredded carrots, onion, and some fennel, and have that perfect carrot-fennel-onion trifecta. You could make potato tacos. There are all sorts of healthy ways to do Mexican food. Except for things like cheese enchiladas, or anything with a lot of cheese."
"We're going to try to stay away from cream, and too many cheeses," Cruz adds. "We want to make delicious food, but also make it healthy and convenient."