Silvana Salcido Esparza was planning on retiring in a couple of years. Then COVID hit, upending life — and especially restaurant life — as we all knew it. "Guess what?" she told us in March. "You're going to have to put up with my annoying ass for a lot longer than I thought." No complaints here. The always-quotable Esparza is not only a star of the local dining scene (we've lost track of how many times she's been nominated for a James Beard Award); she's also an essential moral figure in Phoenix. When the virus arrived, Esparza closed her flagship restaurant, Barrio Café, and converted it into a community kitchen, preparing red chile burritos and barbecue pork, and giving it all away for free. It wasn't the first time she shouldered her community. In 2019, she comped meals for furloughed workers after the federal government shut down. And as Esparza prepared for the reopening of Barrio Café this summer, she hired several artists to transform the restaurant with new murals and wall art, helping them weather tough economic times caused by the closure of the gallery scene. "I look out for these artists," Esparza told us. "They're my family." For Esparza in Phoenix, it seems, that's true of just about everybody.