Chef News

Silvana Salcido Esparza on Barrio Queen: "I'm Proud of What I Did"

Silvana Salcido Esparza Chef, Owner Barrio Cafe

If you haven't been paying close attention, then the past few weeks may have been a bit confusing in regard to what exactly James Beard Award-nominated chef Silvana Salicido Esparza is and isn't up to these days. So first, let's clear up a few things.

As of mid-August, Esparza no longer is part of Barrio Queen in Scottsdale, which also means she's no longer a part of the second Barrio Queen location that will open in Gilbert. And those plans she had for a fast-casual spot on the west side? Those are shot too. Yes, she did help design a burrito concept for the Arizona Mills Mall food court, but it's not under her control now that it's open.

See also: Barrio Queen in Gilbert to Open Under Chef Elena Moreno; Additional Locations to Follow

So what does that leave Esparza with? For now, just her 12-year-old restaurant Barrio Cafe, the one that's she calls her "baby" and the one that's helped set the bar for Valley Mexican cuisine.

But don't worry, the chef's not sitting still for long. She has several new projects in the works, though nothing's set in stone just yet. She's also working on building out the space next door to her original restaurant to open an expanded bar. When it's completed, it will highlight a vintage wooden bar she brought from Mexico years ago.

Legally, Esparza's not able to go into detail about the reasons behind her split from Barrio Culinary Concepts, but we did catch up with her to talk about what she's doing now and how she's moving forward.

Was there any concern from you as far as them keeping the Barrio branding?

No, because I left a really good crew there.

The staff that's there, from the vets to the dishwashers, they're fabulous. They will continue. They're part of the culture. They're part of the soul and you can't buy soul with money, I promise you that. Soul comes from people and the people that are there are going to continue to feed the soul of that restaurant. My recipes are there. Elena's been doing them for, you know, ten years.

So, I'm comfortable. I'm very proud of what I did and like I said, it was very, very hard. I opened two restaurants and had to fuse it into one. It did have an identity crisis and then for the last year, I feel like that it has really come into its own and started kicking some ass and I was very happy. So when I walked away I walked away like I completed the project -- and I'm ready for more projects.

So, what's next?

One thing I've learned is, I'm not going to say whats next. Because then it's like the "going to the west side" announcement. I was. I had a lease. I had a promise. And everything went south.

For now, I can tell you that it is in the city of Phoenix proper. It is a deal that I'm trying to put together. It's in uptown, so its really not too far from here. It's a pretty happening place and it's pretty dense with "taco-this" and "taco-that". . . but it's going to be different. I'm sick of faux tacos.

A street taco, let's get that shit straight. A street taco is only a street taco if you're standing with your feet on the street. Possibly a sidewalk, could be a parking lot, if you're sitting in a restaurant, it's a restaurant taco. That's it. It's real simple.

Is it possible to find real Mexican food here?

It doesn't exist. You know where it exists? In someone's home. You ask a real Mexican, "Where do you eat?" They'll say, "Mi casa." Or, "Where do you go for Mexican food?" They'll say, "Mi casa." I've heard that since I was a child and I've been in the business of feeding people since I was a child as well.

Did ever it cross your mind to just focus on Barrio Cafe and the bar?

I can't sit still. I don't have ADD, but if I'm not moving forward, I'm moving back.

The Barrio Cafe is iconic, it's been there for 12 years. I have cooks that could close their eyes and still cook because they've been there for eight or 10 years. Everybody's been there forever. We're going to retire together, probably.

The Barrio Cafe is the Barrio Cafe. It's here.

Is winning the big Best Chef: Southwest award, a goal for you?

Nah. First of all, when I got nominated I was like, "What? Check that again. Really?" And you know, four times, that's cool. I'll take 16 times because once you win, that's it. You won. Think about it.

To get nominated is very humbling. It's a reminder that I'm on the right track and that I'm doing the right think. And once your motives are pure, success will come. And how do you measure success? I don't measure success with money. I measure it by watching people eat.

What's the timeline for the Barrio Cafe bar?

Before the end of the year or definitely before the Super Bowl.

I mean, it's done. I have to build bathrooms and open a couple of doors but it's painted, the floors are done . . . That's my piggy bank. I can't afford to do that all in one shot. So it's been a piggy bank.

Are you going to do different drinks than what's already offered at the restaurant?

Yeah, I'm going to do a little bit more of a craft margarita and we're going to cook a lot of our syrups.

My goal is at least 500 tequilas cause I already did the math and that's what I have room for all in one place. And Mexican wines. I brought a lot of Mexican wines into town, my goal is to have the largest Mexican wine selection in the country.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria