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Mexican soul food? No way! The cuisine barely squeaks by as gringo-Mex and is anything but soulful in any ethnicity. But don’t get me wrong. A lot of the cooking is simple and tasty, especially the unpretentious appetizers. I wouldn’t come back for them (although that corn would be a temptation) or for anything else, but despite the outrageous claims, the food itself isn’t disgraceful and the atmosphere is sort of hip, if that matters. But for this style of food, I’d actually rather eat fast-Mex at Chipotle for a fraction the price, with brighter flavors, a tastier margarita, and a vastly more individualized choice about what goes on my plate.

Authentic Mexican Home-Cooking Note:

Cacique’s Mexican dairy products and chorizos are widely available here, even in supermarket chains otherwise devoid of Mexican soul food. If you cook, you’re probably using their goodies already. Cacique’s crema mexicana, for example, has saved many a recipe for me, as a credible, gelatin-free substitute for rarely available crème fraîche. (As sour cream, it’s spendy compared to Knudsen’s, although it keeps longer, but when you’re desperate for crème fraîche it’s — priceless.) Cheeses run from lean, crumbly panela (resembling feta) and cotija (like mild Parmesan) to rich melting cheeses like queso Oaxaca — in Mexico nobody uses any yellow cheese, much less pre-shredded Cheddar blends!

Now, famous TV chef Aaron Sanchez is contributing recipes to their website, caciqueusa.com. Along with familiar dishes with “chef” touches, he offers a Langostino with Crema deluxe appetizer that’s fast and easy and sounds scrumptious. (I’m sure you could substitute other shellfish meat like lump crab or — ha-ha! — leftover local lobster.) You’ll find that one by clicking the “Go Autentico” section of website recipes.■

Barrio Star

★★ ½ (Good to Very Good)

2706 Fifth Avenue, Banker’s Hill, 619-501-7827; website useless at this writing

HOURS: Lunch Monday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m., dinner daily, 5:00–10:00 p.m. Breakfast coming soon.
PRICES: Dinner starters, $3.50–$5; soups and salads, $6–$9; entrées, $12–$17; tacos (three per plate), $13–$15; desserts, $6. Slightly lower prices at lunch.
CUISINE AND BEVERAGES: Health-conscious, somewhat upscale Mexican-style food. Cocktails, Mexican beers, modestly priced wines, Mexican Coca-Cola.
PICK HITS: Guacamole; Guadalajara grilled corn; fried shoestring plantains; steak tacos. Possible good bets: Grilled sirloin; tamal de maize [sic], fish tacos, Brazil bowl with marinated grilled tofu.
NEED TO KNOW: Small space, reserve. Casual dress. Fairly noisy, but good rock playing. Street parking. Vegetarian/vegan-friendly.

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Comments

breezy Aug. 7, 2010 @ 10:06 p.m.

Namoi, First and foremost, I’ll say I have read your columns every week, for the last five years or so. I moved away from SD in the winter of 08’ and still continue to follow your culinary adventures from Orange County. I really enjoyed your review of Barrio Star and felt you hit it spot on. I used to work for the Food Girl at her restaurant Cantina Panaderia (Be Curious???), and her food has not changed once since prior to that establishment's opening and now at Barrio Star. Her claim of being a“food girl” and perpleing take on soul-foul/ healthy Mexican food lacks in both areas of flavorful and body-thriving . If you are going to call yourself a semi-fine dining establishment and charge double digits for three tacos then you must hit it out of the park…Nonetheless, I appreciate the research you do prior to your visits. Isabella is narcissistic in her approach to managing, operating, and running a restaurant and I found her food of rice and beans to be masked with chilies, peppers, and the occasional lime-honey glaze.

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octo Aug. 29, 2010 @ 9:58 p.m.

Is Ms. Wise reviewing Barrio Star or Isabel Cruz? Is this a review of a dining establishment or the chef's personal being? She appears to have a disdain for Ms. Cruz that borders on the obsessive. She also appears to think she owns the patent on the meaning of soul. Anyone so jaded and vindictive should abstain from lecturing others on the meaning of soul, let alone soul food. I'm surprised Ms. Wise is able to taste anything over all the bitterness on her tongue.

This review is also very poorly written and full of misinformation and contradiction in regard to the food offered at Barrio Star and Ms. Cruz herself.

Finally, one is left to wonder if Ms. Wise is a fan of Isabella Cruz as it is glaringly obvious that she is so familiar and intimate with Chef Isabel that there is no way she could enter the wrong name into Google.

This is not a food review. It's the spleen venting of a nasty someone who is obviously unreasonably jealous of the chef - the true hubris is evident as being possessed by Ms. Wise, a woman who managed only to betray her insecurity and weak ego by printing a poor and slanted review that obviously comes from a woman who can't separate her personal life from her professional perspective.

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rpyrke Jan. 18, 2011 @ 11:04 p.m.

I'll agree with "breezy"! I tried this for restaurant week under pressure from my girlfriend. I think that Naomi was far too kind in her review. I would advise that you steer clear of this restaurant. The food lacked flavor ( the shrimp were already dead they didn't have to kill them again). The poorest example of Mexican inspired that cuisine I have ever experienced. This is the first time I have ever had to send a cocktail back because it was undrinkable!!

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