CLOSED: Barrio Coreano (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 642 Bloor Street West
Type of Meal: Dinner

It’s surprising … I’ve never been to Playa Cabana. Me, a person who loves a good taco! But, after a less than ideal visit to Grand Electric, hyped up Mexican restaurants leave a bad taste in my mouth. So, when my friend introduced me to Barrio Coreano, I was surprised to find out it was fourth restaurant from the Playa Cabana family of restaurants.

Situated in Korean Town, Barrio mixes Mexican and Korean flavours amongst an urban feeling cantina. Bright lights and graffiti-like artwork comingles with wrought-iron and exposed bricks. It has a lively and down-to-earth atmosphere and some beautiful gothic elements in the design as well.

Indeed, it doesn’t feel like you’re in Korean Town, except for the sole Coreano movie poster at the back.

As for the food, the menu is predominantly Mexican. The crowd favourite guacamole ($9) and salsa ($6) didn’t have a banchan (Korean side dish) feel to it. Nonetheless, they were satisfying. The guacamole was thick, creamy and intensely savoury (there didn’t appear to be a drop of lime juice or herb in it).

The salsa tasted fresh but could have benefited from more salt. However, its muted flavour did allow us to add hot sauces into it. At each table were four sauces – a hot spicy green habanero, a slightly milder yellow habanero oil with garlic, a tangy red chili sauce and a chili oil. I highly suggest using the green one sparingly as there’s certainly a kick to it.

This was my first experience having a torta – essentially a fluffy, soft, flat bread stuffed with delicious ingredients. We tried the torta Corean with kalbi (grillied and braised short rib; $10) and the de puerco (a shredded Mexican pulled pork $10). Both were tender, flavourful and filled with ingredients that complimented it well – creamy queso cheese & avocado and a crunchy tart cucumber-radish kimchi.

We over ordered having no clue how big Barrio’s tacos were. For the baha fish tacos (1 for $5 or 3 for $13), we paired it with the “salad” option where it’s wrapped with lettuce rather than tortilla. This is a great take on the Korean bo saam. Given the fish was deep fried, the lettuce helped lighten the taco.  The fish was fairly sized and delicious topped with a napa slaw.

The pulpo al carbon (1 for $6 or 3 for $16) contained a large piece of smoky grilled octopus that was tender but still had some bite to it. To lighten the protein, there was a crunchy cabbage slaw and a thick salsa on top. Personally, I found the tortilla (although soft and fresh) was too heavy with it. I actually enjoyed the octopus solely with the toppings and without the wrap.

Unfortunately, we ended off on a sour note as the fried chihuahua cheese taco (1 for $6 or 3 for $16) was generally detested at the table. Perhaps it’s due to it arriving last and thus suffered from sitting around and becoming soggy. But, the fried cheese was essentially a fritter and insanely heavy with the tortilla shells. But, I sense it wouldn’t be any better with the lettuce as that would make it even soggier.

I’d imagine this would taste better if the cheese was coated with bread crumbs instead so it’d be closer to a mozzarella stick consistency than fritter. Additionally, there was such a liberal portion of habanero sauce on it that it left all our mouths scorching.

Luckily, there was a large ice cube in my no love cocktail ($12) so I resourcefully used it to cool down my tongue. The cocktail was delicious and strong made with gin, Pimm’s, watermelon juice and hibiscus syrup.

Since I was stuffed I opted out of the churros poutine ($9). My friends seemed to be enjoying it but the creamy sauce on the bottom was a miss for some individuals.

Overall, I was pleased with my experience at Barrio Coreano and would be interested in trying another restaurant in the Playa Cabana chain. Their tacos are a tad pricier, but also larger and filled with tons of ingredients. So maybe popular Mexican restaurants are not all made the same – the music isn’t overwhelmingly loud, you’re allowed to make reservations and you’re not expected to pack yourself into a shared table. Olé!  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!