While DineAmic brass repeatedly describe Barrio, their shiny new River North restaurant that opens Saturday, as just a “Mexican restaurant,” chef Katsuji Tanabe’s presence means that’s likely a simplification. Tanabe made a name for himself on Top Chef and at LA’s Mexikosher. While he was raised in Mexico, his father is Japanese and that shows in the menu.
There’s a robata menu section offering lamb chop skewers with jalapeño-crema. Barrio is still serving tacos. Tanabe is proud of the heirloom corn he’ll grind into masa for tortillas. Other restaurants may roll their tortillas in their kitchens, but Barrio takes the extra step. Hopefully, the River North groups that come in to party will appreciate it.
Tanabe’s also in awe of how DineAmic designs their restaurants. The 6,000-square-foot space with seating for 200 totally wipes out the notion that a sports bar (BlackFinn AmeriPub) was once the tenant. There’s a DJ booth in back and wide booths. On the east side of the restaurant there’s a private room. Another seating section in the main dining room has curtains hiding more booths. There’s also outdoor seating off Clark Street with huge beams protruding through the windows from the central bar. They’re supposed remind visitors of the beams around the sun.
In many ways, DineAmic hopes to do for Mexican food what it did for Italian food with Siena Tavern. Like its River North neighbor, Siena also had a Top Chef contestant with Fabio Viviani.
Check out the photo tour below. Barrio will eventually add a side store, La Bodega del Barrio for Nutella-dipped churros and other decadent treats.
Barrio, 65 W. Kinzie St., open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays and Sundays; 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Saturday.