Barrio Coreano
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Par Jessica Napier

From Los Angeles to Koreatown

Barrio Coreano owner Dave Sidhu first fell in love with Latin American cuisine during his time working in the restaurant industry in New York City and Los Angeles. “Toronto really didn’t have much of a Mexican food scene at the time,” he explains. “So when I moved back, I wanted to bring something authentic to the city.” He launched his first Playa Cabana eatery in May 2011 and has gone on to establish a number of spin-off locations across the city.

“At Playa Cabana Cantina we serve the LA Truck Taco with chipotle marinated kalbi beef and citrus slaw,” Dave explains. “I was always coming down to Koreatown to buy the Asian pears we use to marinate the meat. After spending so much time here, I thought it would be a good idea to open up a new restaurant inspired by the Korean flavours of the neighbourhood.”

I like to travel, taste what’s going on in the rest of the world and come back to try and incorporate those new flavours and styles into what we’re doing here. - Dave Sidhu, owner
Barrio Coreano, Mexican cuisine, Korean cuisine, tacos, fusion cuisine, tapas, cocktails, beer

Tacos with a Twist

Barrio Coreano (“Koreatown” in Spanish) is the fourth outpost in the Playa Cabana family of restaurants. Situated in the heart of Koreatown, the taqueria’s ever-changing menu fuses classic Mexican fare with Asian street food.

“I would say about 25 to 30 percent of the menu has a Korean influence,” says Dave. “We use a variety of different Asian elements in our dishes: sesame, Korean pears, kimchi and wasabi accents.” Ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible and the chalkboard menu offers a rotating selection of bocaditos (snacks), tacos and house specials. Popular sharing plates include charred calamari served atop burnt arbol kimchi, Korean fried chicken, and tacos stuffed with bulgogi-style barbecue beef. The seasonal drink menu boasts a refreshing selection of tequila-based cocktails such as soju margaritas, goji-berry negronis and an adventurous kimchi sour.

The restaurant’s narrow interior hums with bright neon signs, loud music and boisterous crowds that give it a funky dive-bar vibe. The main dining area incorporates a number of eclectic décor items including wrought iron gates from Argentina, an antique scoreboard from Mexico, and a glowing neon star that Dave picked up during a 3,000-mile road trip to Hollywood.

In a back alley behind the restaurant, Dave has installed a custom-built outdoor brick oven modelled on a traditional Mexican horno. The clay oven, which has three interior racks for smoking and a grill on top, is used to prepare savoury snacks from the restaurant’s charcoal menu. “Right now we’re doing smoked duck, Korean spare ribs, and an Asian-take on the classic Mexican Tacos al Pastor with grilled pork and pineapple,” Dave explains.

Barrio Coreano, Mexican cuisine, Korean cuisine, tacos, fusion cuisine, tapas, cocktails, beer

Bringing the World Home to Toronto

Dave has hired a strong team of leaders to help him manage his restaurants so that he’s free to spend his time uncovering new food trends. “I like to travel, taste what’s going on in the rest of the world, and come back to try and incorporate those new flavours and styles into what we’re doing here,” he says.

At Barrio Coreano, he serves up his internationally inspired menu to a diverse mix of customers from around the neighbourhood and beyond. “We’re cooking for the guy who lives upstairs and the girl who lives next door, but we also see people from all over the city travelling to Koreatown just to eat here,” says Dave. “I think to me, food is just a vehicle; the people and the friendships are really what the hospitality industry is all about.”

Barrio Coreano, Mexican cuisine, Korean cuisine, tacos, fusion cuisine, tapas, cocktails, beer
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