Written by Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar is a Mexican-inspired eatery located at 2211 Second Avenue North. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. And its Saturday brunch always draws a crowd.
Barrio means district or neighborhood in Spanish. This downtown Birmingham neighborhood restaurant is the perfect gathering place. El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar is owned and operated by Brian Somershield and Geoff Lockert.
Entering the restaurant, there is window seating to the left. The center of the dining space is dotted with tables, and the left wall has a bold, colorful mural. There is a wooden wall in the back of the space lined with booths. And the bar is situated on the right wall.
Today we arrived at 11:00 for Saturday brunch, and there was not a seat open in the restaurant. The regular crowd obviously knew to arrive at 10:30 a.m., when they opened.
El Barrio invites you to the bar for drinks regardless of whether you dine here or not. Today we were invited to liven our 20-minute wait with a drink at the bar, but there was no seating there either. So we ordered drinks and happily waited for a table in the front window. Our first round of drinks included the grapefruit margarita and a sweet iced Mexican coffee. The margarita was balanced and gorgeous. Served in a low ball on the rocks with salt, this pink drink included a large slice of red grapefruit squeezed and floating among the ice. The wake-me-up iced coffee was served in a high ball and layered with coffee and cream.
When our table is ready, we order local brews to pair with warm tortilla chips, salsa, and queso. Our drinks and chips arrive together. The salsa is mild in flavor and has a consistent texture with diced tomatoes throughout—not too watery and not too chunky. The queso is topped with cheesy crumbles and chopped, fresh herbs. It is thick and creamy in texture with mild layers of pure cheese flavors shining through.
The enormous A.M. Burrito arrives with a hearty side of red rice. The burrito is filled with eggs, bacon bites, black beans, peppers, and cheese. It is smothered in hatch chile gravy that is spicy hot in flavor. The red rice is tasty with a nutty flavor that calms down the spice of the burrito. And the Oaxacan Doughnuts are the dish for the sweet tooth. Roasted apples, a citrus cream cheese, candied chipotle pecans with apple butter, and cinnamon sugar leave us with a sweet end to brunch at El Barrio.