Food, vibe fine - beer comes first at Barrio Brewing Co.

Barrio Brewing's updated menu keeps old favorites - burgers, tacos, dogs
2012-09-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-22T16:52:15Z Food, vibe fine - beer comes first at Barrio Brewing Co.Tom Beal Arizona Daily Star
September 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

We're back searching for good grub and good beer in this occasional series that has mainly focused on the fancy fare offered by self-named "gastropubs."

Barrio Brewing Co. stakes no claim on the "gastro" part of that term, which is not to say the food is bad, just that the beer comes first, with the interesting location a close second.

Barrio is an offshoot of Tucson's oldest brewery, Gentle Ben's, which began selling its own brews on University Boulevard in 1991.

If you've been to Ben's, you know what to expect at Barrio - the lineup of beers is identical and the food menu is familiar, though Barrio adds paninis to the mix.

One thing you can't get at Gentle Ben's is a $3.25 "rail pint" - a $1 break on a pint of beer when crossing gates drop on Toole Avenue.

Barrio is located in an industrial area at East 16th Street and South Toole Avenue, where the rumble of the trains and the toot of the horn are occasional interruptions.

The building, a former warehouse, has been transformed into one of those hip, open-ceilinged bistros with unfinished wood and weathered steel walls - with a room full of gleaming stainless-steel beer equipment behind glass in the rear.

The vibe is casual and the clientele more varied than the student-overrun branch on University.

Barrio, in the course of a few years, has become a comfortable, dependable spot just southeast of downtown and, more importantly, a four-block walk from my house.

The service is always efficient and usually quite friendly, no matter how crowded things get. "The advantage is, we're almost always busy," said Gerard Meurer, general manager.

The menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and tacos includes all of the old favorites and a few surprises, like the aforementioned tasty mushroom sandwich called "A Touch of Grey" ($8.25).

Barrio recently changed its menu for the first time ever, but fear not, your favorites are still available. It added a pulled-pork sandwich ($8.50), tortilla soup ($3.50, bowl; $2, cup) and The Phoenix ($8.95), described on the menu as: "Italian marinated grilled chicken breast, fire roasted red peppers, thick cut jalapeño bacon, and Pepper Jack cheese. Finished with a habanero cream sauce."

Sounds yummy.

It's tough, though, to lure me from my favorites, starting with the carne asada tacos ($8.50). I don't usually order Mexican food at a non-Mexican restaurant, but Barrio marinates tender beef, cooks it perfectly and pairs it with a good pico de gallo. Their Sonoran hot dogs also rival my favorite food-truck versions.

The burgers are good and available in a variety of preparations ($7.50 to $8.95). When you are asked whether you would like to substitute beer-battered fries for an additional 75 cents, say "Yes."

The salads are fresh and large. A half portion is usually sufficient.

So, to sum it all up: good food, good service, interesting location.

Oh yeah - beer.

As you might expect, Barrio/Ben's has the brewing thing down after 21 years at the craft.

Some of the old favorites - Tucson Blonde, Red Cat Amber and Copperhead Pale Ale - are consistently good.

The robust Barrio India Pale Ale is the favorite of serious beer drinkers, Meurer said.

The newest entry is the Rich Rod Red, another UA-themed addition, that, as the menu notes, is "the color of a flower associated with a certain New Year's Bowl."

They're serving it now, but still tweaking the recipe to give it just the right flavor and color, Meurer said.

Which is pretty much the recipe for Barrio's success. It works hard at getting things right and keeping them that way.


Barrio Brewing Co. 800 E. 16th St., 791-2739.

• Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays; 11 a.m.- midnight Thursdays to Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

• Noise level: About what you'd expect in a crowded bar; quieter on the porch.

• Alcohol: Full bar and craft brews at $4.25 a pint.

• Family call: Children are welcome.

• Vegetarian options: Several salads, veggie burger and a mushroom sandwich.

• Price range: From a $2.95 Sonoran dog to a $9.25 pork tenderloin sandwich.

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