Barrio Is North Beach’s Best Mexican Restaurant

And a worthwhile destination in its own right.

You don’t go to Noe Valley for dim sum, you don’t go to the Sunset for cioppino, and you don’t go to North Beach for ceviche. These sound like absolute dining truisms, but the last one might be called into question now that Latin American beer-and-wine bar Barrio is up and running around the corner from Beach Blanket Babylon at 1609 Powell St.

Not so much pan-Latin as Mexican-Peruvian, Barrio is an evening-only operation that doesn’t remain content to reduplicate what everyone else is doing around town, or — worse — water it down to cater to the supposed tastes of a neighborhood better known for calzones and stinking roses. Instead, the menu ranges from overstuffed comforts like a heaping plate of nachos with plenty of guac and pickled onions, or pork “quekas” (which is to say, quesadillas) to slightly more daring fare.

Huitlacoche tacos (two for $10), for instance, are likely going to require some explaining for more than a few people who aren’t entirely familiar with the gustatory pleasures of velvety-earthy corn smut. They’re served on blue corn tortillas, too, something that can make even humble chicken tacos feel imaginative and alive. A preparation of chicken confit, nuclear-green salsa verde, and chicken chicharrones, they’re practically three-dimensional, requiring a little more concentration whenever you roll one up. Want some ceviche? It rotates daily, with shrimp and halibut figuring prominently among the delights marinating in tiger’s milk. Further, the beer list is commendable and then some, with unexpected treasures like Brasserie d’Achouffe’s Belgian strong pale ale alongside straightforward hometown favorites like Fort Point.

This is not an overlit, eat-and-get-going place. Barrio is dark and it looks nearly residential, with Home Depot-style ceiling fans and decor left over from the pubbier Boardroom days. There are wall-mounted flatscreens and they’re probably going to be tuned to the same game. But change has come to S.F.’s northernmost barrio, and it is welcome.

Barrio, 1609 Powell St., 415-923-8997, barriosf.com.

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