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Barbacoa Mexican Grill: Food Without Frontiers

Our resident foodie, David Blanks, take a little trip to Maadi’s latest Mexican sensation, Barbacoa, for a full-on food fiesta. Fried fish tacos, chimichangas, and general culinary fantasies ensue…

There’s Posole in my head, that sacred Aztec stew, all hominy, chicken, and herby broth. I’m imagining steak quesadillas too, and fresh, lemony ceviche: nothing like it, not in Cairo anyway. I’m seeing chicken alambre tacos with mixed bell peppers, onions, beef bacon, and mozzarella; fried fish tacos with tamarind sauce, avocado, and shredded red cabbage; and barbacoa de cordero – lamb wrapped in a banana leaf then slow cooked in its own juices. For dessert, the chimichanga; fresh mango and cream cheese wrapped in a fried tortilla.

I’m thinking I need to go back to Barbacoa.

My hippie princess and I first found the Mexican restaurant a month ago on one of our what’s-new-in-the-neighbourhood walkabouts. It’s a funky place; bright, colorful, fun – and somehow familiar, like a family outing, except with waiters. There are sombreros aplenty, befitting a Mexican madhouse; a giant bull’s head that herds you from the ground floor bar to the multi-leveled restaurant upstairs; a large flat screen TV that switches back and forth between food and fashion; a ready-to-go staff that is well trained and attentive to your moods; and cool Latin alternative music (think mariachi ambient House) that contributes to the vibe but isn’t so loud that you can’t gossip about your friends.  

Barbacoa also features a large, uber-amiable, tattooed Italian fellow named Max; his equally exuberant Sudanese/Egyptian partner and brother-in-law, Ozzie; and an excitable executive chef, Alejandra Santos, fresh off her win on the second season of ‘Cocineros al Límite’ (Chef’s Limit), a sort of Masterchef South America.

Having grown up in Mexico City and cooking from the age of 6, Chef Santos is all about fresh ingredients and home-made dishes prepared daily, even down to the sauces. Hipster foodies will drive to this place in droves, although civilians will have to learn their way around the menu because this is not, I repeat, not Tex-Mex. Don’t even think about ordering a fajita. Sure, you can get a kicking guacamole and an enormous burrito if you want to play it safe – even a hefty T-bone steak. It’s all good, but as long as you’re here, you should take a chance on something new. “The kitchen is not a profession,” Chef Santos told me, “it’s my passion, and making people happy is my paycheck.” This is down-home Mexican cooking that should be experienced like a bucket list adventure to a foreign land.

Max is the same way, except his passion is bartending. He wants to make you happy too. His idea is to recreate a classic American bar that also serves Mexican specials like the Tangerine Mint Sparkling Margarita, or the Chavela, a light-body beer with tomato juice. Max studied under cutting-edge mixologist Dario Comini at Nottingham Forest in Milan, ranked the 15th best bar in the world in 2014. So he knows what he’s doing. Plus he’ll hang out and listen to your problems. “We want to make our customers feel at home,” he says, “as if they were on a Caribbean white sand beach, or lying down on a psychiatrist’s couch!”

Ozzie is passionate too, about everything. His mantra is, “If it’s not proper Mexican food, we’re not going to make it.” Forever fiddling with the menu and rethinking the concept, he talks, thinks, and lives food, all day, every day. Just the kind of deeply experienced professional you want behind your Pescado a la Veracruzana or your Albondigas en Salsa Picante de Jitomate. It may be Alejandra’s kitchen, and Max’s bar, but make no mistake about it, when you walk into this establishment, you have entered the Land of Oz.

Barbacoa is a full-on Mexican holiday, but you won’t be needing your ruby slippers, because you’ll never want to go home. Yeah, my hippie princess and I were happy, and we’ve been back many times, and I’m ready to go again. I have to. I’ve got Posole in my head.

You can check out their Facebook page here or follow them on Instagram @barbacoacairo