Tacos, Utah-style

Cultural appropriation. It’s a concept I have mixed feelings about and I’ll probably get flack for even mentioning it. I understand the rules, sort of: It’s not okay for a dominant culture to adopt elements from another, mainly from a minority or disadvantaged culture. Except when it is.

It’s not okay for Katie Perry to wear a kimono and geisha-style hairdo, but it is okay for chefs to put cream cheese in sushi rolls. It’s not okay for Burning Man girls to wear bindis, but it is okay for Indian restaurants to serve beef curry.

So you’re getting the picture. Food seems to be exempt from the notion of cultural appropriation. Good thing, because American cuisine is nothing but dishes and ideas borrowed from other cultures.

These are the thoughts that ran through my head when I ate at Barrio, a newish taco place. Clean, simple lines, order at the counter from the posted menu, take a number, choose your table and they’ll deliver your order on a tray.

Can I express just a little fatigue at this format? With the exception of a drive-through window, this is as impersonal as food service gets. It pretty much erases the hospitality aspect of dining out—the welcome, the face-to-face encounter with a server or host, the short-term relationship that in the past has defined the best restaurant service. But I’m probably in a minority. Most diners prefer speed to grace and confine their conversations to their phone or friends. Talking to strangers, even ones waiting on you, is a waste of breath.

The tacos are good—the menu doesn’t take any chances and you know the choices: beef, chicken, pork or vegetarian. But looking past the names, you see care taken with these tacos. The beef in the arachera tacos may be the skirt steak implied by the name, but it’s sustainably raised wagyu from Snake River Farms. The pollo asado, marinated and grilled chicken, is thigh meat, more flavorful and moist than the white meat usually preferred by Americans; the other chicken option is with mole negro.

Cochinita Pibil brings a Yucatan twist—the meat seasoned with sour orange, achiote, cinnamon, a touch of clove and cooked in banana leaves. Calabacitas—zucchini squash, corn and onion, and garlic shrimp round out the taco menu. We did try the street corn; it had lots of cotija and lime aioli, but the kernels weren’t roasted. The food was fresh and clean, not a drop of grease, but lacking in spice and seasoning.  Still, sometimes, you just need a taco, whatever your culture. This culture is Utah; Barrio is closed on Sundays.

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Mary Brown Malouf
Mary Brown Maloufhttps://www.saltlakemagazine.com/
Mary Brown Malouf is the late Executive Editor of Salt Lake magazine and Utah's expert on local food and dining. She still does not, however, know how to make a decent cup of coffee.

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