The latest addition to the Playa Cabana family is a small hotspot on Bloor Street West in Toronto's Koreatown named Barrio Coreano. Upon entering, you don't really know what you're looking at. It is an eclectic mismatch of neon signs, exposed brick on the walls, ripped tile on the ceilings, and laminated wood tables. The chalkboard menu, similarly, is a mixed-up list of Mexican sharing plates with Korean flare, led by owner and executive chef David Sidhu.
Sidhu has created a Playa Cabana empire, with Barrio Coreano as his fourth location, showcasing everything from tacos to lamb short ribs. The always-changing menu is split into four categories: bocaditos (small plates), tacos, especiales de la casa (house specialties), and dulces (desserts). Grilled calamari with burnt arbol kimchi ($14), kalbi beef taco ($6), a 32-ounce cowboy ribeye with Korean barbecue sauce and pineapple kimchi ($39), a portobello fajita ($15), and a flourless chocolate cake with green tea ice cream ($8) are some of the dishes you can expect, although the menu tends to change based on what they can find locally and feel like cooking that day.
The particularly friendly server let me know that on occasion they find sauces and ingredients to use from places like Fiesta Farms on Christie Street or even the basement of Honest Ed's. The chefs are always on the lookout for how to keep things new and interesting. The best of the night was the fried queso chihuaha, a spicy cheese specialty ($5), and kalbi beef ($6) tacos, which each came in a colourful red or purple soft shell with crunchy veggies and sprinkled with cholula chili-based hot sauce. It was important to leave room for dessert, though, with tres leche fried ice cream on the menu — which stole the show with its cut-up strawberries and whipped cream atop a crunchy crust covering sweet ice cream of "three milks" (cream, milk, and condensed milk), a Spanish favourite.
Barrio Coreano is a long room for about 75 people, with a bar setup to serve cocktails like Kimchi Sours, beers like Dos Equis, and non-alcoholic beverages like Mexican Coke that uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Don't hesitate to ask your server for suggestions, because they have new and creative cocktails all the time. The small space means that it fills up quickly and at around 7:00 pm, they start sending people away because they're fully booked for the rest of the night.
Sidhu has struck gold again with an eccentric eatery, like Playa Cabana and Cantina, which is perfect for Torontonians who are always looking for the next best thing and craving restaurants that can keep up.