Barrio Costero - Asbury Park, NJ
Barrio Costero is one of the newest culinary joints in Asbury Park. Translated from spanish, the name means "coastal neighborhood", which accurately describes the town of Asbury Park in Monmouth County. Barrio Costero has been open for no more than 3 months, but already is making waves within the Asbury Park food scene. To call this establishment "just a Mexican restaurant" is doing it a huge disservice. Barrio Costero aims to elevate simple dishes based on a bigger-than-tapas fusion with a serving of Mexican tradition.
Upon walking into Barrio Costero, you are greeted with a warm smile by the hostess. Believe me, it makes quite the difference and already gets you into the right mindset for a palatable experience. Sometimes restaurants aren't just about the food, but also about the service. Here, the service shined. Immediately we walked towards the bar area and saw a familiar face. If you have ever been to Kane Brewing Co as repeatedly as I have, you'll recognize "Pip". He greets you with a handshake over the bar, a lost tradition, and one I am thankful he is keeping alive. Not a word was spoken and water in a glass was served. Barrio Costero, you got your act together. I'm digging you and I haven't eaten yet.
If you've regularly visited Hops & Horns, you'll know there's an intended trend of trying to find restaurants with at least a few craft selections on tap, or at least in bottles. Seeing Pip behind the bar, I was confident that at least we'd have some good stuff. Amongst the offerings for local draught were Kane's Head High, Carton's HopPun, and Cape May's Saison. Although the tap list features only 6 beers, the list is balanced and well thought out for the summer season. If you're looking for something a little crisper with less of a hop presence, Troegs Sunshine Pils will not disappoint as well.
A Carton HopPun and a Kane Head High were ordered. Both were great choices and tasted fresh. The Head High (on the left) is Kane's IPA which is light and refreshing with plenty of hop presence. The Carton HopPun, as the name suggests, is a hoppy pale ale that is pretty straightforward with hops and very easy drinking. The aim of this visit and the beer was to keep it light in order to savor the many foods we were going to order within this visit to Barrio Costero. Both of these beers were easy options to pair with the various dinner options.
First came the "Alitas", simply translated as wings. For $5, you get 4 wings that are pretty decently sized and meant for sharing. They were crispy and the peanuts added an extra crunch to the overall tasting experience. The sauce was interesting, because it tasted like something I've never had before while at the same time, tasting mildly familiar. It's hard to explain, but the entire time eating and enjoying this "botana" (appetizer) was spent trying to analyze what about the tamarind sauce made these wings an unusual but highly likable blend of sweet, tangy, and spicy. For $5, share with a group of friends and try it out. I'd definitely recommend it to people who want to have their taste buds challenged just a bit.
I have a very long history with plantains. Being from Puerto Rico, I've witnessed about 783 different ways to make these, but one of my favorite is the "sweet plantain" version where it is sauteed until almost caramelized on a pan. Barrio Costero's plantains are a take on that version. Although not done to the point of having burnt ends and caramelizing, they are still good. In fact, I am glad they weren't prepared in that familiar way for the specific reason of how well it blended in with the black beans. Do me a favor and do not eat everything separately. Stack everything, or as much as you can, on top of each other and then enjoy. The saltiness of the black beans melds in perfectly with the red onion with the sweetness of the vessel that is the plantain. There is also a little crema on the side in case you are feeling extra adventurous. I would absolutely have this again.
If you order the "empanaditas de carne", I will warn you - please be patient and let these cool off before trying to devour them. They are delicious and filled with mix of ground beef, potatoes, and peas. I made the mistake of immediately biting into one and the temperature was a bit too hot, so I chugged some beer and ruined the flavor with the cooling deliciousness of Kane's Head High. Still, the crema on the plate helps it to cool off a little bit and once my appetite allowed me to be a little more patient, tried it again and loved it. Again, I've had years and years of empanadas or empanaditas or empanadillas, and I've yet to learn my lesson. Take into consideration that they are "empanaditas" and the suffix "itas" usually means diminutive. These are slightly smaller than most empanadas you would get at other places but well worth the try. They pack a lot of flavor in a tiny fried radius.
For an entree, the Tenderloin "Al Pastor" was ordered. Now, I know the picture above looks somewhat akin to a mess, but that's the photographer's fault. By this point, my sense of lighting was off and I was trying to get the best angle with all of the pretty colors and well, I failed miserably. So you're going to have to trust me with this, the flavor in the pork tenderloin is amazing. The spread at the bottom is like a refried bean/black bean puree with the actual tenderloin covered in pineapple and a bacon jus. The best part of this dish is by far, the flavor in the pork and the rub on it. I have no idea what it was, but it was most definitely spicy, so the pineapple topping was perfection. Use that to cut the heat of the pork. It was tender, juicy, and packed a whole lot of flavor. It's a pretty sizable portion too, you just can't tell in the picture because it's camouflaged with an insane amount of toppings - and poor photographic skills at this point in time.
The food here is not just Mexican but more than tapas, a thin line between sexy and tasty and intriguing that is pulled off well. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a reinventing of mexican dishes. As Pip told us, "It's not quite Tex-Mex, it's something better." It's most certainly different, in a good way.
To those looking for cocktails, the bartenders have you covered. Everything that was made this night looked fun, colorful, and seemed to be enjoyed by everyone. The beers are solid and if you get Pip at the bar, he's got you, he's qualified to help you out in selecting whatever craft beer should go with your food.
The food itself is imaginative and first-rate. Come here when you want to share different dishes. Pre-game here or game at Barrio Costero as well. There is outside seating if you're looking to enjoy the fine Asbury sunsets or just to get some fresh air. Barrio Costero needs to be in your culinary bucket list. Go for the drinks, go for the elevated tapas, go for the friendly service. No matter what your reason may be, make this one of your next destinations in Asbury Park.