They’ve tempted us with tapas before. But even the most memorable attempts by Bend restaurants like Fireside Red and Barcelona were sadly short-lived.
Luckily, the Spanish-inspired tradition of tapas is back in town—redefined and gaining momentum thanks to Barrio, the new Spanish kitchen on Minnesota Avenue in downtown Bend.Tapas are plates of small bites meant to be shared. They’re a tradition rooted in Spanish customs—more of a way of living than simply a way of eating.
When you step into the previous Marz/Gatsby’s location of Barrio, which means “neighborhood” in Spanish, you will at once feel relaxed and among friends. You’ll be welcomed by the friendly staff, and probably impressed by the Latin-inspired small plates menu. But you may be surprised to learn of the restaurant’s humble beginnings.
Barrio was born of the collaboration between two of Bend’s most successful food carts, El Sancho and Soupcon. El Sancho’s Joel Cordes, and Steven Draheim of Soupcon formed their alliance after realizing that two carts were better than one. Both are classically trained chefs native to Central Oregon who traveled and worked in Tuscon, Seattle and Portland before returning to Bend.
Open year-round, rain or shine, El Sancho and Soupcon were a favorite among downtown workers. Soupcon offered a changing menu of gourmet soups and salads, and El Sancho served Latin-influenced favorites like tacos, tamales, rice and beans. Both carts offered unique dishes using fresh ingredients—a far cry from what some of us think of as street food—that customers could mix and match. The camaraderie between the two carts seemed effortless, and the guys cemented their partnership through a big win at a taco festival in Arizona last year.
When former Gatsby owner approached Draheim and Cordes about the possibility of taking over his lease, they knew it was an opportunity they couldn’t refuse.
They now serve their food-cart favorites indoors at lunchtime. Then, at night, Barrio transforms itself into casual fine dining, with table service, linen napkins and a well-executed menu that includes shareable appetizers, various small plates and paella—a traditional Spanish rice dish flavored with saffron and studded with goodies such as seafood, pork and chicken, or vegetables. The house salad and homemade dressing choices can change daily, but are always enticing and unexpected, as are the daily specials written on the chalkboard.
I ordered the pork loin small plate ($8) off the specials board. The meat was seared to a hot, pink-centered medium and sliced over cider-braised apples and wilted kale. The vinegar softened the kale and balanced the sweetness of the apples, making for an entrée-worthy dish worth twice the price. The tortilla Espanol ($8) was another example of great execution—not for the traditional combo of eggs and potatoes, but for the presentation. The clean-cut sides showcased the layers of the frittata wedges, a generous squeeze of lemon juice added brightness, and a luscious roasted-red-pepper-and-almond romesco sauce was served underneath. Homemade potato chips served alongside became small scoops for the last smears of romesco.
Diners next to me shared the patatas bravas, a potato dish with a tomato-paprika sauce and Cotija cheese. Another table dipped into the queso fundido, which was a fondue of sorts baked in a small skillet. Neither had a bite left when plates were cleared.
It was early evening on a Tuesday less than two months after opening. Salsa music had greeted us on the street as we arrived, and saloon doors parted to reveal an already bustling room filled with laughter, lively conversation, and friends enjoying good times, and good food. This is what tapas is all about.
163 NW Minnesota Ave.
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 am to 3pm
Dinner: Tuesday through Saturday
5pm to close