Since 2018, Barrio has been a cozy destination in North Beach to enjoy tacos wrapped in hand-pressed blue corn masa tortillas with a cold pint of California-made beer. But co-owners Billy Riordan and chef Tim Milojevich say they often dreamed of bigger things for their neighborhood restaurant and craft beer bar. “We always knew we had something special in the food and so we always wanted to expand,” Riordan says. Now, the two are poised to make that dream come true when Barrio opens a bigger second location at Ghirardelli Square on July 9.
Riordan acknowledges that Ghirardelli Square is better known for serving tourists than locals but says he hopes Barrio will help change that reputation. The Latin kitchen and bar joins other locally-owned businesses Palette Tea House and The Cheese School of San Francisco, which Riordan says should collectively boost the quality of the dining options in the area. He’s hopeful Barrio’s upcoming waterside location, like the original one on Powell, will ultimately serve as a place for friends to catch a Giants game on the TV at the bar and local families to enjoy brunch with a view on the patio.
Both Riordan and Milojevich bring decades of industry experience to their latest project — including time working at La Mar, the Peruvian fine dining restaurant located on the Embarcadero known for its fresh seafood and spectacular views, which is where the duo met. Milojevich started there as a fry cook after moving to San Francisco from Oregon, eventually working his way up the ranks to Cebiche Bar Manager; Riordan is a San Francisco native who’s held just about every position in restaurants from line cook to executive chef.
The menu, however, is distinctly Milojevich. Rather than honing in on the cuisine of any specific country or region, Barrio has always drawn inspiration from a handful of geographic areas and Milojevich’s experiences in them. “I didn’t want to open a standard taqueria,” he says. “I wasn’t trying to do anything authentic or regional, I was just drawing on my experience.” The chef spent time living in Quintana Roo, Mexico, so you’ll see Yucatan influences on the menu in the form of citrus-marinated cochinita pibil that’s slow-roasted in banana leaves. He also traveled to Lima, Peru while working at La Mar, so there will be a strong emphasis on fresh seafood specials, and, of course, a Peruvian-style ceviche on the daily menu that’s made with corn, sweet potato, and classic leche de tigre. Brunch will come later this summer with a menu that includes morning classics like huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, and a breakfast burrito.
The biggest departure from the format fans may be familiar with at the North Beach restaurant will come not in the kitchen, but at the
bar. Unlike the original, which only serves beer and wine, Barrio’s second location will offer cocktails. Another industry veteran, Michael Carlisi, is behind the bar program, which will focus on agave spirits. House cocktails include a margarita, daiquiri, and michelada, as well as a Spanish sea breeze that blends sherry and mezcal with grapefruit, honey, and lime. There’s also a selection of large format drink options meant for groups including a pitcher of margaritas and round tequila shots, in case you needed that beverage option to be formally listed on the menu. For those familiar with the original location, don’t worry: there’s still going to be a respectable selection of beers handpicked by Riordan including local brews from BareBottle Brewing, Laughing Monk, and Moonlight Brewing.
The 2,500-square-foot space was designed by Erin Riordan, who says the Ghirardelli Square location will be “the more refined sister to North Beach’s punk rock taco vibe.” The sun-soaked space includes a rotunda dining room with wrap-around windows that look out onto Aquatic Park and a sleek 15-seat bar. A 50-seat patio showcases both the iconic Ghirardelli Square sign and the bay with bar seats, high tops, and tables meant for parties of any size. A blend of industrial accents, hanging plants, and colorful papel picados lend a casual, playful energy to the space that’s boosted by a trio of murals. In the restaurant’s private dining room (dubbed The Masa Casa) there’s a vibrant crab painted by local artist Max Ehrman. Diners will be greeted by Barrio’s agave goddess logo behind the bar and a stylized mural of the San Francisco skyline on the host stand, both done by Chris Peralta, a local artist and bartender at Barrio North Beach.
Like just about everyone else in the restaurant industry, Riordan says just surviving 2020 was no small feat for Barrio. But expanding now makes sense, he says. At the end of the day, the mission is relatively simple: “Let’s all take a deep breath, have a good time,” he says. “Now that we can all get together again, we think we have a pretty good place to do it.”
Barrio opens Friday, July 9, with lunch and dinner, with weekend brunch coming later this summer. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.