At the beginning of 2020, Boston lost the century-old No Name Restaurant, a classic seafood joint whose lack of a name in its early days stuck over the decades. Over two thousand miles away, another no-name restaurant is flourishing, chef Sofía García Osorio’s Mexico City venture that’s often referred to as El Lugar Sin Nombre, or “the nameless place.”
“You used to tell people about a place by saying, ‘Oh, it’s right across the street from that big tree,” García Osorio has said. “We’re playing on that old way of doing things.” Sometimes the best spots are the least Google-able, better found via locals’ word-of-mouth.
Now, García Osorio is lending her talents to a new venue up north with a similarly simplistic moniker: Barra, which means “bar” in Spanish, is opening within the next couple of weeks at 23A Bow St. in Somerville’s Union Square, with the exact timeline pending final inspections. (See update below.) Owners Paola Ibarra and Yhadira Guzmán — the former, a Mexico City native, and the latter, a Mexico City resident — hired García Osorio to create the menu and train the local staff on it, and she’ll remain involved through future menu evolutions.
On how García Osorio got involved in the project, Ibarra told Eater: “I admire her restaurant and her attitude toward food. It’s very simple and not pretentious at all, and her food speaks for itself — she will tell you anything about herself through her food. That was appealing to me, her food and her attitude, and she’s very giving and generous.”
“I just asked her,” Guzmán added. “‘We’re having this project; we would like to do this.’ And she just agreed. She came to teach our staff and will be returning when we open.”
Barra is quite small, nestled in a former juice bar space (in fact, the owners have inherited equipment from the previous tenant and will use it to make fresh juices) with 12 seats and space for 24 overall. Six chairs line the main bar, with another six stools along a narrow counter on the opposite side of the space.
A curtain on the kitchen door is decorated with an image of El Ángel de la Independencia, the Angel of Independence, a monument at a location in Mexico City where residents gather for political rallies, sports victories, and other events.
Barra’s bar is lined with corrugated galvanized aluminum, reminiscent of old barbecue trucks and taquerias in Mexico City, said Ibarra. Barra’s logo, too, is a nod to Mexico, with the typeface reflecting hand-drawn signs at family-run stores.
The vibe, from Spanish-language music (but not the salsa soundtrack common at so many Mexican restaurants in the United States) to Spanish-language movies playing on the bar’s sole television, is meant to represent Mexico City’s vibrant dining and drinking culture, also drawing influences from elsewhere in Mexico and Latin America in general, and the menu follows suit.
Typical of Mexican food, several ingredients show up in various forms across the menu, especially corn and chiles. Barra’s corn-based items, such as tortillas and tostadas, are made in-house daily, as are salsas, of which there are five on the opening menu (pipián, avocado, macha, molcajeteada, and pickled onions and habanero).
The opening menu features six small dishes and a dessert:
- Aguachile — raw fish of the day with passionfruit, serrano, citrus emulsion, avocado, and cucumber, served with tostadas
- Taco de chile relleno — stuffed jalapeno with ground meat, nuts, and dried fruit, served on tortilla with beans and pickled vegetables
- Taco de pipián — a pumpkin seed and herb-based mole on tortilla with sauteed vegetables (vegan option available)
- Tetela — triangle-shaped corn bite stuffed with beans and cheese and served with cactus salad, grasshoppers, and molcajete salsa (vegan and vegetarian options available)
- Doblada de papa y camarón — lightly fried tortilla with potato puree and sauteed shrimp, served with avocado salsa, green salad, and pickled cabbage (vegetarian option available)
- Esquites con almejas — shaved corn with clams, butter, and morita-mayonnaise (vegetarian option available)
- Tamal de calabaza — pumpkin sweet tamal with cane syrup, served with ice cream
García Osorio spent time in Boston adjusting her recipes and flavors to work with the local ingredients. “The funny thing with the esquites,” Ibarra told Eater, “is what Sofía ended up choosing after tasting it with different things here: clams. It’s a wink to clam chowder, but also the taste was perfect.”
To drink, Barra is packing a lot of options into its intimate space. There will be sippers — several types of mezcal, sotol, bacanora, raicilla, tuxca, and other ancestral and regional liquors from Latin America, served with pairings of fruits and special salts, such as grasshopper or prickly pear salts. There will also be a variety of apéritifs and digestifs, including Mexico City’s carajillo and other espresso-based drinks, xtabentún, xila, and rumchata. Cocktails will feature fresh juices, herbal and spiced infusions, and Latin American spirits, as well as twists on classics. And there will be brunch-specific drinks as well, including micheladas, bloodys, clamatos, and summer raspados (shaved ice).
Barra’s wine list is mostly natural and includes some Mexican producers, while the beer list (six on draft plus cans and bottles) features mostly local craft beers but a couple Mexican producers as well. (“Craft beer is very new” in Mexico, said Ibarra.) On the non-alcoholic side, there will be spirit-free cocktails as well as aguas frescas and juices.
When Barra opens, it will operate from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday for brunch, which features the same menu as at night but with a few additional brunch specials.
“Barra is a small and cozy space for people to have small plates and drinks and a good time via the visuals and music,” said Ibarra. “It’s the nostalgia of the places I’m used to going in Mexico City, the places where people sit with good food and good music, having a good time and staying there forever.”
“Mexico City is a lot of things right now; it’s a foodie scene,” said Guzmán. “I’m proud of it, and I want to share it with you.”
Update, February 24, 2020: Barra is now open in Union Square. Hours to start: 5 to 11 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and weekend brunch from noon to 4 p.m.
• Barra Coverage on Eater [EBOS]
• Barra [IG]