The mornings here in Tucson are beginning to get that early autumn chill. And "chill," for us anyway, means temperatures nearing the 60-degree mark, so lifelong desert dwellers break out the long sleeves and go in search for some hot beverage respite in the daybreak repose.
If you find yourself in the Barrio Hollywood neighborhood on such a morning and you you need something to perk you up, you might find yourself in a bit a quandary. While there are many delicious options on that stretch of Grande Avenue, it's not easy to find fresh brewed coffee. There's that awesome bakery near Ontario Street, but they really can't fix you up a white chocolate mocha frappe since, well, they don't really do that sort of thing. But you really want that white chocolate mocha frappe! Luckily for you, right there on the corner of Speedway, across from a Marisco's Chihuahua, is a little coffee cart going by the name of Barista Del Barrio.
It's fairly inconspicuous, sitting stalwart with a few signs indicating its existence on a dusty plot, but it is there and, mercifully, they have that frappe you so desperately desire. Working your way around back to order, you make a pleasant discovery that the cart comes equipped with a shaded patio, filled with funky chairs and antique patio tables. Others who have come across this near-hidden cart sit holding cups of tea, iced coffee and hot cocoa, relaxing and chatting with one another, leaving you to wonder if they arrived already acquainted or just got to know one another by proxy. Either way, everyone is smiling as a young man brings out a steaming bowl of early-day righteousness for one of his customers.
Going back and inspecting their menu, you see that under the various hot and cold drinks, they offer a couple of food options. What the one patron got was their breakfast bowl ($4.50), a pretty good serving of eggs, cheese, potatoes, beans and sausage for the scant amount charged. Maybe you're not that hungry; a big bowl of meat and carbs just isn't doing it for you right then. You then opt for the Breakfast Burrito ($4.50), instead, to snack on later. The guy running the cart and food suggests that you get it with the chorizo, although, apparently, the sausage and bacon is good too, respectively. He informs that his mom makes it by hand and is carried down from a long secret family recipe. So...you get it with the chorizo. Why not?
Realizing that you are a bit famished, you unwrap the warm, plump, folded goodness and take a bite. A sudden and striking realization immediately hits you: This is probably the best breakfast burrito you have ever had. Anywhere.
And that is saying a lot. Especially here in Tucson.
The chorizo is easily the standout; tasty, fresh, an expert blend of spices, lustrous without being greasy, accentuating the other ingredients (same as the breakfast bowl) perfectly. Oh and the tortilla is lovely as well. Handmade by mom. Of course. Not only are the coffee drinks exceptional but the breakfast burrito is a bit of a game changer. This little cart is about to get rushed because of all this. Sorry. Barista Del Barrio is on to something.
"This was all my mom's idea," says Sergio Torres as he whips up a vanilla latte and his signature tea, a Barrio Black, infused with almond milk and raw sugar. "She always wanted to open her own business and thought that serving coffee in this area would be unique. After a while she started serving food and it was a hit almost immediately."
Once you've tasted her simple yet attentive food, you can see why a small but dedicated fan base has been singing the cart's praises in online reviews. The family is in the works of converting a nearby location into a space with a full working kitchen and more seating for patrons, because, currently, mom cooks on a tiny stove in a cramped area next to the cart. Hopefully Sergio's service in the Navy helped prepare him for what's coming when word gets out about this place; he's gonna need that military strength to handle the hungry and thirsty crowds.
If you are on your way to one of the more established restaurants in the Barrio and blink, you may miss the little cart that could and does. But don't. Because mom knows best and she makes some of the best desayuno food on the block. And that frappe was just divine, wasn't it?