Sitting on the deck of Barcocina (1629 Thames St.,  563-1500, barcocina.com) in Fells Point, we were reminded of the pleasures of dining next to the water while watching the boats go by. It seems a naturally Baltimorean privilege but, oddly, there aren’t that many places to eat in Fells with a close-up view of the harbor, and even fewer that serve quality upscale food. Luckily for us, Barcocina has both.
Located on Broadway pier behind The Admiral’s Cup, Barcocina is a gorgeously modern-looking restaurant with an airy yet industrial feel. Concrete and metal are the main materials highlighted in this newly renovated space, with rich wood streaking through like the decks of shuffle boards between the rows of diners. Even when it’s packed it feels open due to the garage door walls that open out to Fells Point and let the breeze come in off of the water.
Barcocina makes “Mexican-inspired cuisine,” which could be a recipe for disaster, but Chef Marc Dixon and crew pull it off without making it schlocky or pandering to their patrons. They keep their menu short and the dishes small and relatively simple.
Our server explained that the food is served like tapas, which they encourage diners to share among the table. She also told us that when ordering, we should stagger the items because they come out when they're ready (i.e. not in order of appetizer, entrée, dessert, etc.). This was good advice because we were able to pace our meal in segments.
Our first wave of food consisted of yucca frites ($7) and elotes ($6), which are both part of the sides section of the menu. The yucca fries had a creamy interior and crispy exterior with a generous dusting of smoked paprika. A lime garlic crema served with the fries was unfortunately weak. The elotes (corn on the cob) were overcooked, but the ancho cayenne butter, queso fresco, and lime zest covering the two char-grilled corn cobs had us forgetting all about it. They became a great kick start to the meal.
Guacamole has its own section on the Barcocina menu and out of the three they serve we chose the Barcocina guacamole ($9). Served with shatteringly great chips, the guac satisfied with threads of queso Oaxaca shaved over it. The pasilla-lime-balsamic sauce seemed like an odd pairing, but it gave an interesting zap against the creamy dip.
A couple of spicy house-made cocktails help slake the thirst the salty chips brought about. The margarita en fuego ($11) lived up to its name with a fine sweet-and-sour balance that was set ablaze by a jalapeño foam covering the top layer. The lime riding sidesaddle on the glass helped calm it down. The Barcocina lemonade ($10) was not as peppery, but the jalapeño simple syrup still offered a bit of burn. Cucumber vodka, lemon juice, and cilantro rounded out the drink and made it dangerously drinkable.
There was a misstep with the el jardÍn empanada ($10). These veggie empanadas were bland, soggy, and half empty. The pastry, where crisp, was good, but it swallowed up the sad veggies which were underseasoned and overcooked.
The tacos at Barcocina are not what some would call authentic, but they were delicious nonetheless. The tacos come three in an order but you can get them independently or mix them up for variety.
We chose the braised pork shoulder, spice grilled lemon fish, and cumin-spiked mushroom ($4 apiece). The pork shoulder was well balanced in terms of flavor and cooked to almost a homogeneous consistency. Paired with its accouterments, it hit a taste memory of being a kid and eating a great sloppy joe, which isn’t a bad thing in our book. The lemon fish tacos were light and pleasant with a welcome crunch from jicama and cabbage. While not everyone agreed on the mushroom tacos—there was a texture problem for some—we did agree that the light touch of truffle crema accentuated the tortilla full of beech mushrooms perfectly.
The smothered chicken sopes ($19), picked from Barcocina’s tiny entrée list, were the star of the meal. Bone-in chicken thighs were braised with button mushrooms in a roasted-tomato and pasilla negro salsa and served over a masa tart shell. The tender chicken, which was finished off with truffle oil and chipotle crema, stopped conversation for a few minutes while we took in the richness of it all.
The house-made choco-taco ($8) was larger that we had expected, with two pizzelle packed with two scoops of salty caramel ice cream. It was topped with a powdered Nutella and peanut butter, which helped to add texture and a temperature shift (just don’t breathe it in). With the wind whipping through our hair and the heat subsiding as the sun went down, the ice cream capped off a fun dinner.
Does the view make the dinner better? No doubt, but the food by itself was certainly good enough to make us want to come back with friends to try more. The restaurant looks as if it can handle very large parties, so next time we will bring a pack of friends so we can try a little bit of everything.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 12 a.m, Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.