Hangover Helper: Barcocina delivers bold, spicy Mexican brunch food

Coming down from the high and agita of Chilibrew IX, we craved more than a bowl of cereal to hash out the sights and flavors of the night before. We got dressed and set ourselves up on Barcocina's (1629 Thames St., [410]563-8800, barcocina.com) patio overlooking the Recreation Pier. Truth be told, we'd never visited any of the of the establishments that occupied the waterfront location where Barcocina now sits and we think that maybe we've been cheating ourselves—expansive views of the harbor, crisp breezes, ample outdoor seating, and indoor seating with tons of light and enormous windows. This is one grade-A location.

We picked Barcocina as part of our never-ending hunt for more ways to weave Mexican food into our day (which isn't always easy depending on where we are in Baltimore) and we'd like to round out our lineup with a selection ranging from hole-in-the-wall taquerias joints to casual hangouts and higher-end places. Turns out, Barcocina hits the mark on low-key, well-curated fare, including approachable dishes suitable for taco and chili-pepper lovers and folks who maybe aren't so adventurous.

Our server explained that the chef split the menu between the brunch items served on larger plates and a sampling of Barcocina's all-day small plates and shareable dishes. The brunch menu offered a combination of Mexican riffs on standard brunch fare, such as ancho cinnamon French toast ($10), duck confit enchiladas ($14), and chorizo benedict ($14), along with safer choices like the maple sausage pancake sliders ($11) and a spiced chicken omelet ($10).

While we were each excited by the brunch options, we were also thrilled to pick from the tacos and salsas/dips. So, we picked a little from column A and a little from column B.

We started with the "elotes" corn salsa ($8), grilled corn slathered in mayonnaise, cheese, and chili powder, and destroyed this creamy, crunchy, and lightly sweet bowl of summer flavors, though we do wish it had had been better seasoned with more citrus or salt.

Of the large-plate brunch options, the carne asada y huevos ($14) delivered an updated version of the classic steak and eggs entree that, if given the option, we'd order all day long. The dish arrived with a bed of grilled potatoes setting the base for tender morsels of red meat, topped with runny golden eggs and drizzled with a rich and spicy smoked gouda queso fundido (basically Mexican cheese dip). First, this queso fundido should be a staple condiment Barcocina offers to put on anything. It's velvety, but not heavy. It's deeply spiced and flavorful, but not hot or overpowering. We'd be happy with this stuff if it just came in a bowl with a basket of chips. Suffice it to say, this dish belongs on the A-list for Baltimore brunch dishes.

Also from the brunch options, we tested out the mushroom omelet ($10). This falls into the tame category. We ordered it because a member of our party is really into mushrooms, and on that front, this omelet delivered: eggs wrapped around beech and crimini mushrooms with a side of potatoes and topped dollop of fresh salsa. While it was a fine omelet, it needed more flavor (Saute with habanero? Cumin? Add corn?). All things considered, we wouldn't bother given the other options.

Rounding out our post-chili hangover, we split an order of Hawaiian pineapple pork tacos ($12). A mellow version of the al pastor standard (our favorite taco filling), these tacos were succulent and bright. Topped with crunchy radish, greens, and rich crema, these tacos delivered deep smoky flavors and rich, slightly oily shredded pork and a side of charred pineapple salsa. We devoured them and, if we weren't so stuffed from the other delights, we would have gladly stayed to work our way through each little taco plate. Get these tacos.

After topping it all off with bottomless mimosas ($10) and bloody marias ($12), we're already excited about our next trip to spend a sunny afternoon gobbling up spicy, bold Mexican small plates and taking in the view.

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