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Baro is a Latin American restaurant in the Fashion District on King West. Baro takes traditional latin culture and cuisine and reimagines it with distinct modern flair.

Review: There goes the neighbourhood

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on February 09, 2017

Who doesn't remember Valdez on King West, one of the first restaurants to foresee the current popularity of Latino street food? When it closed due to (surprise!) more condo construction, exec chef/owner Steve Gonzalez took to the streets with his Latino Street Party trailer at various food fests until his latest venture was completed, Baro.

Slang for Barrio, meaning neighbourhood, Baro is still in the heart of the King and Spadina entertainment district, but the new space is an emporium sized four-storey behemoth with a top floor terrace in a heritage industrial building that used to make parts for ritzy Rolls Royce. Designed by Solid Design and Build (also responsible for hipster magnets like La Carnita, Miss Things, El Rey Mezcal Bar, DaiLo and The Citizen, to name a few), Baro manages ambient levels that grab you the moment you walk in. There is even buzz about a secret bar with passwords to gain entry, not that you read that here….

The dimly lit main floor is where all the food happens, with an assembly-line-long open kitchen and cooks galore. Surprisingly, there are some clever design nuances that emit a luxurious brasserie kind of vibe. Though it's hard not to notice an entire wall of dust-collecting plastic vines, in front of windows to boot. Have these folks never heard of the all-the-rage living wall? I mean this is not your typical Tex-Mex eatery. Thankfully, the nuevo Latino fare at Baro is a cut above refried beans and burritos.

Yes, the food is fresh, seasonal, rich in Latin culture and always made from scratch, with the exception of some tortilla shells. And for that it's going to make some serious dents to your wallet. Meaning even the chips, guacamole and salsa run at a whopping price of $15 and the portions are on the small-ish side. Ceviches, though, are textbook perfect, and run from $19 to $25, with an out of place potato gnocchi at $19 and $30 for a roasted chicken breast. In other rip-off news, the pitcher of sickly sweet sangria ($27) has enough ice to build an igloo and probably not much more alcohol than a Shirley Temple. But a trout ceviche ($20) surpasses stupendous. Made with local trout, pineapple agua chili, cucumber and avocado cream, it delivers the heartiest of citrus punches, often lacking in most timid ceviches.

Three Colombian-style empandas ($7) arrive in a mini paper bag with a vibrant and zesty sauce in a plastic take-out ramekin. Made out of cornmeal and deep-fried 'til golden, it is supposedly filled with beef, potato, peas and aji. So perfect looking they could easily be mistaken for McCain Pizza Pockets, but once bitten reveal an interior that resembles more that of refried beans, albeit darn tasty. It’s practically impossible to discern a trace of the meat, potato or pea. And chori papa ($15) is basically a fajita-ish build-your-own soft taco with a stir fry of chorizo, potato, peppers, chipotle and goat cheese that takes you back to the Tex-Mex days of Tortilla Flats or Chi-Chi’s. Even a Perth pork ($28), one of the few more "affordable" mains, includes two slabs of loin surrounded by a swath of fat. Sadly, it sits on a pablum-like celery root puree with enough salt to send sodium levels off the chart, and a perplexing presentation that includes apple salsa, mustard jus, grains and legumes, and a raw clump of undressed greens that takes up most of the plate. Latin flair? Dondé? At least the meal ends on a high note with an inimitable tres leche cake ($8) from Baura Lao. The fact the kitchen was out of dough to make the churros turned out to be a good omen after all.

When pressed for the owners names, the PR person wrote, "A collection of people and entrepreneurs delivering an extensive and strategic experience in the restaurant business and broader hospitality space." Spin it any way you like, honey, but Baro ends up just being a high priced eatery with a fun festive atmosphere where the food doesn't quite live up to the hype or the prices.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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