Roman’s Holiday: Barbacoa brings backyard BBQ to center stage
Chef Roman Raya has always been driven to bring his nostalgic favorites to life on the plate and then to share those tastes with others. He believes he now has the vehicle to do just that with his newly-opened restaurant Barbacoa, located on the corner of 55th and Troost.
After trying a few of Barbacoa’s drinks and dishes, we’re inclined to agree.
Raya and his brother, Phillip, are co-owners, and they run the kitchen at Barbacoa as executive chef and sous chef. Mixing up a devilishly delicious drink menu is another co-owner, Madeline Buechter. The menu is inspired by the Mexican flavors and dishes that the Raya brothers grew up enjoying at backyard family gatherings. That said, Raya wants to clarify the style of cooking the restaurant is doing.
“Barbecue means a lot of things to a lot of people, especially in Kansas City,” he says. “Our dishes are inspired by the flavors of traditional Mexican food, told through the cooking style of barbecue. You’re going to get a lot of smoky, tender meats. You’re going to get a huge depth of flavor. There are a lot of spices and a lot of big, bold tastes. This is the type of food I remember from my childhood, but elevated and adapted for a new audience.”
The three have long looked forward to this day. While planning their first business endeavor together (Taco Tank, a former food pop-up at breweries before finding a home in Parlor, then moving to Iron District, where it still operates), Roman wrote the word “Barbacoa” off to the side of his notebook where he was brainstorming restaurant concepts.
“We always knew this was the target,” he says. “We’re so excited to be able to introduce it to Kansas City.”
Barbacoa is an inviting space, with giant windows, table seating for about 40, and eight bar seats. As soon as you walk in, you’ll immediately get hit with mouth-watering aromas from the slow-cooked meats that are incorporated into a number of dishes. It’s also the type of place where you’ll repeatedly crane your neck as servers walk past, trying to catch a glimpse of every dish to hopefully help you make up your mind of what to order.
During their soft opening, Barbacoa had a slightly reduced food menu on offer, but the decision-making was still not easy. As a starter plate, I gravitated toward the brisket taquitos. I have nostalgic memories of my own: popping some José Olé taquitos into the oven between rounds of Mario Kart. As you might guess, Barbacoa’s version of the dish had a little more going for them. The brisket itself was extremely punchy, with a deep, smoky flavor and that perfect “can’t wait to take another bite” quality. The duo of dips served alongside the taquitos—a garlicky crema and a slow-heat chipotle salsa—made each bite a little different, and the pickled onions were to die for.
My main course was a turkey molé: smoked turkey breast in a thick barbecue sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds, served with sides of grilled spring onions and Yoli tortillas. I’m not typically a “barbecue turkey” kind of person, but this dish may have won me over.
For dessert, I went with Chef Raya’s recommendation of one of the restaurant’s standout dishes: arroz con leche. It’s sweet rice pudding, mixed with raisins and cinnamon, then deep fried. It’s topped with crushed pistachios and ice cream from High Hopes (located just a few doors south of Barbacoa).
Would. Order. Again.
The drinks were equally inventive, with some nice riffs on classic cocktails. Plenty of Buechter’s inventions use agave spirits like tequila and mezcal, and several rums also make an appearance. If you like a funky drink, try the agave martini. Not only does it use local distillery Mean Mule’s agave gin, but it also features an agave wine. Another standout was the 104 Fortaleza Street, made with a unique rum that’s aged in French oak casks.
Good food, good drinks, and a friendly, engaging staff—those are all the elements of a backyard barbecue that we want to keep getting invited to.
For the team at Barbacoa, they’re happy to have found such a perfect spot to launch their restaurant. Buechter loves being within shouting distance of other great locations like Gael’s, Blackhole Bakery (who they’re working with to make rolls for their tortas), and High Hopes. And the Rayas can’t wait to keep experimenting on elevating their childhood favorites.
“Food is a huge part of some of our favorite childhood memories,” he says. “And we’re thrilled to be able to share those memories with everyone in a unique way.”
With flavors like this, it’s no wonder why they couldn’t keep it to themselves.
Barbacoa is located at 5500 Troost Ave., Kansas City, MO 64110.