Latin Fare with Flair

Bar Nico is open 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 428 E. Locust St. See for more details and follow along with new menu additions on Instagram at @barnicodsm.

Writer: Karla Walsh
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

The long-anticipated Bar Nico opened in mid-October, and if you haven’t tried it yet, don’t wait any longer to savor the restaurant’s south-of-the border-inspired plates. 

Bar Nico is a welcome, colorful and creative addition to the East Village. The menu echoes the dining room’s aesthetic: bright, fresh and modern, yet comforting. This is the latest project from Jason Simon, who also created Alba, Eatery A, Motley School Tavern and Parlor. 

Chef Matt Small has been perfecting his taco strategy since early in the pandemic, when he offered them takeout-style from the kitchen at Alba. They were good then but are even better now. On Bar Nico’s menu, he’s showcasing the best from his two-plus years of experimentation, research and travel. 

While produce and meats are all sourced as locally as possible, masa is flown in from Mexico, ground in-house, and transformed into tortillas for the large taco roster. Vegetables, seafood, corn and potato-based dishes are ideal for sharing, and those three-per-order taco platters are sizable enough for a duo as well, especially if you want to add a dessert. (Psst … you do.) 

Bourbon, tequila and mezcal star in several of the well-balanced cocktails, and Garrett Dotsch, the general manager from Alba, curated the wine list to feature fresher, lighter, delightful food pairing options. Beers and spiked seltzers are also available. 

To pair with those beverages, here are our top three recommendations for your food flight (though note that the menu is expected to change seasonally): 

1. Start with the squash milpa ($10). Roasted squash and plum slices meet mustard seeds and a citrus-spiked tahini dip that’s somewhat reminiscent of hummus. Scoop up each zesty bite with corn chips. 

2. Savor a trio of braised short rib tacos ($13). We’ve never thought of sauerkraut as a taco condiment, but it’s a perfect complement. Salsa negra, pickled mustard seeds, and a side of lime, radish, cilantro and white onion complete the entree. 

3. Dive into a slice of dulce de leche Basque-style cheesecake ($9), a generous portion of the cloud-like classic Spanish dessert. Its signature dark top—no, it doesn’t taste burnt— is accented by vanilla whipped cream, dulce de leche sauce and chocolate mole crisps. 

The sweet corn esquites feature chayote (a type of squash common in South American cuisine), a cilantro sour cream sauce, chili oil and, of course, sweet corn. We paired it with the El Pajaro, a mezcal drink with a hint of coconut and jalapeno.

Other dsm team members report they’ve loved the pork empanadas, with al pastor (seasoned and marinated pork), pickled pineapple and a plum-guajillo (pepper) sauce; the carnitas tacos with preserved green tomato; and the fish tacos with battered walleye, red cabbage and chiltomate salsa (a rich salsa primarily consisting of tomatoes and habanero chili peppers).

Although Bar Nico has only been open a few months, it’s clearly poised to rank among the best local eateries, bar none.

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