Restaurant review: Barroluco Argentine Comfort Food

G.A. Benton
Ribs and paella

When the original El Arepazo in Pearl Alley closed last November after serving for 13 years — the local company's Brewery District and Gahanna branches remain open — Downtown diners lost a friendly place that offered empanadas and other South American favorites, plus a bold, addictive green sauce.

Just a few weeks later, when Barroluco Argentine Comfort Food moved into the former El Arepazo spot, Downtown diners gained a friendly place that offers empanadas and other South American favorites, plus a bold, addictive green sauce.

Despite such superficial similarities, though, Barroluco is quite different from its predecessor.

Named after a celebrated sandwich whose title honors Ramon Barros Luco — he was the sandwich-loving president of Chile about a century ago — Barroluco is the brick-and-mortar outgrowth of a popular food truck. The Barroluco crew didn't (and didn't need to) perform many renovations, but they've nonetheless done a fine job of providing a welcoming space.

It's still a small and narrow (but appealing) fast-casual operation with brick walls, a wooden floor and a pocket-size patio. Latin tunes still play, but now usually in the key of tango music. More Argentine cultural allusions have materialized via black-and-white photographs of meat grilling over an outdoor fire, evocative cityscapes and stylish dancers.

Barroluco's menu, which is largely organized by purported times of readiness, isn't the simplest to navigate. So take its advice and order something that “makes it easy”: the “best deal” Sampler ($12).

You'll get a grill-crisped pork rib with little meat but plenty of flavor; Barroluco's take on paella, which is yellow rice with peas, corn, pimentos and tangy sauces such as that aforementioned bold and addictive green chimichurri, which is bright-tasting and intensely garlicky (I especially like the spicy variety); prefab fries substantially improved by sausage, cheese and chimichurri; and a golden-brown, house-made fried empanada.

You might want more of those good empanadas. If so, three of the savory pastries plus a side — get a rib — go for $12. My favorites are filled with seasoned ground beef (and strikingly embossed with “Barroluco”) or ground chicken (and embossed with “Columbus”), but the mozzarella-stuffed cheese empanada is nice, too.

Grilled beef is an Argentine staple, and Barroluco's lean Carne Asada is easily among its top options. The thinly sliced, grill-marked steak is super juicy, delicious and even better with chimichurri. Its $13 price includes a side; I recommend the black beans, which taste good if you salt them. Other sides: plantains — mine were underripe and undercooked; run-of-the-mill fries; and a salad that's nearly equal parts iceberg lettuce and shredded mozzarella.

A small slice of carne asada adds oomph to the nifty Barroluco Sandwich ($13 with fries). The brunch-style assembly also includes crust-less toast made with good white bread, a fried egg, lettuce, tomato, melted cheese and deli ham.

I wasn't so enamored with the ChoriPan Sandwich ($10 with a side). Perhaps more spicy chimichurri sauce would've helped that curious combo of not-spicy chorizo that could almost pass for crumbled American breakfast sausage, lettuce and a toasted roll. As is, this seems like a work in progress.

I wasn't a big fan of the Home Style Cooked Tilapia, either ($13 with a side). The best part of the somewhat mushy and meager piece of fish I received was its lively topping of sauteed veggies.

I wish the mocha and the honey Alfajores I sampled ($3 each) — Barroluco's alfajores are big house-made sandwich cookies with a dulce de leche filling — hadn't been crumbly and a tad dry. But were they good-looking and good-tasting treats? Absolutely. And, with the right orders, can you get plenty of flavorful, well-prepared food at this new South American eatery geared to rapidly serve Downtown workers? Without a doubt.

47 N. Pearl St., Downtown