New in Town: Ohio-based taco restaurant expands to East Lansing

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MONDAY, March 9 — Barrio Tacos, a Cleveland-based restaurant chain that specializes in letting patrons fully customize their tacos, has opened its first Michigan location on Albert Street. It’s nestled within East Lansing’s massive Center City District mixed-use development across the street from Harper’s and HopCat.

“We’re not traditional Mexican by any means; we don’t pretend to be. We just focus on tacos, and we do them well,” said Jake Hawley, owner of the East Lansing location. “The most popular part of our menu is the build-your-own. You get to build from a number of different shell options, proteins, cheeses, toppings and salsas.”

During today's grand opening, visitors dished on made-to-order specialty tacos and tortilla bowls, while also sampling its in-house margaritas, local craft beers and cocktails. 

Those unfamiliar with what makes the idyllic taco can leave the tastemaking up to Barrio Tacos’ chefs. The “El Jefe’s Selecciones” menu recommends classic combinations that aim to satisfy your indecisive friends and family. New specials will be rotated monthly at the discretion of executive chef Nico Chesnick. Barrio Tacos’ hours allow late-night dining and, on the weekends, it serves a brunch menu. 

As for drinks, Hawley vouched for the Barrio Tacos’ Margarita Perfecto, calling it a “tequila drinker’s margarita.” It features Avion Silver tequila, fresh lime, agave and a Grand Marnier float.

The interior of Barrio Tacos features two floors, allowing it to accommodate any potential swarm of hungry college students. Its walls are covered with a vast, black and white mural inspired by Día de Los Muertos painted by Michael McNamara. The interweaving artwork creates a cheekily macabre tableau of a skeletal couple progressing through the different stages of a romantic soirée. Though each Barrio Tacos location features an interpretation of this theme, the East Lansing one has a decidedly college town skew — highlighting jovial university traditions such as beer pong. 

Hawley, himself a Cleveland-native, said the restaurant’s expansion to East Lansing as part of Center City District clicked naturally. A friend working with Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors, the leasing company working with Center City District, is a fellow Clevelander already familiar with Barrio Tacos. He recommended the taco restaurant make the push to occupy a portion of the project’s retail space alongside Target and Foster Coffee Co. 

“There’s a large demand out here for what we can bring to the table,” Hawley said. “The timing was perfect; there’s a lot of new development in this city. Everything we learned told us the nucleus was in East Lansing.”

Barrio Tacos

202 Albert St., East Lansing

Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m 

Friday-Saturday, Brunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Barrio-tacos.com, (517) 679-0063

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