Inside Qué Bárbaro, an Ode to Live-Fire South American Cooking From One of L.A.’s Best Chefs

Ray Garcia’s celebrated Broken Spanish in Downtown Los Angeles was among the tens of thousands of restaurants across the country shuttered permanently by the pandemic. Now, just a few blocks away from where his groundbreaking Mexican restaurant stood, he’s back with a new restaurant where he’s looking further south for inspiration.

Over the weekend Garcia opened Qué Bárbaro, a celebration of open-fire South American cooking inside a new development near L.A. Live where the Lakers and Clippers play and the Grammys are held. The menu will pull from flavors across South America, but the impetus for the restaurant is a little closer to home for Garcia. “My wife’s family is from Argentina,” Garcia told Eater LA. “Going to her family’s house for the first time and having an asado, it was amazing. The meats on the grill, the conversation, the joy and laughter, and just that ritual of bringing lives together—I want to tap into that cultural experience and put it in the center of the dining room.”

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Garcia first set up shop in the neighborhood nearly a decade ago. At Broken Spanish and B.S. Taqueria he blended his fine dining training with experiences he had growing up as a Mexican-American kid in Los Angeles and created playful takes on foods like pork chicharrón and camote (candied sweet potatoes). The restaurant became part of a larger movement of Mexican fine dining, pushing the cuisine to get the respect it long deserved. Broken Spanish closed in August of 2020, unable to push through the financial hardships of the pandemic. He revived the restaurant with a residency at the Neuehouse and last year he returned to Downtown L.A., opening the California Cuisine-inspired Asterid inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall. This new restaurant lets him lean into Latin flavors again in the City of Angels.

Chef Ray Garcia
Chef Ray Garcia

Drawing on the tradition of open-fire Argentine cooking, the menu is packed with meats. Once dubbed the “King of Porc” for his victory at the Cochon 555 cooking competition, Garcia is looking more in the direction of beef at Qué Bárbaro. There’s tira de asado, a 16 oz. short rib; the picahna, a 10 oz. American Wagyu sirloin; bife de lomo, an 8 oz. prime tenderloin; and then the big boy, the costilla gaucha, a 30 oz. bone-in short rib for two served with leaf lettuces, sweet potato, and chimichurri.

For those looking for dishes from the hearth not of the bovine persuasion, Garcia is serving up oyster mushroom with black garlic and cambray onion; prawns with aji Amarillo, pineapple, and pichuberry; and half-chicken with roasted shallot, aji verde, and squashini.

Qué Bárbaro isn’t the first time Garcia’s menu has been influenced by his wife’s Argentine roots. Back at B.S. Taqueria he had a torta inspired by South American Milanese where in a fun twist he subbed out the traditional for chicken and pork and served a breaded slab of beet in sandwich form.

Views of Downtown Los Angeles from the dining room
Views of Downtown Los Angeles from the dining room

The cocktail program will be led by Devon Espinosa, who is stocking the bar with plenty of spirits from across Latin America including Colombian aguardientes, Brazilian cachaças, Peruvian and Chilean piscos, Caribbean rums, Bolivian singanis, and plenty of agave bottles. Expect riffs on South American classic cocktails like the Pisco Sour and the Caipirinha.

The new restaurant is part of a larger development called Level 8 at the Moxy and AC Hotels with indoor and outdoor spaces housing eight separate restaurant and bar concepts that also includes a shabu shabu restaurant, Lucky Mizu, from Joel Robuchon alum Hisae Stuck. Garcia will also open Brown Sheep, a fast casual Mexican-inspired spot on the terrace that will look like a food truck.

Click here for more photos of Qué Bárbaro.

que barbara slideshow cover photo
que barbara slideshow cover photo

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