Antonio Mariano Cruz-Esparza: Barrio Cafe

Guest post written by Sharon Salomon, MS, RDN Antonio Mariano Cruz-Esparza is the manager at Barrio Café. If that name is familiar to you it’s because he’s related to the renowned Phoenix chef, Silvana Salcido-Esparza, the chef/owner of Barrio Café, Barrio Gran Reserva and Barrio Urbano. This is not, however, purely a case of nepotism. Young Cruz-Esparza has the training and skill to run a restaurant. His interest in food goes way back to his youth when he asked his mother to buy him a bunch of spices so he could taste all of them in different dishes.


He always knew he would cook for a living. He first went to work for Barrio as a dishwasher when he was eighteen years old. Watching the Barrio chefs work made him realize that he needed more education if he wanted to realize his dream so he went back to school, first getting an associate degree in culinary arts from Central New Mexico College and then a second culinary arts degree from Johnson and Wales. With the degrees under his belt, he returned to Barrio Café where he has worked just about every job in the restaurant and now spends most of his time in management.

You might have read that Silvana has designs on starting a bakery business some time down the road. That excites Antonio because he loves baking and especially loves breads. He describes himself as a nerd when it comes to yeast. “I study all the different kinds of yeast. I worked in a pizza restaurant where the owner used a very old yeast to make his dough.” For him, “Baking is like love: it’s a step by step process. Cooking is like passion: it’s fast and furious.”