El Barrio Restaurante Latino

Restaurant: El Barrio Restaurante Latino
Cuisine: Latin American/Mexican/Spanish
Last visited: March 5, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Commercial Drive/Grandview)
Address: 2270 E Hastings St
Price Range: $10-20, $20-30

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 4.5 (based on what I tried)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Locally owned
  • Latin/Spanish/Mexican cuisine
  • Latin owner/chef
  • Authentic, and fusion items
  • Contemporary style
  • Busy/popular to locals
  • Home made sauces/spice blends
  • Paella needs to be ordered in advance
  • Cocktails/wine/beer
  • House made desserts
  • Moderately priced
  • Vegetarian options
  • Gluten free options
  • Live entertainment
  • Tues – Wed 4pm – 10pm
  • Thurs -Fri 4pm-11pm
  • Saturday 12pm-11pm
  • Sunday 12pm – 9pm

**Recommendations: Tostada Carnitas, Chorizo tacos with homemade chipotle sauce and guacamole, and Pollo En Mole. The desserts are pricey, but the Tres Leches Cake and Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake are very good.

From the outside, it doesn’t look impressive. In fact, it almost looks a bit divey, but let me just say this is a hidden gem and local favourite. It’s not even that hidden, but it’s definitely not that known unless you frequent the area or live in the neighbourhood. Give it a chance though and I almost guarantee you’ll come back for seconds sooner then you think.

The inside is a casual modern bar and it’s actually very spacious and it’s quite lively and energetic with live music on certain nights. It’s opened by Chef Luis Montalvo who grew up in El Salvador, but also lived in Mexico. Therefore the food here incorporates a mixture of Spanish, Latin and Mexican flavours, in a very gourmet fusion style kind of way. It’s traditional in offerings and ingredients, but modern in execution.

I keep going back to the idea of authenticity, but to be honest you can only get so authentic without going to the actual country and having the food there. Even so, I’ve had bad Mexican food in Mexico, so it just depends on where you go. I don’t find the food at El Barrio really authentic to any of the cuisines it serves because everything was so unique and stylized. It was in a cateogry of its own, which is what may be determined as “fusion”. However, there is respect to ingredients and techniques and the restaurant is quite unique to the Vancouver culinary scene. I found it more Mexican than I did Latin, although “Latin” is a big enough category on its own that it still varies from country to county. Nonetheless I’ve never been to Latin America, so I’m basing it on whether I thought the food here was good or not for Vancouver standards.

On this occasion I came to tackle the menu with Sherman, whom I thank for the photos as well. We had recently tried Mochika’s Peruvian Cafe, an amazing hole in the wall serving Peruvian food, so we wanted to explore more with the theme. Latin and Mexican restaurants are limited in Vancouver since we don’t have the population. Consequently the cuisine for it isn’t known to be great either. So I put myself up for some foodie research hoping to trump my own assumptions.

I know there are folks that don’t see the value in expensive Mexican food, and I feel the same way about Vietnamese food; however what you’re getting at El Barrio is gourmet and different. Part of this meal was comped, but as a paying customer I could see that a couple dishes are overpriced, and it is pricier for the area. On the other hand you are paying for home made sauces and quality ingredients which manages to come with an unpretentious atmosphere and service.

So was I impressed with El Barrio Restaurante Latino? Let me just say, that I’ve already made reservations to go back for round 2, with the smart decision of pre-ordering the paella that I can’t wait to try! I’ll report back when I do too!

On the table:

Sangria – 3/6

  • Glass $6.95 Pitcher $22.95
  • For a sangria is was lacking a bit of depth for me. It had some lemons and limes, but I missed the apples and oranges and all the other fun fruits that go into it.
  • It was good, not too sweet, but quite standard with a very basic recipe and wine that was dry, but not too dry either.

**Tostada Carnitas – 6/6

  • Deep fried corn tortilla layered with creamy beans, pulled pork and curdito $10.95
  • This was freaking delicious and my favourite dish of the night. I’d be completely satisfied having 2 orders of these as a main!
  • This will be available on their spring menu, however at the moment it’s available in soft taco form.
  • It was a crunchy and crispy deep fried tortilla loaded with a generous amount of soft, juicy, smoky, savoury and well marinated pork. It was topped with a crunchy pickled red and green cabbage slaw (curdito) that carried quite the refreshing yet sharp vinegar tang which cut the grease from the pork.
  • It was savoury and tangy and slightly sweet and smoky from the layer of creamy beans which also kept the crispy deep fried tortilla from being soggy.
  • There was also some pickled jalapeno peppers in the curdito that brought a very mild heat at the end.
  • Carnitas is a Mexican style pulled pork and this one was so tender, moist and soaking in its own natural pork juice. Traditionally it’s braised and fried, but this one just seemed braised, but regardless it was all delicious!
  • The carnitas meat here is wrapped in a banana leaf and marinated overnight for 10-12 hours in spices and orange juice.
  • It was nicely braised and chunky, yet easily shred and well flavoured with smokiness from ground cumin, slight acidity from some tomato sauce and also the orange juice. It had a natural sweetness from perhaps some natural aromatics of carrots, onions and celery, although they were not seen, but I’m guessing.
  • The flavours of the spices and aromatics just infused into every crevice of the meat.
  • It was very well balanced and naturally saucy alone, but it did come with a side of home made hot sauce. the hot sauce was quite mild, very smoky and it tasted like a tomato based chili sauce with a bit of red pepper flavour in the background.
  • Carnitas is my favourite meat forย  ataco and this was definitely Follow Me Foodie approved!

**Chorizo Tacos – 5/6

  • Choice of beef, chicken, carnitas or home made chorizo, served on corn tortillas with onions and cilantro $9.95
  • These were delicious! I’ve never had chorizo in this texture and I usually have it in cured sausage form.
  • The chorizo was so finely grounded and almost nutty and the flavour was so bold, earthy, deep and complex. I could tastes smokiness from cumin and paprika and it was a bit sweet from perhaps some carrots used in the aromatics.
  • It was extremely well seasoned and marinated, nice and garlicky, saucy, moist, with a nice heat to follow and almost like a Mexican sloppy joe in taco form.
  • I loved the brightness of the lime juice and onions which helped to cut through the smokiness.
  • Follow Me Foodie Tasty Twist: I’d highly recommend you to order these with their homemade chipotle sauce and guacamole. Sherman discovered the chipotle sauce combo, which was delish and I drummed up the guacamole idea.

Plantains – 3.5/6

  • Available on Spring ’11 menu.
  • Crisp plantains served with homemade garlic aioli and home made chipotle sauce ($9.95 I think)
  • I can’t say I’m a huge fan of plantains, a popular Latin appetizer or side. It’s just a deep fried starchy and fiberous unsweetened banana that’s similar to a potato.
  • For what it was, it was great, but for me it’s 3.5/6, because I’m not crazy about them.
  • These ones were quite dense, well fried, crispy and crunchy with a naturally drier inside, but they were well prepared.
  • What made these plantains delicious and different than all other plantains was the chipotle sauce, which was AMAZING!
  • The chipotle sauce was so fresh, creamy and almost chunky. I was eating it by the spoonfuls as is.
  • It was sweet in the initial notes from freshly roasted red bell peppers and I think there was some tomato paste and limes which gave it a nice tang. I could really taste the freshness and it had a very flavourful heat to follow and was somewhat very refreshing at the same time. This with the guacamole would be insane.
  • The garlic aioli wasn’t anything particularly special although I could taste the slight garlic spice and roasted flavour. It was more tangy and it didn’t taste like a home made aioli even though it was.
  • Follow Me Foodie Tasty Twist: I recommend mixing the homemade garlic aioli with the chipotle sauce to give it double the flavour although the chipotle sauce is good enough on it’s own.

Flautas – 3/6

  • Three corn tortillas rolled and baked, stuffed with huitlacoche (corn truffle), spinach and corn. Topped with guacamole and served with curtido. $9.95
  • These reminded me of taquitos, without the cheese, or even Mexican style spring rolls with a crunchy baked corn tortilla.
  • It’s a very traditional Mexican dish, but it didn’t really do anything for me and I found they needed a lot more filling to be able to taste it.
  • The corn truffle is a Mexican delicacy and it’s actually the fungus that grows on the ears of corn. In this case it was probably canned since the fresh version is near impossible to get here. It was mixed with sweet corn kernels, but it tasted like an earthy and smoky black bean paste with corn and it was a bit dried out rather than creamy.
  • It seemed more deep fried and baked, although not greasy, and I find the filling especially overpowered when I ate it with the guacamole and pickled cabbage slaw salad (curtido).
  • The highlight was definitely the guacamole which was surprisingly very refreshing, zesty and almost very cooling. I think there’s sour cream mixed into it. There were no chunks of avocado and most of it was fresh tomato, onions, cilantro and fresh lime juice, but it was still great!
  • It was a very bright guacamole, and although creamy, it wasn’t rich. It tasted excellent, but then I’d rather order it separately.
  • The flautas were a bit like eating smoky, charcoal flavoured deep fried wonton wrappers with a damn good guacamole.

Pastel Azteca – 3/6

  • Layers of tortillas, cheese, spinach, huitlacoche (corn truffle) with salsa verde, salsa roja, and crema fresca $15.25
  • This is an authentic Mexican casserole that is usually made with chicken. In this case it was vegetarian and it was a Mexican style vegetarian lasagne or casserole.
  • It’s pretty hefty, filling and the portion is quite large and it’s almost like a lasagne pie.
  • The 3 components were all great, but they were all starches so I could have used vegetables as one of the sides.
  • The side of house made refried black beans are amazing here! They’re ultra creamy and almost like a smoky sweet potato mash and there could have been more than black beans used.
  • The poblano pepper rice wasn’t particularly special or flavourful, but it does change on occasion to other types of Spanish or Mexican style rices.
  • This is my first time trying Pastel Azteca, so I have nothing to compare it too.

  • There was a lot of layers and tons of ingredients, but I found they all got very muddled together and I couldn’t taste each layer of ingredients.
  • I found the flavours actually quite one dimensional and the texture was very soft, creamy and almost sponge like throughout and at times a bit soggy.
  • The tortillas were soft and then the bottom layer I think was a Cotija cheese that was mild and spongy, like ricotta meets tofu.
  • I didn’t get much spinach flavour as I did flavours and textures of sauteed green leaf lettuce and maybe even romaine.
  • There was some of that corn truffle again which tastes like black bean paste and corn, but the sweetness of the corn kernels got lost for me.
  • It was quite creamy and it’s not that cheesy and I needed more crema fresca (sour cream) for more tang. I wouldn’t have minded a chunkier salsa verde and salsa roja as well, but overall I found it a bit mild in flavours and it was bit like eating a casserole of sauces and condiments.

**Pollo En Mole 5.5/6

  • Local free range chicken breast served with a blend of Mexican chilies chocolate sauce $15.95
  • It was half a bone in chicken and I wish it didn’t come precut. I think it needed to rest a bit more before being cut because the meat wasn’t as moist as it could have been.
  • The skin had a smoky dry rub and it’s not crispy, but when it’s covered with rich and decadent mole sauce you really barely notice it.
  • The mole sauce was intense and it’s made in house with 18-19 ingredients.
  • The mole was one of the best mole sauces I’ve come across, and it had to do with complex deep flavours as well as the creamy rich texture it had.
  • It was thick and creamy and almost paste like and I could taste the texture of the house roasted chilies in combination with fresh spices such as cumin and cinnamon.
  • It was bitter sweet with sweet chocolate flavour in the initial notes and then an earthy, deep and slightly bitter flavour at the end. It was smoky and it tastes like there’s some espresso rub, but there wasn’t.
  • The sauce was also nutty and there must have been either/and/or ground sesame seeds, almonds and peanuts to achieve that type of consistency. (I checked and it’s peanut free, but there are also ground pumpkin seeds in it).
  • It was smoky, sweet, bitter and very warm with a mild heat and it complemented the smoky and savoury chicken perfectly.
  • It was served with a side of sauteed bell peppers, onions and cactus. It was nice and sweet and it was my first time trying cactus, but it tasted like slimy okra in the form of a long strand of bell pepper. It’s crunchy and tastes like a slimy jelly like green bell pepper.

Paella – 3/6

  • Seafood: shrimps, mussels, clams and squid $18.95/person
  • Meat: Chorizo, chicken and snails $16.95/person
  • All of the above, but snails $18.95/person
  • 12 hour reservation required and 2 people minimum.
  • This is something that requires a pre-order because Chef Luis is extremely particular with the quality control of his specially prepared paella.
  • We ordered the all of the above paella and it’s pretty good value with the ingredients and portion, but the flavour wasn’t as impressive for me.
  • It was fresh and made with fresh seafood, but it lacked the flavour of an authentic paella. I’m using that “authentic” word very lightly as I’m not expecting it to taste as good as the ones in Spain, but I know it could be better.ย  For Vancouver standards this one is still quite good.
  • It was loaded with seafood, but the prawns were overcooked and a couple mussels seemed a bit watery.
  • The chorizo wasn’t a house made cured Spanish chorizo and it was more like a slightly spicy sausage, so that was different from the paellas that I’m used too.
  • The chicken were cubes of chicken breast and they were moist, but could have been more seasoned.
  • The rice was al dente, moist, separate and not soggy and it had some seafood flavours with a touch of tomato paste. I wish the seafood and chicken stock it was made with was more intense though.
  • It would also be nice to get those smoky chorizo flavours and natural juices of the vegetables in there as well.
  • I also couldn’t get much saffron flavour although I could see a lot of saffron threads on top. I just couldn’t actually taste its perfume like floral flavour and I felt like the spice was dead or too old.
  • The peas were also a bit dry and starchy rather than sweet too, so the quality of those weren’t great.
  • I just found the rice a bit one dimensional in flavour and it lacked the spices, herbs, lemon tang, smokiness and depth of a great paella.


All desserts are made in house, and for me, Latin or Mexican food requires a little sweet to finish off. Who am I kidding? That’s my criteria for all my meals! Anyways the ones here are all made in house and they’re quite gourmet. However I do find them overpriced considering desserts at fine dining restaurants such as Cioppino’s (see here) and Cin Cin (see here) have their desserts for almost the same price. The desserts were excellent, but even so, it was hard to justify their value even considering the labour and ingredients.

**Tres Leches Cake – 5/6

  • Vanilla Torte infused with three types of milk, and served with seasonal fruits $8.95
  • It’s a traditional Spanish cake, served room temperature and it’s very light tasting, yet very dense with a tight crumb.
  • It’s not a pound cake, and it’s not fluffy, or airy like a sponge cake, but almost loaf like. It’s not buttery either, so it’s not rich and surprisingly not that filling since it’s so moist.
  • The cake is completely soaked with a mixture of evaporated and condensed milk so it’s nicely sweetened and very juicy.
  • It’s very runny in texture and every bite is like a sweet burst of milky syrup, but it’s not too rich or overly sweet.
  • The cake itself is a milk and egg based cake and it just absorbs the two types of milk poured onto it. It’s not really soggy either, but just incredibly moist and busting with liquid in every bite. Together it tastes like a very custard like cake and it’s like a juicy sweet dessert.
  • Traditionally it should be topped with a fresh whipped cream, but in this case it was a regular whipped cream sprinkled with cinnamon served on the side.
  • The cake was excellent, not too sweet, yet very much a dessert and the piece was large so it’s easily shared.
  • For what it is, I still think it’s overpriced because it’s pretty easy to make, but it was still really really good.

**Organic Flourless Chili Chocolate Cake – 4/6

  • Almond meal cake made with organic chocolate and mixed chilies $9.95
  • This was a very small portion, but it can still be shared since it’s a bit rich, however still not overly sweet.
  • The ice cream makes it not as sweet and I love the warm and cold contrast.
  • The chocolate cake was incredibly moist and it was a cross between a bittersweet lava cake, without the molten centre, and a light cake like brownie.
  • It was very soft and creamy, yet it had an almond like crumb, so it wasn’t as pastey as some flourless cakes can be. It’s not very nutty though.
  • It seemed like there was a hint of espresso in the background and the chili was very very faint and it only came after I completely finished the bite. It wasn’t that spicy at all and I could have used more. Eaten with the ice cream I especially couldn’t taste the chili.
  • The fresh raspberry coulis was a nice contrast with the rich chocolaty cake and it was a delicious cake, but I still think it’s a bit pricey considering the size. The ingredients are pricier and gourmet, but so are the ones from Thomas Haas and those cakes are almost half the price and double the size – see here.


El Barrio Restaurante Latino on Urbanspoon


  • Linda says:

    mmm i love me some mexican food and i do find it hard to find a good place to head to here in vancouver – i’ve had some really bad experiences and usually i end up making my own stuff at home ๐Ÿ™‚

    mmmm i love pulled pork – so the carnitas definitely looked the most appetizing to me – i’m glad it tasted great – i actually don’t mind soft tacos – i usually prefer these ones over the crunchy hard tacos so this dish would be perfect for me! ahh flautas – i had some at les margaritas before and was NOT impressed – partially because there was almost no filling in there – this choice looks a bit better

    my boss loves pastel azteca – we make it at work all the time but we just call it mexican pie – the only difference is that we don’t make it with rice but with crumbled baked tofu instead. and to prevent soggyness, we don’t use flour tortillas for the base but crumbled up tortilla chips instead – they soak up all the flavor and then turn soft because of it – it’s really good!

    wow 12 hr notice for a paella? that’s so hardcore – tell us when you do get a chance to try this ๐Ÿ™‚

    i don’t usually do desserts but the tres leche cake looks so goooooooood!

  • Mau says:

    Coming from a Latino…yes…it does look more Mexican than “Latin restaurant”…I guess they use the “Latin” word as a way to attract more people/customers. But in general it is like if Chambar would be called “Chambar – European Restaurant” or if La Quercia would be named “La Quercia – European Restaurant”…so yeah…for me it doesn’t much sense…but alas, I understand why they do it…so screw all the latinos that complain (me being one of them). I’ve been thinking of trying this place but had my doubts…now I guess I have to go…My Mexican friends tend to go quite a bit to “Don Guacamoles” since their food is similar to that found in some restaurants in Mexico City (where my friends are from). Don Guacamoles is good…but you need to know what to order in order not to get disappointed .

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – I love your comments!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hmmm Las Margaritas is not a great sign of Mexican food… I’ve never been yet, but it’s kind of known in the “foodie world” as the “White Spot of Mexican”… :S

    Yummy!!! Crumbled tortilla chips is extra indulgent… but sounds delish! Is your boss Mexican?

    :O you don’t do desserts?!? My dear, you need to start! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    and no worries I will DEFINITELY keep you posted on the paella!

    @Mau – OMG funny that you say! My 2 Mexican friends JUST recommended me to try the tacos at Don Guacamoles!

    Great to see your comment on here, since you would know the food probably better than I ๐Ÿ™‚ Well the chef is from Latin America so I definitely know he’s doing some fusion stuff with the more or less Mexican food he prepares. I definitely want to get more familiar with the menu here as well because 4 dishes and 2 desserts is a fair representation I think, but I could do better ๐Ÿ™‚

    If you come, let me know you’re thoughts… it is a modern style “Mexican” place though so I wouldn’t come in necessarily with that whole “authentic” idea in mind, but just whether or not you enjoyed the food on a flavour and value level ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bow says:

    I “ve avoided this place ‘cos it looks so damn dark when walkin’ by. I would guess the paella requires 12 hrs. ‘cos he doesn’t keep fresh seafood on hand. The Pollo Mole looks good, the texture comes from pumpkin seeds.Linda, I vote for soft tacos, too…La Margaritas” owners come from Colombia, not Mexico.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – thanks for you extra details and knowledge as always Bow. I hope this posts convinces you to give it a shot! Ahhh pumpkin seeds… I could see that as well… maybe it’s a combination of sesame/peanuts and pumpkin? I gotta try more of the menu… especially the paella. Thanks for your valued comments Bow.

  • Sara says:

    To be completely honest, I am quite a newbie when it comes to latin american food. All I’ve tried were mostly the crappy Mexican food chains so popular in Montreal such as 3 Amigos and Carlos & Pepes. The food there is the standard crappy muddy tacos and enchiladas. The food there is often cheap (price wise and quality wise). But it’s really really bad, so bad that I am now scared of Mexican food.

    However I must admit your post made me change my mind. The Tostada Carnita and Flautas look amazing. But the chicken with chocolate sauce just sounds a bit too weird. Makes me curious about how it could taste though! As for the paella, I am so reluctant to give it a second thought; I think I had it once before it was so badly made, the rice was too watered down….!

  • Mau says:

    @Bow: did las Margaritas change ownership? cuz when I met the owner in the early 2000’s he was Mexican (well Mexican parents – lived in California before hand)…either way, las margaritas is bad bad mexican food…always made me wonder how the hell they are always so busy…

  • Westy says:

    I live in this neighbourhood and have eaten there on occasion. Its a nice place with quality food that probably gets ignored because of its remote location and its outward appearance.

    El Bario has a nice modern twist making it a little more fine dining. I usually have trouble justifying spending that extra cash for Mexican food. My thoughts before eating there was if I had Mexican food one place, i’ve had the same at others.

    Nice to know someone recognizes this little hole in the wall. Its a shame that its being wasted in this neighbourhood. However I don’t know if I like the idea of sharing this place, lol.

    I don’t see many people eating there maybe because everything here closes early around 8ish so the foot traffic is almost non existant and not everyone here is someone you’d expect to be fine dining. (Trying to be polite). Its a shame though because we need more places like this on our street.

  • Mijune says:

    @Sara – oh I’m so happy my post managed to convince you. Please don’t let crappy places turn you off the cuisine… my friend went to Floata for Chinese and he’s so scared of Chinese now… it’s really unfortunate. The chicken mole is a very traditional and typical Mexican dish and you just have to think that the chocolate is smoky… it is chocolate but it’s not sweet chocolate.. it’s roasted almost. It’s really amazing and you should go with 4 people so you can each try it and split the cost so even if you didn’t like it… it wasn’t such a loss ๐Ÿ™‚

    @Mau – college students. I shouldn’t really say though since I haven’t been… but college students more or less might now know any better…. :\… it’s “cheap” right?

    @Westy – I completely see where you are coming from.. hence why I wrote that in my intro re: I don’t think certain cuisines need to be expensive… like Vietnamese

    lol it’s a secret spot that you don’t want to loose it’s charm huh? The owner and staff seem like great people though so I don’t think it’ll get to that point ever *fingers crossed*

    I’m so happy you like this place too.. the outside doesn’t deliver it justice!

    thanks for commenting… and welcome to Follow Me Foodie! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Bow says:

    Mau,I may be wrong; I Know it used to be owned by Colombians ‘cos I used be one of their suppliers. Sara, it was originally mole and turkey, a dish that Cortez ate in the halls of Montezuma…bitter sweet chocolate with smoked chilies, pumpkin seed,etc.,etc. Over 26 common veggies(and legumes) we take for granted came from the New World, especially Central and South America(corn, potatoes,chilies, okra, etc., etc.)…it is a great dish, please try it.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – love it! thanks bow!

  • fmed says:

    I live fairly close by to El Barrio. I went to this restaurant a few times when it first opened a couple of years ago. I wasn’t impressed with the food then and so if the restaurant did change ownership I may have to check it out again. (IIRC, the restaurant was for sale some time last year – I saw it on Craigslist. The original owners were not Mexican – I think Salvadorean?).

    (This stretch of Hastings and Nanaimo is about to get more interesting very soon….)

  • Mijune says:

    @fmed – oh definitely give it another try. The tacos are the biggest hit for me thus far. The owner now is Salvadorean, not Mexican so it could be the same one… ? Give it another shot though and I’m confident in the recommendations I have listed. Keep me posted on what you think b/c I’m curious.

    I totally agree with you that the area will be growing! Thanks for your comment!

  • Mijune says:

    @fmed – wow! Thanks for the tip off!!! I’m so excited! Awesome!! Have you been? Can’t wait to see what’s next!

    PS: I’m waiting for you to comment on the Kiriri post! Everyone’s talking about Sushi Hachi and I haven’t been yet, but I know you said something about it going down hill…?

  • fmed says:

    Roma is not yet open. They just took over the space today and are starting to renovate (according to the tweets). Nice addition to the ‘hood.

    Sushi Hachi – they have gone downhill from when I first started going. The slices of fish have become thinner of late. They used to have a better selection of fish as well. I expect the selection will shrink even further now that importation of fish from Japan has been curtailed.

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