When most people think of food in Philadelphia, it’s cheesesteaks and Rocky running through the Italian Market to rough up a side of beef. But that was a long time ago and now there are as many Mexican flags as Italian flags flying outside south Philly’s shops and markets, making things a lot more interesting. Whether it’s a taco truck on Washington Avenue, a hipster hangout in Fishtown, or the newest outpost of chef Jose Garces' ever growing empire, there's a lot to love about Philadelphia’s Latin food scene right now. Here are a few favorites.
As one of the first taquerias opened to meet the demand of Philadelphia’s growing Mexican demographic, Los Taquitos de Puebla has the well executed standards like huitlacoche quesadillas and tacos al pastor marinated in achiote, chile guajillo, bay leaf, clove, citrus juice, and vinegar adobo that everyone expects. It would be a shame though not to take advantage of their more adventurous, regional offerings like tripa (tripe, above), ojo (beef eye), and cabeza de res (mixed head meat) - just as long as you can get your mind around it.
With every available inch covered in brilliantly colored murals, the Tacos El Rodeo’s truck parked on 10th Street & Washington Avenue is a stand out. Their classic line-up of brightly seasoned carnitas and quesadillas, sincronizadas, and fresh juices will keep you happily curbside.
940 S. Ninth Street, 215-925-1010 (no web site)
Aspiring to the high end, accomplished food of Mexico City, Blue Corn is more than a name at this Mexican restaurant owned and operated by the Sandoval family. They import the eponymous corn directly from their home in San Mateo Ozolco, Puebla with the aim of introducing a new industry to an area depleted by immigration. They use the vitamin rich corn in everything from margaritas to huaraches topped with grilled nopales, huitlacoche, and queso fresco to their pastel de pinole served warm with ice cream.
Depending on where you’re sitting, Northeast Philadelphia’s Fishtown is experiencing a revitalization or gentrification and Loco Pez at the center of it. The abundance of day drinkers might be worrisome if they weren’t ordering off an ironically named Lowriders cocktail menu featuring the Impala (classic margarita) and Coupe de Ville (tequila, blood orange puree, and lime juice). Or you can try the Frida Mimosa (hibiscus and guava with champagne) off the el Bruncho menu. Part dive bar and part taqueria, they also have the usual slate of tacos, tortas, and quesadillas but their cochinita pibil with pickled radish, habanero, and onion is a favorite.
With the old-school marquee above the entrance, exploitation flick wallpaper, and seventies rec-room decor, this Rittenhouse restaurant has its retro-chic game down but the food is still king. Under Chef Dionicio Jimenez, there are Puebla-style Arabes made with ground lamb wonderfully seasoned with avocado leaves, anise, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg and duck tacos served with mole negro and topped with gamey quail eggs. But it’s Jimenez’s take traditional dishes like chiles en nogada where his love for Mexican home cooking shines through.
From his first tapas inspired restaurant, Amada, to the his latest tasting menu-only Volver, chef Jose Garces covers a lot of ground in Philadelphia. With a traditional line-up of simple but solid Cuban fare served in their lovely cigar box dining room, his Cuban diner Rosa Blanca may be just off the picture perfect Washington Square, but the light pouring in through the windows past the lunch counter serving up guava pastries, croquetas, and empanadas will transport you to Calle Ocho.