A 15 minute cab ride and no more Moncler jackets, no more Rag & Bone jeans, no more Penn. Instead you find yourself amongst an array of flannel-bearing, tattoo-clad Philly creatives in a scruffy-looking neighborhood called Fishtown. Once known as an Irish Catholic enclave, the neighborhood used to be familiar to students as only a place to score drugs.
Fast forward a few years and Fishtown is in the middle of an artisanal, creative and gastronomic renaissance. Popular standouts include Stephen Starr’s beer garden Frankford Hall and concert/bar/restaurant Johnny Brenda’s. However, a little gem that has seemed to fly under the radar is Loco Pez, translated to “crazy fish,” a great hangout for tacos and so much more.
As you enter Loco Pez, your first thought might be “am I in the right place?” as the restaurant is more hipster dive bar in the front and delicious Mexican taqueria in the back. My advice is to grab a booth alongside the ripped Mexican paraphernalia wallpapered walls and across the 70’s bumping jukebox yet not too far from the Family Guy pinball machine. Look around and you’ll feel like you’re in your buddy’s just-out-of-college apartment who took his graffiti and scrapbooking obsession to the walls (look closely and you’ll find small Sharpie drawings of Jesus fish and even some vintage 3” x 4” Mexican family photos).
For a dive bar, the drink menu is surprising and goes beyond your average selection of craft beer by the can. We started with one of their “lowriders”, or margaritas, and washed the food down later with Mexico’s version of PBR – Tecate. I went with the Fairlane, a summery assort of pineapple infused tequila, and guanabana, guava and lime juices. But you can’t go wrong with either of their other options —it all depends upon what flavor you’re in the mood for: grapefruit, blood orange, hibiscus or even chipotle and habanero.
Moving towards the food, we couldn’t help but order off of the “specials de la casa” and “cowboy menu.” We first started with the Tostada Trio, one of their specials and a mountainous trifecta of chicken, carne asada and cochinita pibil generously smothered in guacamole, sour cream, lettuce and habanero sauce – all situated on top of a small, crispy fried tortilla. Hidden underneath the tortilla are refried, mashed beans, a nice surprise with each bite. We ordered the volcano burrito off the cowboy menu, what I seriously imagine to be a menu originally intended only for cowboys, as this glorified version of a burrito from a slightly cheaper place we all know too well was the spiciest I’ve ever had and resulted in me drinking my margarita as if it were a shot.
The only let down of the night came next: the carne asada quesadilla, a dry, flavorless serving of meat and melted cheese in an overly crisped tortilla.
What Loco Pez does right is simple and cheap: tacos ranging in price from $1.75 to $3.00 and with the usual characters: al pastor, fish, chorizo, chicken as well as some unexpected offerings such as seitan and spinach. The expected tacos were exactly what you’d ask of cheap tacos: filling and flavorful. The unlikely standout was actually the seitan and spinach, a smooth combination that brought back memories of eating Saag, an Indian spinach-based dish, with roti, or flat Indian bread.
Sidenote – if you find yourself the courage, take up the Loco Pez taco challenge – a contest to see who can scarf down twenty tacos the quickest.
Remember those drunken runs to Taco Bell in high school? Imagine Loco Pez as a really good option to fill that void. Because when it’s midnight and all you want are some cheap but authentic tacos, guacamole and beer, brave the trek and head to Loco Pez.
Oh, make sure you bring cash as the sign behind the bar will politely remind you that it’s “Cash only, bitches.”
P.S. On your way out, don’t forget to visit the bathroom for an intense collage of Mexican comics, made each their own with various graffiti tags.
Address: 2401 E. Norris Street, Fishtown
Hours: 5 p.m. – 1 a.m. daily, Sat & Sun 11:00 a.m. – 3 p.m.