After a long week of classes and work, I think most people are ready unwind with a drink, chips and salsa, and quality time with friends. Mexican food is a popular and familiar cuisine that has taken over the culinary scene throughout cities across the nation; and Philadelphia is no exception.
There are so many restaurant options available throughout Philly that deciding what Mexican restaurant to try can be overwhelming. I suggest starting your south-of-the-border feast with one of my three go-to local Mexican restaurants, each offering authentic and fresh ingredients with innovative twists created by the chefs.
La Calaca Feliz is a small, Day of the Dead themed Mexican restaurant located in the Fairmount neighborhood. They offer a brunch menu, only on the weekends, and a dinner menu which is available every day. The restaurant has seasonal outside seating on their own patio (which is beautiful in the evening because there are string lights above the tables).
One of the first items to order would be the chips and guacamole pairing. The chips are made in house and the guacamole is mixed just minutes before being placed on your table. La Calaca serves traditional guacamole, but they also offer other add-ins and flavors.
The crab guacamole (in the picture above) is mixed with mango and cucumber and served along side salsa and chips. It is a perfect way to start your Mexican feast or satisfy a late night craving at the bar.
The must try taco dish is the Baja fish tacos. The fish of choice is a plantain crusted blue tilapia topped off with shredded cabbage, avocado, radish slices, and a lemon vinaigrette. These tacos are crispy, tangy, and bursting with flavor like all the other tacos on the menu.
Sancho Pistola is a hidden Mexican gem on the corner of Girard Avenue and Leopard Street in Fishtown, and can easily be missed if not paying attention. This restaurant, like La Calaca, also offers a brunch and dinner menu as well as a cocktail and draft menu. The spicy tuna guacamole with chips (made in house) are a delicious bar snack to try during brunch or dinner.
One of the best dishes at Sancho Pistola is the nacho appetizer. The nachos are made up of tortilla chips, cheese, crema, tomato, refried beans, jalapeño, onion, cilantro, and your choice of protein (beef, chicken, or pork). Out of all the proteins offered, the spicy pork was my favorite option.
The menu is dominated by interesting appetizer and taco options, so it is pretty difficult to choose which dish to try first. I suggest trying the lamb tacos which are topped with pickled red onion, cilantro, and habanero achiote sauce. These tacos are rich and flavorful from the braised lamb, but also provide a spicy kick from the habanero sauce.
El Vez is a Mexican inspired restaurant located on the corner of 13th and Sansom in Center City. This restaurant has an upbeat bar scene attracting people to stay and hang out for a while with friends.
El Vez offers a build-your-own taco item on their menu, which is only offered on special occasions, but it stands out compared to the other restaurants. The sampling comes with flour tortillas, rajas, pico de gallo, guacamole, queso fresco, and two proteins of adobo chicken and char-grilled beef. This dish would be great to share with friends or experiment with other flavors on their menu.
My favorite dish at El Vez is the Macho Nachos appetizer (can you tell I like nachos?). The Macho Nachos come with tortilla chips spread out on a steel baking plate topped with black beans, smoked chili salsa, sour cream, white cheddar, and monterey cheese. It is a dish that could feed several people at a table, but is so good, you may not want to share.