January 3, 2018

Taquerias And Taco Trucks Dot Philadelphia Neighborhoods

South Philly Leads The City's Taco Craze

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At South Philly storefront Los Gallos, guests can expect friendly service and fresh, flavorful tacos. Photo by C. Smyth for VISIT PHILADELPHIA®
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Distrito, chef Jose Garces’ neon tribute to the taqueria occupies two fun floors of a corner building on the edge of University City. Photo by M. Fischetti for VISIT PHILADEPHIA®
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Philly’s turned into a bona fide taco town. Between the authentic, mom-and-pop taquerias of South Philly, tried-and-true tequila bars, roving food trucks and the newest crop of Mexican joints, there’s truly a taco for everyone and their hermano. Here’s where:

South Philly:

  • Blue Corn – Distinguished among its quick-serve counterparts on the 9th Street Italian Market, this family-owned and operated restaurant has genuine warmth and hospitality—not to mention a liquor license and incredible tacos made with a rotating lineup of specialty tortillas pressed on the premises. 940 S. 9th Street, (215) 925-1010, @bluecornrestaurant
  • El Compadre – The full-service eatery from the Cristina Martiñez and Benjamin Miller, the chefs behind the much lauded and now closed South Philly Barbacoa, offers the incredible barbacoa, pancita, fresh-pressed tortillas, and soulful consommé (soup) that helped them earn “best new restaurant” honors from Bon Appétit in 2016. But it’s not just tacos: Their tortas and platters have tons of fans, too. S. 9th Street, (215) 360-5282, @1149s9th
  • El Jarocho – Everyone has a favorite neighborhood taco joint, and for many, this is it. A humble corner storefront slings memorably flavorful al pastor and nopales-tangled carne asada. Diners eat in to enjoy their signature sour cream-chipotle dipping sauce, which goes great with fresh salsas and tortilla chips. 1138 S. 13th Street, (215) 463-2020
  • El Zarape – Should taco cravings take a turn for the burrito, or even, say, a sizzling fajita salad, this cheesesteak-side South Philly delivers. Fried fish, carne asada and chorizo tacos share the menus with Tex-Mex classics. 1304 S. 9th Street, (215) 336-1293, elzarapephiladelphia.com
  • Los Gallos – Colorful flags wave overhead at this South Philly storefront, where friendly service beckons and platters heave with generously appointed tacos, available in combinations of grilled and roasted meats, fragrant huitlacoche and spicy beef and chorizo campechanos. 951 Wolf Street, (215) 551-1251, losgallosmexicantaqueria.com
  • Philly Tacos – This spot’s gigantic menu of tacos of all textures and regional styles features grilled smoked pork chop, steak with Chihuahua cheese, several varieties of al pastor, beef eye and tripe. The owners also vend at the popular Headhouse Square Farmers Market, held on Sundays at 2nd and Lombard Streets. 2011 Reed Street, (267) 819-9406, phillytacos.com
  • Pistola’s Del Sur – Jose Pistola’s (see above) South Philly outpost distinguishes itself with catfish po’boy and shrimp al pastor tacos. 1943 E. Passyunk Avenue, (267) 928-4339, pistolasouth.com
  • Prima Pizza Taqueria Mexicana – The Italian dish name-checked on the sign can be slightly confusing, but those in the know entrust their late-night taco cravings to this tiny, no-frills shop (that actually does not serve slices), a lifesaver among Philly’s restaurant industry folk and anyone who craves pork skin tacos at 3 a.m. 1104 S. 9th Street, (215) 339-5000
  • Taqueria La Mexicanita – This one-table spot in along South Philly’s Snyder Avenue satisfies late-night longings for longaniza (a variety of Mexican sausage) or carne enchilada (marinated pork) in its three-fer plates. Bonus: The grill is open until 2 a.m. to accommodate post-bar takeaway. 1148 Snyder Avenue, (267) 858-4587
  • Tacos El Rodeo – Diego Rivera-esque murals giveaway this South Philly truck: This spot, popular with workers and bar-goers, isn’t messing around. Of special note: spit-roasted pork and variety meat tacos served with salsa on the side. 1000 Washington Avenue, (267) 997-3415
  • Taco Loco – Like all the best taquerias, this Pennsport-parked truck has it all—the red, white and green motif; Jarritos; tortas; and simple but punchy al suadero, tripe and choriqueso tacos. Jefferson Square Park, 4th Street & Washington Avenue, (215) 883-9191
  • Veracruzana – The original authentic South Philly taqueria has paved the way for countless others with its super affordable soft tortilla-wrapped delicacies, such as stewed bistec, grilled shrimp and cheese-stuffed jalapenos. 908 Washington Avenue, (215) 465-1440

Center City:

  • Dos Tacos – This shoebox-size Center City joint is known for fun-loving fusion, mixing the classic (chipotle-braised chicken, blue corn-crusted mahi-mahi) with the completely unconventional (chili-rubbed pastrami, Korean-tinged pork belly). 120 S. 15th Street, (215) 567-8226, dostacosphilly.com
  • El Rey – An old Center City diner sets the festively retro scene for lamb and portobello tacos and chile relleno alongside micheladas (beer, spices and lime). Tacos are also available in the speakeasy Ranstead Room, located in the back. 2013 Chestnut Street, (215) 563-3330, elreyrestaurant.com
  • Jose Pistola’s – The food and beverage choices are extensive at this Center City hang. Among the taco options at this Mexified craft beer bar are Korean-style short rib with Asian pear pico de gallo and tempura-battered rock shrimp with pepitas and tom yum aioli. 263 S. 15th Street, (215) 545-4101, josepistolas.com
  • Mission Taqueria – This hopping see-and-be-seen Center City spot from the owners of the landmark Oyster House balances tradition and innovation, slinging beef short rib and chicken mole tacos alongside fancier riffs, like jumbo lump crab croquettes with charred corn salsa. The busy bar serves stirred, shaken and frozen cocktails. 1516 Sansom Street, 2nd Floor, (215) 383-1200, missiontaqueria.com
  • Revolution Taco – Carolyn Nguyen and Michael Sultan, owners of the popular Street Food Philly truck, have put down roots with this just-off Rittenhouse Square spot. “Tacos without borders” is the motto here, exemplified by global spins like fried curried cauliflower or roasted duck served on a scallion pancake. 2015 Walnut Street, (267) 639-5681, therevolutiontaco.com
  • Tio Flores – The prolific owners of Hawthornes Cafe and The Cambridge hold down the west side of South Street (officially the Graduate Hospital neighborhood) to satisfy taco cravings, happy hour through to late night. Menu highlights include tacos topped with interesting flavor combos, like garlicky shrimp and bacon and lentil-cauliflower. 1600 South Street, (267) 687-2220, tioflores.com

River Wards & North Philly:

  • El Purepecha Mexican Kitchen – An under-the-radar taqueria on an unassuming corner in the Callowhill neighborhood (also called the Loft District) impresses with fillings such as crispy breaded fish and grilled shrimp, plus extensive sopes, tortas and platos selections. 469 N. 10th Street, (215) 765-2369
  • Loco Pez – This dive-y Fishtown spot found inspiration in L.A.’s fusion-y taco trucks, resulting in a mix-and-match selection of fun—and sometimes unexpected—flavors. Classic preparations like al pastor and cochinita pibil share menu space with unconventional choices, like vegan-friendly seitan and spinach, and soy chorizo. 2401 E. Norris Street, (267) 886-8061, locopez.com
  • Que Chula es Puebla – With a name that translates to “How beautiful is Puebla,” a shoutout to the owner’s home state, this friendly Kensington BYOB serves three meals a day, with a wide variety of platos tipicos that include spicy shrimp stew and decadent chimichangas. But the taco selection here is no slouch, with carne desebrada, tripa or bistek fillings in the traditional soft tortillas, or in a crunchy shell, gringo-style. 1356 N. 2nd Street, (215) 203-0404, chulaespuebla.com
  • Sancho Pistola’s – Jose Pistola’s (see above) Fishtown hermano offers a similar selection to hungry locals hanging out along Frankford Avenue. 19 W. Girard Avenue, (267) 324-3530, sanchopistolas.com
  • Taco Riendo – Sating Mexican-craving masses north of Market Street, this Old Kensington spot has a cozy interior, excellent tamales and generously filled tacos such as choriqueso (spicy Mexican sausage and Oaxaca cheese), salsa-draped chicken and onion-flecked lengua (beef tongue). 1301 N. 5th Street, (215) 235-2294

West Philly:

  • Distrito – Chef Jose Garces’ University City spot channels Mexico City with bright décor and authentic tacos: filled with chile-braised beef, corn and wild mushroom or vegetarian chorizo made from tofu. Elsewhere, the tequilas are plentiful, and the décor is fun loving and kitschy (a vintage VW Beetle converted into a booth, for example). 3945 Chestnut Street, (215) 222-1657, distritorestaurant.com
  • Honest Tom’s Taco Shop – Evolved from a popular food truck, this casual eat-in West Philly restaurant serves breakfast tacos overflowing with bacon, potatoes, tomatoes, fresh guacamole and killer homemade hot sauce, plus fish, steak, pork, chicken sweet potato and beef tacos, draw crowds from all over the city. 261 S. 44th Street, (215) 620-1851, @honest_toms
  • Taco Angeleno – This adorable, truck- based alfresco operation serves spot-on renditions of classic L.A. street food (tacos and smoothies) in a formerly abandoned West Philly lot that now twinkles with lights and lures in hungry pedestrians with serious scent marketing. Chef-owner Vanessa Jerolmack fills tortillas with pork, chicken and seitan—Thursday through Sunday, spring through fall. 5019 Baltimore Avenue, (267) 225-8226, @tacoangelenophilly
  • Tacos Don Memo – This University City truck bundles tacos in foil-wrapped threes, each envelop bursting with saucy flavor, crisp onion and lots of cilantro. 38th Street between Walnut & Spruce Streets, (610) 529-2039

Beyond the City:

  • Blue Route Taco Truck – Not a moving vehicle per se, the seasonal visitor to the roof of Whole Foods Plymouth Meeting turns out some tasty fish, pork and veggie tacos, offering craft canned beer to go along with them. 500 W. Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, (610) 832-0010
  • El Limon – Grown from a grocery-store taco operation, this thriving suburban mini chain is famous for tortillas that are soft enough to sleep on. Each of the eight (!) locations offers a small but tasty lineup of tacos, featuring traditional meats like chicken tinga, carne asada and al pastor. 38 E. Butler Avenue, Ambler, (267) 460-8949; 61 W. Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, (484) 413-2999; 845 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, (484) 222-6929; 103 Fayette Street, Conshohocken, (610) 567-0120; 446 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, (484) 329-7969; 1000 Sandy Hill Road, Norristown, (484) 322-2735; 451 West Ridge Pike, Royersford, (610) 474-2895; 1371 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, (484) 301-3352, ellimontaqueria.com
  • La Peña Mexicana – Colorful platters this fantastic Chester County spot include homemade salsas, radish slices, golden rice and refried beans. Of course, the main event is the tacos: specialties here include cecina (dried beef), al pastor and beef tongue. 609 W. Cypress Street, Kennett Square, (610) 925-2651, lapenamexicana.com
  • Pipeline Tacos – The Main Line’s go-to for fish tacos and island flavors is a favorite for fresh tacos and smoothies. The classic combo: their “Pipeline” taco (grilled or tempura-fried mahi-mahi with mango papaya salsa and cilantro lime sauce) and a 24-ounce “Green Goodness” (kale, spinach, sweet banana, mango, pineapple and coconut smoothie). 165 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, (610) 225-TACO, pipelinetaco.com
  • Sabrosa Taqueria – Tia-inspired tortillas come stuffed with carnitas, roasted veggies, chorizo and more this Bucks County spot. Same ingredients can layer clever taco pints, which are like a bowl, but in a… pint. 34 E. State Street, Doylestown, (267) 454-7856, sabrosataqueria.com
  • Taqueria Feliz – Two locations in Manayunk and Horsham (siblings to Fort Washington’s Cantina Feliz and Fairmount’s La Calaca Feliz) mix up traditional tacos (carnitas, al suadero) with new-school styles (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), as well as a short list of unexpected but delicious choices, like chapulines (crispy grasshoppers). 4410 Main Street, (267) 331-5874; 303 Horsham Road, Horsham, (215) 323-4530, taqueriafeliz.com
  • Union Taco – At locations in Manayunk and Flourtown, chef Nick Farina serves tortillas filled with pork carnitas with chipotle barbecue sauce and Spanish mahón cheese and a veggie-centric wild mushroom taco with goat cheese, greens and corn-and-black bean salsa. 4161 Main Street, (267) 766-6193; 1666 Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown, (215) 383-1100, uniontacos.com

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