For Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations, I made plans well in advance to travel to Philadelphia with my friend Carolyn (and her pupper Bella) to see our friends Julia and Taylor who both live in the Philly area. As a refresher, Carolyn, Taylor, and I travel A LOT together and you will find their names mentioned in the Austin and California taco posts. Carolyn is the queso connoisseur in the group, while Taylor enjoys critiquing and comparing side dishes of Mexican rice. You may have also heard me talk about one of my best friends from college, Julia, who appeared in the Philly taco posts Part 2 and 3. She was the one who confessed to me that she didn’t like tacos later on in our friendship. I am now happy to report she reversed her taco prejudices after having the cauliflower tacos when we went to Taqueria Feliz (see Philly Tacos Part 2!) in Manayunk a few years ago.
Tacos en route to Philly.
Carolyn, Bella, and I had a pretty smooth drive to Philly. Bella did not take her turn driving, what a selfish jerk! I timed my leave from Monroeville around 230pm so we could get dinner at Let’s Taco Bout It (again, great name!) Mexican Grill in West Reading at around dinner time. (Check out my first visit here in the Philly Tacos Part 1 post!) I absolutely love stopping here because the tacos are delicious, preparation is quick, food is made fresh, and there is only an hour left of driving to Philly. I love to window shop at all the stores there on Penn Avenue in West Reading. There are also a ton of cute restaurants but I always end up picking tacos over anything else. Once we made it to Let’s Taco Bout It, I ordered the carne asada and al pastor tacos and of course the elote (Mexican corn on the cob). The al pastor was my preferred taco after it was all said and done. The carne asada was a little more crispy than usual, while the al pastor retained it’s full juicy flavor. The pineapple in the al pastor taco is always perfect here as well, and nothing in the Burgh compares to their elote at Let’s Taco Bout It….so addicting!
Although Let’s Taco Bout It did not have queso on the menu for Carolyn, she thoroughly enjoyed the carne asada and chicken tacos. Carolyn would give the slight edge to the pollo, but genuinely enjoyed both. As we ate our tacos in the jeep, I could see Bella in the back seat sniffing up a storm. I was very proud of her for not jumping in the front seat and ravaging my tacos. After Carolyn and I were fueled up on tacos and gasoline, we continued on to our final destination.
Happy Hora the next day in Center City.
After spending the day shopping with Carolyn and Taylor, we had worked up quite the appetite for tacos. Now that I think about it, almost anything will put me in the mood for tacos, however I was REALLY in the mood to try the restaurant Taylor suggested. Not only was it one dollar happy hour tacos, but also a Stephen Starr restaurant. Stephen Starr is a famous East Coast restaurateur, and I previously had enjoyed the cutting edge designs that he put into at El Vez (see Philly Tacos Part 3!), The Dandelion, Continental Mid-town, and Frankford Hall upon past visits to Philadelphia. Needless to say, El Rey tacos did not to tarnish the sterling reputation of Mr. Starr.
Taylor’s choice was El Rey located at 2013 Chestnut St in the Rittenhouse area in Center City. She had been here many times before so we were prepared for this visit. Happy hour is only 5pm-6:30pm M-F with first come, first serve seating. Additionally, El Rey does not take happy hour reservations, so we therefore made sure that we were there 15 min prior to the beginning of the aforementioned happy hora.
I can see why El Rey is packed during happy hour due to the following specials: $1 steak, chicken, fish, cheese, and vegetable tacos, $2 and $3 small bites, and tons of drink specials including $3 coronas and $4 house margs. During our visit to El Rey, the excellent small bites selections featured arancini and/or potato and chorizo toastada.
We started our happy hour with a round of drinks and some appetizers. I never had arancini before, which the waitress described as a fried rice ball, so I ordered one of those to sample. It was only $2 so I thought it was worth a shot. Carolyn was on the hunt for queso dip so she ordered the closest thing on the menu which was the queso fundido with short rib and warm tortilla shells. She REALLY wanted chips with her queso so she also ordered a side of chips and salsa to satisfy the buds.
The queso came out hot and looked extremely appetizing with the short rib resting on top. Instead of melty dipping cheese that Carolyn desired, the queso was more of just a block melted fresh chihuahua cheese. We had to eat it fast before it hardened, which ended up not being a problem for us. Carolyn described the dish as “bomb.com”, and I would agree too minus the heavy amount of grease. The chips were also a bit greasy, but the refreshing salsa helped balance it out. The salsa had a unique pasty base with chunks of chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers throughout, and I really liked the blended texture.
Unlike the texture of the salsa, I did not care for the texture of the arancini. The consistency of the rice ball was more like stuffing only soggier. It was also too spicy. Taylor tried a bite too, and she was also not a fan. At least we can now tell people we know what arancini tastes like I guess.
Now onto the best part of any meal…the tacos! We ordered 6 chicken and 6 steak tacos between the 3 of us to share. The tacos were dressed with a sauce that matched the flavor profile of each meat, onion, and cilantro grouping. It was unanimous in that we all liked the steak tacos better than the chicken. The chicken was a little dry and bland even with the sauce. I could also taste too much cilantro on the chicken tacos. On the other hand, the steak had a ton of flavor to it, and every ingredient complemented the steak as opposed to overpowering it. The steak was shredded and salty, so it kind of reminded me of carnitas in a great way.
If I were to come back to El Rey on my next visit to Philly, I would definitely make it back during the happy hour again for more steak tacos and the rotating $2-3 apps. I should have tried the potato and chorizo tostadas, but we were in desperate need to find Carolyn her queso fix. The quality of the food for only $1-3 dollars makes it a superb deal, BUT I do have to say my favorite dollar taco special is still back in the Burgh at Patron Mexican Grill :).
Price: ONE DOLLA TACOS during happy hour, $9-12 taco meals the rest of the time