On Sunday night, Julia pulled through again with another reservation at a Mexican restaurant in the downtown area of Philadelphia. For someone who apparently didn’t like tacos, she was doing a great job finding awesome taco restaurants. We went to El Vez on 121 S 13st Street in the Center City area. El Vez is in Stephen Starr’s network of restaurants, so it comes with high praise. Our reservation was not until 9pm, so we had plenty of time to get our appetites ready for El Vez.
There must be a common theme I did not know about with Mexican Restaurants here and pink neon signs because like Taqueria Feliz, El Vez’s name was illuminated in pink as well. A big sign was hung in the corner of the building with neon pink roses next to the name El Vez with very colorful tiles lining the top of the awning.
The restaurant is pretty swanky and chic looking inside with dimmed pink/purple shade of lights, high ceilings, plates and napkins already perfectly displayed on the tables, fancy tufted couch booths along some of the walls and a giant bar (with a bicycle covered in lighting and interesting ‘upgrades’) in the center of the space.
We did not get one of the fancy couches but a booth instead. After we sat down we noticed another interesting interior note-the photo booth! For $3 you can get a column of photos printed. It takes 5-7 minutes for the machine to print the photos and then you can just go up and grab them. Make sure you look right into the red dot when in the booth! I screwed up every shot and I don’t think I looked at the camera once. Also, all the servers had their photo booth picture printed on their uniform t-shirt which I thought was unique.
We started by ordering drinks. I branched out from my simple lime margarita to try the Pink Cadillac ($9.50). I think I also ordered it because it was cheaper than the house El Vez margarita. The Pink Cadillac went down smooth with the contents of silver tequila, triple sec, fresh orange, lime and cranberry juices. My friends all got a variation of other drinks, as you can see in the photo, but I didn’t bother them to give a report!
Next on our ordering agenda was the appetizer. This is dangerous writing about the appetizer while I am hungry. Just thinking about the appetizer makes my mouth water. We ordered the Nacho Mamma appetizer and I highly recommend it. The Nacho Mamma was presented on a large pizza type pan with a thin bed of nachos spread across the entire pan, not just piled up. The nachos were covered with black beans, smoked chile salsa, crema fresco, white cheddar and Monterey jack cheese. Every topping was baked so the cheese that coated everything was wonderfully warm and bubbly. The smoked chile salsa was sweet and matched perfectly with salty nachos. Thanks to it’s arrangement, EVERY nacho had something on it, unlike so many other places where you just get a pile of chips topped with a pile of toppings. Such an efficient way to serve nachos! If only I can find my Nacho Mamma in Pittsburgh.
Last, but definitely not least, the tacos. El Vez had a large selection of tacos including sea bass, grilled beef, chicken, mahi-mahi, carnitas, sautéed veggie, shrimp, and a taco tasting platter to try a variety. We did our own taco tasting platter with three of us ordering a different taco dish. We ordered the chicken tacos ($12), grilled beef tacos ($14.50) and carnitas tacos ($14). I think the chicken was my favorite. The chicken tasted like it had been marinating for hours. Even though the chicken was chunky, each piece was so tender that it broke apart easily after each bite. I believe I may have been fooled by the description on the menu because I thought that the menu said Chihuahua cheese would come on the chicken tacos but now I don’t remember that it did. That’s my favorite cheese too..bummer! There was avocado, tomatillo and tomato salsa, and crema. The crema was thin, and drizzled back and forth on the tacos. It provided a sweeter, less acidic taste than sour cream.
As a side note, I had to look up the description of a tomatillo. It was listed as an ingredient in a lot of the plates. A tomatillo is a plant of the Nightshade family, related to the tomato. The fruit is green and about the size of a large cherry tomato and provides a tart flavor in many Mexican green sauces.
The grilled beef (cooked medium) was covered in a roasted tomatillo-chipotle salsa and pico de gallo and cilantro. The beef was tender and spicy, just enough kick to make me take a sip of my pink cadillac.
The carnitas (pork confit) was topped with diced white onion, cilantro, and salsa verde cruda. The green salsa was made with tomatillos (with a bunch of seeds left in the sauce). This sauce had an applesauce like consistency and was very refreshing to taste by itself and on the shredded, warm, browned pork tacos. While the pork itself was great, the tomatillo salsa might have been the star of that dish!
There were so many ingredients layered on each single layer corn tortilla. It was amazing that the corn tortillas never broke. And of course the tacos were all presented on fancy plates, in particular I love the plate for my chicken tacos. It had 3 depressed areas that were the perfect size for one taco!
Tacos that we had range from $12 – $14.50
Don’t forget to check out our other two Philly blogs too!