[where: 1301 N 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122]
It’s hard to live in New York City for four years, as I did, without become addicted to Mexican food. I’m not talking about Taco Bell or the cheesy, heavy stuff you get at chain restaurants with sombreros on their walls– I’m talking about the real deal. There are more than half a million Mexicans in New York City, most of them from the state of Puebla, and along with their energy, hard work and vibrant culture they have brought with them a varied and delicious set of foodways. As a result, there are neighborhoods all over the city in which fresh, handmade chilaquiles, sopes and tortas can be had for very low prices.
When Joe and I left NYC for cheap rent and better jobs in Philly, we mourned for our favorite Mexican diners. I couldn’t seem to find a decent taco al pastor— until we heard about Taco Riendo. Located on 5th St. just north of Girard, Taco Riendo is close by, but even if it wasn’t it would be worth the trip. This small, cheerfully decorated taqueria, like its more formal sister restaurant Las Cazuelas, serves fresh, authentic food for low prices.
The tacos al pastor are spicy and bright, served on hot corn tortillas with chopped onion, fresh cilantro and a lime wedge. Sopes, crispy little beds of corn dough, come heaped with beef or chicken, onion and cilantro, and either milder salsa rojo or hot, vinegary salsa verde. The choriquezo taco is a dark, spicy concoction of grilled chorizo and queso blanco that drips red chorizo juice and oil onto your hands while you’re eating it (and it’s so good, you won’t care about that stain on your shirt). The smoky chipotle hot sauce is a perfect complement to all of these dishes. I don’t even like most hot sauces, but this one has a depth of flavor that enhances the flavors of each dish.
The chalkboard of specials is always worth trying– a pechuga a la plancha, grilled chicken with caramelized onions, comes with rice and black beans and is deeply satisfying. Enchiladas come in a complex, savory mole sauce that’s worth wiping up with tortillas.
There’s a selection of Mexican sodas– Joe loves the sangria soda– but try the horchata if you get there early enough. It’s a sweet, refreshing drink of rice milk with cinnamon and nutmeg– kind of like a lighter, summery version of eggnog.
Service is quick and friendly, there are lots and lots of gluten-free options, everything’s clean, free on-street parking is easy to find, and the prices are cheap. What more could you ask from your neighborhood taqueria?
P.S. I regret to announce that my posts will have to be picture-less for a while, until I can replace the digital camera that was stolen from me by USAirways baggage handlers this week. You bastards!