Photo from CubanFoodUSA.com
Joe and I recently bought a car. Nothing fancy, just a cheap little used car that gets us where we need to go and doesn’t look too awful. I do most of the driving, because he works in Center City and I work up in the northern suburbs.
My new commute takes me straight up Fifth Street right until it ends. I had no idea there was so much North Philadelphia! This stretch has long been known as Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican community, although its northern reaches comprise Koreatown. It’s not a wealthy area, but it’s bustling and vibrant. If you can dodge the insane double-parkers, there are some really good eats up this way.
Of these, the most well known is probably Tierra Colombiana. This Colombian-Cuban hybrid is consistently well reviewed, though many reviewers have a tendency to worry too much about the location, which is ZOMG THE GHETTO!!!1!one!! Yeah, it’s not that bad, white people, calm the hell down. Go with a light heart, find yourself some on-street parking and prepare to be amazed.
The restaurant is pretty inside and out, with a Cuban-villa look on the exterior and lots of wood and warm colors inside. Ambient chatter is en Español, as is most of the service– always a good sign.
Joe and I were hoping for brunch, but we arrived at 2 pm and the breakfast menu was not offered. The regular menu is long and detailed, though, and we found no shortage of goodies to tempt us. We started out ordering café con leche, maduros fritos con queso and two orders of the bandeja típica Colombiana, or classic Colombian breakfast platter.
They were all out of maduro frito, so we ordered a crabmeat empanada, which arrived stuffed with what tasted like real, fresh crabmeat. The empanada crust, true to Colombian tradition, was made from corn rather than flour. Our friendly server also brought two small complimentary places of chicharrón con arepa, delicious fried bits of pork rib with a fluffy corn pancake. Beautiful. Café con leche was rich and delicious.
The breakfast platter arrived heaped with food: a thin, tender piece of steak; half a gloriously ripe avocado (where did they find it this time of year?); rice and beautifully savory beans; three slices of fried sweet plantain (maduro); and two poached eggs. The savory meat and beans were brought to life by the sweetness of the fruit, and the egg yolks broke and bathed everything in rich yellow goodness. We were transported– it was amazing.
Astute readers will have noticed, by the way, that every dish I’ve described is gluten-free. Caribbean food in general tends not to rely much on wheat, but Colombian cuisine in particular is a wonderful food tradition for wheat-free diners to explore. Corn, rice and plantains (also sometimes yucca and taro) are the core starches, and ingredients tend to be straightforward and identifiable. Celiacs should definitely head up Fifth Street to enjoy Tierra Colombiana.
We were too full for dessert, and it was too early for drinks, but we plan to go back in the near future. I’m not going to be able to drive past this place every day without getting hungry!
[where: 4535 N 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19140]