Mexcellent Cuisine: El Vez – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

El Vez Restaurant – 121 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107-4904 (215)928-9800

Since relocating to the City of Brotherly Love we’ve been on a quest to find authentic Mexican cuisine.  We’ve determined that Mexican food can be hit or miss in the city. There are a number of popular Tex-Mex, contemporary Mexican, and Mexican fusion venues located throughout the city, but if it’s traditional Mexican cuisine your after – your list can be limited.

One location we have been particularly interested in is El Vez Restaurant which is located in Center City, Philadelphia just a short walk from City Hall, Reading Terminal Market, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.  After hearing so many great reviews about El Vez from friends and after seeing it featured on the “You’re Bacon Me Crazy” episode of Guilty Pleasures on the Food Network, we knew we had to give it a try.

El Vez is part of Philadelphia’s Stephen Starr Restaurant Group. We’ve dined at other Stephen Starr restaurants in the past, and although there were some issues with service – our meals were always very good.

We had the thrill of finally dining at El Vez on a Sunday afternoon for lunch during a recent staycation with friends, and after all of the hype we were not disappointed.

El Vez is not your typical Mexican joint, but don’t expect pop and circumstance.  Upon entering the venue, a bedazzled low-rider bicycle captivated us immediately.  Just inside the entrance off 13th Street, we were transfixed as it rotated from above the restaurant’s fabulous circular bar.  Almost instantaneously we agreed the bar’s stools would be the perfect place to plant ourselves for our next happy hour.  Color is abundant but tasteful throughout the space.  Button-tufted velvet wrapped booths lined the windows near 13th Street were packed with diners.

Although it was lunch time, we were certainly glad we made a reservation early in the week.  The restaurant was hopping! There was not an empty seat at the restaurant’s bar, nor did there appear to be an empty table in the house. We requested a booth when making our reservation, and upon arrival our request was met. There was one window-side booth tucked behind the hostess stand which we had all to ourselves.

The majority of the diners around us were ordering the restaurant’s brunch. The brunch seemed to be very popular with everyone seated around our booth.  All of the brunch dishes looked amazing.  However, we came for the tacos.

We nested into our curbside booth for some people watching and great conversation.  As soon as our server arrived we immediately ordered chips and salsa for the table. The salsa was fresh, and it included diced jalapenos which was a welcomed addition to kick things up a notch.  We also enjoyed the salsa verde very much. However, we all agreed that we could’ve done without the salsa roja. The salsa verde and fresh tortilla chips took us back to our days in Mexico where salsa verde was a staple at each of our meals.  We loved the chips and salsa so much that we had to request another round.  Why not?

We asked our server for drink recommendations, and we each decided on the Granada on the rocks for our first round. We were all in agreement that the combination of smoky  gold tequila, triple sec, fresh pomegranate juice, and lime made for a refreshing and flavorful treat after hours of trekking through countless city blocks that cold winter morning. On its own, pomegranate can be a bit much, but when mixed together this combination was a winner!  Although there are a number of Mexican cocktails on the menu, we recommend you head straight to the margaritas and you will not be disappointed!

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For our next round of drinks, we ordered the deliciously sweet Rojo Sangria which was made with red wine, Patron Citronage, brandy, seasonal fruit and spices. We were very pleased with El Vez’s version of sangria, and it was very comparable to one of our all time favorite sangrias crafted by the one and only Jose Andres.

Choosing our entrees was no easy task.  We were torn between a few dishes since so much of the menu was so tempting. We felt like kids in a candy store.  We decided on the taco tasting platter which consisted of one each of sea bass, beef, chicken, carnitas, and crispy mahi tacos on one large serving platter. This platter is a must try for anyone new to El Vez!  This beautiful platter was a fantastic combination of meats and flavors.  In our opinion, this platter alone is worth another visit to El Vez.  The platter’s presentation was to perfect to eat, but don’t worry – we eventually dove right in! Each taco was perfectly prepared and bursting with flavor in a homemade corn tortilla, and if we had to pick a favorite it would have been the sea bass.

After devouring our Taco Tasting Platter, we thought it would be impossible to continue on this voyage of culinary ecstasy but El Vez did not disappoint.  Our next entrée was the grilled beef tacos. The entrée arrived with three individually assembled tacos on one plate featuring grilled beef (cooked to our requested medium-rare) roasted tomatillo-chipotle salsa, and pico de gallo. The beef was perfectly charred, and it was so tender that it melted in your mouth.  Again, they were each served on a perfectly crafted and amazingly fresh corn tortillas. We point this out because a number of restaurants in the past have had serious difficulty with perfecting the corn tortilla. They are either too dry for our liking or fall apart at first touch – which renders them moot all together.

For our final entrée we were dead locked between the oxtail enchiladas and the carnitas tacos. When done well, carnitas are one of our absolute favorites. After spending time in Mexico, and experiencing just how carnitas should taste, our expectations are set pretty high. However, when we asked our waitress for her opinion, she recommended the oxtail. In result, our oxtail enchiladas arrived in a personal skillet perfectly wrapped and smothered in chihuaha cheese, crema fresca (fresh cream), and fresh red onion with a delicious side of salsa guajillo. Again, the presentation was wonderful, and these enchiladas were nothing short of mouth watering.

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It is worth noting that our reservation was at noon which was when we saw the restaurant at its fullest. However, by the time we were wrapping up – around 1:30 p.m., there was plenty of available seating at the bar and at tables throughout the restaurant.  We imagine if you were to walk in around this time that you would be able to grab a table or a seat at the bar without issue.

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We will never forget our mexcellent meal at El Vez.  Our service was fantastic, and our server kept the drinks, as well as the chips and salsa, flowing. We highly recommend El Vez for anyone who is in the area and looking to try Mexican fare that is, in our opinion, the best in Philadelphia! We are so glad we took a chance on El Vez. We will certainly be back, and we are looking forward to trying their brunch menu on a future visit.

Travel Notes: 

  • This restaurant accepts Open Table reservations.
  • This restaurant is a short walk from SEPTA’s Jefferson Station.
  • Outdoor on-sidewalk dining is also available during the warmer months.
  • Garage parking is available on Sansom Street between 11th & 12th Streets, and there is no valet available.

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If you’re planning an upcoming visit to El Vez Restaurant, please visit their website at: http://www.elvezrestaurant.com/

Have you visited El Vez Restaurant or another Starr Restaurant? We’d love to hear about your meal! If not, are there any other Mexican must-eats you’d recommend in the City of Brotherly Love?

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