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need help--what is best INDIAN or MEXICAN REST IN PHILI

i need to treat my best client to a meal for the holidays in Phili... he loves Indian and mexican... ill need to pre arrange the meal... but i want him to have an amazing experience

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  1. I'd recommend Lolita for mexican. El Vez is good too, and may be a better choice if you're trying to impress someone, as they have a bar (Lolita is BYO) and a fun atmosphere. Lolita has better food, though. Also, Lolita doesn't take reservations on Friday or Saturday (maybe Thursday too, I forget), that may make it hard for you.

    Tequila's (on Locust near Monk's Cafe) is much more upscale than either El Vez or Lolita, and their food is good, but I can't recommend them after my last two visits. The server was a jerk on the first visit, and I found a decent-sized piece of newspaper in my chicken on the second visit.

    If you don't care about the atmosphere and just want authentic Mexican food, head to one of the nicer Mexican-run places on or south of Washington Ave, like Plaza Garibaldi.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      Agreed on Tequilas. We used to love that place. What has happened there? The last two time the food was underwhelming to just plain bad. We found the chips greasy and the food in general mediocre. The margarita pitchers tasted like a sweetened lime drink prompting our companions to ask the server for side shots of tequila to pour into our "margaritas". One would think that the server would get the message and bring some complimentary shots but no.

      We like some of the mexican places on north 5th but they aren't nice enough for a special holiday meal.

      Take your client to Pasion. They have excellent S. American with a famous chef and a beautiful dining room.

      1. re: joluvscards

        Guillermo Pernot left Pasion! a few months ago, he's exec chef at Cuba Libre now. I believe he's still associated with Pasion!, but he's not cooking there anymore.

        1. re: Buckethead

          And Pasion too seemed to gone downhill on our last visit prior to Pernot's departure (except for the desserts from the new pastry chef that were outstanding!) What's gotten into these places? I wonder if it could be much better at Cuba Libre with Pernot there given their limited menu (i.e. one type of ceviche).

    2. I you want more of a "fine dining" experience with your client, go to Tequilas. Lolita has better food though. Don't know if it matters, but Lolita is also BYOB.

      1. man, i really wanted to like lolita after all the stellar reviews here, but when i went a few months ago i was pretty underwhelmed. perhaps too much hype. it was just okay. not enough vegetarian options... and unfortunately, i probably won't return often since el vez is right across the street - and i highly prefer el vez - in terms of service, alcohol availability, being able to pay with credit cards, and most importantly, the food! we've done the side-by-side guac tests, and el vez wins, hands-down. http://www.elvezrestaurant.com/

        as far as indian, no one's replied because i think we have yet to find a GOOD center city indian place we all agree upon! a few might recommend cafe spice in old city, but i've heard many a review that it is bland. i have not been there myself. i have found no good indian food in the city; only in the western suburbs.

        5 Replies
        1. re: rabidog

          Dingdingding!! I also have not found good Indian food in CC. Khajuraho in Ardmore is the best I've had, but it's way outside the city and the atmosphere isn't exactly upscale. Shivnanda was a very good Indian place, but it closed a few years ago. The best I've found in the city since then is Lovash, on South Street. It doesn't hold a candle to Khajuraho, but it's pretty good.

          1. re: rabidog

            rabidog - what vegetarian dishes would you suggest at Mexican restaurants? In my ignorance, I think of many foods, even some of the vegetarian dishes being tainted somewhere along the line with lard, oil used to cook meat, etc. I'm mostly interested in dishes that contain as the protein just the beans (hold the meat!), or perhaps a vegetable like eggplant, mixed with tomatoes and cheese.
            I eat a little chicken, and the Baja Grill (I think that's the name) out here in the suburbs is supposed to do a decent job with cooking in a fresh way. Its chicken quesadillas look good.
            When you get the vegetarian selections at the Mexican restaurants you go to, how do you know that the vegetarian dishes you are eating are, in fact, vegetarian, and free of animal residue from other cooked dishes?

            1. re: FelafelBoy

              Hey felafel boy, you'd probably get good general feedback on the 'general topics' board to this question, but I can tell you that refried beans are often refried in lard, and Mexican rice is sometimes made with chicken stock/base.

              That said, that's only if you're worried about the meat on the grounds of principle. My wife doesn't eat meat and will eat refried beans and rice, as the taste is negligible.

              At Tequila's you could order the Queso Fundido which is, essentially, a crock of melted cheese (though they have two on the menu, on with chorizo, which you don't want). The Nachos at Plaza Garibaldi are ridiculously delicious and seem to be completely meat-free (the chips were fried in some of oil, as are all chips, but my experience is that tortilla chips are never fried in lard, again, general topics might get you more input).

              Though tortilla making in general often uses lard, so, again, potentially a problem for you.

              1. re: joypirate

                Last time I was at Tequila's (which was a while ago), they had a little icon next to maybe 1/3 of the menu items, signifying that those items could be prepared vegetarian upon request.

              2. re: FelafelBoy

                joypirate pretty much summed it up for me there! i'm vegetarian simply because i was raised that way (both my parents are vegetarian) and i quite like it so i've stuck with it. i take exception several times a year, especially when i go back home to maryland, to feast on blue crab, baltimore style... so i guess you couldn't call me the strictest of vegetarians. so while i wouldn't sink my teeth into a chicken leg, i am fairly certain chicken stock has been used in many a rice i've eaten at mexican restaurants, and more.

                i ate at a mexican place on west marshall street today (the rec for this area came from this board!) and the most i do is ask my server if the dish is vegetarian. and then i just trust (or go with) their answer. today i had chile rellenos in some tasty fresh tortillas. so i guess if you're as un-strict as me, chile rellenos are a good place to start. i also enjoy enchiladas suizas, with chicken/meat subbed for peppers/onions (your server has to speak decent english, or you have to be able to speak spanish, if these types of requests are going to be made. i am trying to learn spanish, very slowly.) i also looove portabello fajitas!! nachos are fun, too. or queso fundido. oh, and guacamole is a MUST at any mexican restaurant. this will either make or break my review of a mexican restaurant! plenty of options for the lax vegetarian!!

            2. I second Tequila's. Have not been to Lolita's. I wanted so badly to like El Vez due to various people telling me how great it is, but found the food to be way too salty, even the guac (which likely would have been good had it not been killed with salt and greasy tortillas chips). Also thought that overall the food tasted too greasy/processed at El Vez - and I got a vegetarian entree. Just my 1 cent of opinion.

              1 Reply
              1. re: szmn

                here here. el vez is eh. the best mexican food is not at fancy places, nor should it be. that is disappointing to hear about tequila's though, it was a notable exception.

                cafe spice in old city is a very safe place to take someone for indian. their appetizer assortment is excellent though some mains are better than others. but you will not be disappointed going here even though it isn't super authentic. lovash on south street is pretty decent too.

              2. Having been to El Vez a few times, the atmosphere is much better than the food, which seems to me to be overly greasy.

                Tequila's is above average food wise but noting all that special. They have great service and decor but the food was bland the last time I was there a few years ago.

                Haven't been to Lolita either.

                1. I second Plaza Garibaldi (BYOB, beer can be purchased a block away). It's not the fanciest place, but the food and friendly service make up for it--plus it might be fun and interesting for your client to take a walk through the Italian Market, on the way to/from there. I think the food at El Vez is too trendy and not very tasty, and the service at Tequila's is too frustrating.

                  For Indian in CC, Karma on the 100 block of Chestnut (Old City) is very good.

                  1. Bottom line - You are not going to "amaze" your client in Center City Philadelphia with either Mexican or Indian food. There are many restaurants where you could have an "amazing experience", but, unfortunately not of those two ethnic varieties.

                    Back to the drawing board!

                    1. Being from Texas, I personally don't like any of the Mexican food I've had here, except for the little authentic taquerias...which I don't think have the sort of atmosphere that you're looking for for your client. If he/she is from someplace that does any style of Mexican food well, you may want to think twice before taking him/her to a Mexican restaurant on the East coast.

                      That said, I'm surprised no one's mentioned Karma in Old City (Front and Chestnut.) (oops, b/f just pointed out that someone did mention Karma. sorry gina!) Their butter chicken is absolutely to DIE for, and their naan is perfect (I would eat it plain!). Last time we went, we also ordered the vegetable samosa appetizer and shrimp maharaja entree. Both were quite tasty. They will adjust spiciness according to your tastes, which I think is crucial to any Indian restaurant, and they're quite nice about it. In fact, the waiter (accurately) recommended to us what level of spice to order. The restaurant itself is quite tastefully decorated - nothing too elaborate or over the top, but nice. They also have a wine list and cocktails...I don't drink, so can't vouch for quality, but just thought I'd mention their presence.

                      If you and your client are up for a little old-fashioned fun for dessert, hop around the corner to Franklin Fountain (Front and Market) for an old-fashioned soda and ice cream shoppe experience. Their waffle ice cream sammiches are AMAZING. Delicious homemade ice cream and hot fudge sauce. Tons of flavors to choose from. And the people behind the counter wear old-fashioned soda shoppe uniforms, complete w/ little white hats!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Aloo0628

                        Franklin Fountain has a whole hot drink menu for winter, including 'hot milkshakes.' These are actually regular cold milkshakes with some hot ingredient like brownies, apples or toasted marshmellows. The toasted marshmellow/graham/chocolate/malt one I just had was heavenly. Thank you.

                        1. re: Aloo0628

                          here's one post that will likely be lost in the mix here... much like my dinner at karma. oooh, sorry, bad metaphore, lots of wine.

                          anyway, as you could guess i had dinner at karma in old city tonight, just because i haven't been there yet, and was more than underwhelmed. i started with two glasses of wine i didn't like, the by-the-glass sauvignon blanc and riesling. the riesling i could swear was spiked with apple juice (i mean, i'm sure it wasn't, but it wasn't a satisfying glass of wine by any standards). next up were samosas, bitter and sour compared to the high standards i've become accustomed to (see tiffin & western suburb indian threads). the tamarind chutney tasted like sour raspberries. the mint chutney was actually better than most other mints i've had, but that was only a small high point of dinner. what's up with indian places all over the city not serving onion chutney with their samosas? i would have loved an onion chutney to add some additional flavor. next up was a paneer makhani, cheese cubes and peas in an orange sauce. usually my favorite dish across the board, and the standard by which i judge all indian places. while they did oblige my spiciness request fairly well, i felt the dish was just OK. hot and certainly rich, but just lacked spice combinations (which i can't place or name) i prefer. the standout of the entire meal was the garlic (lasooni) naan. it was VERY garlicky - NOT a first-date food, but an excellent indulgence for a solo dinner. dinner was richer than i'd expected, so i didn't eat more than 1/4 of my dish.

                          photorc is right when he says that DC indian food (what i used to be accustomed to) is far blander than here, it's true no place i eat at when i go back home can hold a candle to any place here, but after eating at places like a taste of india (wayne) and tiffin (northern liberties), i don't think i'll be back to karma. prices were approximately TWICE as expensive as tiffin, several blocks north at 7th and girard. certainly do yourself the favor of going there to compare it to karma. i've heard the owner of tiffin used to be affiliated with karma, but in my opinion he's much better off now.

                          next time i'm in the karma area, i'll probably visit one of the afghan places. i've been to one of them, the one to the right of karma closer to 3rd and chestnut, and i felt i just didn't know what to order there. any thoughts?

                          1. re: rabidog

                            rabidog - thanks for giving us the description of the samosas and the tamarind chutney. My guess is that the sour taste came from some unknown spice that threw the whole flavor off for you (and it would for me, too) that was added to the making of those foods.

                            Since you are able to get into town, I'd welcome a review from you of Lovash, the Indian restaurant on South Street, I think close to the 300 block. I read of reviews of all the other Indian restaurants in town but this one.

                            Other than the inclusion of fenugreek leaves, I'm not clear as to the difference between paneer makhani and paneer tikka masala.

                            Some chutneys are very basic, and you wonder why places don't offer a simple onion chutney. The chutneys at Himalayan in Malvern are very simple and straightforward, including the red onion chutney, tamarind, mint, and other chutneys. But their foods veer to the "sweet" side (the tamarind was still sour but pleasantly so). I have found that south Indian restaurants typically include white onions to their fresh green salads, whereas the north Indian include red onions, reflecting their preference for the sweet over the bitter.

                            Your mention of Reisling reminded me of the suggestion a wine expert made to me. She recommended Reisling with Indian food. It makes sense. A cooking show I watched stated that the addition of sugar to an overly spicy dish moderates that excessive heat.

                            I sometimes wonder how many different kinds of liquids are wise to consume when eating very spicy food that are already immersed in rich sauces - the liquids I refer to come from ... soup, salad dressing, dish sauces, perhaps sambar or rasam, dessert sauces, lassi, masala tea, alcohol? Perhaps if one just ate a small amount of a few dishes, one drink would go down well, but I have yet to be able to exercise such restraint upon visits to Indian restaurants.

                            1. re: FelafelBoy

                              Lovash is the best Indian place I've found in the city. My favorite in the area is Khajuraho in Ardmore, just for comparison. I have also tried the now-closed Minar Palace, the three buffet places in W Philly on Walnut (or Chestnut?). Lovash is not quite as good as the old Shivnanda, down in old city on 2nd St., but unfortunately Shivnanda is closed..

                        2. I have a slightly different perspective on this. Lionbreeder said "best client", but he never said anything about impressing him with formal atmosphere or throwing big bucks around.

                          He said "he loves Indian and mexican... i want him to have an amazing experience." I don't know his client, but if he really loves the food, I believe he could have a truly amazing experience here.

                          I just spent the week in meetings at the Library of Congress with a true chowhound in a great town for ethnic food. One of the most highly recommended Indian places in DC was far blander than what I've had in Philly, and I haven't tried the Route 30 row yet, which sounds even better. Her best shot at Chinese was run of the mill for me after eating regularly in Chinatown here. And she was truly impressed when I started telling her about the real Mexican food in Norristown and South Philly.

                          To me, a truly amazing experience is a walk down Marshall St in Norristown. As I've said in another post, it's like being in a foreign land.

                          The first time a very famous musician friend of mine planned to have lunch with me in Philly before heading to perform at the Academy of Music, my friends insisted I should take him to someplace like the Four Seasons. We went to a Chinatown dive and ate Jellyfish. Now he trusts me to take him anywhere. The last time he did a concert here, I took him to the Friday lunch at the Greek Church, he struck up a conversation with strangers sitting with us at a communal table in the church meeting room, and ate the amazing homemade food cooked by the old ladies of the church. He was thrilled! You won't find a memorable experience like this at any fancy pants restaurant around!

                          1. I haven't been to many of the places mentioned in this thread, but if you don't mind trekking out to University City, you could try Zocalo's (3604 Lancaster Ave). It's a bit pricey and the portions are quaint, but I've been twice and have been very impressed overall (would go there much more often if I had deeper pockets -- or an expense account!). (There are a good handful of vegetarian options, too.) Great drinks -- be sure to try a few! And save room for dessert.