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looking for mexican food in philly

so a coworker and i have a debate going about a place that may or may not exist in philly (center city, surrounding neighborhoods, or within a short public transit ride). we are looking for mexican food with a nice ambiance - someplace WITH a liquor license and great margaritas, inexpensively priced - not necessarily as cheap as los taquitos de puebla (well, cheap is OK, so long as the margaritas and ambiance are there), not as expensive as lolita. something like michoacana in norristown - but in philly. someplace like johnny manana's - but with good food. i am sure such a place exists in philly - my discerning coworker thinks it does not. anyone know of a place that fits the bill? we want mexican food!

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  1. Check out Cantina los Caballitos, in South Philly on Passyunk between Tasker and Morris. It's exactly what you are describing. Plaza Garibaldi is good too, and more authentic, but they don't have a liquor license and the ambiance isn't that great.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Buckethead

      2nd. Gibraldi is more authentic, but the margaritas at Cantina are out of this world.

      1. re: Buckethead

        Cantina offers 1/2 price pitchers of margaritas after 10pm, which is great considering they can be fairly $$$ (about $20-30 depending on type). I went to Cantina about 6 months ago for dinner on a Saturday night. I thought the food was very good, but not necessarily authentic. It was also quite loud; at 9pm I would describe it as "festive".

        I read in the Taste magazine insert that came with last week's Philly Weekly or City Paper that Las Cazuelas offers free margarita mix if you bring in your own tequila. Has anyone tried this? It was written in a column, not a Las Cazuelas ad.

        1. re: croutonpiggy

          Update: I had the free margarita mix at Las Cazuelas a few months ago. It can be best described as sugar-y syrup from the bottle with little acidic zing or fruit taste (think flat Mountain Dew). It was quite cloying and very dissapointing for my Cuervo 1800.

          1. re: croutonpiggy

            your description is so funny: they also have a non-alcoholic sangria mix (to which they kindly added some tequila on the house) which i likened to flat birch beer. the food is so good, though, and the service so friendly, i can forgive.

      2. I would have to agree with Cantina - it has a great ambiance, fantastic margaritas and i love the chorizo tacos. and soon you will be able to add johnny manana's to the list of center city mexican places - they're going to be opening up on Walnut Street (around 20th/21st)

        2 Replies
        1. re: smackdown

          the only good thing that i can say about the cantina is that it makes good margaritas. the wait staff is predominantly white and can barely pronounce the mediocre food they are serving. los cantrinas & tequilas on locust street is more authentic, more touristy, more expensive though. it's like manuel's in austin if you've been. but los cantrinas serves margaritas at your table in samovars. yay!

          so far, to my taste buds, the best mexican in philly is at the no liquor license places, but if i has to pick any i'd probably pick los cantrinas on locust or lolita on 13th.

          1. re: mazza3

            thanks all!! i'm heading out of town for a little while but will be going on a mexican chow tour once i get back!!

        2. I have a similar question. My boyfriend and I have eaten at Cantina, Las Cazuelas, Taco Riendo, Jose’s and many other Mexican restaurants/taquerias in Philly. Does anyone know of anywhere (besides Johnny Mananas) that actually serves Mexican food with ground beef? While he enjoys his chorizo tacos and the like, sometimes he wants to be able to order a dish with ground beef and that has surprisingly been elusive in Philly. Is he doomed to go to Taco Bell? Thanks!!!

          1. finally went to cantina for lunch/brunch... great margaritas... cold service... cute ambiance... OK food. the guac was good but didn't compare to veracruzana or the other taquerias i've been to. huitlacoche quesadillas were just OK, mediocre ingredients and super-greasy. mahi mahi tacos were yummy when we added sriracha sauce; could have benefited from other ingredients, tomatoes, onions, guac, etc. i'll have to visit again for dinner to see how they compare to my norristown favorite!

            5 Replies
            1. re: rabidog

              i agree with each and everything you said about Cantina. I enjoyed it when we went, but why it has so much fuss about it is beyond me. The Sriracha rubbed me the wrong way too, I get it, its trendy, but nowhere near Mexican. They are to Mexican food what Chickie's and Pete's is to good bars .

              1. re: rabidog

                i warned you! cantina's food = not good and the servers stink! i just tried out paxia at 8th and christian and the food there was bangin (seriously, you should go now if not sooner), however they do not have a liquor license (they will make margaritas and sangria for you if you bring the booze). the tres crepas were awesome!

                also, don't forget about distrito. modern, yes, but also definitely mexican. i don't know why didn't think of this the first time around....

                1. re: mazza3

                  Probably because Distrito wasn't open yet?

                  Good to hear about Paxia, I have heard mixed reviews..

                  1. re: Buckethead

                    i think they were open by october 23? hmmm. that would make me feel better if they weren't though. :D

                    paxia was very good - i planned a last minute dinner for 16 (i know, last minute....) and they had the space (which i always find depressing). 90% of the food was good, though the tortilla soup was meh and the mixed grill had highs and lows. everything else was definitely recomendable....

                    1. re: mazza3

                      my original post was from 2007. no distrito, no cantina dos segundos at that time.

                      i haven't been back to the original cantina, but its sister restaurant dos segundos is decent for drinks and snacks, tho i've not yet had a full sit-down meal there. the jalepeno margarita is interesting but not cheap once you're off the happy hour pricing. queso fundido was pretty darn good. guacamole needs work. i had actually visited there with the former coworker i mentioned in my original post above, and i'm pretty sure he was sufficiently impressed. i think i gave them a 3 / 5 star on yelp, and i'm sticking with that assessment several visits later. the group i took there a month ago is still raving about it, in particular those margaritas.

                      re: distrito - i've written about elsewhere on here and i LOVE it, tho it would not have been in the running for our debate on affordable mexican w/ margaritas.

                      p.s. i trekked out to norristown last night to dine at taqueria la michoacana with friends - the salsas are still ass-kickin hot there, even tho the dining room is filled with, well, not mexicans anymore! i appreciate how they have not dumbed down the salsas in the slightest. oh they are so good. they were packed all evening. suburbs still win for best food AND drink combination.

              2. Great Real Mexican-
                taqueria veracruzana (washington)
                el jarocha (13th & ellsworth) (fantastic)

                Cantina-
                yeah great margaritas, food is hit or miss. I had the roasted pork & yuca entree which was incredible. tried the fish tacos which had no salt & tasted like nothing.

                Lolita- great but not cheap

                Ground Beef Gringo Tacos-
                Pico De Gallo on 15th & South has ground beef tacos on hard shells with shredded cheese. the cooks are actual mexicans, some of the food is great sometimes it's junk.
                they also have pretty good margaritas and its cheaper than Cantina.

                Taco Truck On 4th & Washington-
                anybody tried this yet?? I've been past a few times, dont know if its always there but definitely on sundays when they have soccer games, Im sure it's the real deal.

                Adobo Cafe on Passayunk-
                yeah don't go there for the food. the guacamole definitely comes out of a frozen box. and everything else.

                1 Reply
                1. re: silverbullet69

                  I just tried Pico de Gallo last night and REALLY liked it. HUGE menu and everything is under $10 with huge portions. I will definitely return.