Saturday, September 10, 2011

El Vez - Philadelphia, PA

Restaurant Info:
121 South 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 928-9800

After having a nice brunch at The Continental Midtown, (see our review here) we decided to try out another Starr restaurant, El Vez. El Vez serves upscale Mexican-American food with some LA-flair. A short drive from the Philadelphia Art Museum where we spent our afternoon, we arrived at El Vez for our reservation at 4:30. Some of you might be surprised with our early reservation for dinner, but due to the restaurant's popularity, this was the only time slot we got for same day reservations, especially for a Saturday. But to our surprise, we ended up eating for 1.5 hours because we loved the food so much.

Located in the restaurant district of Center City, El Vez sticks out with its vibrant colors inside and out and funky music. Even at 4:30, the restaurant was quite popular with people eating late lunches and enjoying happy hours with pitchers of white sangria and stone bowls of guacamole. In the middle of the restaurant was a colorful bar with a retro bicycles as center pieces rotating around top-shelf alcohol. Similar to Continental, customers have the choice to sit at their hip bar, retro-decorated tables or cozy booths. At the back of the restaurant was a photobooth that must be in high use since the walls of the restaurants were decorated with photos of customers and the servers.

Bazooka Limon - Guacamole is/should be a mandatory order at El Vez
Our server was very friendly and introduced us to El Vez's array of guacamole, noting her favorite was "Bazooka" Limon, a guacamole with pistachio, goat cheese, red chile flakes and roasted tomato. Her recommendation was spot on. For those who are fans of avocados, this one is for you. There are chunks of avocados. And for those who are not (Siddharth isn't, but he LOVED this guac), this guacamole might just please you with the goat cheese and the roasted tomatoes to balance out the richness from the avocado. Those "chips" on top are actually pistachios (delicious!). The accompanying tortilla chips were thick and freshly fried and were perfect for the avocado and their fresh made roasted salsa roja. It was an excellent start to the meal - the only disadvantage was that the portion of guacamole was huge, and the fullness was already starting to creep in!

Queso Fundio de Hongos - Corn Smut on top!
For our second appetizer, we ordered the Queso Fundido de Hongos, which was melted chihuahua cheese on truffled wild mushrooms huitlacoche served with flour tortillas. Huitalcoche, also known as "corn smut," is a fungus (like a mushroom) that grows on diseased corn (actually inside the kernels). Do not fear, it is only harmful to the corn, but delicious to us. Huitalcoche is often used to fill quesadillas. When cooked, it tastes a lot like sweet mushrooms with woody flavor (reminiscent of the much more expensive truffle). It originated in Mexico as a delicacy, but is now being incorporated into a lot of Mexican-American dishes due to its popularity south of the border.

Sea Bass Tacos with Sweet Potato Puree
After a bowl of guacamole and mushroom-filled tortillas, we were really getting full, but our entrees were too impressive to not taste... and finish. Our tacos were hardly bite-sized, requiring 2 hands to pick up and hold to ensure that all the components stayed within the fresh corn tortilla. Siddharth ordered the sea bass tacos, which came with sweet potato puree, scallions and fried jalepenos.The sea bass was juicy and seared to perfection, with a nice caramelized crust. Sea bass itself doesn't have a lot of flavor, but the preparation brought out its natural sweetness, and the best part was the sweet potato puree which was surprisingly wonderful. And of course we're always fans of fried jalepenos (See: Indochinese Fried Rice)!

Crab Tacos - No shortage of crab (you get 3 of these)
Tricia ordered the crab tacos served with corn salpicon, avocado, serrano chilis and the truffled huitlacoche (after having it in the app, we were sold!). This was excellent as well, with large pieces of crabmeat mixed in with the corn, almost resembling a crab cole slaw. Although the huitlacoche and avocado seemed like overkill with the crabmeat and corn, they really complemented the sweetness of the taco.

Creamy Poblano Corn Rice
We also recommend their side of creamy poblano corn rice as an extra. It was small serving of rice, but it was creamy and rich  and wonderful.The poblanos added a nice mild smokiness.

We were DEFINITELY full at this point, but had actually finished everything on our plates (surprising?) thus far. The table next to us ordered attractive desserts though, and we knew that we just had to try some. Their dessert menu consisted of several traditional Mexican desserts like flan and Mexican chocolate cake. Others were less conventional, such as the Mexican banana split with jamaica strawberry and the Mexican chocolate ice cream on plantains and chipotle soaked cherries.

Tres Leches Cake
In the end though, we feasted on the tres leches cake (Note: Tres leches cake in any form is a favorite for Siddharth) with fruit "ceviche". Tres leches literally means "three milks." In this case, this butter cake was soaked in three kinds of milk -  evaporated milk, condensed milk and whole milk. This is an absolute delight for those who are not lactose-intolerant! The resulting cake is not too sweet, but it is incredibly moist and flavorful. This particular tres leches cake was topped with finely chopped hazelnuts for that extra crunch and complemented with the strawberries and mango salad (which was soaked in lemon juice we presume, therefore making it a kind of ceviche).

Overall, El Vez was another Starr winner. It's at a great location in the middle of South 13th street (across the street from capogiro gelato, if you want a different type of dessert!). The ambiance is young, but not pretentious and the presentation was simple. We started our dinner at 4:30 and left the restaurant after 6 and never felt rushed at all. We enjoyed our food and our drinks at our own pace. The service was friendly, attentive and fast. The modern take on Mexican food was delicious. Order some guacamole, get some nice drinks, and try the Huitlacoche!


  1. What is Mexican-American? Looks tasty.

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