Wednesday, May 30, 2012

El Rey - Philadelphia, PA

El Rey
2013 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA

Ok, this post is quite late but we figured better late than never, especially when the restaurant is a MUST-GO. So here it is...

For cinco de mayo, we, along with Siddharth's parents, ventured into the busy city of Philadelphia for a Mexican brunch to celebrate the holiday. El Rey is another Steven Starr restaurants (read El Vez and the Midtown Continental for our other reviews of his restaurants) and we must admit, this is probably the best one we've to (high praise!). 

We didn't have a reservation, but at 12:30 we were seated immediately, just before the brunch crowd was coming in. Like most Starr restaurants, this restaurant was decorated with modern taste to appeal the young crowd of Chestnut Street. The decor was certainly well-thought of with deco lamps and old Mexican movie posters on the wall, a vibe different from El Vez, another Mexican-styled Starr join that we loved.

Once we sat down, our server introduced us to to their extensive drink and food menu and suggested that for our party of four, it is best to order a few plates and share. For the holiday, El Rey had a special brunch menu with traditional omelets topped with chorizo or black beans and sopes (fried masa) with a poached egg, beans, chipotle salsa and skirt steak. Or if you weren't in the mood for traditional brunch food, you could share one large platter of nachos with the table. We ordered the traditional nachos that was topped with chorizo, pickled jalapenos, beans, and chihuahua cheese. This dish was such a hit that we ordered another one shortly after finishing (amazing actually - look at the size of that plate below!). The flavors were fantastic and there were hidden carrots to give a soft crunch in comparison to the freshly fried tortilla chips.

We also recommend the zucchini blossom and corn quesadilla to share, but you may also want to order two because they will go fast.

Siddharth's mom ordered the french toast off of the cinco de mayo brunch menu. This was also another hit at the table. The toast was perfectly fried and sweetened with agave syrup and accompanying the french toast were candied fruits along with fresh strawberries. 

As sides to sample, we ordered the roasted potatoes and 2 side pork tacos to share. By this time, we were getting pretty full given the portion sizes of each one. The potatoes were full of spice, but were a bit undercooked to our liking (in searching for anything even marginally negative about our visit to El Rey, this would be it). Our server told us this was a traditional way of making potatoes in Latin cusine, but either way, we prefer our potatoes to not be "al dente." 

Tricia also ordered the pork tacos with two different salsas, salsa verde and salsa roja topped with a thick slice of avocado. Despite our simple description, this dish was complex with flavors. The pork definitely was slow cooked for a few hours, drenched in a sweet and spicy sauce. The corn tortillas that the meat sat on were also freshly made with the perfect texture to bite into while holding all the meat. 

Siddharth ordered the skirt steak chilaquiles, a traditional Mexican dish with tortillas soaked in salsa verde, covered with layers of cheese, and topped off with some sliced skirt steak. The skirt steak was phenomenal - tender, flavorful, and without flaws. . As we've mentioned before, El Rey does a great job with their salsa and their tortillas, which are certainly fresh made.

Siddharth's dad really enjoyed the nachos, and was thinking he was too full to order a full meal. Likely, he was the most sensible, because we were all stuffed after the appetizers. He did choose to get two tacos a la carte (pictured at the top of the post) - one with carnitas and one with chorizo. These were incredible. We all took a bite at his urging, and I think that we wouldn't mind going back and ordering ONLY tacos in the future. There's something amazing about well-seasoned and cooked meat on a wonderfully fresh tortilla!
Overall, El Rey surprised us in many ways. We must say El Rey is better than El Vez with their portion sizes and the usage and conglomeration of spices. While both are good, El Rey's menu appears to be more authentic and unique compared to El Vez. However, if you are a guacamole fan, El Vez might fit your style more. In the end, no need to compare: you should try BOTH!


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