El Vez is the furthest thing from ordinary Mexican fare. As soon as you enter the restaurant, your senses switch on. You immediately notice the flashy Vegas-style decor, with high backed maroon velvet banquettes and a glittery motorcycle floating above the dining room (think a movie set for a retro film). Next, you hear the clackity-clack of the ice in a cocktail shaker as the bartender pours one of the best margaritas in Philly. The rock tunes play over the speakers and you are handed a menu with interesting takes on classic Mexican dishes. It’s the beginning of a magical experience, and you instantly know this is the place is a party.
Location: 121 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Menu: El Vez has four food menus depending on the time of day. We opted for a late lunch and checked out the midday menu. The midday list is packed with favorites and includes two types of guacamoles and quesos. At midday, there are soups, chopped salads topped with adobo marinated chicken, steak or shrimp and a tantalizing selection of tacos and enchiladas that make it way too hard to choose. There is also a mixed plate of enchiladas, which include three types for just this type of dilemma.
Thoughts: El Vez is a feast for your senses. I was amazed at the splashy decor and felt like an extra in a Quentin Tarantino movie. The staff wears black t-shirts, jeans, and motorcycle boots, throwing off a retro, funky vibe.
Our server was personable, and while he didn’t hover, he made sure to greet us and describe some of the best margaritas in the city. The cocktail list alone is worth the visit. I had to ask his recommendation as I was going back and forth between two different types. He asked me a few questions to help me narrow down my selection. My friend asked if they could tweak one of the choices to her liking, and he was happy to accommodate. Upon arrival, we were both pleased with our margaritas.
Next, we chose the El Vez “Original” guacamole. The classic appetizer was chunky and creamy. The generous portion, served on top of a verdant banana leaf, had just the right combination of tomato, onions, jalapeño, cilantro, and lime juice. Alongside the guacamole, a huge basket of homemade tortilla chips and a ramekin of smokey, mild red salsa added an exceptional flavor profile when dipped together.
Not only did we enjoy our drinks and appetizers, but you could also say we inhaled them. The entrees appeared just as we polished off the last of the salty, crunchy chips. The pork carnitas tacos my friend ordered came three to a plate with tomatillo salsa, diced white onion, and chopped cilantro. She was generous enough to share one with me. The pork was tender and mild, but the toppings gave the taco crunch and zing.
My short rib enchiladas were incredible. Two overstuffed tortillas came piping hot and smothered in a chocolate mole topped with sesame seeds, red onion, and crema. If you like the taste of mole, this version was silky and paired perfectly with the flavorful beef inside the homemade tortillas. The meal came with a side of yellow rice and black beans topped with pickled red onion. It was entirely satisfying.
We wanted to try the Tres Leches cake for dessert. Even though we were full, we managed to polish off the vanilla cake soaked in cream with macerated strawberries and lime shavings. The cake was ridiculously moist and appropriately sweet. It was the ending we hoped for and a meal that made us long for a trip to Mexico.
Price Range: Appetizers range from $9 -17. Salads without toppings start at $12 but go up depending on your choice of protein. Tacos and enchiladas range from $12 and go up to $21 for the Mixtas. Desserts, priced at $8, are worth the price and calories.