Taqueria La Raza: Homestyle Mexican Eats in North Philadelphia

27 Oct

Taqueria La Raza's spicy chicken burrito

So far I’ve focused on Mexican places in New Jersey, but Philadelphia is just over the bridge and has its fair share of excellent restaurants. I’d like to highlight a little place that’s off the beaten trail.

Taqueria La Raza is a small unpretentious restaurant on the corner of Allegheny Ave. and American St. in Philadelphia. The food is incredibly affordable, the most expensive item on the menu is $11. The people at the eatery set it apart from other taco joints. The staff is awesome, and the owner, Juan, is a sociable alligator hunter who said, “It tastes like chicken.”

The largest glass of horchata I have ever seen.

I got the spicy chicken burrito and my companion ordered tacos pobres. I washed down my food with the largest glass of horchata I have ever consumed.

If you’re looking for a good meal with a lot of personality I suggest you head on over.

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Spicy Salsa at Fiesta Mexicana in Hammonton, NJ

20 Oct

Chicken enchiladas with mole sauce

Fiesta Mexicana is a personal favorite. It’s great place to grab some food and chat with friends.

Our complimentary chips came with a cool green salsa and a unique, peppery, red salsa that was creamy and smooth.

Tacos Al Pastor

The cactus salad was a hearty dish that combined tangy chopped cactus with crunchy lettuce and cilantro. The chicken enchiladas with mole sauce had a deep smoky flavor. The tacos al pastor delivered on the typical classic flavor, well marinated and salty.

The menu very affordable with entrees starting at $7. There is also a full bar. A pitcher of margaritas was around $25. Next time I will skip the liquor since I am financially challenged college student.

Fiesta Mexicana is located at 327 12 St. off of Route 54 in Hammonton, NJ.

Shopping at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market

20 Oct

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I decided to visit the Collingswood farmer’s market to pick up some fresh (and affordable) produce. The market is a bustling gem set up from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. beneath the  elevated PATCO Speedline off of Collings Ave. I was able to chat with some of the vendors while browsing.

Some highlights of the morning:

I got to sample some pumpkin muffins and a scone from the Treehouse Coffee Shop booth.

Kristen Ippolito, owner and baker of Amaranth Bakery in Lancaster, P.A., hauls her gluten free wares to a variety of area farmer’s markets.

Radish leaves can be cooked and eaten too! Some instructions from Carol Savoie of Savoie Organic Farm: remove the leaves from the radish and place them in a crisper, or the refrigerator. When you’re ready to cook, steam them, then sauté with olive oil and garlic like you would with broccoli rabe.

I also bought some ajicito peppers which have a sweet taste, looking forward to frying them up.

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Cactus Salad at Fiesta Mexicana

19 Oct

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Digging into a cactus salad with tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, cheese, lettuce and onions. More details about Fiesta Mexicana (on 12th street in Hammonton) tomorrow.

Chef Batista Ernesto on Mexican Food the Puebla Way

13 Oct

Chef Batista Ernesto and myself at The Mexican Food Factory

The Mexican Food Factory has been around about as long as rice and beans, since 1979 to be exact. I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The food was simple, colorful and flavorful.

The chef, Batista Ernesto, came by at the end of the meal for a quick chat. He was relaxed and friendly, true to Mexican-style hospitality. He’s from Puebla, a large city in central Mexico.

 How long have you been a chef?

“About seven years.”

 How did you learn to cook?

“I learned from my uncle, he was actually a chef at an Italian restaurant. I cooked with my sister too. I like food, I cook for friends a lot.”

 What is your favorite food to prepare?

“I love to cook fish. Salmon is my favorite, also snapper and tuna.”

 And your favorite food to eat?

“Rice and beans, but mostly beans. My parents say beans are good, the doctor says beans are good. I love them. They’re comfort food.”

What is the most traditional dish on the menu?

“Fajitas are the most traditional mixed with onions, peppers, and cilantro.”

Ernesto moonlights as DJ Tazz in Philadelphia and Camden, he was looking over a set list when I left. The Mexican Food Factory is located on Route 70 West in Marlton, NJ.

More than just Tacos at The Tortilla Press in Collingswood

6 Oct

Tacos are served in a traditional “make your own” platter with warm corn tortillas.

The Tortilla Press in Collingswood is serving up fresh Mexican inspired dishes.

I sat down with Evan Weissman, General Manager, to get some details about the restaurant. The Collingswood location, a BYO, celebrated its tenth anniversary in September. There is also the Cantina in Merchantville, complete with a full service bar which celebrated its fifth year of operation. Weissman described the food as casual gourmet. As an independently owned operation they’re able to go outside the box and provide a better experience for customers. “If people ask for something not on the menu, they can have it their way.”

There are quite a few vegetarian and vegan options including mock duck with peanut butter BBQ sauce and veggie tacos. The gluten-free menu features dishes such as coconut habanero shrimp. The Cantina has gluten-free fish and chips and flour-less chocolate cake. Weissman explained, “A lot of restaurants are not offering gluten-free items, we have a great response. We don’t want to turn those customers away.”

In addition to traditional Mexican fare, there are several distinctive items available. Server and hostess Angela DelRossi described her favorite dish, “The chicken sweet potato burrito is unique to us. I’ve never had that anywhere else.”

Sauteed Achiote Fish Taco from The Tortilla Press in Collingswood

I decided to try the fish tacos. It was served as a platter laden with pan-seared tilapia with achiote glaze, pinto beans, red rice, salsa verde, pico de gallo, and guacamole. Warm corn tortillas were served on the side. The tilapia was well seasoned, a little crispy on the edges, and very flavorful for typically mild fish.

The restaurant’s atmosphere was as colorful as the food. Bright decor and original art adorned the walls. The staff was also friendly and very helpful.

Collingswood is a tight-knit community. The restaurant’s owner, Mark Smith, works closely with local farmers to supply fresh produce. The Tortilla Press Cafe is at the Collingswood Farmer’s Market every Saturday. The restaurant is open for brunch on weekends (with a special early bird brunch menu) there’s a take-out menu too.

Oct. 14-19 is Fall Harvest Restaurant week. Both locations will offer four course meals for a set price of 29.95/person.

The Tortilla Press is a nice place to stop for lunch while perusing the shops on Haddon Avenue or to enjoy a four course meal. The gluten-free and vegetarian options make it a great choice for friends and family with dietary restrictions.

Mexican Food at Home

29 Sep

If you love Mexican cuisine, going out to dinner or lunch or breakfast can become awfully expensive. Preparing meals at home is fun and affordable. Here are some great resources:

Muy Bueno Cookbook features a variety of recipes compiled by two sisters and their mother. The blog was one of Saveur Magazine‘s finalists for best regional cuisine in its 2012 Best Food Blog Awards.

Mexico in My Kitchen has a an extensive listing of recipes and tutorials.

Mexconnect pairs recipes and commentary along with some history behind key ingredients.

Oh you’re a vegetarian? Or vegan? Fear not! Vegan Mexican Food has entrées, drinks, and desserts for you.

There are also plenty of gluten-free recipes for Mexican and Southwestern food.

Fire up the stove-top, or grill. Preparing your own meals is great outlet for creativity and easy on the wallet.