Feature

Critics’ choice: Mexican beyond the everyday taqueria

Loco Pez; Tacos Morelos; Mezcaleria Oaxaca

Loco Pez Philadelphia
Nobody goes to Loco Pez for the authentic tastes of Mexico, said Craig LaBan in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The burritos and hard-shell tacos at this “kitschy-cool” gastropub are meant to be understood as riffs on Americanized Mexican chow, and the hipsters of northern Fishtown all seem to get the gag. It helps that affordable prices, top-notch ingredients, and clever flavor combinations fill out the package. The “gabacho” taco, whose name is pejorative slang for “a Mexican who acts like a gringo,” packs a crispy shell with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo, and Pat LaFrieda ground beef that’s been “seasoned up with cuminy onion-powder-paprika magic.” If you order the nachos “K&A style”—referencing another Philly neighborhood— the kitchen subs out the chips for waffle fries, creating “a brilliant twist” on an otherwise familiar mound of beans, cheese, salsa, and carbs. Such semi-secret code language is all part of the fun at this former dive bar, now done up like a 1970s rec room, complete with framed shag needlepoints and faux-wood paneling. Fresh margaritas and “a solid selection” of premium tequilas help make all the irony go down easy. 2401 E. Norris St., (267) 886-8061

Tacos Morelos New York CityThe kitchen at this cheery Mexican bar in Queens seems to specialize in “pleasurable oddities,” said Robert Sietsema in The Village Voice. The bricks-and-mortar offspring of one of the best taco carts in the city, Tacos Morelos won my heart with something they call a taco placero, or “market taco,” which is little more than a freshly made tortilla wrapped around a bit of rice and “a chile relleno still hot from the fat.” But that was just the beginning. “Once you’ve thrilled” to the taco placero, you’re ready to move on to the more unusual offerings, such as the pork in a red pipian mole. Pipian, which is made from ground pumpkinseeds, “usually attains a sickly shade of green,” but the red version at Tacos Morelos benefits from a color makeover that also adds some chile heat and a slight smokiness. As the name out front implies, the owners hail from Morelos, a Mexican state south of Mexico City whose food has much in common with that of neighboring Puebla and Guerrero. But I still haven’t found any place else that makes a taco placero with quite the same finesse. 94-13 37th Ave., (347) 832-0193

Mezcaleria Oaxaca Seattle
There are occasions when it’s only right to “order outside your Mexican safety zone,” said Allison Austin Scheff in Seattle magazine. Any visit to Mezcaleria is one of them. The tacos are excellent here, but everything else is so unusually good that you should take your dinner in “an entirely different direction.” Make sure to get your table at least one order of barbacoa. The roasted goat meat is “pull-apart tender,” its gaminess present “but not overstated.” For your own entrée, order “the best fish stew you can buy in this town for $13”—subtly spicy and loaded with prawns, crab legs, and catfish that’ve been simmered for hours. If you’re lacking courage, start with the “excellent” michelada—essentially a Bloody Mary made with beer. It comes with a candied tamarind–hot pepper swizzle you can chew on while you think. 2123 Queen Anne Ave. N., (206) 216-4446

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