El Loco Pez in Fishtown Isn't Just for Cool Kids

It’s a bar with a sense of inclusion, humor ... and damn good tacos and drinks.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Mar. 13, 2012

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Hipster taco bar: Those three simple words have the potential to elicit outsized reactions on both sides of the divide, either making your heart go pitter-patter inside your ironic T-shirt, or all but guaranteeing an eyeroll and a dark feeling that you’ll be made to feel like those poor schmucks at the uncool table in the middle-school cafeteria as soon as you walk in.

But here’s the thing—El Loco Pez isn’t like that. I’d actually make the argument that Joe Beckham’s relatively new taco joint in Fishtown lacks the attitude and aloofness that often ruins an experience for those who prefer Eddie Bauer to Urban Outfitters. In other words, it seems to be a nice middle ground where all people can feel comfortable. It’s a bar with a sense of inclusion, humor ... and damn good tacos and drinks.

Those tacos are offered as low-priced singles, which allows you to explore and really get a handle on what the kitchen here does best: transforming the familiar into something memorable.

Carne asada was the most familiar, the short ribs tender and deeply seasoned with cumin, as well as Worcestershire and soy. Carnitas leaned in the direction of some sort of barbecue. They’re deglazed in orange juice and tequila, which brings out an abundance of brightness.

Chicken tacos boasted a sweet-tart note from the addition of tamarind, which, against the back-of-throat heat of chipotle, lent that taco a complicated sense of exoticism. Chorizo, removed from its casing and luxuriating in its own umber-toned oils, was paired with chunks of red bliss potato that absorbed all that flavor and somehow both magnified and calmed it down. Shrimp tacos were an unexpected highlight, the little pink curls singing an aria of ancho powder, the tempura nutty and crisp around them.

Taco al pastor is nearly halfway between dinner and dessert, the distinct whiff of cinnamon and clove in the tender chunks of pork combine with the pineapple in ways that are distinctly reminiscent of an old-school pineapple upside-down cake. Order two of these.

All tacos at Pez can be ordered as burritos and quesadillas, too. The menu encourages overconsumption.

On the drink tip: The margarita at El Loco Pez is a balanced gem, neither teeth-suckingly tart nor cavity-causing sweet. For something more adventurous, check out the Monte Carlo, whose sweetly perfumed hibiscus water is balanced out by an in-house infusion of tequila and chipotle. The smoky-floral result is the alcoholic equivalent of kissing a beautiful woman just after she’s finished her third cigarette. In a good way. But to pair with the food here, I’d stick with a beer from the eminently drinkable, straightforward list.

To experience some version of a good chunk of this menu on one plate, you can always start off with the nachos de kenzo, which is one of the few riffs on nachos grande I’ve ever truly enjoyed. The chips arrive encased in a protective layer of monterey jack, cheddar and Oaxaca cheese. The meats—carne asada, chorizo and chicken—are each scooped onto their own side of the mountain. Guacamole, all vivid green and bright with mixed-in pico de gallo and made to order, rests atop it all like some sort of crown. Refried beans anchor it all. This and a few drinks and you’ll be set for the night.

The only problem is you’ll miss out on the rest of the menu if you limit yourself to the nachos. And the last thing you should do is pass on the street dog, a bacon-wrapped beauty smothered with refried beans, mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickled jalapeños, an avalanche of shredded cheese, and begging for any or all of the house-made sauces that greet you at each table (tomatillo, tomato, or dark smoky chili, all excellent). As far as drunk food goes, this is a star in the city right now.

It deliciously embodies exactly what makes El Loco Pez such a success: Simple food prepared with confidence and care, and served in an atmosphere that’s welcoming and un-self-consciously cool. If this is the new generation of hipster bar, then I think I’m finally ready to hang out with the cool kids.

2401 E. Norris St. 267.886.8061. locopez.com

Cuisine: Mexican-American done right.

Hours: Mon.-Sun., 5pm-2am;

Brunch: Sat.-Sun., 11am-3pm.

Price range: $1.75-12.50

Atmosphere: Very cool and very comfortable.

Food: Dig in, and drink in abundance.

Service: Knowledgeable and friendly.

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Comments 1 - 2 of 2
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1. Douroguy said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 05:09PM

“No mention of Chef Joe Hunt? The brains behind the great food coming out of Loco Pez's kitchen? It's ok Chef we still love you!”

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2. Codger said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 09:31PM

“OK, Brian. I'm ready to take the plunge. I'll try this place and I'm damned qualified to do so. I've spent years in Mexico. I make a guacamole to die for. I know all about using FRESH lime juice in Margaritas. I've eaten the most authentic tacos al pastor in the world.

One thing though: I'm over 65. I love the company of people under 30 and I love flirting with waitresses of the same age (wink). But if this place plays amplified music at an abnormally high decibel level (a la Cantina Dos Segundos & its South Philly cousin) I'm going to walk up to the bar and yell FUCK YOU, YOU DEAF ASSHOLES!!!

I'm not kidding. I'm old enough to not give a hoot what other patrons think. And I'm sick and tired of restaurant staff setting the music volume to please their own selfish hard-of-hearing tastes.

Thanks for a good review. I'm salivating in anticipation of some good Mexican food. Oh, and another thing: if they do have amplified music, it sure would be nice if it were Mexican.”


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