It’s easy to forget just how transporting a great guacamole can be. And, indeed, who could blame those of us who fall into the trap of brushing it off once in a while: There are just so many lousy ones out there. I remember one particularly reviled suburban haunt’s guac at a family gathering a few years ago, and just the thought of its stabilizer-jiggling heft, its petulant refusal to turn even the slightest shade of brown despite the fact that we were eating outside in the summertime, is enough to make me shudder, and cringe, and reach for happier thoughts, even all these years later.
Cafe Ynez, however, gets it just right: Rough-mashed with the perfect amount of lime (i.e.: mucho), onions, tomatoes and cilantro, it’s a study in the seemingly disproportionate joys of simplicity and balance.
There’s a lot of that here, and from 8am–8pm weekdays and 9am–4pm on the weekends, it serves up the kind of memorable pleasures that I’m confident will make it a standby in the neighborhood. (In addition to their all-day menu, there’s plenty on offer for brunch and breakfast, too.)
Moist rotisserie chicken arrives beneath cracker-crisp, mahogany-toned skin. It’s also perfumed with cinnamon among its secret blend of 12 herbs and spices, an ingenious addition that raises the stakes substantially. Sunset-colored rice reposes next to silky frijoles fritos toned up with cumin, and the duo is like some sort of perfect Mexican yin-yang composition. Escabeche didn’t shy away from a particularly citrus-bright vinaigrette and was all the better for it. Homemade, fresh-fruit margarita mixes change every three days maximum and are well worth toting along a bottle of tequila to splash into them. Or rum, for that matter, which we accidentally did; no matter, it was delicious added to the mango-grapefruit mix regardless.
The elote, however, could have used more acid, the better to liven it up and frame the roastier kernels of corn. And the carnitas cemitas, an excellent pulled pork sandwich whose center of gravity was the deeply developed flavor of the flesh itself, was done no favors with a vaguely industrial-seeming tomato slice, especially in this season of otherwise stellar ones. But that was quickly forgotten anyway: We removed that slice and proceeded to make quick work of the sandwich—and were kind of sad when it was finished.
Like so much else here under the supervision of executive chef JC Piña—who’s also still executive chef at Jet Wine Bar—and owners Jill Weber and Evan Malone, it’s worth treating yourself to. Even if you’re not from the neighborhood, Cafe Ynez is worth a visit. And then another.
2025 Washington Ave. 215.278.7579. cafeynez.com
Cuisine: Mexican with rotisserie.
Hours: 8am-9pm weekdays; 9am-4pm weekends.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014