Mexican spot south of Snyder is cheap and good. And they deliver.
Like a limbo bar, the charted territory of South Philly is moving lower and lower. When once Washington Avenue might as well have been the Berlin Wall, now 19148 and 19145 are the hottest ZIP codes around, encompassing even the hard-to-crack blocks below Snyder.
Natives have long known of the area’s edible treasures. Now newcomers are discovering them: cheese-slathered, bacon-saddled Texas Tommies (Texas Wieners), powdered doughnuts plumped with jelly and cream (Frangelli’s), potato pizza (La Rosa), Oaxacan cocoa frappes (Cafe con Chocolate) and tucked-away tomato pie (New York Bakery) so delicious and fleet that little old ladies will strangle you with their rosaries for the last slice.
I can’t take credit for discovering Los Gallos at, as the menu calls it, Calle 10 y Wolf, an intersection you may or may not associate with the fantastically awful Brian Dennehy vehicle 10th and Wolf . To the excellent blog Drawing for Food that pointed out this newish bodega-cum-taqueria: Thanks! To everyone else: I’ll strangle you with a rosary if you don’t save me a seat.
They’re in short supply at Los Gallos. Seats, that is, at a cluster of tables sequestered behind a bin of pineapples. A single guy lingered at one, mesmerized by the telanovela on the flatscreen mounted above a deli case. Two boys shopped. The air conditioner fluttered a Tinkerbell piñata.
Owner Luis Jimenez, a 29-year-old native of San Mateo, Puebla, used to buy his chilies here when it was an Italian emporio called Spice of Life. When the proprietor told Jimenez he was closing, Jimenez, who has run the kitchen at Bonté since the waffle shop’s inception, grabbed the opportunity. At Los Gallos, he does the cooking, serving, clerking. When he comes over to my table, his body language says exhausted. His tone says, please, like it here. Please, tell your friends.
So that’s what I’m doing. All 200,000 of them.
“We don’t break the taste,” says Jimenez, and word is already out around the city’s Mexican line cooks, who are telling their bosses, like South Philadelphia Tap Room’s Scott Schroeder and Amis’ Brad Spence, about this hole in the wall’s tortas and tacos. (After dining at Los Gallos, Spence ordered more than 80 of the two for a recent party he threw.) The best of the latter is the costilla (short rib) smothered in nopales and onions and garnished with a long, glistening strap of beef on the bone. Jimenez does crumbled chorizo spicy as dragon’s breath and a very respectable al pastor. The moist scraps of spit-roasted pig and spears of pineapple made a valiant run at the title held by Los Taquitos de Puebla, whose owners are also from San Mateo. So is El Rey’s Dionicio Jimenez (no relation).
Crisped quesadillas ooze funky huitlacoche, its blue-black juices staining a nearby avocado like an exploded ballpoint pen, with crepe-papery squash blossoms bound with melted Oaxaca cheese. The alambres especial brings a lovely mess of sauteed onions, mushrooms, green bell peppers, bacon, pork chop and steak under a web of melted Chihuahua cheese. The bacon really comes through, unctuous and smoky. Warm tortillas (outsourced, with the goal that they’ll eventually be made here) come on the side, swaddled in tinsel-trimmed white linen and tucked into a woven basket that looks like it might contain a snake charmer’s cobra if we were in Morocco and not Mexico.
Nontraditionally, the enchiladas come stacked like a Napoleon of tortillas, avocado, queso fresco and romaine, with creamy refried beans and your choice of protein on the side. I got them con pollo, much to the ire of the napkin holder shaped like a rooster, the bird for which this taqueria (and the street Jimenez lived on in San Mateo) is named. Vivacious, pulpy salsa verde surrounds the $10 platter; that motor you hear over the exaggerated wails of the telanovela’s prima diva is a fresh batch being blended up.
Did I mention Los Gallos delivers? Nearly anywhere. And Jimenez speaks better English than most of his U.S.-born neighbors. So many reasons to love Los Gallos, not least the dirt-cheap food. But Jimenez is its soul, the biggest part of its appeal. You’ll want to run and tell your friends who live in less fortunate neighborhoods. Or just keep it to yourself.
For more on Philly's food scene, visit blogalicious-adam.blogspot.com.
951 Wolf St. 215.551.1245
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, 11:30am-11pm
Atmosphere: A tidy grocery with tables in the back and Telemundo on the tube.
Service: Warmer than typical taqueria.
Food: Too good to keep a secret.
Dinner with Luke Palladino