Tacos

Taqueria La Prima, the standout Mexican restaurant in South Philly's Italian Market is now open well after dark. 

With the sad, but inevitable (at least for the last six months) closing of the famed 24-hour Little Pete’s Diner at 17th and Chancellor streets on Memorial Day, another blow has been struck to an already lackluster scenario: downtown’s late-night dining scene.

“There used to be the MidTowns, the Eagle, the Eagle 2, so many more,” says Steven Wigod, an accountant who regularly flies between Fort Lauderdale and Philly who returned just to get a last taste of Little Pete’s. “I’ll miss the late nights.”

So will Karen Karuza, a professor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia. “I used to eat here (Little Pete’s) when I was a fashion student,” she says. “It’s just one more Philadelphia way-of-life that’s disappearing.”

That's not counting the Snow White in Old City and Diner on the Square off Rittenhouse Square.

There are but a few late-night spots in Chinatown (Shiao Lan Kung at 9th and Race, Nan Zhou Noodle House at 10th and Race), a diners on and off Broad Street (Melrose, Penrose, Oregon and duh Broad Street Diner) and South Philly’s Cheesesteak Vegas, but the one food thing that this great food  city lacks is dining after midnight options. And no, WaWa is not one of them.

“One thing I really wish I could change about the Philly restaurant scene is adding more late-night restaurants,” said Michael Solomonov during a recent interview with PhillyMag.com. “It’s really not the restaurants, though, as much as it is the customers. Philly is just an early city. It just is.”

This might be true. As a minor, single example, the once-and-former Palladino’s Italian steakhouse spot at the boldest corner of East Passyunk Avenue tried a late night fine fare menu of nibbles and wine at the height of the restaurant’s popularity, and got nowhere. Nina's Trattoria, a contemporary Sicilian bistro in the heart of the lower half of the Italian Market, was serving a post-2 a.m. menu for a minute, but seemed to have ceased the operation.

Now, another Italian Market/Ninth Street operation – this time on the southern half of the Market, below Washington and closer to Pat's and Geno's – is trying to give late nights a major go, and with mega-successful results.

Actually, a several address strip of Mexican restaurants (and additional open space for spillover crowds) led by longtime area favorite, Taqueria La Prima/Prima Pizza. Now, open pretty much every night until 4 a.m., this traditional Mexican culinary hot spot – on a long block where amazing Mexican food is de rigeur, benefits the late-night crew of bands, comedians, open mic-ers and audiences who hang and drink at the neighboring Connie’s Ric Rac.

In the cold of the last months, the tall wide windows of Taqueria La Prima would fog from the crowds stuffed in long lines inside the restaurant. Now, with warmer weather and summer approaching, more than a few kids in Phillies caps can be found at 3 a.m. hanging around outside this taqueria eating burritos and laughing loudly. Then again, maybe they’re just joyously enjoying their meal.

Taqueria La Prima

Except South Philly's Taqueria La Prima to stay ready to serve until 4 a.m. for the foreseeable future. | Photo: A.D. Amorosi

On any given evening, Mexican and Latino crowds, speaking Spanish, dressed stylishly to the nines and driving flashy cars habit Taqueria La Prima/Prima Pizza for their wide ranging menu featuring Barbacoa de Chiva (shredded lamb), Cuerititos de Puerco (pork skins) and Chorizo sausage tortillas while watching rerun futbol matches on the colorful taqueria’s widescreen televisions. And no, there’s no pizza, despite the name.

“My late night taco requirements are saucy, onion-y and meaty,” says songwriter/musician Mare Rozzelle-Dominello from the band Infraction Diary. “This place fits the bill nicely.”

TWITTER: @ADAMOROSI

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