For years, folks around the city have sung the praises of South Philly’s no-frills Taqueria La Veracruzana for its flavorful, authentic, and inexpensive Mexican food. But what’s not on the menu is the fine entertainment, which seems to drop by randomly. As you’re chowing down, a smartly dressed fellow with a rich, golden throat and trusty acoustic guitar will slide in the side door, strum a quick chord or two, and then launch into a spot-on rendition of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” sung in Spanish (and accompanied by a wink or a nod if you make eye contact), followed by a traditional Mexican ballad, and the placement of a decorative envelope on your table for a tip—which we don’t mind giving, because dude is brilliant.
Taqueria La Veracruzana, 908 Washington Ave. 215.465.1440. taqueriaveracruzana.com
Guacamole is a gift from the gods—well, actually, the Aztecs—but it comes in many forms. There’s the vile, gluey stuff in the supermarket coldcase. There’s the surprisingly decent version they’ll plop on your burrito at Chipotle. And there’s the decadent goat cheese-and-pistachio-laden number at El Vez. But for our money (and we’re talking eight very-well-spent dollars), the best guacamole in the city is the concoction they’ll whip up at your table at Xochitl . Into the stone mortar and pestle go scoops of creamy, bright green avocado, diced onion, cilantro, jalapeno, salt, and lime juice—all to taste—and out comes pure heaven, topped with freshly grated cotija cheese. Unbelievable. That’s the traditional version, but you can ramp it up to mouthgasmic levels with the addition of truffles and manchego cheese. That’ll run you a little extra, but it’s so worth it. After that experience, good luck ever settling for a lesser guac.
Xochitl, 408 S. Second St. 215.238.7280. xochitlphilly.com
Victor Café , the unassuming South Philly eatery tucked into a prohibition-era brownstone started as a gramophone shop. When John DiStefano traded records for rigatoni, he slated Victor as a place where folks could hear the opera while enjoying great food. Victor’s servers are trained vocalists, delivering classic arias while you eat.
Victor Cafe, 1303 Dickinson St. 215.468.3040. victorcafe.com
Which is the best Philly Soft Pretzel Factory in town? We’ve been to them all and since you can get a damn fine hot, oven-fresh pretzel at pretty much every location, other factors come into play. At first, we narrowed it down to two spots: The one in the Port Richmond Plaza, and the one in Mayfair . The former has by far the best people-watching at any Philly Soft Pretzel Factory location—last time we were there, we witnessed a sharp skater kid try to haggle a lower price on three pretzels by arguing the lower recessionary value of flour to the perplexed register girl. But the latter is the original location so there’s that extra historical significance and they open for business every day at one in the morning. Perfect timing for post-drinking munchies, and much healthier than the fastfood drive-throughs. Mayfair takes it!
Philly Soft Pretzel Factory, 7366 Frankford Ave. 215.338.5433. phillysoftpretzelfactory.com
Next time you’re in South Philly and order pizza for delivery, don’t forget dessert—better yet, screw pizza and just get dessert. Francoluigi’s Pizzeria , at the corner of 13th and Tasker streets, is a go-to for pizza by the slice or a whole pie. But since the Borda family owns both Francoluigi’s and the Italian sit-down restaurant next door, they’ve got a menu that spans more than just cheesesteaks and pizza. You can order cannoli to your door for $3.50. Just tip the nice delivery man who is probably annoyed as hell he came all the way out for your stupid cannoli.
Francoluigi’s Pizzeria & High Note Cafe, 1549 S. 13th St. 215.755.8900. francoandluigis.com
Being the inveterate food fascists we are, it’s not often that we’d deign to give culinary kudos to a restaurant chain, but we’ll gladly make an exception when it comes to Pho 75 , because, frankly, they rock our funky socks off. As the name implies, they are proud purveyors of perhaps the single greatest soup known to humankind, pho. That’s it: Vietnam’s original soul food and nothing else. No summer rolls, no crepes, no banh mi, just industrial quantities of heavenly, life affirming, star anise- and ginger-scented beef broth and noodles. Add a handful of bean sprouts, a fistful of Thai basil, a squeeze or two of mouth-puckering fresh lime juice, and as much Sriracha as you can handle—and bingo! Instant nirvana, hangover banished and the sudden realization that the world is truly a beautiful place.
Pho 75, 1122 Washington Ave. 215.271.5866
Philly and it’s surrounding ’burbs are home to a plethora of top-notch Asian food stores and suppliers, but this is, arguably, the Mack Daddy of them all. It’s the one we come back to time and time again, and like a true old-school pro, it leaves us satisfied every time. Its retina-scorching, synapse-melding array of Asian goodies is a gourmand’s dream, and they have pretty much everything you want (and a whole lot more that you didn’t realize you needed …), from China to Cambodia, Malaysia to Thailand and all points in between. You want endless varieties of noodles, head-on crispy ducks, and vicious looking cleavers? You got ’em. Live eels? Check. Live Frogs? Double check. Unfeasibly large Thai water beetles (that look unnervingly like the biggest roaches you’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter)? Triple- fucking-check. With bells on.
Oriental Supermarket, 1111 S. Sixth St. 215.271.2528