Café Ynez: Mixing Mexican and Philly flavors
Chef JC Piña brings a distinct blend of options to Café Ynez, a hip, cozy diner on Washington Ave.
Seated on a bright red American diner bench in the back of the restaurant, executive chef JC Piña discusses the inspiration behind Café Ynez’s culinary offerings.
“We try to bring a little bit of the flavors of Mexico City and mix them with the food that is here in Philly,” explained Piña.
Originally from Mexico City, Piña got his start in the restaurant business there while working in fondas mexicanas — small, cheap restaurants usually run by families. In 2002, he moved to Philadelphia where his uncle was living. He started as a dishwasher then worked his way up, first as a pastry chef at Morimoto, then at Rouge, then with the Jet Company which owns several other restaurants in addition to Café Ynez, such as Jet Wine Bar.
“I came in search of adventure,” Piña smiled.
Chef Piña is dedicated to his craft. Every week he personally goes to the Jetro Cash & Carry grocer deep in South Philly to handpick fresh ingredients for the restaurant.
“We guarantee our customers the freshest food possible,” he said.
The dishes are designed through a collaboration between Piña and his sous-chef, Hilario Hernandez, who have worked together for 12 years.
“One of us will come up with an idea, then we will sit down and discuss how we will end up presenting the dish to customers,” Piña said.
Café Ynez features three separate menus: brunch, lunch and dinner. Among the most notable items are the Steak Burrito, Pollo Mole, and Lomo de Ternera (beef tenderloin) with huitlacoche butter.
“The steak burrito is particularly evocative of the mix of Mexican and American flavors,” Piña said. “It combines flank steak with manchego cheese, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, refried black beans and chipotle ranch all wrapped in a wheat flour tortilla.”
Like the food, the interior, which was built by clients of NextFab (with whom Café Ynez shares the building), resembles the mix of American with Mexican. The inside of the restaurant is designed to look like a classic American living room with wood paneled walls and featuring retro diner tables and benches. However, bright images of Mexico City by internationally known artist, Miguel Horn, hang throughout.
“The inspiration for the interior came from my early introduction to Mexican cuisine through my godparents, who are Mexican,” said owner Jill Weber. “So the interior is somewhat like a living room.”
Similarly, the name “Café Ynez” was chosen to evoke the feeling of home.
“One of my favorite early food memories is of homemade tamales made by my godmother’s mother, and so I thought of her in naming the restaurant, though I chose a fictional name,” Weber continued. “Ynez conjures imagery of homemade Mexican food to me.”
In this familial setting, Café Ynez hosts special family nights on Mondays for families to get together to eat.
But don’t be fooled. The restaurant is also a BYOB and customers enjoy coming in for long, delicious meals accompanied by beers or a bottle of wine. Café Ynez also offers catering for large events, such as birthdays and weddings.
Moving forward, the restaurant is looking to include more traditional Mexican cuisine, hoping to attract a wider Latino audience. Additionally, on May 19, Café Ynez hopes to hold a special event outside the restaurant with a mariachi band and food stand.
For more information about Chef Piña and Café Ynez, check out cafeynez.com. The restaurant is open every day of the week: Sundays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 10 p.m.