Loco Lucho debuts at Reading Terminal Market
Philly can now have its fill of Luis Liceaga and Rafi Nieto’s Puerto Rican street food favorites at the historic market’s first Latino-owned permanent vendor.
On Thursday, the crowd went loco for the pinchos de churrasco, carne frita, class Cubano sandwich, and marinated bistec sandwiches offered up from behind the counter of the latest addition to Reading Terminal Market, Loco Lucho’s Latino Kitchen, which has set up shop at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Avenue C selling an array of Puerto Rican street food creations.
The business was conceived of by Puerto Rican entrepreneur Luis Liceaga, and is run by Liceaga, co-owner Rafi Nieto, and partner Ellie O. Siegel.
“It’s all family recipes, it all started from the passion of love and cooking, none of us are classically-trained,” said Liceaga, who made a name for his food over the years, serving up fried, flavorful fare to tailgaters at Lincoln Financial Field on Sundays and Mondays during the Eagles season.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Liceaga, Nieto, and Siegel were joined by Anuj Gupta, general manager of Reading Terminal Market, and City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez. The ceremony marked the opening of the first Latino-owned business with a permanent home at the market in its 125-year existence.
Gupta praised the addition of a vendor that has “awesome” food, and also represents the "melting pot" that is Reading Terminal Market and Philadelphia.
“If I’m saying that this is Philadelphia’s market and it’s reflective of our city, well it better reflect our city,” he said. “So this is one step towards that goal, and we will continue to seek ways to diversify the products, the merchants, the people that are working here on a daily basis so that it is a true reflection of our city.”
The process of opening the stand began almost a year and a half ago, at the beginning of 2017, said Liceaga, with the public announcement coming in Nov. 2017 that the popular cook and entrepreneur with a well-established presence in Philadelphia as well as deep personal roots in Puerto Rican culinary history and tradition would have his own spot in the storied Reading Terminal.
The wait was long, but well worth it, said Liceaga, noting that vendors already at the market have been a huge support to them.
“Everybody has been so welcoming to us and ask what we need. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to open at the Reading Terminal, I’ll tell you right now,” he said.
According to Gupta, the market’s process for recruiting diverse merchants and cuisine offerings is focused on personal, individual entrepreneurs like Liceaga and Nieto who “get to know you,” and have an ongoing, consistent connection with both the customers and the food product.
“What makes it so great is that Luis and Rafi are here, they’re literally working behind the counter... That is a big distinction from most retailer markets which are nameless, faceless, corporate-owned chains,” Gupta said.
Liceaga and Nieto said that they hope that their food reaches more people so that more Philadelphians can experience the tasty traditions of Puerto Rican cuisine, which Liceaga describes as not necessarily spicy, like Mexican food, but “well-seasoned,” with “layers of flavor” in every bite.
“That’s the reason I got into this. Because when people take a bite of something, and their eyes open up, they don’t have to say a word — you just see it on their face that they love it,” he said.