Quetzally: Mexican taquería in the heart of Bella Vista
Originally from Mexico City, Chef Jorge Piña delivers a menu inspired by the street food of the Mexican capital.
Quetzally, a small Mexican eatery nestled between two apartment buildings, stands out while walking through the quiet, residential streets of Bella Vista. The restaurant has been at the location since 2013 - a testament to the now ubiquitous presence and success of Mexican cuisine in the city.
“When I came to the U.S. 14 years ago, there were limited Mexican options,” explains Quetzally’s Chef and Owner Jorge Piña. “There were some people trying to do tacos, but they weren’t from Mexico.”
Piña is originally from Mexico City but moved to Philadelphia when he was a teenager in search of greater opportunity. He got his start working in the kitchens of the giants of the Latino food industry in Philadelphia, such as Stephen Starr, Jose Garces and Guillermo Pernot.
For the name of his own restaurant, he chose “Quetzally,” which means beautiful or precious in Nahuatl.
“Quetzally is my daughter’s name,” says Piña. “Her full name is Quetzally Itzayana which together means beautiful gift from God.”
In addition, the quetzal is a colorful bird from Mexico and the Southern United States. An outline of the bird serves as the business’ logo and the colorful interior and exterior design of the restaurant evoke the bird’s rich plumage.
“We did a complete redesign of the interior last November,” says Jefferson Gonzalez, Piña’s assistant who is helping him to expand the business. “We wanted to create a more Mexican-feeling environment. We want people to feel as if they are stepping into a kiosk in Mexico City.”
Like its interior, the restaurant’s menu is inspired by the street food of the Mexican capital.
“The street markets have some of the richest food in Mexico City,” says Piña. “We serve similar options like tacos and tostadas.”
However, Piña has adapted his offerings to local ingredients and preferences, creating dishes such as Mexican Fried Rice (fried rice with scallions, jalapeno, fried egg, cactus and soy sauce), which is unusual to see in a Mexican restaurant.
“When I was a kid my mom served us rice with a fried egg,” says Piña. “When I arrived to Philadelphia, I saw fried rice served in Chinese restaurants and came up with my own version.”
Also available are Tex-Mex tacos designed for an American audience, which combine a protein (chicken, pork, brisket, steak or chorizo) with lettuce, cheese and guacamole.
Chef Piña additionally makes an effort to cater to vegetarians and vegans. He does not use butter or chicken broth in his cooking, which normally Mexican food would call for. There’s also vegetarian versions of the tacos, burritos, quesadillas and tostadas and he is happy to make any dish you want vegetarian.
“I like all the food on the menu,” explains Piña. “If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t serve it.”
You can order Quetzally’s food via delivery options like Grubhub or you can go to their website to order food for pick up and find 20-30 percent discounts on the restaurant’s dishes. Quetzally is also a BYOB and serves delicious Horchata and Mexican soda.
Looking to the future, Piña plans to revamp the menu, adding large plates that can be shared by two people. He and Gonzalez further hope to expand the business by opening another location in the city and franchising out the restaurant. If you are interested, they are looking for potential business partners.
To learn more about Quetzally, check out its website at quetzally.com, Facebook @quetzallyrestaurant or Instagram @quetzallyrestaurant. Address: 1225 Fitzwater Street Philadelphia 19147. Hours: Monday – Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Prices: $3.50 - $13.