COVID-19 didn’t stop Alfredo Aguilar or his restaurant, Las Cazuelas, from booming
The restaurant serving up traditional Mexican food in Northern Liberties survived on delivery and outdoor seating.
Las Cazuelas restaurant located in Northern Liberties has been serving Mexican street food inspired by Alfredo Aguilar’s Puebla heritage for over two decades.
The space has been a dedicated eatery for hungry locals in the mood for burritos, tacos, and so much more.
Aguilar’s mother and father showed him how to make authentic mole poblano when he was young, and it inspired him to open his own restaurant many years later.
“When I was growing up, we used to sell food in our neighborhood when they had a lot of events,” Aguilar said in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
His neighbors were amazed with the family’s cooking skills and told them they should open up a restaurant.
“We didn't really pay it any attention,” he said.
After graduating from Roman Catholic High School, Aguilar didn't know what exactly he should study. He wasn't sure because his family couldn't afford to send him to college.
“I ended up applying for a dishwasher job,” he said.
Aguilar was fortunate enough to speak with the head chef of the restaurant, who was also from Mexico.
“During the interview with the head chef, he asked me where I was from, and I told him I was from Mexico,” said Aguilar.
Little did he know, Aguilar had a great opportunity ahead of him. Rather than a dishwasher, he got a job at the restaurant as a food prepper.
“I didn't really want to be a food prepper, but the head chef at the restaurant was determined to be my mentor, and so I went with that,” he said.
Years after becoming a food prepper, Aguilar became the head chef when his mentor retired. He then went to San Diego State University to study culinary arts, with his tuition paid by his employer at the time.
When Aguilar came back to Philadelphia, he worked as a manager at Hometown Buffet on Roosevelt Blvd.
“I wasn't so sure about the new job, but when I went to the interview, the manager asked me where I was from, I told him, Mexico, and he said, ‘Ok, you are hired,’” said Aguilar. “I was confused but he told me how we are hard workers, he told me the pay, and I accepted.”
With the many skills that he learned while attending college, Aguilar followed his dreams in his own restaurant.
He eventually found two houses that were merged, and spent months setting up to give the new eatery some Mexican architectural charm.
“When we opened up, things went well, there were lines out the door,” he said.
A year after their opening, Aguilar’s business received rave reviews from Philadelphia Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan, which put his restaurant on the map as a hotspot in the city’s food scene.
Soon after, Aguilar added other authentic dishes to the restaurant’s menu, including shrimp ceviche, made with farmed raised shrimp cooked in lime juice, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and garnished with avocado.
“We wanted customers to see that we have more than just tacos and burritos,” said Aguilar.
Aguilar, his family, and team of dedicated workers overcame many obstacles last year when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Philadelphia, causing thousands of small businesses to close. Aguilar himself came down with the virus.
He admitted the time was one of the scariest moments in his life.
“I was in the hospital for a month,” Aguilar said.
After overcoming the virus, he spent days sanitizing every corner of his restaurant to ensure the safety of his staff.
Aguilar’s restaurant survived the pandemic by relying on delivery services such as GrubHub, UberEats, and DoorDash, and outdoor dining, like many other restaurants in the city.
As of now, the space is open and is ready to welcome guests in the mood for elote asado, camarones chipotle, and chile relleno.
Be sure to check out other mouth-watering dishes made by chef Aguilar before visiting.