Izlas Latin Cuisine is serving dishes that represents the whole Latino community
Founder Wilfredo Baez opened just before the COVID-19 pandemic and has weathered the storm.
Right down the street from Rocky Balboa’s house in East Kensington is a new Latino restaurant serving the community with various flavors of Latin cuisine.
Its motto: give customers a bit of every Latin country by creating signature dishes that mirror those countries.
But it wasn’t that easy for owner Wilfredo Baez.
As soon as he opened up Izlas Latin Cuisine in Nov 2019, business came to an abrupt halt amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We thought we were going to lose it all,” said Baez in a recent interview with AL DÍA News.
The restaurant stayed closed for almost three months. Baez had to make the decision to let his dream go, or reopen and bring back the restaurant that caters to all Latino cultures.
“I definitely jumped into the restaurant business, but we told ourselves that we were going to open and see what happens,” he said.
With the help of his family and friends, Baez remodeled the eatery, replanned the menu, and hired a successful chef, Jorge Reyes, that’s been in the business for years.
“We worked hard, long hours, and restarted everything from scratch, it was a lot, but I didn’t want my restaurant to go down,” he said.
In the early days of the pandemic, the business catered to take out and delivery, but as local pizzerias gave big deals on their food, Baez began to feel discouraged.
“Who would pay more money to feed their families when local pizza places everywhere are selling their food for so cheap?” he said.
But he soon realized that his customers were in the market for something different, something that had a variety of different foods on their menu.
“It is hard when you are selling cuisine-style food, so that is hard, we worked a lot on our presentation, it’s hard to not see them enjoy our food,” said Baez.
Now, as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out and the city eases up on restrictions, Baez has been able to open his eatery for indoor dining.
“I will also have outdoor dining as the weather continues to get warmer,” he said.
Baez, who has been in charge of managing bars in Philadelphia for over 22 years, is grateful that his restaurant is still standing.
One of Izlas best-known food items is a unique spin on a Spanish-inspired dish called Paella Mar Y Tierra.
Chef Reyes uses rice infused with saffron, topped with chicken breasts, chorizo, lobster, shrimp, calamari, baby scallops, and sauteed vegetables, and finishes it with lemon zest.
Another savory food staple customers ask for is their carne frita served on a bed of arroz con gandules, habichuelas, and platano maduros.
“We like to have a lot of food options to choose from,” said Baez.
Now that Baez and Reyes joined forces and created something beyond your typical Latino eatery, there’s no telling what they will create next.