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Chef Cristina MartÍnez, South Philly Barbacoa. Picture: AL DÍA Archive
Chef Cristina MartÍnez, South Philly Barbacoa. Picture: AL DÍA Archives

A Boom of Restaurants Reflects Philly's Ethnic Transformation

It's the waves of immigrants throughout the decades that have spiced up the restaurant scene, allowing Philadelphia to become a hub where the most diverse…

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Widely recognized for the Philly Cheesesteak, “The City of Brotherly Love” is quickly transforming into a melting pot of diverse foods and flavors – while still embracing the iconic city staple, created in the 1930s by the Italian-American Restaurateur, Pat Olivieri.

Over the past several years, the culinary landscape in Philadelphia has flourished as a result of immigrant chefs making an impact in the city through their traditional and modern style cooking.

The impact of Mexican food in Philadelphia 

One of the pioneer restaurateurs is David Suro-Piñera - the owner of the upscale Mexican restaurant, Tequilas, which first opened its doors in 1986.

"Philadelphia did not have the concepts we see today, only the Tex-Mex. There was not much knowledge of Mexican food. But I was fortunate. What we proposed to them no one else was offering. Back then we developed the customer, and we learned from each other," are the words quoted by David Suro-Pinera on the Tequilas' website.

It was through the flavors he brought from his hometown state of Guadalajara, Mexico that he helped pave the way for other Mexican chefs in Philadelphia – such as Chef Cristina Martínez, the mastermind behind South Philly Barbacoa.  

“Being an immigrant means being a carrier of our culture. In my case, our gastronomic culture,” Martínez told AL DÍA in a previous interview.

Martínez, who migrated from Mexico, arrived in Philadelphia in 2009. Undocumented and without knowing any English, she was able to make a name for herself in South Philly through her skillful cooking – eventually gaining national recognition. In March 2019, she was named a finalist for the Best Chef of the Mid-Atlantic region award by the James Beard Foundation.

A city of diverse flavors

While this surge of flavorful Mexican restaurants has turned many Philadelphians into Mexican food lovers, other cultures are also contributing to the dynamic food scene in the city.

In fact, each neighborhood in the city has a different flavor to offer.

“I love living in a city that has lots of choices. I can go up to North 5th street, eat Latin food and have a great experience, and I can go to West Philly and I can eat African food.”

Mayor Jim Kenney said to AL DÍA regarding the contributions immigrants have made to Philadelphia. “I can go to South Philly and of course eat Mexican food and Italian food,” he added.

It’s the waves of immigrants throughout the decades that have allowed Philadelphia to become a hub of cultures and flavors – better yet, a Diverse City.

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