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Crispy mahi mahi tacos. Photo: Eli Siegel
Crispy mahi mahi tacos. Photo: Eli Siegel

El Vez: A Philadelphia standard

Over 15 years of modern Mexican cuisine

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El Vez, now a staple of Philadelphia’s Latino food scene, opened in November 2003 at a time when there were few other Mexican options in the city. The concept, radical in those days, was to serve authentic modern Mexican cuisine in a vibrant, lively environment. The name “El Vez” was inspired by the Mexican Elvis impersonator, Robert Lopez aka “El Vez”, who embodies the restaurant’s funky, hip Mexican vibe.

“Striking the ideal balance between a south-of-the-border celebration and a hot and flashy Las Vegas blowout, El Vez is the embodiment of Mex-Eclectic spirit,” explains their website.

Although some things have changed and many incredible chefs, such as Jose Garces and Adan Trinidad, have passed through the restaurant, the concept remains the same.

“The food is 100% Mexican rooted in authentic Mexican traditions and brightened up with modern twists and fusions with other cuisine,” explained Executive Chef Dave Conn who has led the kitchen for the past year and a half after stints at many local favorites including Tinto, Amada, Village Whiskey and Volver.

Perhaps the best example of El Vez’s mixing of classic and modern are the specialty guacamoles. The “Bazooka” Limon guacamole, for instance, includes Mediterranean items that could normally be found on a thin crust pizza, such as goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and pistachios.

“What makes this work is that the ingredients (shallot, parsley) mirror the flavor profile of the classic components of guacamole (onion, cilantro), but pay homage to Mediterranean, European cuisine,” said Conn.

I tried the “Bazooka” limon, De la Hoya (traditional Oaxacan style: roasted garlic, white onion, basil) and Tito Santana (mango, red bell peppers, jicama, habanero & serrano chiles) guacamoles on my visit. All three were spectacular and worth ordering if you stop by.

Another innovative signature item on the menu are the Crispy Mahi Mahi tacos (mahi tuna, red cabbage, avocado, chipotle pepper remoulade) that have been offered since the restaurant’s inception.

“What makes these tacos unique is that the mahi is breaded in sweet plantain which gives it a crunchy exterior and an additional layer of flavor,” said Conn.

Conn and his kitchen are always looking for ways to improve and refine their cooking techniques. Shortly after his arrival they purchased a Combi oven that allows them to cook certain meats, such as Carnitas (diced pork shoulder and belly), with greater precision.

“The oven allows us to cook more precisely,” said Conn. “The difference is the probe that can check for internal temperature so we can cook to a specific internal temperature for highly consistent results.”

El Vez’s menu changes based on the time of day as well as the day of the week. The lunch menu offers more sandwiches like the El Vez Burger (topped with smoked poblano aioli, lettuce, tomato and avocado) while the dinner menu has a wide variety of entrees, such as the Carne Asada (grilled flat iron, creamed corn & jalapeños, tomatillo escabeche, guajillo steak sauce). Between lunch and dinner they offer a midday menu that includes some appetizers and tacos. On Sundays, they offer a Mexican brunch.

For more information about El Vez check out their website elvezrestaurant.com, their Facebook @ElVezRestaurant or their Instagram @elvezphilly. Address: 121 S. 13th Street

Philadelphia, PA 19107. Hours: Monday - Thursday: Lunch 11:30am - 3pm, Midday 3pm - 5pm, Dinner 5pm - 11pm, Friday - Saturday: Lunch 11:30am - 3pm, Midday 3pm - 5pm, Dinner 5pm - 12am, Sunday: Brunch 11am - 3pm, Midday 3pm - 5pm, Dinner 5pm - 10pm. Prices: $7.50 - $25.

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