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Buena Onda serves up tacos with fresh ingredients and good vibes. Credit: Jason Varney
Buena Onda serves up tacos with fresh ingredients and good vibes. Credit: Jason Varney

Buena Onda: Good vibes and fresh tacos in the Art District

Get your fill of fresh, quality tacos from chef Jose Garces in a laid-back setting complete with buena onda. 

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“Buena onda,” a common saying in Spanish, means good vibes. So when restaurateur Jose Garces and his vice president of culinary operations, Gregg Cipriani, decided to open up a fast casual Mexican taqueria in 2015, it was the obvious choice for the name of their restaurant.

“We wanted to create a place with a relaxed, tranquil vibe,” explained Cipriani.

The initial idea for the establishment was inspired by the Mexican taqueria concept they had already successfully developed at their restaurant Distrito. Instead of a sit-down formal environment, they wanted to offer a place where people could come to quickly enjoy fresh tacos and drinks.

“We want people to be able to eat at as many Garces’ restaurants as possible in a week,” said Cipriani with a laugh. “We don’t only want to have nice restaurants like Amada where people go on special occasions or for a night out.”

The first taco they developed for Buena Onda was the siphoned batter fried fish taco. The super crisp outer shell (inspired by the plantain-crusted mahi taco at Distrito) is created by mixing the batter with vodka, which quickly evaporates when cooked. The taco was meant to be their signature dish, but it turned out customers favored another option - the tequila lime glazed taco.

“We set up the kitchen on opening night so there would be more space for the fryer, then all of a sudden we had to use the grill more because customers were ordering the tequila lime glazed taco,” said Cipriani. “It was crazy.”

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Although each taco is filled with perch fish, the tequila lime glazed option is lighter and healthier — traits that closely align with what many customers are looking for, as well as the restaurant’s overall concept.

“People like a healthier, lighter experience,” noted Cipriani.

To produce the most authentic flavors possible, Buena Onda tries to source all of its ingredients locally. The tortillas are made of fresh masa from New York instead of the dried masa that is commonly used. They also opt for fish options that are more abundant and available, like perch or white albacore tuna (used for their fantastic smoked tuna dip).

“Mahi was over fished,” said Cipriani. “Perch is a more sustainable product. Perch also tasted superior in our side-by-side comparisons.”

The restaurant is always on the lookout for new ingredients and products that appeal to customers’ healthy tastes.

“We take great pride in our menu,” said Cipriani. “We want to make what we serve better.”

Buena Onda also offers a full bar with beer, wine and margaritas. Each week there is a different margarita special. A popular option is the tropical margarita which is flavored with strawberry, pineapple and guava. If you prefer to avoid alcohol, they alos have soda, Mexican coke, aguas frescas and flavored iced teas. I tried the unsweetened guava iced tea which was light and refreshing.

The taqueria also has a catering menu that consists of a $15 per person make your own taco bar or a $20 per person Mexican Fiesta package that adds appetizers to the taco bar. Buena Onda ranks among the top five most-ordered Caviar deliveries in Philadelphia.

For more information about Buena Onda, check out their website www.buenaondatacos.com or their Twitter @BuenaOndaTacos. Address: 1901 Callowhill St. Philadelphia, PA 19130. Hours: Everyday: 11am - 9pm. Prices: $4 for a taco, $4 - $10 for sides and quesadillas. $4 - $10 for a drink.

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