Las Cazuelas: An authentic Mexican/Tex Mex restaurant in the heart of Northern Liberties
A local entrepreneur has brought original Mexican recipes to the table in his childhood neighborhood.
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When Alfredo Aguilar arrived to the U.S. in 1975, he was just five years old, and did not know any English. His parents had brought him to Philadelphia from Mexico City in search of a new life. The family eventually settled in an abandoned house along Fish Street in Northern Liberties, where today Aguilar operates his own authentic Mexican restaurant, Las Cazuelas.
“I went to school in the area,” said Aguilar. “I couldn’t afford college after graduating so I applied to be a dishwasher at El Torito.”
Aguilar slowly moved his way up at El Torito as he learned how to prepare and cook food.
“It was an opportunity to see how I liked it,” explained Aguilar. “It became my passion.”
He eventually was able to save up enough money to go to culinary school at the University of San Diego, but decided to return to Philadelphia to be closer to family. After a few more years of experience working at another restaurant, he decided to open his own place in 1999. For the name, he chose Las Cazuelas - the Spanish word for “the clay pots” that mole sauce is made in, and the name of another restaurant in Puebla, Mexico. For the location, he chose Northern Liberties because of its affordability at the time.
“This area was scary 20 years ago, but I could afford a place here,” said Aguilar.
For the concept, Aguilar wanted to create the kind of truly authentic Mexican restaurant that was missing from the Philadelphia food scene at the time.
“There were so many Tex-Mex options. People were confused about what Mexican food really was,” said Aguilar. “They thought a burrito was authentic. We want to educate people about what Mexican food really is.”
Today, the restaurant still offers authentic Mexican options, such as Enchiladas de Mole (corn tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken, topped with onions, cotija cheese, sour cream and mole sauce) and Tacos Al Pastor (pork marinated in adobo sauce topped with cilantro and onions), but they are now willing to adapt their menu to whatever clients want.
“We want to change it up,” explained Aguilar. “We put authentic Mexican ingredients in Tex-Mex dishes. People love it.”
Some of the Tex Mex options include the El Tejano Burrito (a flour tortilla stuffed with Mexican rice, black beans, mixed vegetables, lettuce, pico de gallo, chihuahua cheese, sour cream and your choice of protein) and Waffles (waffles topped with dulce de leche, seasonal fruit, catjee and mexican caramel sauce).
The clientele tends to be on the younger side. Most customers are between the ages of 25 and 32 and take advantage of Las Cazuelas’ easy online ordering and delivery through GrubHub and UberEats. The restaurant holds celebrations for events like Cinco de Mayo and the Day of the Dead, and also offers catering for big events, such as weddings or office parties.
Looking back on the evolution of the restaurant, Aguilar is thankful for everything he has been able to accomplish.
“When you are an immigrant you appreciate everything you can get,” said Aguilar. “We used to go blueberry picking in the summer. There was no time for play. We had to pick to make ends meet.”
For more information about Las Cazuelas, check out their website at lascazuelas.net or their Facebook @LasCasuelasRestaurantBYOB. Address: 426 W Girard Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19123. Hours: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday 11am to 9pm, Thursday - Saturday 11am to 10pm, closed Monday. Prices: $5 - $17.