La Peña Mexicana Taqueria
609 W Cypress St, Kennett Square, PA
I’d love to say I discovered this out-of-the-way hole-in-the-wall, but I’m late to the party. Actual food critics with far more knowledge than I possess have been touting it for years. Craig Laban, the Inquirer’s restaurant maven, placed it among his 25 favorite suburban restaurants last year.
You wouldn’t know it’s anything special by driving up. Located a block away from the Kennett Brewing Company in Kennett Square, La Pena is a shack of a building painted like a Mexican flag in a small plaza. Go inside and you’ll find a half-dozen Formica tables and instructions to walk up and order at the counter.
Do it. Just do it. Tacos are just $2.25 each, so you can wind up with a delicious, satisfying meal for less than $10.
We weren’t feeling adventurous this day, so we passed on the tongue tacos. Instead, we asked the woman at the counter which were her favorites, and she cooked us up some Azada (steak) and Pollo (chicken). Both came with loaded with cilantro, onion, a chili sauce and lime.
Simple enough. Might even sound boring. Except both were magnificent. The spicy stewed chicken was tender and flavorful and a great balance of spices. The beef was even better – moist, complex in flavor and mouthwateringly delicious.
There’s not a ton of atmosphere at La Pena. A TV on the wall was playing a soap on Univision and the obligatory Pancho Villa photo hung on the wall. The silverware is plastic. But you know what? These are the best I’ve had to date in my “Clash of the Tacos.” I know that the Kennett Square area, with its large base of immigrants working at the mushroom farms, has several thriving Mexican restaurants. I’m going back to another one tomorrow.
I don’t know if this modest little restaurant would be able to produce enough tacos to feed the hundreds of people who will attend my “Clash of the Tacos” contest finals on May 6 at Delaware Park Race Track and Casino. But I will tell you – go there on your own.
Score: 95 (the beef tacos were a 98, the chicken a 92).