By Glen Macnow

EL VEZ
121 S 13th St, Philadelphia

It’s always bustling at Stephen Starr’s El Vez, which can probably lay claim to the title as Philadelphia’s most popular Mexican restaurant. It’s lively and loud and authentic.
We showed up late afternoon on a Wednesday, and folks were lined up at the bar. If they ordered the Pineapple Cannela Margarita, as I did, they were certainly not disappointed.

But mostly, of course, we were hunting for tacos. We started with the Shrimp (three for $14), and immediately knew we had a new contender in our “Clash of the Tacos” contest. The shrimp were large, slightly spicy and still steaming when they arrived at our table on homemade (!) corn tortillas. With avocado, cotija cheese and chili-garlicy salsa de arbol, it’s a wonderful blend of flavors.

The Colache Tacos ($10) were, well, about as good as a veggie taco can be for a carnivore like me. There’s a lot going on there – sautéed Mexican zucchini, red bell peppers, plum tomatoes and lots of spices.

But I needed more. So we ordered another round of drinks (this time a Guava Mojito) and the $25 taco sampler. It came with two separate fish tacos – sea bass and mahi-mahi (which had an edible flower) – as well as carnitas (pork), chicken in chihuacua cheese and steak.

Loved them all, but the special nod goes to the Steak Tacos, bathed in roasted tomatillo-chipotle salsa and pico de gallo. They’re simple – as in not junked up with extraneous ingredients – but tender and perfectly medium-rare in their corn tortilla wrappers.

With all the great meals I’ve had at El Vez, I never before bothered to order tacos. Dumb mistake. Next time I go back, and probably every time after that, they’re on my menu. You should try them all – but start with their best: Shrimp and Steak.

Score: 91/100