A distressed wood sign, like something from a sleepy Mexican border town, hangs outside Cantina Dos Segundos, a laid-back but occasionally loud spot that will transport you to a south-of-the-border siesta state. Strings of colored lights and star-shaped twinkly ornaments illuminate the exposed-brick walls and the rustic tables and chairs painted dark red, teal and yellow. To get a sense of the cocktails, try El Caliente (“the hot one”), a kicky concoction of Tequila, Triple Sex, lime juice and chile oil. Order food like a quesadilla appetizer filled with chicken or wild mushrooms, various incarnations of tacos, or entrées of a tortilla casserole or slow-cooked goat. Salsas come complimentary, in tame green and fiery red varieties.
The word xochitl (pronounced "so-cheet") means flower in the Nahuatl language—so it’s more than fitting that Xochitl's dining room is decorated in bud-like vibrant yellows offset by banquettes in deep crimson. Garden-fresh flavors come to life in the chefs’ ceviches spiked with citrus and in guacamole that gets scooped up with housemade tortilla chips. Earthy comfort food entrees include braised short ribs and a succulent fried chicken dish that begins its path to the table with a 24-hour brining. And because the coveted elixir of the agave plant—tequila—is the star of the restaurant's drink list, Xochitl earned the acme position on CBS Philly's list of "Top Spots for Margaritas in Philadelphia."
Attached to an unassuming South Philly corner bodega filled with Mexican groceries, chilies, and spices, Los Gallos doesn't have to go far to find its ingredients. The chefs whip up familiar feasts of chicken tostadas, Texas-style nachos, and cheese quesadillas or dole out more traditional Mexican dishes such as savory menudo stews, huitlacoche tacos, or enchiladas mole. Leave the plastic at home, as Los Gallos only accepts payment in the form of cash or in-key renditions of public-domain Christmas songs.
Christened after the identically named daughter and niece of owners Michael Poole and Van Chau, Isabel is flooded with light to emulate the little girls’ smiles. Palm fronds catch natural light that streams in from full-wall windows and guest appearances from the sun itself, which is rumored to love the empanadas. Seated next to the dappled orange walls and brick-colored tiles, guests dip crispy tortilla chips into guacamole or queso fundido studded with chorizo and mushrooms before servers shuttle heaping plates of spiced meats from the bustling kitchen. The chefs draw inspiration from the bright, intense flavors of Mexican and Californian recipes to create brunch and dinner dishes such as drunken chicken in pasilla chili tequila sauce. The proprietors' eclectic spirit keeps them from falling into predictable flavor patterns, however—they'll just as readily cover prosciutto-style duck in chocolate sauce as bake a dish of huevos rancheros, relying on a talent for fusion also seen at their other restaurant, the pan-Asian Trio.
Even though he was just four years old when his family emigrated from Puebla, Mexico to the United States, Alfredo Aquilar prepares Mexican food as though he’d lived his whole life there. Under his supervision, chefs at Las Cazuelas prepare authentic dishes such as nopalitos salad—sliced cactus marinated overnight and mixed with cilantro and tomatoes. Abuelitas pollo, whose name means “little grandmother’s chicken” in tribute to its inventor, Alfredo’s own grandmother, is a boneless chicken breast topped with a guajillo pepper sauce. In the kitchen, shrimp snap against hot skillets near pots of slowly roiling chipotle sauce. To wash down steaming feasts, customers tote in bottles of wine or bring along tequila to add to complimentary pitchers of nonalcoholic margarita mix served Sunday–Thursday.
Inside the dining area, blue shutters frame murals of South American cathedrals, rolling countrysides, and maps of Mexico. An outdoor patio offers people-watching opportunities, and the second-floor balcony lets you look people in the eye when telling them you know they are actually a bunch of children stacked up under a big coat.
The Adobe Cafe's chefs find a way to accommodate nearly every diner without sacrificing the piquant flavors and aromas attributed to southwestern cuisine. They skillet-sear filet mignon and marinate chicken breasts and duck before tossing the seasoned meat with black beans, sautéed green peppers, and white onions for fajitas. But they also alter their traditional Mexican-inspired fare by substituting ground beef, chorizo, flank steak, and carnitas with seitan and tofu for vegetarians or meat eaters' pet goats. The chefs' use of ranchero sauce, roasted peppers, jerk seasoning, and even barbecue has earned the eatery a number of awards; The Adobe Cafe was recently named Best Southwestern Restaurant in Philadelphia by LocalEats.