Tortilla Triumphs: 15 Knockout Philadelphia Tacos

No matter the origins, tacos are as American as burgers and apple pies. But not so long ago, they were seldom seen in these parts. Now with a growing Mexican population, taquerias are becoming as ubiquitous as cheesesteak joints in Philly. They’re literally popping up all over, and serving a wonderful assortment of cool and authentic tacos. At the same time, restaurant heavy-weights like Stephen Starr and Jose Garces are redefining the humble taco, elevating it, and ultimately transforming it into the stuff of sophisticated dining. And just about everyone in between is adding their own take on them too. Here we’ve assembled what we believe are some of the most interesting interpretations of tacos available around town. Click through, check them out, and let us know with a comment which ones look the most appealing.

And when you’re done here, check out the most noteworthy tacos in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco.

What to Order: Tacos al pastor. 1149 South 9th Street; phone (111-111-1111 format); (See the Listing) This pioneering South Philly taqueria was one of the first to populate Ninth Street’s “Lower Italian Market,” and as such also one of the first to serve tacos al pastor. The myriad of tacos offerings there are staggering — everything from run of the mill carnitas to eyeball-laden tacos de ojo — but the best are the slow, spit roasted pork and roasted pineapple-stuffed al pastor, which it also serves every Sunday from its tent at Headhouse Farmers Market.
What to Order: Tacos de Alambre bistek con queso Oaxaca. 801 Washington Avenue; 267-444-4361 A relative newcomer to South Philly’s booming taqueria scene, the Mi Pueblito Tacos truck serves an amazing array of Mexican dishes. Its most popular tacos are tacos de cabeza (head cheese), and carnitas. For something a little different, we recommend these tacos, which feature grilled steak, onions, peppers, and Oaxaca cheese.
What to Order: Goat tacos. 1651 East Passyunk Ave; phone (111-111-1111 format); (See the Listing) Khyber owners Stephen Simons and Dave Frank helped kickstart the East Passyunk Avenue restaurant boom when they opened this hipster-friendly Mexican spot back in 2006. Known simply as “The Cantina,” Philly’s taco-obsessed have flocked here to gorge themselves on all sorts of south of the border inspired specialties. For meat eaters, the spicy, ever so slightly gamey goat tacos are a nice diversion from the ubiquitous carnitas and carne asada tacos served everywhere else.
What to Order: Anything on the menu. 1648 East Passyunk Avenue; 215-336-1293; (See the Listing) Should Cantina Los Caballitos prove to hipster-tastic for your tastes, directly across East Passyunk Avenue El Zarape puts forth a more traditional approach to Mexican cuisine. And when the weather cooperates, you’ll find this guy serving one of the city’s finer tacos al pastor out front, on the sidewalk.
What to Order: Gabacho taco. 2401 East Norris Street; 267-886-8061; (See the Listing) Kitschy and cool Fishtown hot spot Loco Pez has quickly built a loyal following with lowrider-inspired cocktails and a variety of tasty and cheap taco offerings. The Gabacho (a mildly deragatory term for those who don’t speak Spanish) sports a supermarket-style crunchy taco shell that comes filled with LaFrieda ground beef, and topped with lettuce and cheese. Kind of, almost like what mom used to make.
What to Order: Everything on the menu. 2401 East Norris Street; 267-886-8061; (See the Listing) The Gabacho is awesome, but the rest of Loco Pez’s regular menu is equally impressive. Tacos range in price from $1.75 to $2.50, which makes it a little easier to order everything without breaking the bank. Pictured here is a tray with Pez (fish), carnitas, carne asada, and al pastor.
What to Order: Cheeseburger tacos. 1935 Chestnut Street; 215-496-9393; (See the Listing) Center City newcomer Pure Tacos takes pride in serving tacos wrought only with the freshest possible ingredeints that are also 100 percent gluten free. There’s an intersting selction of options on the menu, including hangar steak, barbecued pulled pork, and chicken and bacon ranch. Still, what had us from the first moment are the cheesburger tacos, which pack ground beef and all the usual burger fixin’s into a corn tortilla.
What to Order: Mexican lobster roll 1300 Dickinson Street; 215-389-8906; (See the Listing) Only in South Philly can you find an Italian seafood store serving a Mexican-ized take on this New England staple. Lobsters are fresh killed to order, steamed, cleaned, and tossed with a light chipotle-kissed remoulade, which is then placed inside a flour tortilla and topped with tomatoes, pepper, and onions.
What to Order: Mushroom tacos. 2321 Fairmount Ave; 215-787-9930; (See the Listing) There’s no shortage of kick-ass tacos on the menu at La Calaca Feliz. Chef Tim Spinner and his Chef De Cuisine Lucio Palazzo regularly come up with mind blowing specials. The a la carte menu features this beauty that’s also completely free of meat. Wild mushrooms, green asparagus and a lemony vinaigrette served in housemade corn tortillas make a tasty and satisfying meal.
What to Order: Duck Tacos 707 Chestnut Street; (215) 925-5555; (See the Listing) Iron Chef Jose Garces offers an impressive selection of more tradtional tacos at his Mexican restaurant Distrito and from his Guapos Tacos truck, but what caught our attention was the Peruvian-Cantonese mashup served at Chifa. It consists of duck confit, housemade kimchi, sliced radish, and cracklins served on flour tortillas. It’s delicious, and picks up where Korean tacos left off.
What to Order: Wild boar tacos 1509 Mifflin Street; 215-271-7787; (See the Listing) SPTR’s wild boar tacos are a holdover from the bar’s previous, game-obsessed chef. Since taking over, current chef Scott Schroeder has transformed the gimmicky menu item into a much more palatable dish. The tender and flavorful braised wild boar isn’t quite a gamey as expected. It’s placed on corn tortillas, and topped with guacamole, onions and crumbled cojita cheese.
What to Order: Portobello tacos 2013 Chestnut Street; 215-563-3330; (See the Listing) At the helm of El Rey, Puebla, Mexico native Dionicio Jimenez just might be the taco whisperer of the Starr fleet. All of the tacos served at the Chestnut Street Mexican restaurant are nothing short of spectacular. The portobello taco, which consists of marinated ‘shrooms, pepita remoulade,  pico de gallo, and fried shallots, is a nice meatless option that even avowed carnivores can appreciate.
What to Order: Pibil pork tacos. 121 South 13th Street; 215-928-9800; (See the Listing) At Starr’s other Mexican venture, the tacos are equally impressive as the ones served at El Rey. The pibil pork tacos pictured here come piled high with achiote and citrus marinated and slow roasted pork shoulder, pickled onions, avocado salsa, and smoked jalapeño vinaigrette.
What to Order: Fish tacos. 261 South 44th Street; phone (111-111-1111 format); (See the Listing) No roundup of local taco options would be complete without a mention of Honest Tom’s. Owner Tom McCusker helped spark the mobile food movement here when he began making the rounds in his psychedelic taco truck, serving up West Coast-style fish tacos. He’s since abandoned the truckin’ shtick and settled into a bricks and mortar operation on the outskirts of University City, where his fish tacos remain one of the most popular menu items.
What to Order: Anything on the menu. 1138 South 13th Street; 215-463-2020; (See the Listing) Chefs’ favorite El Jarocho’s menus are full of tons of amazing dishes, like burritos, tostadas, and enchiladas. The taco options are breathtaking too. Our favorites are the tacos jalapeno rellenos tinga pollo. They’re comprised of chipotle and tomato-spiked shredded chicken that’s stuffed inside of jalapeño peppers that are then battered and deep fried. 
Tortilla Triumphs: 15 Knockout Philadelphia Tacos