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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Las Cazuelas takes Philly south of the border

Las Cazuelas in Northern Liberties transports the diner from Philadelphia to Mexico. The authentic fare is inspired by Puebla, Mexico, the hometown of Las Cazuelas chef Alfredo Aquilar. The large portions make up for the restaurant’s limited menu.

Call me Alejandra, because Las Cazuelas has transported me from its location on the border of  Northern Liberties and Olde Kensington to Puebla, Mexico, the hometown of chef Alfredo Aguilar. Although the small Mexican restaurant is inconspicuous in appearance, its food is anything but modest. The menu does not offer a considerable variety of choices and is thus limiting for the pickier eaters. However, the available list of options is no letdown. In fact, the authenticity featured on the menu carries over to the vibrant yet traditional interior decor. Before proceeding with the meal, though, some advice: Come hungry.

Right off the bat, the Antojitos Rancheros sampler platter is sure to be a crowd-pleasing appetizer. It offers a significant amount of food (a top priority for the insatiable stomachs of my friends and myself) and provides a taste of the many iconic Mexican dishes. The platter is a combination of empanadas de tinga (filled with shredded pork and cheese), empanadas de queso (filled with cheese), tacos dorados (fried and stuffed with shredded chicken), tamale Oaxaqueno (filled with Oaxaca cheese), vegetarian sopes (masa patties), nachos and pico de gallo. Needless to say, it is quite a selection; but really, this is just the beginning.

We are only now entering the second stage of this culinary enterprise: the main course. The entrees are divided into sections — seafood, vegetarian, chicken and pork — but beyond that it is simply a free-for-all. As mentioned before, the nuances of the menu can seem limiting, but this is within a mainstream mindset. Las Cazuelas is a retreat from the run-of-the-mill Mexican eatery, and there are a few standouts on the menu to note. My personal favorite is Abuelitas Ninfas Pollo. The winning component of the dish is the creamy pepper sauce drenching a thick, juicy chicken breast. The unbelievably rich flavor is made even homier and more satisfying by the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind recipe created by the chef’s grandmother. Aside from this must-have, other dishes of note include Camarones al Chipotle (pan-seared shrimp in a chipotle sauce), Arroz con Pollo (a classic) and Rib-Eye Puntas (rib-eye tips simmered in a chimichurri sauce piled on a corn tortilla with black beans, cheese and pico de gallo).

After polishing off one of the above dishes or any other main course from the menu, it may seem like an opportune time to lapse into a food coma but not so fast. There is, of course, dessert to finish off the banquet consumed so far. To be frank, the Cheesecake Bunuelo is an edible mariachi band in your mouth. The perfectly crisp tortilla encloses the beautiful marriage of cream cheese and sugar having a menage a trois with mango jam. Though this is certainly a delectable experience, the other options — Flan Metropolitano, Vanilla Tres Leches and Banana Crepes — are fine alternatives.

At this point you will have finally reached the end of what can only be described as a fiesta of food. Indeed, the only way I am able to leave the restaurant, every time, is by waddling to the car. But the resultant food baby is worth it. So, ditch the Taco Bell or Qdoba or better (worst) yet, Currito, and visit Las Cazuelas for a bona fide Mexican experience.