There’s a problematic phenomenon among high–end Mexican restaurants: they charge too much and they give you too little. And while the prices at Tequilas, a decades–old Center City fixture, may seem a little steep—entrees hover around $20—they’re more than fair given the quality of the food, the generosity of the portions and the tastefulness of the atmosphere.
A good place to start at Tequilas—once you’ve taken in the copper platters, Dia de los Muertos statues and murals of pastoral Mexican landscapes—is with its namesake. The bar serves up numerous variations. We tried what the house curiously calls the “Short Rib,” a tangy, spicy, full–flavored cocktail that expertly paired tequila with jalapeño, lime and pomegranate molasses. Another highlight was the Mojito Verde where strong cucumber juice flavor made for an unexpected and interesting flavor combination.
The food at Tequilas is a big draw as well; the word that kept popping up in my head was “fresh.” Lines of Pablo Neruda’s poetry adorn a menu where you can’t really make a wrong choice. Even before you need to make any decisions, you’ll be given a basket of thick, crispy, homemade tortilla chips and some excellent salsa ranchera on the side.
To start, we had the ceviche ($12.95) and the empanadas del dia ($8.95). The ceviche was served in a heaping pile and was perfectly acidic. The empanadas—today's version was stuffed with beef tenderloin—are most likely good every other day of the week, too.
When it came to entrees, we stuck to the classics. The carne aguacate ($23.95), a flank steak drizzled with a creamy avocado sauce, was straight–up succulent. It was served with a side of roasted potatoes and cactus, a welcome change of pace from most “nice restaurant” side dishes. The mole poblano ($20.95) was nearly as satisfying. The rich, textured mole sauce was excellent, but cried out for a more tender cut of chicken—thigh would have done the trick.
By the time our dessert, the “impossible cake,” was brought out, we barely had any room left. Still, we made an effort for this half–flan, half–chocolate cake, which was good but not great.
In short, Tequilas offers a dining experience with much to enjoy and minimal mis–stepping, which is crucial in justifying its pricier menu. Just remember: you could very easily find ways to spend far more money on far worse food in Center City. Tequilas is, for the most part, te–killin’ it.