Last year, when asked where I wanted to go to college, I said somewhere with a snowy winter and good tacos. El Jarocho, located in South Philly near Passyunk Square, is certainly delivering on the taco front. Walking in, my friend and I were greeted with bright Christmas lights strung along the entry, family photos in the corner, and hand–painted walls, along with the friendly staff and a bounty of chips and sauces to accompany. With huge portions, authentic dishes (Where else can you try beef tongue?), and bold flavors coming straight from the kitchen you can see from your table, El Jarocho is certainly a worthy destination. 

Though a bit far from campus, this authentic Mexican spot is a well–situated destination to end a day of exploring what Philadelphia has to offer beyond Rittenhouse Square or the occasional club downtown. After thrifting on South Street and admiring the historical buildings on Broad, we were craving tacos. Sipping on refreshing Mexican Coke, I watched the chips make their way to our table fresh from the fryer along with limey guacamole. Next time, I plan to try the guava soda or maybe the rice milk with cinnamon to accompany my meal. We debated what to order from the extensive menu, which even had more than enough options for my vegetarian friend. 

Image courtesy of Sophie Poritzky 

My tacos al pastor arrived quickly. Immediately upon seeing them, I suspected I had found a taco staple in the city I could now call home. The tender and flavorful meat was practically overflowing from the tacos. A small salad of nopales, the boiled leaves of the nopal cactus commonly eaten in Mexican cuisine, was waiting on the side. The taco was not overly complicated, dressed only with onions, cilantro, and cabbage, ensuring authenticity you can taste with each bite. 

My friend was given a burrito about the size and length of her massive water bottle. It was filled to the brim with rice, lettuce, pico de gallo, chicken, and queso fresco, so there was variation in each bite. The veggie quesadilla arrived covered in salad with dressing and filled with a ton of queso fresco in the actual quesadilla underneath. The fresh salad provided the perfect bite with the warm quesadilla, and eating it with the remaining guac made a great pairing. It was just as satisfying as any meat dish, and there were a variety of others like it on the menu like fajitas and enchiladas which could be made vegetarian as well.  

Image courtesy of Sophie Poritzky 

During the meal, we deviated from our usual topics of conversation that remained squarely within the bounds of campus life, like recent St. Patrick's Day festivities or an ill–timed midterm. Being entirely off–campus and away from the familiarity of Center City was a great way to appreciate the diversity of the city and get out of our comfort zone. Instead of rushing off to a meeting or to do work, we lingered long after we had finished our food. Full from the delectable meal, we discussed the city and our plans to engage further with local cultural offerings. It's shockingly easy to feel like Philadelphia exists for you to get a degree and move on. Yet it's also surprising that all it takes is a walk with friends and some good food to remind you that the city is worth exploring and deserving of our attention. Different food and a new setting allowed us to come back to campus with a refreshed perspective and stimulating conversation.

Image courtesy of Sophie Poritzky 

Next time I’m in the area, I want to see the Isaiah Zagar mosaics of the nearby Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and maybe walk around City Hall. At El Jarocho, I’ll order tostadas and for dessert, I’ll get flan, my mom’s favorite. Tacos are just the incentive I need to get out of my own head and the campus bubble. 

TL;DR: Authentic little Mexican place with big portions and a wide menu located in a great area for exploring Philadelphia. 

Location: 1138 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147 

Hours: 9 a.m. — 11 p.m. daily 

Price Range: $