El Fuerte de Loreto is a new, uniquely Mexican and American BYOB in South Philadelphia run by father–son duo Ascencion Sandoval and Ricardo Sandoval. After many years in the restaurant industry, the duo decided to put their skills together, coming from front and back of house respectively, to open El Fuerte de Loreto. 

When they first opened, the restaurant only offered American–style brunch. Ricardo emphasized their want to perfect the art of brunch before they offered other meals, and this attention and care for their art showed. Since their opening, they have expanded their menu into serving both American and Mexican fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Although we tried their brunch, the dinner menu looked delicious. And on the last Monday of every month, they offer a themed wine dinner. October’s dinner is California–themed, and, being BYOB, the menu will be released in advance so that guests can curate wine selections to pair. Johnny, the manager with previous experience in the wine industry, will also recommend pairings for the non–wine–savvy guests. 

The Sandovals took inspiration from their Mexican heritage, combining their experiences in the industry with their family history. Not quite American–Mexican fusion, El Fuerte redefines what a restaurant must be: It doesn’t fit neatly into Mexican, American, or fusion, bringing a refreshing take. Ricardo wanted the audience to be everyone; El Fuerte is a place anyone can go to, to order whatever they wish without being confined to the limits of only one cuisine.

El Fuerte de Loreto pulls from different parts of the owners’ lives. In that way, it’s an amalgamation of cuisines. But it’s not fusion because each individual dish is not a fusion of both cuisines. El Fuerte de Loreto, instead, has become what you might call a harmonious clash of Mexican and American cuisine. 

When we visited, we were greeted with bright green walls, tiles the colors of the Mexican flag, and beautifully painted ceramics of cats, skulls, and vases. The ambience was playful and bright and we immediately felt welcomed. We then met Johnny, who brought an incredibly friendly, joyful personality to our experience. He helped us decide on our order: The red Chilaquiles, El Fuerte toast, a side of fries, and El Fuerte smoothie. 

The El Fuerte toast, an exceptionally soft, perfectly chewy toast topped with berries, whipped cream, and their Abuelita chocolate sauce, was delicious enough to turn a French–toast hater into a loyal fan; I have never once craved French toast until I had their El Fuerte toast. 

The red Chilaquiles were doused in a red salsa made of four types of peppers. Johnny explained that this was the red salsa you don’t see in restaurants, but instead the type that mothers make at home. This red salsa was a recipe from Sandoval’s grandmother, crafting a taste reminiscent of home. The salsa had a mild spice, pleasant for even the most sensitive of taste buds, that didn’t linger. 

Although we didn’t try it, the Dulce de Leche toast is another recipe that came from Ricardo Sandoval’s grandmother. Johnny said that this toast was one of their bestsellers. Using recipes from both sides of the family, Sandoval has created a menu that feels welcoming and reminiscent, regardless of your background. 

And the fries! These hand–cut, fresh potato fries were exactly what I want when I crave fries. So crispy! So soft! So perfectly salted! They were the fries all fries wish to be; the fries no fries can be except at El Fuerte. And of course, the El Fuerte smoothie was no exception to El Fuerte’s exceptional offerings. 

El Fuerte de Loreto, or, the Fort of Loreto, was named after a Mexican military fort in Puebla, where the Sandovals are from. On May 5, 1862, El Fuerte de Loreto played a major role in defending Mexico against French invaders, which contributed to the holiday Mexicans celebrate as Cinco de Mayo today. 

El Fuerte de Loreto is a must–visit for anyone in Philadelphia. Students get a discount with I.D., and they are only a 20–minute drive away.