The hubby and I, for reasons unbeknown to either of us, hardly ever venture out to University City. There’s nothing actually keeping us from going. Thanks to the blue line we can get there from Old City in just a few minutes. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure…it’s a shame. University City has it’s own pulse. It’s own feel. It’s own identity, just like many other Philadelphia neighborhoods. So a week or so ago when we were trying to decide where to go on our weekly “Friday date night” we decided to venture across the river and see what we were missing.
We set our sights on Distrito. Another of Jose Garces’ winning restaurants, Distrito calls itself “modern Mexican”. I call it delicious.
The restaurant itself is broken up into two parts. The main dining room and the Cantina. Always happy to eat in a bar setting the hubby and I chose to have a seat in the oh so festive and cutely decorated Cantina.
The Cantina has it’s own menu which is mainly comprised of “street food” type dishes and they are VERY reasonably priced. Tacos start at $6, black beans and rice are only $3 and a can of Tecate can be yours for the low, low price of $2. That’s right. We drank quite a lot of Tecate that evening. You can also order from the “main” menu while seated in the Cantina…and order we did. When the waiter came by to take our order the hubby rattled off a list of 6 items. When I asked the waiter if that was too much food he cleverly responded by simply saying, “That’s a healthy amount of food”. Thanks Mr. Waiter. We feel less piggy and more “healthy” now.
We started with the Octopus Ceviche (Pulpo). It was served in a martini glass and was accompanied by lime, chile and micro cilantro. It also came with delicious little fried chips that added a texture contrast which always seems to be needed in a ceviche. Perfect execution. Deliciously fresh octopus. No complaints so far!
Next we ordered the tongue tacos (Lengue). Pardon the pun, but they were melt in your mouth tender. I’ve had some chewy tongue in the past but this was tender, tender, tender…not to mention flavorful. The sauce was perfect. Just enough acid and not too much spice. I would make the trip back for these tacos alone. Outstanding.
Our third course was the Crab enchiladas (Enchilada De Cangrejo). They came with roasted corn and a salsa verde. I personally chose this dish as a “must try” in my mind and was, unfortunately, let down. Technically there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with the dish, however, it really fell flat. The flavor was just not there and honestly, if I wasn’t told that there was crab inside I never would have known. But one misstep out of 6 ain’t bad.
After the crab we had a little interlude and munched on some sweet plantains in a queso fresco sauce (Platano Y Crema). Plantains are one of those “super” foods. They can be sweet. They can be savory. And they can be both at the same time, just as they were in this dish. I’m a huge fan of plantains and I was glad to see them treated so well by the chefs. Another winning dish and something I’m glad we didn’t skip over on the menu.
Our next dish was the, drum-roll, Pork belly Verde. I’m sure by now you all know that if pork belly is on the menu my husband will ALWAYS order it. This time was no exception. It was cooked to perfection and garnished with pepita (roasted pumpkin seeds…which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) and a verde sauce. The thing that really impressed me about this dish was actually the lack of sauce. When you think Mexican food you think big, bold flavors. But pork belly has such amazing flavor all by it’s lonesome that sometimes you just want to let it sing.
Our final dish was a short rib flat bread, that they called a “mission style quesadilla”. It was served with a crema, mixed cheese blend, poblano and the ubiquitous shredded radish and micro cilantro that they seemed to use in everything (seriously…I think it was in or on at least 4 out of our 6 dishes…and although it really did add a lovely flavor and texture, after a while we felt like Jose owns stock in a radish and micro cilantro farm). I ordered it as a filler of sorts but it really turned out to be one of those perfect “bar foods”. Crispy, creamy, salty, cheesy & meaty. It was executed well, and although nothing truly mind-blowing, it’s exactly the type of thing you crave when you’re drinking beer. I would order it again if I went back for happy hour and was looking for some perfect finger food.
So there you have it. A “healthy” amount of food and an even healthier amount of beer, tequila and margaritas to match. We sat and grazed on truly delicious food and paid an average of $7 per dish. The hubby and I will certainly return. Of the 6 dishes we tired only 1 fell flat, 5 were delicious and of those 5, 2 were what I would call amazing. Numbers like that don’t lie.