Cantina La Martina opens in Philly, led by Dionicio Jiménez, a Vetri, CookNSolo, and Starr alum
Modern and traditional cooking in a cheery corner bar-restaurant beneath the Market-Frankford El’s Somerset station in Kensington.
Dionicio Jiménez landed in Philadelphia in 1998, among the early arrivals from San Mateo Ozolco, the town in Puebla that many Mexican Americans in Philadelphia call their birthplace.
Jiménez, who moved in with his brother, washed dishes during the day at ChinChin, a Center City restaurant, and worked at night at Vetri, four blocks away. He advanced to prep work and line cook at ChinChin after a year, around the time he moved up to the salad and pasta stations at Vetri.
When Vetri sous chef Michael Solomonov left to go into the restaurant business with Steve Cook, they tapped Jiménez to be chef-partner at Xochitl, the Mexican restaurant they opened in 2007 on Head House Square. (They’ve since sold it.) Three years later, Jiménez was named chef at Stephen Starr’s El Rey in Rittenhouse, and in 2015, he became a U.S. citizen.
Now, 24 years after coming to Philadelphia, Jiménez, 46, has opened his own restaurant, Cantina La Martina. It’s a cheery corner bar-restaurant at D Street and Kensington Avenue, beneath the Market-Frankford El’s Somerset station.
After SEPTA shut down the Somerset station last year citing safety concerns including drug activity and spent needles, Kensington residents mobilized to have the station reopened — and people from all over the city are coming to eat at Jiménez restaurant.
Jiménez offers a menu that melds his modern fine-dining styling from Xochitl with El Rey’s homespun and casual cooking.
The lunch menu includes pastor negro tacos, a smoky, Yucatan-inspired variation on tacos al pastor. Jiménez makes recado negro from ancho chili, black pepper, cloves, cumin, achiote, burnt tortillas, sour orange juice, garlic, onion, and salt. He cuts the pork butt and marinates it in the recado negro overnight before building the trompo.
Enchiladas potosinas are red tortillas that are dipped into a guajillo chile sauce and then cooked with salsa.
Pulpo a la diabla tacos, also on the lunch menu, include tender octopus in a spicy salsa with orange salsita and cauliflower.
Cabrito (goat) on the dinner menu is a showstopper; the meat is braised with agave leaves and the alcoholic drink called pulque. Even desserts get special attention. Alongside churros and tres leches cake is marquesita, a waffle filled with Nutella, Edam cheese, and mixed berries.
The bar stocks beers on draft and all sorts of mezcals and tequilas.
Cantina La Martina: Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Brunch is served on weekends.