The influx of genuine Mexican flavors has continued to blossom across South Philadelphia, expanding from its east side nexus near the Italian Market to several new options now west of Broad Street. In the past months alone, I’ve savored handmade sopes cradling chorizo at the new La Cocina Del Cafe (1500 S. Broad St.) and a tasty chicken stuffed with huitlacoche and topped with creamy poblano sauce at Taqueria Morales (1429 Jackson St.), which just opened in the former Gennaro’s Tomato Pie space. One of the most notable meals, however, was at a west side Mexican pioneer, Café y Chocolate, that relocated from its longtime home at 20th and Snyder to the old Chaat & Chai space across from the Melrose Diner.
A recent visit to Arturo Lorenzo’s slender but lively new 36-seat address reminded me why his Mexican brunch concept was a hit to begin with. Lorenzo — who serves one of South Philly’s more interesting Mexican menus for dinner at La Mula Terca (don’t miss the lamb birria) — has long showcased Mexico’s early-day specialties at Café y Chocolate, from the signature cups of cinnamony Mexican hot chocolate spiked with espresso to huevos rancheros, a double-stacked variation called motuleños, and hearty tamal Azteca. Few things satisfy in a more elemental way, though, than good chilaquiles, largely because they rely on the quality of two essentials: tortillas and salsa. They are one of the world’s great leftover-breakfast classics, repurposing day-old tortillas in morning treasure.
Anyone who’s sampled the excellent guacamole at Café y Chocolate (always fresh, never chilled, chunky, and well-seasoned) knows the freshly fried chips are top-notch. But the salsas here — in which those crispy chips simmer to a hearty softness — are what make this rendition so good. Diners can choose from green or red salsas or mole poblano. For this dish, at least, I’m partial to the salsa roja because it draws a punchy-yet-complex spice from its blend guajillo and pasilla chilies, but also has enough saucy acidity from plum tomatoes to cut through the earthiness of the masa. Add an egg and swipe those chilaquiles through the epazote-scented refried black beans on the side, and you have a complete breakfast for around $10 that is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.