Monday, July 25, 2011


University City dining days is the red headed step child to the PR machine that Center City Restaurant Week has become. There are fewer restaurants, less hype, and a lot less people out trying to be see and be seen. What UC dining days does offer though, is a chance to check out some restaurants well off the beaten path and do it at a very reasonable price.

Distrito has been on our radar for what seems like years now. It was one of the earliest Garces concepts, but always seem to bypass our consciousness when trying to decide where to eat next. That trek way out to 40th street seemed like we would need to pack emergency provisions for the arduous journey ahead. But the call of the $30 per person menu for Garces' food was enough to sway us into making the trip.

The Dining Days menu at Distrito let's you select 5 plates - 2 first course, 2 second course, and dessert. With our table of four people, we got to sample a hefty portion of the offerings. The restaurant itself is over-the-top Mexicana, done up with wrestler masks, a volkswagon beetle that you can sit in on the first floor, and splashes of bright pink everywhere you look. Servers were friendly and looked mostly from the Penn/Drexel area that surrounds you.  The drinks were creative but not consistently mixed.  My tequila, lime & cilantro was bright and refreshing, while the girls' watermelon cooler was perfect the first time but too sweet on the second round.

Tequila, lime juice & cilantro gimlet
Appetizers started with guacamole - perfectly mashed and sprinkled with grated cotija cheese on top. Served with house made tortilla chips still hot from the fryer, this should be a required plate for everyone that sits down. I could eat guacamole for every meal and die a very happy, very green man. The ceviche de pulpo with, lime, serrano chilis and cilantro was great. A cross section of octopus tenticals sliced super thin and oh so tender. The lime and chilis brought out an incredible flavor. The jicama salad was an ok dish of thinly sliced jicama, hunks of mango, and a small scoop of sorbet that seemed strangely out of place here. By far the best of the first courses, and probably the whole night, was the nachos (which were on special). Layer upon layer of house made chips, Mexican queso, roasted peppers, tomatoes, and thinly sliced onions that were something to savor and remember - and also fill your stomach so that the second course becomes an exercise in futility. These were probably the best nachos I've ever had - and that includes drunk nachos from Taco Lou at 3am.  I would go back just for this dish.


Guacamole with house made chips

Ceviche de pulpo - octopus with lime juice, serrano chilis, cilantro

Queso fundido is one of my perennial favorites. Ever since a work trip to Queretaro last year, I've been in search throughout the city for that perfect dish of melted queso. Distrito has two versions, a more traditional one made with chorizo, poblanos & cheese or a substitution of the chorizo with duck barbocoa. The slow roasted duck layered with the cheese was terrific. I only wish that I had more room after the first course nachos to enjoy it. It did make a great next day lunch though, rolled up in some extra tortillas.
Queso Fundido
The girls both got the mahi mahi tacos which were good, but I wasn't a fan of the sauce that was heavy handidly slathered on the tortilla. I thought it masked the flavor of the fish and crispy breading. Tacos de carnitas with pulled pork, black beans and pineapple salsa were a hit with ridiculously tender and tasty pork alongside the sweet salsa. My mole amarillo with sliced rabbit and rice was served with more of that pineapple salsa. We didn't even get to that dish as we were now unbuttoning to make room for the tacos. Besides the stellar nachos, the other hit of the night was the mushroom enchiladas with spinach and smoked tomatoes - the whole table agreed these were the best of the second courses.

Mahi mahi tacos

Mushroom enchilida
Desserts were limited, with your choice of either flan or a tres leches. Both were good, but it was a chore getting them down since we were already stuffed. This was a Food Baby dream meal. Dining at a Garces restaurant always means great food, but it also usually means a sizable dent in the bank account. This was an incredible deal for dinner though. This little bastard child of restaurant week might have more going for it than people realize. Here's looking forward to the next UC Dining days - I'll be wearing my Thanksgiving pants next time.


Food Baby Rating - Twins!!!

3945 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

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