Back in 2010 I had drinks at Jose Garces’ restaurant Distrito with some friends and while I’m sure I noshed on some chips and salsa while there, I hadn’t ever tried the food. As I knew it was one of my friend’s favorite spots I suggested we head there for dinner while I was home in Philadelphia last month. She readily agreed and reservations were made.
In Philadelphia Jose Garces’ restaurants are a big deal. While he himself is of Ecuadorian heritage (he was born in Chicago to Ecuadorian parents), countless cuisines in Latin America have heavily influenced his cooking and profession with Mexican food being one of them. Located in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, Distrito doesn’t just serve “Mexican fare,” but rather the cuisine you would find in Mexico’s capital city, the Federal District or the Distrito Federal as it’s known in Spanish. So while there are many people (I’m looking at you Pittsburgh) who think that Mexican food is nothing but tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Mexico is a huge country and just like the United States, its many different regions have completely unique and different foods.
The interior at Distrito is extremely hip and yet still inviting, featuring an eclectic color scheme and neat Mexican pop art motifs. There’s also the VW Beetle table that you can sit at (I’m guessing you need to reserve this ahead of time?). It’s of course an homage to the thousands of Beetle taxis one will find in the Federal District.
While it’s not everyone’s thing, Distrito is more a small plates place but honestly, I love this concept since it allows you to sample multiple items from the menu. But to get started my friend and I each ordered a glass of the sangria ($8)-I went for rioja (red), my friend, blanca (white).
In lieu of bread (hey, it’s a Mexican spot) we were given a basket of spicy flavored peanuts. These reminded me of the Peruvian canchitas, corn nuts. Hot but good.
As it was small plates, what we ordered came somewhat staggered although we were on our first dish for a while for no other reason than it was huge! My friend recommended we split the Nachos Ignacio ($10) and I was glad she did. They were topped with everything from black beans to mixed cheeses to tomatoes and radishes and more.
I then ordered one of the evening’s specials, “Mexico City Quesadillas” but they really resembled empanadas. That evening they were seafood filled and were exquisite.
To accompany them, I opted for the Platano y Crema ($4) which was sweet plantains topped with queso fresco. While normally I prefer plantains to be plain (since unless you’re getting plantain chips, they’re sweet enough as it is), the cheese was a wonderful added touch.
For my friend’s dishes, she went with the Ceviche de Camarones ($9) which consisted of shrimp in a tomato marinade and topped with plantain chips, as well as Mahi Mahi tacos ($12) which featured a chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage, and lime.
Everything for my first time dining at Distrito was amazing and I really look forward to returning again. Mexican food will always have a special place in my heart, especially when it’s as incredible as what you get at a place like Distrito.
3945 Chestnut St | Philadelphia, PA | 19104