I had a hard time thinking this spot was going to be a big win. A weird little taco joint in Philadelphia's Italian Market that opens a the ungodly hour of 6am to accommodate workers getting off the night shift? My friend John insisted we go and go early - and John usually is right in these things.
Right he was.
At first glance, El Compadre seems more than a bit makeshift. Ice cold agua frescas are poured outside the door, as customers line up to order tacos and tortas. As soon as you get past the doorframe you are asked to order from whatever hunks of meat the kitchen has on hand. Accompaniments? Find them on a tiny table to the right. Pile on whatever suits you.
Doesn't sound like the makings of a gourmand fantasy - right?
The hunks of meat in question are glorious. Simply remarkable. In particular, the barbacoa, meltingly tender lamb, is a stand-out. And, the tortillas for the tacos? Handmade in the kitchen from masa ground from local Lancaster County corn. Warm, they emit the nose-tickling aroma of fresh corn on the cob.
Toppings range from marinated nopale leaves and bright green cilantro to chopped white onion and housemade guacamole.
These were unquestionably the best tacos of my life. Seriously. Best. Tacos. Of. My. Life.
And, El Compadre's presence in the Italian Market isn't a Mexican oddity among a sea of pasta stores and pastry shops on the strip. Slowly, but surely, the Italian Market has welcomed a new set of immigrants, becoming home to Mexican butchers and tortilla makers too. As a result, there seems to be a South of the Border vibe in the land of Rocky Balboa and cheesesteaks. And, if El Compadre's tacos are an indication of what Philadelphia has to look forward to by way of Mexican fare, I think we can confidently say - Viva La Ciudad de Amor Fraternal!