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El Rey Mexican Restaurant

Last week, after attending a Wine event, we were eager to finally get our burger on at the much talked about Village Whiskey in the Rittenhouse Square section of Center City, Philadelphia. We got to the restaurant at approximately 8:45 pm and were told it would be an hour and 45 minute wait for two. SAY WHAT? We should have known better from a place that doesn’t take reservations on a Friday night. Thank God for smartphones. Just a block over we found El Rey Restaurant. Though Mexican was not what we were looking forward to, at this point we would’ve eaten an entire block of cheese. Couldn’t beat a 15 minute wait either. The menu looked decent, claiming it was authentic Mexican eats. The prices were very reasonable too. However, it was the Lucha Libre wallpaper that sealed the deal. 15 minutes later exactly, we were seated.

We were a little annoyed upon sitting at our booth. The place was crowded but not overly packed. There were no super rowdy groups or loud talkers around so maybe it was the acoustics in the building, not sure…but it was LOUD! It made it very difficult to enjoy a conversation.  The menu seemed truly authentic so we quickly opted for a Plato Fiesta. For $26 we were able to share and sample several of the basic menu items.

Before the food arrived we each ordered a glass of wine….of course. We sampled the Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Rita 120 and the Carmenere Eco Balance, both from Chile. For the first time in a while, we were both pretty disappointed at first sip…surprising with the amount of Chilean wines that we have tried and loved. The wines seemed bitter and vinegary, which led us to believe that perhaps we had gotten a bad batch. (Note to selves: must try these wines in the near future and get back to you.) We set them down to air for a bit while we waited for our chips and salsa. Yet another disappointment….what kind of authentic Mexican restaurant doesn’t serve complimentary chips and salsa???

Apparently El Rey.

Once the food came out, things picked up a bit. We decided it was time to order some cocktails. For future reference, we have to remind ourselves that Mexican restaurants promote Margaritas for a reason. What were we thinking anyway? So we ordered a Guava and a Tamarind margarita on the rocks. Ahhh…redemption. They were perfect. The food was also pretty tasty….typical items like street tacos, quesadilla and beans were full of authentic flavor.  We also had the crab and avocado salad, which was the biggest hit of the night…real, fresh crab meat, avocado, greens and a touch of grapefruit…perfect blend along with their chipotle dressing.

When the 10 o’clock hour hit the noise level became much more bearable, as several tables had cleared out.  Our waitress was nice and dressed much more casually than we are used to.  The majority of patrons in the place were dressed casually as well….jeans, t-shirts, etc. All this combined with our personal experience and the fact that they do not take reservations led us to conclude that this might be a much more popular Happy Hour type place for the younger crowd, if that’s what you’re looking for.  While the food and the margaritas were great and the prices are very affordable, the loud ambience and lack of free chips and salsa won’t be taking us back to El Rey. However, we take with us the message given by the traditional Mexican candle at our table which read, “ATTRACTION….ATTRACT WHAT YOU WANT.” Amen.


El Rey on Urbanspoon


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