There has been a long debate over where the best tacos in Philadelphia are from. “Modern Mexican” restaurants have taken over Center City, but authentic Mexican lies mostly in South Philly. Authentic Mexican taquerias lean toward traditional meat, such as beef, pork, chicken, etc., while modern Mexican restaurants experiment with meats such as beef tongue and soft shell crab.
My personal favorite is Prima Pizza Taqueria Mexicana. It has been a staple in South Philly, residing at 1104 South 9th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147 (steps from 9th & Washington), providing night owls with a delicious taco fix until 4am. They offer a large plate of three 6-inch tacos stuffed to the brim with sides for just $9.
Another prominent South Philly taqueria is El Compadre/South Philly Barbacoa (1149 S. 9th Street). Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller, of South Philly Barbacoa, were semifinalists for the James Beard Best Chef (Mid-Atlantic) award in 2017. They are currently serving South Philly Barbacoa tacos on the weekend and El Compadre tortas during the week.
One of my favorite authentic Mexican restaurants is El Azteca Uno. They were in Northeast Philly but moved to Washington Square West in Philadelphia (714 Chestnut Street). The portions are colossal, the staff is hospitable, and they have the most inexpensive margaritas in the 215. Pitchers are just $20.
Alas, Modern Mexican restaurants are not to be ignored. These tacos consist of adventurous ingredients and more depth of flavor, but they tend to be more expensive. Mission Taqueria (1516 Sansom, 2nd floor) serves up some of the best tacos in Philadelphia, but they come with a hefty price tag of $13-16. However, the happy hour deals are worth it. They also offer $3 carnitas tacos, $3 Coronas, and $5 margaritas.
Lolita (106 South 13th Street), owned by Philly chef Marcie Blaine, is another fantastic Modern Mexican option in Philadelphia. They have great fried chicken tacos and specials “spinnin’ on the trompo.”