La Calaca Feliz
2321 Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia , PA 19130
Art Museum - Fairmount
On street and nearby lot. Handicap access:
Wheelchair accessible (through back entrance on Olive Street).
Cuisine type: Mexican
Dinner - Mon. thru Sun.
Late Night - Mon. thru Sun.
Chef Tim Spinner and partner Brian Sirhal spread their Nuevo Mex happiness to Fairmount with a sophisticated city sibling to Fort Washington’s Cantina Feliz, set in the skylit dining room and cheery back patio space of the former Illuminare. Taking more risks than in their suburban kitchen, with inventive specials and soulful, complex cooking, Spinner has finally shed the label of “Garces alum” to stake his own claim as the city’s most exciting modern Mexican chef. Waits can be long, but service, once seated, is also outstanding.
Entrees, $9.95 to $24.95. Reservations accepted only for six or more. Smaller tables (or placement on wait list) can be requested by calling ahead within up to 30 minutes of arrival.
Guacamole (with fruit); nachos with short rib; tuna ceviche with margarita-compressed melons; hamachi tostada; pulpo skewers; skewered meatballs; squash relleno; duck en nogada; pig-ear terrine (special); tortilla soup; white asparagus-scallop soup (special); Calaca salad; fish taco; carnitas taco; enchilada con mariscos; arranchera; grilled shrimp; black bass; elotes locos; Domingo sundae; tres leches.
Fresh well-balanced margaritas are the best way to begin (especially the premium La Bestia). There are bigger tequila lists in town, but this one’s substantial enough to cover all the bases. Best bet are the generous three-shot flights, including my favorite Neftali Feliz (Cabo Wabo blanco, Partida reposado, Casa Noble anejo). There are a dozen good beers with both Mexican and American craft options (try the Stillwater saison or Coronado IPA). There’s also a small, affordable wine list, but wine drinkers will do best with the excellent sangria.
Extremely noisy, with tequila-amped crowds hitting a mid-90s din, though outside tables are considerably calmer. (Ideal is 75 decibels or less.)
Hours: Dinner Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, until 11 p.m. Bar open nightly until 2 a.m.