Having moved to the Fairmount area, one of the places I was excited to finally try was La Calaca Feliz. Chef-owner Tim Spinner's debut restaurant was well-deserved after years of cooking alongside Iron Chef Jose Garces at El Vez (coincidentally one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in Center City). It received three bells from Craig La Ban to boot! And so on a bright sunny day, the GF and I stopped by for some proper Mexican fare.
The space was larger than initially expected, with a great outdoor space in the back - perfect for lively parties. If it's nice enough, do get a space outside for a somewhat al fresco experience.
Chiquita Margarita [$12]
Skinny margarita, espolon blanco, fresh lime juice, cointreau
As expected, go with the margaritas here - even the GF's skinny version was good. Not overly sweet or tart, the mellow flavors were accentuated by the cointreau.
Stagger Lee [$9]
Bourbon, honey, pineapple, jalapeno
I was on a bourbon kick, so went with the Stagger Lee - as weak as the rapper unfortunately - almost to the point of tasting like water. The jalapeno added some spicy freshness, but I felt like the tipple could have used some lime. Stick with the margs!
Guacamole Traditional [$9.95]
Avocado, tomato, jalapeno, onion
The traditional guac was fresh and had nice hints of jalapeno and lime. Nothing as spectacular as El Vez, but certainly a decent iteration. It was served with house-made chips and a pat of salsa, which was unfortunately a bit bland and tempered.
Pulpo a la Parilla [$9.95]
Octopus, achiote, crispy chocoyotes
On the other hand, the octopus was great. The char from the grill was evident and lent itself nicely to the pulpo. The well-seasoned crust surrounded the tender pulpo. The crispy gnocchi offered similar textural contrasts and the radish and cilantro helped to provide some freshness to each bite.
Asparagus Tlayuda [$10.95] with Fried Egg [+ $1]
Asparagus, truffle, poblano, jalapeno, requeson, queso mixto, manchego bechamel
The Mexican 'pizzette' provided some traditional flavors of truffle, asparagus, topped with a fried egg. The bechamel helped to add some creaminess to each bite of the crispy tortilla.
Chorizo Tacos [$10.95]
Mexican sausage, baby potato, onion, cilantro, salsa verde
At this point, the manager, Zach, stopped by with some complimentary chorizo tacos. When showcased as the primary protein, I typically find chorizo to be overly greasy. But these were delicious, with the baby potatoes soaking up the grease and spice. The condiments helped to provide some acidity and herbaceousness.
Carnitas Tacos [$10.95]
Pulled pork, salsa roja, onions, cilantro, avocado
The GF went with the carnitas, which were moist and pure pork flavor. The fresh avocado wedges added some rich creaminess and the corn tortillas were fresh. Do get these!
Pork Belly Tacos [$11.95]
Soy chili glaze, avocado, pickled onions, cucumber
And of course, I had to get the pork belly tacos. The vinegar-based slaw provided the perfect counterbalance for the creamy avocado and sweet, soy-based sauce glaze on the crisp bits of pork belly.
After a somewhat slow start with my drink and salsa, I'm glad the meal picked up. La Calaca Feliz is on point with its tacos and from the execution of its pulpo, I'm excited to try some of the other menu items in the future. It's clear there's a reason Tim Spinner's spot is popular with the Fairmount crowd.
La Calaca Feliz
2321 Fairmount Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19130