The lines are often out the door at hit taco shop South Philly Barbacoa, but somehow Cristina Martinez doesn’t feel like she’s busy enough. The star chef, who’s known as much for her immigrant rights’ activism as for her outstanding barbacoa tacos, is about to open a second Mexican restaurant in Philly’s historic Italian Market. Casa Mexico is well underway at 1134 S. Ninth Street, just a couple doors up from South Philly Barbacoa. It should be ready to go in late January or early February.
The new restaurant, which replaces Greek eatery Koukouzeli, will serve lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sunday. Like at South Philly Barbacoa, there won’t be a menu: A chalkboard will list out what’s on offer. Martinez plans to buy meat, fish, and produce from her neighbors — the Italian Market’s shops and sidewalk vendors — which means the menu will be built based on what’s available that day.
Where South Philly Barbacoa is a daytime-only counter-service spot open Friday to Monday, Casa Mexico is a fuller restaurant with table service. No alcohol though; it’s BYOB. Lunch, starting at 11 a.m., is comida corrida, with an appetizer and entree at a set price, around $11 plus tax. At dinnertime, Martinez plans to make good use of the grill Koukouzeli left behind. The tortillas will, of course, be made in-house.
The space is in good shape, but on the plain side. Martinez is adding some colorful decor ahead of opening day.
South Philly Barbacoa was already popular in Philly before Martinez, her husband/co-owner, Ben Miller, and the restaurant were featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. The crowds have only grown since then — it’s safe to expect lines at Casa Mexico too. It’ll likely be worth waiting for.