Manayunk’s Taqueria Feliz Takes a Playful Approach to Mexican Cuisine

Casual, streetwise fun plays for keeps at Taqueria Feliz.

Taqueria Feliz’s braised brisket tacos

detailsTaqueria Feliz  410 Main St., Manayunk, (267) 331-5874, taqueriafeliz.comcuisine: Mexican.  cost: Entrées $10-$20.  attire: Casual to after-work professional.  atmosphere: Colorful and upbeat.  hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily.  extras: Happy-hour specials, seasonal outdoor seating, catering available.

Warsaw Buck cocktailWhen Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal began building their mini Mexican empire in the Philadelphia area, they chose their moniker for a reason. Fun, inviting and lighthearted, the duo’s new Manayunk outpost is about as “feliz” as restaurants come. Compared to Fort Washington’s Cantina Feliz and Fairmount’s La Calaca Feliz, “it’s more casual, a little more rustic in presentation,” says Spinner of Taqueria Feliz. “But it still uses modern interpretations of classic Mexican dishes.”

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Taqueria Feliz is a beacon of bright hues and spirited music located in the center of it all on Main Street (less than two blocks from the train station, for those looking to avoid parking hassles). Its interior at once evokes spooky Day of the Dead imagery and the casual cool of a beachside cabana bar. Planks of distressed wood line some walls, while brick and rough stone cover others. There are vintage-inspired tiles alongside a modern charging station, cafeteria-style Formica tables in blue, pink and yellow, and flowery banquette backs. Beams and HVAC ducts crisscross the ceiling, with Christ-mas lights and Mexican star lanterns twinkling just below. In warmer weather, the front windows open, and tables appear on the sidewalk. “We want people to walk in and say, ‘Man, this place is fun!’” says Spinner.

True to the taqueria designation, the menu is more casual than those of its sister restaurants. But you will find similar flavor combinations and a few classic dishes—like nachos with pickled jalapeños and spice-kissed queso fundido.

grilled, marinated lamb-heart skewers atop refried beans, with chimichurri and pickled onions and cucumbers (from left) owners Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal, with executive chef Lucio Palazzo

Fittingly, the tacos are the highlight, each of six varieties tucked three-at-a-time into fresh corn tortillas. The pork carnitas were tender, juicy, and lightly spiked with salsa roja, cilantro and avocado. Stewed in rich chipotle, the chicken tinga was sharply accented by pickled cabbage, avocado, queso fresco and a sweet crema sauce. Bolder still was the Brisket al Suadero, with braised beef, scallions and spicy arbol chile salsa.

The blue tilapia that fills the “Ensalada Style” fish tacos comes tempura battered or grilled, with chipotle mayo and cabbage
slaw. And vegetarians will embrace the cauliflower tacos, kicked up several notches with nopales, guajillo salsa and a delicious house guacamole.

For larger appetites, Taqueria Feliz’s tortas are a massive, messy Mexican riff on a pressed sandwich. The Cubano’s layers of carnitas, braised pork belly and chorizo are held together with tequila-laced mustard, cheese and jalapeños. The surprisingly hearty chicken torta combines a breaded (or grilled) cutlet with refried beans, avocado, queso Oaxaca, arugula and pickled jalapeños.

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More traditional entrée items include bubbly chicken enchiladas smothered in one of three sauces (roja, tomatillo cream
or mole negro oaxaqueño), and carne asada with pico de gallo, guacamole, black beans, scallions and serrano chili peppers. Smoked in banana leaves, the lamb barbacoa is served with mulato chiles, nopales, traditional consommé and chickpeas.

The seared red snapper was coated in a chipotle morita glaze and came with  corn, avocado and sweet plantains. And you must try the esquites, a side dish that deftly balances creamy cheese, toothsome corn, acidic lime, sweet cream and a dash of spice.

More adventurous diners will appreciate the menu’s “Funky Stuff” section, which celebrates such offbeat Mexican ingredients as lamb heart and beef tongue.

Bar drinks are fittingly festive. Swap tequila for moonshine in the classic Feliz Margarita, or turn up the heat with a Tres Chili Margarita. You’ll also find Spanish wines, craft beers and Mexican Coke.

THE SKINNY: As vibrant as it is relaxing, Taqueria Feliz brings Mexican street food to the Manayunk minions with an unabashed flair for flavor and fun.

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