Craig LaBan’s 12 best bets for Mexican Restaurant Week

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Mexican Restaurant Week is underway — Cinco de Mayo is mañana — and critic Craig LaBan shares his favorites. Also this week: A delicious collab of doughnuts and tacos, a first look at the new Liberty Point on Penn’s Landing (the largest restaurant in the city), Mother’s Day brunch recommendations, and a full slate of restaurant news.

Starting you off with a quiz. How many people can Liberty Point accommodate?

A) 600

B) 750

C) 1,000

D) 1,400

Click here for the answer and more details.

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Mike Klein

The Mexican Cultural Center has put its stamp on an actual restaurant week event running through May 6, including 19 restaurants from South Philly to Camden. Craig has enjoyed most all of these restaurants over the years, and suggests a dozen exceptional dishes to look for. Fittingly, the above mole poblano is served at Mole Poblano.

Tacos and doughnuts come together deliciously at Sí, a weekends-only project from Mexican-food specialist Israel Nocelo and pastry chef C.J. Cheyne, owner of Oui bakery in Old City. My colleague Jenn Ladd suggests you head down Oui’s narrow alley and step up to the bakery’s back entrance to order Nocelo’s saucy, habanero-spiked cochinita tacos and Cheyne’s Mexican-inspired doughnuts. Grab a beer and enjoy it all in the courtyard.

Speaking of doughnuts, why was Federal Donuts such a tasty deal? My colleague Joe DiStefano sat down with the investors who bought into the doughnut-and-chicken chain. This crew owns Duck Donuts, too.

Dock Street Brewery’s location at 50th Street and Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia will close at the end of the month after 15 years, as Dock Street founder Rosemarie Certo spilled the news on social media Tuesday. Two brewers, keeping a low profile at the moment, will take over Dock Street West, she said.

Not that Dock Street is going away — its gleaming Dock Street South location opened in 2019 two miles away at 22nd Street and Washington Avenue, with a 40-bbl brewhouse. By phone, Certo said she had new goals — including a ramp-up of Vicio, the spirits brand she owns with Dock Street’s Marilyn Candeloro, and “making more impact in the brewing side of things.” Certo founded Dock Street in 1985with her then-husband, Jeffrey Ware, near Logan Square.

But wait. There’s more: Brewer Mark Russell, her kids (Renata Certo-Ware and Sasha Certo-Ware), and manager Lauren Wash are putting together a Dock Street taproom for Fishtown late this year. (I dipped into our archives for this photo of Certo on the back of a beer truck in July 2006, shortly before Dock Street West’s opening in a former farmer’s market.)

“Visionary thinking” is seldom written in a sentence containing the phrase “Penn’s Landing.” Thoughtful development of the Delaware Riverfront is only now on the way, more than 40 years after I-95 cleaved it from such neighborhoods as Northern Liberties, Old City, Queen Village, and Pennsport. As a first step in a grand plan, including the addition of a huge cap over the highway and adjacent Columbus Boulevard, we have this week’s debut of Liberty Point, at Walnut Street. Restaurateur Avram Hornik of FCM Hospitality, working with the Delaware River Waterfront Corp., got the bright idea to convert the sprawling but seldom used exterior of the Independence Seaport Museum into a cool restaurant with spectacular views from every seat in the house. I give you a first look here.

Just a heads-up, speaking of Penn’s Landing: La Peg, Peter Woolsey’s French brasserie at the FringeArts Building on Columbus Boulevard at Race Street, reopens May 4 for dinner, starting at 4 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. The outdoor seating beside the Ben Franklin Bridge is just as intriguing as the scene indoors, beneath 45-foot ceilings.

Planning to fete Mom, or some other maternal figure in your life, on Sunday? Contributor Carolyn Desalu found 18 options for Mother’s Day, including a brunch cruise, a play day at a casino, and a make-your-own-mimosa situation.

If only hard work and grit were all it took to survive in the restaurant business: Sean and Nikeah Green had a thriving catering business with BBQ Unlimited, and then came the pandemic. They pivoted, first at a “ghost kitchen” and next leasing a restaurant. Now they’re at a mall food court. The financial toll, meanwhile, has been severe. The Greens and their three children were evicted from their house, and are now living in a shelter. All the while, they continue to go into work and fight. Sean told me the other day: “I got faith in God that this will work.”

Those 33 up-and-coming restaurants that I described two weeks ago are getting some company:

Fayette Street Oyster House & Grill opens May 4 at 128 Fayette St. in Conshohocken, most recently Tierra Caliente. Peter Dissin, who was also a consultant for Conshohocken’s Isabella when it opened in 2010, has basically moved the seafood concept from his now-shuttered Pinefish to the burbs, adding steaks and other grilled items.

Wild Honey Smokehouse & Tavern, offering not one style of barbecue but regional traditions from across the country, has set a May 10 opening in The Quarter at Tropicana in Atlantic City. (Replaces RiRa.) Also coming to AyCee is Bobby’s Burgers, from Bobby Flay, due to open in early summer at Harrah’s.

Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye founders Herman Mihalich and John Cooper have set a May 12 opening for a tasting room at 131 Mill St. in Bristol, a block away from Bristol Waterfront Park and about a mile from the distillery.

Santucci’s Original Square Pizza will open a franchise location on May 12 at Woodmont Townsquare on Hurffville-Cross Keys Road in Washington Township, Gloucester County.

Fitz on 4th, a bar-restaurant serving a plant-based menu, is targeting June 1 at Fourth and Fitzwater Streets in Queen Village, the erstwhile Fitz & Starts. Its new mural features Stitch and Mona, the rescue pups owned by chef-cofounder Alison Fitzpatrick.

Buena Onda, Jose Garces’ taqueria, is shooting for July 4 rollouts of two new locations: the former Tinto at 114 S. 20th St. in Rittenhouse and at 200 N. Radnor-Chester Rd. in Radnor, in the former Jimmy John’s near Estia Taverna and Honeygrow.

Nano Wheedan has renamed his Austin-style breakfast taco joint, coming to 1005 E. Passyunk Ave., the triangle-shaped building at Seventh, Passyunk, and Christian Streets that previously housed El Bocado. He’s calling it Taco Heart.

Also:

Good Spoon Soupery in Fishtown closed last week but promises a cookbook.

Charlie Brown’s Fresh Grill in Woodbury is back after 18 months, and Mark Matthews of the blog 42 Freeway was there to proclaim that he ate the first order of prime rib.

And here’s another one, but it’s like a year and a half away: Chotto Matta, a stylish brand specializing in the Peruvian-Japanese combo called Nikkei, has been inked for the development being built at 12th and Sansom Streets in Washington Square West. Both Paige Jaffe of JLL Philadelphia (who represented the landlord) and Mike Rielly of RRS (who repped Chotto Matta) said larger chains are again bullish on Center City Philadelphia.

Steve and Jenna DeVito got into the restaurant business last week with a bistro in Springfield, Delaware County. The name, Dom & Mia’s, honors the memories of their children Domenico James and Mia Isabella, both of whom died as infants due to complications of premature birth. The couple (shown above with kids Emma, 3, and Vincenzo, 9 months) have taken over a PNC Bank branch on Saxer Avenue by the SEPTA 101 trolley stop. Sit at the bar and peek into the old safe.

Sushi and ramen share the billing at the spare but elegant Matsu Sushi, which opened a month ago at the Promenade at Upper Dublin, the new mixed-use center on Welsh Road just off Dreshertown Road in Dresher. That is, the menu is all Japanese, and not the familiar Chinese-Japanese mix that is the norm in this part of Eastern Montgomery County.

Matsu Sushi, which is BYOB, is from the Jiang family, whose holdings include Kumo Sushi in Collegeville. Six-seat sushi bar, six ramens (including a spot-on spicy tantan and a vegetarian one), the usual assortment of rolls, grilled dishes, and an intriguing assortment of hot and cold appetizers such as takoyaki, harumaki, and the umami-packed dish you see here: pepper-seared tuna topped with truffle ponzu salsa and caviar.

Matsu Sushi, 231 Dryden Rd, Dresher. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 1-9 p.m. Sunday.

“You know how a lot of times, scallop dishes are presented simply with like a light sauce to let the scallops shine?” asked reader @sadiespades, following a visit to Rex at the Royal on South Street West. “This dish didn’t hold back on flavor at all — it was spicy, earthy and hearty with cauliflower. My boyfriend and I talked about it for days.” (Photo here is by Neal Santos.) The Flourtown Farmer’s Market drew @noahgrantlevine to Juby George’s Smell the Curry stand for masala dosa served with potatoes, sambar, and coconut chutney. George is there Thursday to Saturday. Here to vouch for the butter chicken.

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