Tacos with a side of immigration reform: South Philly Barbacoa adds hours, tortas and art for a cause

Pancita and barbacoa tacos from South Philly Barbacoa

Pancita and barbacoa tacos from South Philly Barbacoa


If you haven’t tried their tacos, you’ve probably heard about them.

Benjamin Miller and Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa only very recently opened their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, but not before every taco-loving critic and food fanatic in Philadelphia had the chance to rave about the slow-roasted lamb barbacoa and pancita tacos (and ambrosial, restorative lamb consommé) sold off their popular street cart.

Starting this week, those delicacies will be available a whole extra day. In addition to the regular Saturday and Sunday hours (5 AM to sellout), tacos and sides will be sold on Friday mornings starting at 7 AM.

That’s not the only new thing coming: This Friday, July 31, brings the first in a series of art shows to the storefront at 1703 S. 11th St. (near 11th and Morris). From 6-10 PM, the space will host a preview of seven new works by mosaic muralist Isaiah Zagar, the creator of South Street’s unforgettable Magic Gardens.

The opening will also feature some new edible creations: Tortas.

Martinez is baking her own pan telera, the soft, round, tri-sectional roll that’s traditional for the Mexican sandwiches. She’ll be stuffing them with fillings like chicken mole, albondigas (meatballs) in salsa verde and rajas (poblano peppers in cream) with refried beans and turkey ham. They’ll sell for $5 a pop.

Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller

Cristina Martinez and Benjamin Miller

Danya Henninger

Miller, who previously cooked at Kanella, and helps Martinez prepare South Philly Barbacoa’s menu, has ambitions that reach beyond just feeding people fantastic food.

On the art front, visual shows are just the beginning of his plans for how to use the new space — there’s a downstairs basement where he envisions hosting live bands and cutting “bootleg” recordings.

And then there’s politics. Miller is especially keen on using his restaurant’s popularity to advance his pet cause: Immigration reform. It’s not an issue pulled out of thin air. Martinez, even though she is married to Miller, has not been able to obtain a green card to legitimize her stay. (Ted Nghiem has an in-depth recounting of her situation and tale.) It’s also not just an issue for this establishment — a huge majority of back-of-the-house restaurant staff is in the same boat.

Miller intends to take up the cause, using proceeds from art openings, events and other sources to promote legislative change on this topic.

In the meantime, we can be glad Cristina is still in Philly — those tacos are out of this world.

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