She’s got flirty cartoonish eyelashes, a voluptuous figure, baby pink lips, two-by-two brown eyes, and she likes tacos. Dreamgirl?
For the past year or so, the bright Harajuku interpretation of a Cali Chola has been chilling on the corner of South Eighth Street and Washington Avenue, hiding in plain sight behind a Boost Mobile and Metro PCS.
Dreamgirl is easy to spot once you venture out of the Italian Market’s Ninth Street corridor, vibrantly flashing in contrast with her neighbors, a series of neutral-toned row-homes. This is not your typical Philadelphia mural.
She landed here from California, by way of Mexico.
Next to her heart-filled eyes hangs a banner reading “Tacos California,” and inside the taqueria is the key to her origin.
Chef Félipe Cabrera Martínez, a recent immigrant from Puebla, Mexico, opened his restaurant last summer. Randomly one day, he said, an artist walked in and asked if she could paint his exterior wall, which at the time was blank.
He agreed, but on one condition: “It needed one of my tacos.”
And not just any tacos. Martínez is one of the only people in Philly serving tacos de canasta. Translated as “tacos from a basket,” the dish is prevalent on the streets of Mexico City. Instead of being served open face, the tortillas are stuffed in advance, then sealed shut, creating something that looks like a Mexican version of a pierogi.
Though they’re tiny, their vivid taste hits with a spicy wallop. At Tacos California, the greasy delicacies come in chicharrón, pipián, adobo, papa, frijol and carne de res, and are highly recommended.
The artist — who turned out to be the famous West Coast painter Sand One — must’ve loved the tacos Martínez served her, too, because she agreed to the deal.
But when she was done her work, there was a slight snag.
“There was just one problem with the mural,” Martínez said. “She added a bike, and a rat with dollar-sign eyeballs — so I had to paint over them.”
Sure, easy to see why no restaurant owner would want a depiction of a rat longingly staring at his food, but what was the big deal about the bike?
“It made me sad,” Martínez explained, citing homesickness. “In Puebla, that’s how we sold these tacos…they’re typically sold on the streets in bicycle baskets.”
So no more bike on the bright orange wall. Just a dreamgirl — with a dream taco.
A platter of six goes for $7. If you love quirky street art as much as you love tacos, 1030 S. 8th St. is the place to be.