Taste the Traditions: Eastern Pa.’s Top Hispanic Eateries for Authentic Cuisine, Groceries, and More

Taste the Traditions: Eastern Pa.’s Top Hispanic Eateries for Authentic Cuisine, Groceries, and More

Photo courtesy of Mike Prince for Visit Philadelphia

By Kalena Thomhave

September 14, 2023

With a bulk of Pennsylvania’s Hispanic population residing in and around cities like Reading, Hazleton, and Allentown, it’s no wonder the eastern part of the commonwealth features so many great eateries known for dishes created and inspired by generations of immigrants and their families.

Pennsylvania’s Hispanic population has increased significantly in recent years, especially in the eastern part of the state. In Reading, 69% of residents are Hispanic or Latino. In Hazleton, it’s 63%, and 54% in Allentown. 

Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month to honor immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and their descendents, recognizing how Hispanic Americans have made the US a better and more diverse place. And one way to celebrate Hispanic Americans and their culture is through food. And there’s no shortage of great options in eastern Pa. 

We’ve put together a list of 10 eastern Pa. food destinations that you can visit throughout Hispanic Heritage Month — or any time during the year — to partake in flavors created and inspired by generations of immigrants and their families. Whether you’re looking for dinner, sweets, drinks, or traditional groceries to make your own dishes, you’ll find what you crave within this list.

Taqueria Comālli – West Reading

Taqueria Comālli is a community favorite. The family-owned business promises fresh and local ingredients in its food, which makes sense because the taqueria is clearly committed to tradition: comālli is the Nahuatl (a traditional language of southern and central Mexico) word for an earthenware griddle used to make tortillas.

At Taqueria Comālli, you can choose tacos with fillings like the usual suspects (chicken, chorizo, mushrooms, etc.) as well as nopal (cactus) and lengua (beef tongue). But the taqueria serves even more than tacos—you can also fill up on burritos, nachos, made-to-order bowls, quesadillas, and fresh guacamole and salsa.

El Jalisco Mexican Store – Reading 

Perhaps you sometimes want to cook your own Latino food. If so, you can pick up groceries at Reading’s El Jalisco Mexican Store, which sells traditional Mexican foods — as well as Dominican and Guatemalan foods — at fair prices. For instance, you can forgo the Tostitos salsa and get better salsa at El Jalisco. Or visit the packaged cookie aisle, picking up whatever strikes your fancy, such as cookies covered with colorful marshmallows (like Sponch cookies). But if you’d rather someone else do the cooking, El Jalisco also operates as a taqueria (taco shop) and a panadería (bakery).

Sweets Grill & More – Allentown 

Sweets Grill & More, run by a mother and her sons, sets up shop at the Allentown Farmers Market held at the Allentown Fairgrounds. Some of the first things you’ll see when approaching the vendor stand are large signs that read “Home Made Mexican.” And fresh, homemade Mexican food is exactly what Sweets Grill & More serves. Head to the farmers market when it’s open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, to pick up delicacies like empanadas, guacamole, quesadillas, tamales, salads, and much more.

Mar y Tierra Restaurant – Allentown

This restaurant’s specialty is all in the name: “Mar y Tierra” means “sea and land,” and indeed, you’ll be treated to a wide variety of Dominican dishes made with seafood as well as meats at Allentown’s Mar y Tierra Restaurant. If you’ve had Puerto Rican food before, some of the foods at Mar y Tierra may seem similar—both cuisines, after all, are influenced by the Caribbean Sea. Try the classic mofongo, a garlicky plantain dish served plain or with your choice of meat or cheese, and pair it with a sweet but tart (and virgin) piña colada.

Cuquita – Fountain Hill

You can take a break from more widely available Mexican food, and try some Colombian food at Cuquita, located between Allentown and Bethlehem in Fountain Hill. This restaurant serves a variety of traditional Colombian foods, whether they’re served at breakfast (like arepas de huevos, or corn cakes stuffed with egg) or lunch and dinner (like meats from the grill served with plantains and cassava). Cuquita also serves homemade juice drinks made with tropical fruits, many that are hard to find elsewhere, like our personal favorite: guanábana, which you may know as soursop.

Panadería Las Américas – Bethlehem

There may be several incredible places to get tacos in the Lehigh Valley, but Panadería Las Américas is the rare Latino bakery in the area. Pick up some pan dulce, a sweet bread with a crispy and sugary topping, or an authentic slice of tres leches, the popular milk-soaked sponge cake.

La Perla Tapatia – Easton

La Perla Tapatia, a family-run restaurant beloved by the Easton community, has a name inspired by Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco. “Tapatio” or “Tapatia” is a colloquial word used to associate something with Guadalajara or its state, Jalisco. “La Perla Tapatia” can be understood to mean, then, “the Tapatian Pearl.” And much of the foods served at La Perla Tapatia are indeed culinary gems associated with Guadalajara, like the famous birria, available in tacos or as a stew. You can also order a bevy of other popular Mexican meals, like tortas, tacos, burritos, flautas, enchiladas, empanadas, and more.

Bar Bombón – Philadelphia

Inspired by owner Nicole Marquis’ Puerto Rican heritage, Bar Bombón serves up Puerto Rican food with a plant-based twist. This all-vegan eatery in Center City features homemade tortillas and traditional margaritas alongside “fish” tacos made with hearts of palm and Philly “cheesesteak” empanadas. The restaurant is open late, at which time you’ll quickly learn the tequila and rum cocktails are expertly crafted and the vegan nachos with chorizo spiced “beef” rival any others.

Cantina La Martina – Philadelphia

Chef Dionicio Jimenez has earned a number of accolades, including a James Beard Award nomination, for the food that he’s cooked at some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia. His story is that of an immigrant, as Jimenez’s first restaurant job was in his hometown of Puebla, Mexico. The food he now serves is still inspired by his Mexican heritage. The Kensington neighborhood’s Cantina La Martina, which opened last year, is the first restaurant Jimenez started by himself. You can order fresh, inventive meals like showstopping aguachile, seasonal ceviche, and classic chips, salsa, and guacamole.

Juana Tamale – Philadelphia

This East Passyunk Mexican restaurant, which came out of a tamale pop-up of the same name, was recently named one of the 50 best restaurants in Philadelphia in the 2023 edition of the annual Philadelphia Magazine list. Juana Tamale is small but loud with color and often features long lines. What keeps diners coming back to those long lines is everything on the rather large menu, which includes options for breakfast (e.g., breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos), Sunday Brunch (e.g., horchata pancakes), as well as lunch and dinner (e.g., birria ramen, vegan tamales, Mexican pizzas, and an array of Mexican comfort food).

 

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