Just one dish: Enchipocladas at Frida Cantina
Chicken enchiladas made with a silky chipotle sauce you won’t find anywhere else in Philadelphia – the story behind the dish and why you should eat it ASAP.
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From birria destinations to fire-focused restaurants to tamale joints, Philly is packed with incredible Mexican fare in many parts of the city. In fact, your favorite Mexican restaurant may be closest to you, without ever forcing you out of the routine of your neighborhood. Recently, however, I was reminded that walking a few blocks past my go-to restaurant is usually worth it: step into enchipocladas at Frida Canteen in South Philadelphia.
I love everything about Frida Cantina. Large comfortable wooden chairs. The last word in mezcal and pineapple-cilantro margaritas. The Frida Kahlo-themed decor and the colorfully tiled bar just begs to be propped up. Enchipocladas.
During my dinner here, I became irrevocably obsessed with this version of enchiladas. Frida Cantina’s enchipocladas adapt the classic dish, wrapping three chicken-stuffed tortillas in a creamy, dreamy, and tangy-spicy chipotle sauce. It reminded me a bit of vodka sauce and a bit of the best tomato soup, but spicier and with a hint of smoke. It was unlike any enchilada I had ever eaten before.
That evening, the enchipocladas arrived at the table last, the last course in a parade of delicious dishes. Within about a minute, however, my friends and I had lost interest in everything in front of us and were now focused on the sauce using any means necessary – the enchiladas themselves of course, but also corn tortilla chips, pieces of semi-frozen queso fundido, and our spoons.
Turns out the dish is one of owner Raul Castro’s signature dishes. “I don’t want to say I made it up,” Frida Cantina’s operator said when I called him the next day to ask about the dish. “I’m sure there are places in Mexico where they make it, but it’s something I found one day while playing around with the ingredients. I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones in Philadelphia serving it.
Castro is originally from Puebla and grew up in Mexico City before moving to Philadelphia. Six years ago he opened Frida Cantina on Wolf Street in South Philly, and he runs his other restaurant, Place Garibaldi on Washington Avenue for over 20 years. Castro says enchipocladas and their creamy sauce were originally just a menu specialty at Plaza Garibaldi. Then Castro realized that there was a regular contingent of guests who only came for the dish.
The sauce for Castro’s enchipocladas is made in large batches by mixing together dried chipotle peppers, plum tomatoes, garlic and onions – at this point in the process he uses this base as a marinade for the tinga de pollo, as well only to cook shrimp. The thing that seems to take over, however, is the addition of a little cream to the mixer, which gives the sauce a silky texture and changes the color from bright red to a softer orange. This technique is influenced by enchiladas suizas – literally translated as “Swiss” enchiladas, where dairy products are added to the sauce for a touch of creaminess. The name is a tribute to Swiss milk and cheese lovers, and the dish was created in the 1950s at Sanborns in Mexico City.
Ever since I first ate these enchipocladas, I’ve thought about it at least once a day. Went back to the restaurant once again to try them again. Sure, I’m a creature of habit, but those few extra blocks past my neighborhood Mexican spot definitely paid off – I’ll be doing the walk again soon.
What: Enchipocladas, listed in the enchiladas section of the menu.
Where: Frida Cantina, 1000 Wolf Street
Share them with: Nobody; or maybe two more people, since there are three enchiladas to one order.