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[Phil Leff/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

There are many oft-heard complaints about the city of Philadelphia.

There's the tap water, the lack of good pizza, the high taxes, the inefficiency of SEPTA and the lack of good Mexican restaurants.

Las Cazuelas
426 W. Girard Ave. (215) 351-9144 Fare: Mexican Citysearch‹¨«s national ‹¨«Best Mexican Restaurant‹¨« just a subway ride away.
While the other complaints may have their merits, one visit to Las Cazuelas will shatter the last.

A recent winner of Citysearch's national "Best Mexican Restaurant" competition, Las Cazuelas sits unassumingly on Girard Avenue near Fourth Street, a short five-block walk from the Girard station of the Market-Frankford El. Its location, however, gives few clues as to just how good the restaurant is.

Inside the cozy space, I was greeted by pale yellow walls and fresh roses on each table. Traditional Mexican music played over the speakers, and the eight-lane asphalt of Girard Avenue receded into a mere memory.

For an appetizer, my companion and I shared the ensalada de nopalitos ($6.50), a very light and refreshing mixture of marinated cactus leaves, mixed greens and avocado.

A bottled non-alcoholic Mexican sangria made an excellent accompaniment for our appetizers, though my companion and I both agreed that a little rum would have been ideal. Though Las Cazuelas is a BYOB, a state liquor store is located about three blocks away.

For a main course, I ordered the chuletas tentacion ($12), a tender porkchop topped with a smoky chile sauce and a thin coat of melted oaxaca cheese. My companion's mole enchiladas ($12.95) had all the hallmarks of great mole -- rich and dark, with the slightest hints of chili heat. Both were extraordinarily flavorful without being overpowering.

For dessert, I had the pastel de tres leches, a spongy cake almost tiramisu-like in its moistness. My companion had the less traditional "dark side of the moon," a rather plain but nonetheless tasty chocolate cake.

Overall, the medley of delicate flavors at Las Cazuelas was a refreshing change from the sour cream, melted cheese and overpowering canned spiciness that passes for much of the Mexican cooking to be found in Philadelphia.

While the 20-minute subway ride to Girard Avenue should not be a problem for anyone but the most vehemently immobile, the owners of Las Cazuelas have also opened up another location -- with a liquor license -- at the corner of Second and Bainbridge streets.

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