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Distrito is a popular Mexican restaurant located at the corner of 40th and Chestnut streets. Credit: Samantha Turner

The top chef of Distrito, a popular Mexican restaurant located by Penn's campus, recently launched a new marketplace that offers prepared and ready-to-cook specialty items and groceries. 

On Oct. 17, Distrito's chef-proprietor, Jose Garces, launched La Bodega, located inside of Distrito at 40th and Chestnut streets. The new marketplace offers nearly 100 items of prepared and packaged foods, according to a Distrito press release. It also offers cheeses, raw and cooked meats, and sauces, such as salsa verde and chipotle honey. 

The marketplace also sells fully equipped meal boxes, which include all the necessary ingredients and recipes to create Mexican-inspired meals at home. Some of the meal boxes offered include the Chicken Ropa Box and the Rarnitas Box. 

Garces mentioned the Party Apps Box in particular, which contains all the ingredients needed to make salsa, guacamole, and hot queso at home. He said that the sauces offered at La Bodega, such as chipotle thousand island, chipotle honey, and salsa verde, are “fantastic, really simple sauces that provide a lot of flavor.”

Customers can order La Bodega items online and pick them up at the physical store.

“When you walk in, you’ll see Mexican candy, chips, Mexican sodas, some candles, and other merchandise,” Garces said. 

Garces also recently installed a takeout window so that customers who do not feel comfortable entering La Bodega can pick up their orders from outside. He will also be installing a drink rail on the 40th Street side of the establishment.

Garces, who holds the title of Iron Chef, opened Distrito in 2008. Winner of the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic” award in 2009, Garces owns and operates a dozen restaurants, eight of which are located in Philadelphia.

The restaurant was forced to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, which was partially the inspiration for La Bodega, Garces said.

“We decided to really invest in takeout and delivery,” Garces said. “That’s something that we really wanted to put an emphasis on, knowing that it was going to be a big part of our business model going forward.” 

Distrito also opened its courtyard for outdoor patio dining, for which guests can make reservations. But Garces also decided to further expand options for customers by opening the La Bodega marketplace for those who don't feel safe eating at the restaurant.

“Our current environment is asking people to eat at home,” Garces said. “There aren’t as many dining opportunities as we had before, and so I really started to think about, how do I get my product to people who may not feel comfortable coming into the restaurant?” 

La Bodega plans to have a delivery service by the end of the year, if not sooner, Garces said. 

“We are trying to make our mark on the community. During this time, we’re doing everything we can to provide services, great food, and delicious items. We’re excited about the future of the restaurant,” Garces said. 

“I’m hoping that people really take advantage of it and really make their mealtime more fun, exciting, and easier,” Garces said.