Whenever you take a train to the end of its line, there’s something a little spooky about it, in a “final destination” kind of way. You’re delivered to the terminal station, which is at a street that’s a dozen or two above the ones you normally frequent, and you have to disembark. When you do this on the Market-Frankford Line, taking it all the way up through the heart of West Philadelphia and into the outskirts of Upper Darby, there’s a bridge to cross outside of the station, and a street up which you must wind in order to reach your ultimate goal.
Once outside the safe realm of Philly’s grid system and into the world of unexpected curves and off-shooting alleys, it always gets a little dangerous. A little weird. You need someone to show you the way, and a good reason to have gone through all the trouble.
But if you’re up for a trip past your usual haunts and outside your comfort zone, and if you’re in the mood for cheap, authentic Mexican food and pitchers of margaritas, Don Memo Mexican Restaurant is your all the reason you need.
This hole-in-the-wall undoubtedly developed its initial following of fervent college students because of its University City-located Tacos Don Memo food truck, which preceded the brick and mortar iteration that mobs of students now flock to every weekend. The cheap and delicious food truck fare finds itself consistently well-translated at the restaurant (affectionately called Don Memo’s by anyone in the know), but that alone can’t solely account for its success. Indeed, the popularity of this little place is astounding. I once came with a group of friends at 7pm and then hopped tables to join a different set of friends when they arrived for their 9 o’clock reservation. With all of the BYOs in the city to choose from, two separate social circles had made reservations that night for Memo’s, which speaks to its drawing power–among shoestring-budget college students, at least.
Still, the bring-your-own-tequila margaritas, served in salted, multicolored, mismatched margarita glasses, don’t hurt either. (Pro tip: ask your server to bring the pitcher and mix out to your table and add in the tequila yourself to taste.) And neither does the delicious guacamole, made tableside and served with crispy chips, or the vivid ambiance. The place is narrow, painted lime green, and easily filled, creating a boisterously energetic environment. It’s furnished with tables for two that combine banquet-style to accommodate larger parties; two big groups can fit in the restaurant at a time, and they specifically take reservations only on the odd hours to make sure that you’re not unduly rushed. Go early and you’ll usually find a smattering of professionals and locals at the counter that overlooks the kitchen or in front by the windows. Go late and the demographic skews younger. And drunker.
In general, a successful BYO will find the intersection of three points: affordability, accessibility, and reservability (meaning that, when you walk in with 15 of your best friends, you don’t have to wait forty-five minutes to sit down). Philly is a BYO city without question, but the options for people on a budget (especially a college student’s) tend to dwindle down to variations on Asian cuisine.
But when you’re ready to break out of the Banana Leaf box (and the boxed wine that usually goes along with it), a trip uptown for Memo’s and margaritas is what’s required.
57 Garrett Rd., Upper Darby