From the Magazine: El Rey Reviewed

Stephen Starr’s Mexican revamp of the old Midtown IV diner is hot, but is it spicy?

The September issue of the Philly mag features the first reviews from our new restaurant critic Trey Popp, who we introduced you to in July. In addition to a new reviewer, we’ve also instituted a new rating system. Restaurants will now be rated on a four-star scale: Four stars signifies an “extraordinary” restaurant, three stars is “excellent,” two stars is “good,” one star is “fair” and no stars is “poor.”

First up: El Rey, Stephen Starr’s Mexican restaurant, cheffed by Dionicio Jimenez, formerly of Xochitl. Here’s an excerpt of what Popp thought of the spot …

What better way to signal that a dingy hole-in-the-wall isn’t what it used to be, which in this case was the Midtown IV Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge? Although much of the interior actually still is the grotty diner: Beneath a checkerboard of beige acoustical ceiling tiles, the same scalloped lunch counter sits above the same old floor, and wood-veneer booths jut out from the original faux-stone walls. Decorative updates – wildly mismatched ceiling lamps, exuberantly clashing colors, a ribald assortment of prison pencil drawings, classic Mexican movie posters and Tijuana flea-market art – cap off this outré aesthetic like a trucker hat worn for winks. It all gives El Rey the atmosphere of a Mexican border bar. Or a seamy Steak and Ale.

Perhaps the difference is slim. Either way, it’s a new look for Starr, and a testament to how far Philadelphia’s Mexican dining scene has come. In 2003, when El Vez opened, it took a rotating gold-plated low-rider bicycle and roving guacamole stations to lure Center City into having fish tacos for dinner. Now we can be trusted to order corn-smut quesadillas under a portrait of a hardened felon fingering a chain-link fence.

Click here to read the full El Rey review online.

Popp also checked out Alex Capasso’s new Collingswood, NJ restaurant, West Side Gravy. Read that review by clicking here.