Just One Dish: Enchipocladas at Frida Cantina
Chicken enchiladas made with a silky chipotle sauce you won’t find anywhere else in Philly — the story behind the dish, and why you should eat it ASAP.
Welcome to Just One Dish, a new Foobooz series where we write about an outstanding item on a Philly restaurant’s menu — the story behind the dish, how it’s made, and why you should be going out of your way to eat it.
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From birria destinations to fire-focused restaurants to tamale joints, Philly is full of amazing Mexican food in so many parts of the city. In fact, it’s possible your favorite Mexican restaurant could very well be the closest one to your house, never forcing you out of your neighborhood routine. Recently, though, I was reminded that walking a few blocks past my go-to restaurant is usually worth it: Enter the enchipocladas at Frida Cantina in South Philly.
I love everything about Frida Cantina. The big, comfortable wooden chairs. The Last Word made with mezcal, and the pineapple-cilantro margaritas. The Frida Kahlo-themed decor and the colorfully tiled bar that begs to be leaned on. The enchipocladas.
During my dinner here, I became irrevocably obsessed with this take on enchiladas. Frida Cantina’s enchipocladas adapt the classic dish, swathing three chicken-filled tortillas in a creamy, dreamy, tangy-spicy chipotle sauce. It reminded me a little of vodka sauce and a little of the very best tomato soup, but spicier and with a hint of smoke. This was unlike any enchilada I’d ever eaten before.
On this particular evening, the enchipocladas arrived at the table last, the final dish in a parade of delicious food. Within a minute or so, though, my friends and I had lost interest in everything else in front of us, and were now focused on sopping up sauce using any means necessary — the enchiladas themselves of course, but also corn tortilla chips, chunks of semi-congealed queso fundido, and our spoons.
As it turns out, the dish is one of owner Raul Castro’s signatures. “I don’t want to say that I invented it,” the Frida Cantina operator said when I called him the next day to ask him about the dish. “I’m sure there are places in Mexico where they make it, but it was something that I just came up with one day when I was playing around with ingredients. I’m pretty sure we are the only ones in Philly who serve it.”
Castro is from Puebla and grew up in Mexico City before he moved to Philadelphia. Six years ago, he opened Frida Cantina on Wolf Street in South Philly, and he’s been running his other restaurant, Plaza Garibaldi on Washington Avenue, for over 20 years. Castro says that enchipocladas and their creamy sauce were originally just a special at Plaza Garibaldi’s menu. Then Castro realized there was a steady contingent of guests who were coming in only for the dish.
The sauce for Castro’s enchipocladas is made in large batches by blending dried chipotle peppers, plum tomatoes, garlic and onions — at this point in the process he uses this base as a marinade for tinga de pollo, as well as to cook shrimp. The thing that seems to take it over the edge, though, is the addition of a little cream to the blender, which gives the sauce a silky texture and changes the color from bright red to a more mellow orange. This technique is influenced by enchiladas suizas — literally translated to “Swiss” enchiladas, where dairy is added to the sauce for a touch of creaminess. The name is an homage to the milk- and cheese-loving people of Switzerland, and the dish was created in the 1950s at Sanborns in Mexico City.
Since I first ate those enchipocladas, I’ve thought about them at least once a day. I’ve been back one more time to the restaurant to try them again. Sure, I’m a creature of habit, but those extra couple of blocks past my neighborhood Mexican spot certainly paid off – I’ll be making the walk again soon.
What: Enchipocladas, listed under the enchiladas section of the menu.
Where: Frida Cantina, 1000 Wolf Street
Share Them With: No one; or maybe two other people, since there are three enchiladas to an order.