We intended to hit up Steven Starr's Ranstead Room, the speakeasy-esque cocktail bar, immediately after work for pre-dinner drinks, but it turns out that Ranstead Room doesn't open until 7 p.m. Ranstead Room, apparently, is best for post-dinner drinks if you take your dinner early like I do.
That's cool, because we saved, like, a gazillion dollars by skipping Ranstead Room's pricey drinks when we settled for the happy hour at El Rey.
El Rey is Ranstead Room's adjoining Mexican restaurant that's been all Stephen Starr-bedazzled with colorful, kitchy paintings and posters. Yeah, Starr really lucked into the retro bones of the Midtown Diner that formerly occupied the space at 2013 Chestunut St. for this roadhouse Mexican-themed restaurant. The serpentine Formica-topped bar, and arched alcoves behind the bar could not have been improved on, and thank goodness Starr kept them.El Rey's "uno, dos, tres, quatro happy hour" runs Monday through Friday from 5 p.m to 6:30 p.m. Steak, chicken, fish, cheese, and veggie tacos are $1. Tecates are $2. Coronas are $3. House margaritas are $4.House margaritas are on par with most bars and restaurants. The salt crystals on the salted rim were unpleasantly boulder-sized.
We got a platter of fish, cheese, and veggie tacos. The fish-eater declared the fish, and the fish taco in general, bland. Much better were the cheese and veggie tacos. A rectangular slab of mild cheese was the centerpiece of the cheese taco, but the pickled vegetables added a zing. The vegetable tacos with sauteed mushrooms, pickled onion, and carrots were the most flavorful of the bunch, and, if I had to do it again, I'd order all vegetable tacos.
The tacos are pretty small — about 3 to 4-inch diameter corn tortilla shells — so these tacos are priced right at $1.
So, for the price of one drink at the Ranstead Room, you can have three or four happy hour margaritas at El Rey. Win! And, for much less than the price of an entree you can have a whole platter of tacos. Win!
As for the regular menu? I've heard some dishes are great, but others are duds. We only tried one dish from the regular menu, and came up losers.Chilaquiles is a Mexican dish that makes the best use of stale, day-old tortillas by frying them, and simmering the fried tortillas in sauce until softened. El Rey's version were still crisp and whole, more like nachos covered with salsa verde and two fried eggs. Not inedible, but these are not the soft chilaquiles I'm used to.
So . . . happy hour at El Rey is a yay! Just know that if you're getting off work and are around the corner from 20th and Chestnut.
2013 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19103