PHLReview

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

Juana Tamale review image
8.4

Juana Tamale

$$$$

1941 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia
Earn 3X Points

Juana Tamale is a true test of strategy, as this East Passyunk taqueria is only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Not only that, but the BYOB serves the best birria tacos in town. So when you plan a trip, you’ll be fighting two battles: plotting to secure your order before everything sells out, and getting a spot at one of the few tables in the dining room. And if you're doing takeout, there's the added challenge of resisting the urge to rip open the bag before walking out the front door.

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PHL Guide

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Aside from some rotating specials like homemade choco tacos, cheesesteaks with jalapeños, and Frito pie quesadillas dripping in crema, the tight menu mostly involves birria (both tacos and ramen, and beef-based or vegan). If you order those, you’ll be hit with a consomme that has spice, savoriness, and a deep onion flavor. It’s so perfect that we fantasize about being doused in this broth via one of those fancy rainforest shower heads that Oprah probably owns.

The tamales are also a draw, hence the name of the shop. The large parcels of soft masa dough are stuffed with things like tender strips of stewed beef, refritos, onions, and chilies, but we've also seen creative renditions made up of smoked yam, kale, and hot dogs. And just like the tacos and ramen, they’re available vegan-style, which means Juana Tamale is an ideal place to bring anyone to make a glorious birria-dipping session the start—or highlight—of your weekend. 

Juana Tamale review image

photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: EMILY SCHINDLER

Even though the dining room only has just a few four- and two-seater tables, the space has its own charm that will make you want to stick around. With dark curves running along the walls and an overload of bright pink paint, it has a punky Hot Topic feel, only in Barbie’s go-to shade. If you’re lucky enough to grab a seat, you’ll be surrounded by plants, gold-framed mirrors, bass fish dangling from the ceiling, and a neon-lit dancing alien clinging to the walls. And if the dining room's full, know that the birria tastes just as great to go.

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PHL Guide

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When you stop by, plan to show up within the first two hours that they’re open—especially on Saturdays, and especially if you want a shot at anything birria-related. Your strategy for how to make it home without reaching into the bag for a taco on the way? We leave that up to you.

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Food Rundown

Juana Tamale review image

photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: EMILY SCHINDLER

Birria Tacos

At $21, these tacos are pretty pricey. But you get three in one order, and they’re about as big as your hand. The corn tortillas get a boost of flavor from the skimmed fat they’re cooked in, the beef is juicy and tender, and the tortilla edges are so crispy that they can survive endless consomme dips without losing their texture.

Birria Ramen

The moment you dive into this ramen, you’ll want to take a picture of it to capture a moment that’s right up there with buying your puppy or witnessing the 2008 Phillies World Series victory. The cup is flowing with heaps of noodles, queso, stewed beef, green onions, and their savory consomme.

Juana Tamale review image

photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: EMILY SCHINDLER

Tamale

Long sleeves of masa that are peppery, big enough for two, and if you’re fortunate enough to get one before they sell out, go for it. Both the meat and vegan options can rotate when it comes to flavors, but you’ll likely find a beef version on the menu. When it comes to the vegan options, the doughy pockets can be packed with kale, sweet potatoes, or tender bits of seitan.

Juana Tamale review image

photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: EMILY SCHINDLER

Vegan Wings

We keep talking about all things beef, but know that there are some good vegan options here, too. These seitan wings are one of them, glazed in buffalo, chili-honey, or sweet Thai-chili sauce. They have a subtle burn, and are crispy enough that you can hear a slight crackle when you bite into them.

Churros

Some people’s love languages are slow jams from Joe or Usher, or flowers for no reason. Ours? These crispy churros, packed with fillings like dulce de leche, vegan chocolate, guava, or cheesecake. They’re super warm, and have the brown sugar and cinnamon balance down to a science—the best in town for sure.

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