South Philly Barbacoa’s Café de Olla

Co-owners Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller

Photos by Tina Garceau

Having grown accustomed to hawking their Mexican meals in outdoor settings, first through placement within the Ninth Street Italian Market and then a spot on the 800 block of Watkins Street, Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller knew they would need an indoor spot to forge a sustainable model. Acquiring the comfort that comes with possessing a mailing address on July 4, 2015, the duo has displayed diligence and determination in offering delights through South Philly Barbacoa, 1703 S. 11th St.

“The food is really strong, so, regardless of location, I had a feeling that people would follow Cristina,” Miller said of his wife of five years. “We have something special and kind of unique here, so we’re thrilled that there’s been such a reaction to what we are doing here.”

Regard for the wares from the residents of the 1000 block of Morris Street has transformed the East Passyunk Crossing eatery from a weekend-only haunt to a daily space for tending to taco cravings, among other fixations. The couple’s labors of love, notably cooking meat overnight and opening at 5 a.m. for the weekend crowd, have garnered national recognition, too, as Bon Appétit Magazine last week placed the 34-seat haven on its 50 Best New Restaurants list.

“That’s an amazing honor for us, and we’re looking to refine everything and make it all a bit better, but that distinction won’t bring any added pressure,” Miller, an Easton native with an impressive record of Philadelphia employment, said of how he and his bride, a product of Capulhuac, Mexico, intend to grow as community presences. “We just want to serve amazing barbacoa and contribute to the positive vibe around here.”

Encountering diversity among their clientele has reinforced for the owners that they cannot be only food suppliers, and they have shown that aiding families matters as much as feeding them by advocating for immigrants’ rights. As the former activity becomes more fervent within their hearts, Martinez and Miller are proud to accentuate the levity that the latter endeavor brings, with their decision to share their Cafe de Olla recipe as a token of their appreciation.

“There’s the temptation, especially with our name, to think we are one-dimensional, but we obviously had to have coffee here to contribute to the relaxed feel that we want here,” Miller, whose establishment’s use of rotating art displays enhances the pleasant atmosphere, said. “Cafe de Olla doesn’t require an excessive amount of effort, and it will still be good the next day and as ice coffee. It’s just a really delicious choice.”


7 ounces of coffee beans

8 liters of water

a large stick of Mexican cinnamon

1/2 of an orange peel

Brown sugar cane (piloncillo)


Grind the beans, and add them, the cinnamon, and the peel to the water. Let simmer for five minutes, and allow to rest for five more minutes. With equal parts water and sugar, heat until the sugar dissolves, and add to the coffee. ■

South Philly Barbacoa

Owners: Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller

Opened: July 4, 2015

1703 S. 11th St.