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Upscale Mexican cuisine on East Passyunk

Photos by Mike Prince

In order to find authentic upscale Mexican cuisine, you could fly 10 hours and 2,400 miles to Mexico City.

Chef Alejandro Martín Sánchez is giving South Philadelphians a much better option to leap at starting on Leap Day.

On Feb. 29, Sánchez will begin an eight-week residency at Taco Heart, at 1001 E. Passyunk Ave., which is owned by Mount Airy native Nano Wheedan, who returned to the area after 15 years in Austin, Texas. Wheedan and his wife Carinne began giving away breakfast tacos made with hand-rolled tortillas in front of their house in East Passyunk, accepting only donations to The People’s Kitchen.

Wheedan’s Saturday morning pop-up spurred the need to open Taco Heart on East Passyunk Avenue in 2022. It notoriously attracted the eye and tastebuds of Sánchez, who said he left Tamaulipas, Mexico in 2017 out of his fear for his own life, with kidnapping being a serious issue for him personally.

Sánchez heard the buzz of Wheedan’s contributions to Mexican food.

“I couldn’t believe when I heard someone was making Tex-Mex tacos in Philadelphia with their own flour tortillas,” Sánchez said. “I went in with not-so-great expectations about it, but then I tried the tortillas and I got incredibly emotional because it reminded me of my childhood taco order that I ate with my father. It was refried beans with cheese and flour tortillas, and it made me want to talk to Nano. I left with love. That’s how we became friends.”

Just like that, a friendship and a business opportunity was born.

Sánchez’s dinner-only residency will run through April 20 and will take place Thursday through Saturday nights, with only a 6:30 p.m. seating during the first weekend. Moving forward, a 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seating will be offered for the remainder of the preview. The six-course, $110 (tax included) BYOB experiences will feature upscale, elevated cuisine resembling the fine dining approach, plating and style of some of the finest restaurants located in Mexico City and Oaxaca, Mexico.

The menu will change after the first month, allowing returning guests to get a whole new experience for the second half of the residency. The opening menu features squash chochoyote (masa dumplings) with uni, frijol and blanco; tostada of mussels, adobados, tangerine chutney, roe; smoked eggplant with chichilo negro and kefir; lobster with carrot tatemado and turmeric; mole anisado with shiso, plantain, café; and a dessert of guava, hibiscus, au jus, rose.

Two months can fly by, but Sánchez is hoping to extend his reach later this year as he is searching for a location to eventually open Mesona, which means table in Spanish. The 27-year-old chef, who most recently worked as the Executive Chef at Rittenhouse’s Mission Taqueria, is looking to open and operate a cozy, single 12-seat table, along with a few seats at a chef’s counter overlooking the kitchen.

When Mesona officially opens, it will operate as a BYOB, and Sánchez, being 18 months sober himself, plans to have an extensive non-alcoholic beverage program with pairing options. At both his residency and his restaurant, Sánchez will explain every course personally to diners each night, including ingredient descriptions as well as stories about the inspiration for the dishes. All produce for both will come from Riverwards Produce.

“Mesona is a word that is used for one single table, and for me, it’s about having one table bringing the community together,” Sánchez said. “It’s about making a space work that people can get together and share food with one another, which is so important. I want to do this while bringing something like Pujol to Philadelphia. Chef Enrique Olvera is an inspiration of mine, and I hope to bring a truly unique concept to this incredible food city.”

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