PHILADELPHIA — On a sticky day in late June, Margarita Jeronimo and Aaron del Rosario threw a feast on a picnic table outside Rosario’s, their restaurant on a quiet corner in South Philadelphia. The procession started with tamarind and hibiscus aguas frescas, followed by tortilla chips and hand-painted bowls filled with green and red salsas, and finally pizza.
Rosario’s signature pies — built on leavened dough, but swapping tomato sauce for a base of black bean puree or tomatillo, guajillo pepper, or mole sauces — feel like a tribute to the convergence of South Philadelphia’s deeply rooted Italian population and, since the 1990s, a thriving Mexican population.
This is what the owners call Mexican pizza, an expression that to many Americans evokes either the Taco Bell menu item (tostadas stacked and shelled with meat, beans, and cheese) or the taco pizza, a Midwestern novelty pie that has a hard crust. shell deconstructs taco on a firm pizza base. Rosario’s is part of a new generation of Latino-owned pizzerias in the United States that are creating a pizza style all their own.
“The fact is, Mexican chefs can prepare any food because they’ve done it,” said Steven Alvarez, an associate professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City, who teaches a taco literacy course on transnational Mexican foodways.
Growing up in Mexico City and Puebla, Ms. Jeronimo and Mr. Del Rosario created their hybrid recipes to appeal to customers — and to stay in business. The couple opened a Mexican restaurant in 2011, selling tacos and quesadillas in a neighborhood then populated by elderly, non-Latino residents who had different expectations of what Mexican food should be.
“People were coming in and asking for hard shell tacos,” Del Rosario said.
“For people to try new things it takes time,” said Ms. Jeronimo. “But everyone loves cheese pizza.” The pair added a traditional pizza, which attracted customers.
But they also experimented with ingredients from the tacos and quesadillas, leading to their first three Mexican pizzas: al pastor, carnitas and the Mexicana, with tomatillo sauce, chorizo, roasted poblanos, corn and fresh avocado. Today, these three are among the most popular of the 14 Mexican-style pies and more than a dozen classic pizzas.
Just a few blocks south, San Lucas Pizzeria has been selling Mexican pies since a few months after opening in 2005 — like their pizza carnitas with guajillo sauce, pork, mozzarella, and cilantro. Valentin Palillero, who owns the store with his wife Eva Mendez, worked for years and ran pizzerias before opening his restaurant, named after the town in Puebla where the couple grew up. Although he had a solid business selling cheese and pepperoni pies, he also wanted a signature pizza.
“My parents wanted that unique selling point that would make them stand out, but also bring their community back and feel identified,” said his daughter Jacquelyn Palillero, who worked at the restaurant as a teenager and is now a pastry chef at three Stephen Starr restaurants. . Her father “wanted to keep the nostalgic feel of a taco,” she said.
Free samples of the Mexican pizzas helped to gain followers. “Customers would ask for a cheese or deluxe pizza, and he would send a slice of these pizzas,” said Ms. Palillero. “People would call back that same day and be raving about it.”
In February, Mr. Carlos Gomez taco selling Mexican pies, with homemade ingredients like salsa verde (a recipe he honed by watching YouTube videos), birria that he stew in large pots, boiled beans and a pizza dough he makes with his own ratio of three different flours. It should be thick enough, he said, to support heavy toppings like chicken in mole sauce or sliced steak and caramelized onions.
Mr. Gomez, who immigrated from the Mexican state of Hidalgo, worked for a Philadelphia pizzeria inspired by various cuisines, but opened Mr. Taco to highlight his heritage. “I want to become famous in my own restaurant with Mexican food,” he said.
The range of Mexican pizzas can be found all over the country. New York City is home to countless restaurants serving both Italian and Mexican cuisine. “One of the best places to get tamales in Jackson Heights is a pizza place,” says Dr. Alvarez, the English professor who lives in Queens. He said many of these Mexican-Italian restaurants will make custom pizzas using ingredients from their taco menus.
On the West Coast, Asada Pizza opened in 2020 in Sylmar, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, selling pizzas with ingredients like birria, or chicken, jalapeño, and mole. And in Washington, DC, the pandemic prompted chef and restaurateur Alfredo Solis, along with his sister and co-owner Jessica Solis, to add Mexican pizza to their Anafre restaurant, which opened in late 2019 with a focus on seafood.
“It was hard to sell fish,” Mr. Solis said, so he turned and offered brick oven pizza, with ingredients such as Oaxaca cheese (instead of mozzarella), roast pork, and pineapple, atop a tomato sauce made with chili de arbol and chipotle. “I pretty much turned my tacos into pizza,” says Mr. Solis, who grew up in Mexico City.
dr. Alvarez said that even with the relatively recent innovations, Mexican pizza can be traced to any pizzeria where a Mexican worked in the kitchen.
“Every pizza place was a Mexican pizza place thanks to the people who made the pizza,” he said.