Until four years ago, Katera Moore did not eat at Mexican restaurants. “Even if they have chicken tacos, I would be scared to death because of the pork,” said Moore, an urban geographer with a Ph.D. in earth and environmental studies and one of the roughly 150,000 Muslims living in Philadelphia. “And even if there’s no language barrier, somebody could just think you’re ridiculous. It’s really risky.”
Moore met Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller, the couple behind the acclaimed taqueria South Philly Barbacoa, at a food justice event at Philadelphia’s central library in 2015, “and Ben told me that the lamb that they serve was halal and that they really were keeping the lamb separate from the pork. So I took my family; it was great, and we became regulars. It was like, ‘Oh my god, more Muslims should know about this because it’s really, really good.’”
As an outspoken undocumented person, Martinez knows what it’s like to be part of a marginalized community, and speaking truth to power has been as much a part of the South Philly Barbacoa business plan as the otherworldly tacos. “It’s all been an intentional shift for the last seven years, trying to get to this point where our restaurant is inclusive and universal, and everybody can be on the same equal plane,” Miller said.
For the first time in the restaurant’s history, that’s truly the case. In the fall, South Philly Barbacoa stopped serving pork.
But wait. Didn’t you say their tacos are lamb?
They are, and it’s always been halal. Before it had a national reputation and lines out the door — and before Martinez, a native of Capulhuac, Mexico, was a James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic nominee and the star of a heart-rending “Chef’s Table” episode — South Philly Barbacoa was just a street cart, parked outside a Mexican bakery on the corner of South 8th and Watkins streets. This was 2014, and even from those early days, the lamb that Martinez wrapped in maguey leaves, steamed, chopped with a vicious cleaver, and pressed into warm tortillas was halal. At the time, the choice was less about inclusivity than…