At South Philly Barbacoa, Guest Chefs Are Taking Over the Kitchen in a Series of Summer Pop-Ups


The celebrated Mexican restaurant doubles as a community hub, lending its space to chef friends and activists

by Rachel Vigoda@RachelVigoda  

Five nights a week, the kitchen sits empty at South Philly Barbacoa. Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller’s famed taqueria in the Italian Market serves only Saturday and Sunday, from 5 a.m. until the barbacoa and tortillas sell out. But why have an empty kitchen when Martinez and Miller know so many chefs who want to cook?

Throughout the summer, they plan to lend the space to their chef friends, many of whom they know through their activist work centered around immigration reform, for three- and four-night pop-ups.

“The space is available, and it’s an opportunity to help people out,” says Miller, who has already been providing the restaurant for periodic one-night pop-ups throughout the pandemic, hosting chefs like Omar Tate. But it’s a lot of work to do for a single dinner service. “You have to go shopping, get the ingredients, prep the sauces, set up — and some chefs are driving down from New York,” Miller says. “It made more sense to do at least three days.”

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