Philadelphia, PA

Chef Jennifer Zavala's Juana Tamale is now open on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia

Marilyn Johnson

Juana Tamale, the highly anticipated restaurant of Chef Jennifer Zavala, is officially open in South Philadelphia.

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Chef Jen Zavala opens Juana Tamale on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia.Courtesy: Juana Tamale

Juana Tamale is located at 1941 E. Passyunk Ave, the former spot of Fig & Olive, and has been completely transformed from its previous tenants. The restaurant specializes in take-away and made-to-order Mexican. Zavala promises that, although the lines will be very long, her staff is prepared to get everyone in and out in a timely fashion.

The name comes from the fact that Zavala is affectionately known as the “tamale lady,” around town from her days of selling tamales illegally from an old truck and her father’s pet name for her is “Juana.” Zavala says that her restaurant is a mix of SoCal meets SoPhl (South Philly). 

“The thing I love about Cali is that they are very much a renegade, street-food community. You can sell ANYTHING on the streets of SoCal (tamales, water ice, fresh fruit, etc..) There is no street food culture in Philly, but there IS a street culture HERE and I have the pleasure of marrying these two vibes together.” Zavala explained.

To make her street culture vision a reality in the restaurant, she hired local street artist, Lauren McFadden.

“I was very inspired by how loud the logo was, and once I saw how much Joy it brought Jen, I knew that I had complete freedom to be as bold as I dared to be,” said McFadden. “It’s like Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse meets Alice In Wonderland.”

Guests can expect Mexi-Cali style flavors inspired by her Mexican heritage. She also popularized the Birria Taco in Philadelphia many years ago before it became trendy.

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Menu items at Juana Tamale in South Philadelphia.Courtesy: Juana Tamale

The menu will feature the foods that helped build a cult-like following with her tamale pop-ups, including the birria tacos, birria ramen, vegan wings, and more.

Modifications of any kind are not allowed, and a 20% gratuity will be added to each check, which in return, will help support and provide a living wage for the staff.

Operating hours: Thursday 11 am to 5 pm, Friday 3 pm to 8 pm, and Saturday 4 pm to 9 pm. In the near future, Juana Tamale will open for “Guest Chef, Trap Brunch.” Zavala plans to have a guest-chef residency for these brunches, as a way to highlight other chefs in the city.

When asked about why opening this place means so much to her, Zavala says, “I’ve said yes to everything. From fetish field day, Oz Fest, to quinceaneras, to punk shows, to Firefly, and food was the center of those opportunities that brought me here today. All of my past experiences are in my food. This is a love letter to my life. This is my legacy, and I can’t wait to serve each and every one of you.”

Chef Jennifer Zavala is an industry veteran, having spent the past 14 of her 27 year career in Philadelphia. A self-taught chef, Jennifer's inspiration is drawn from her Mexican roots. Her career started in her home state of Connecticut, at a vegan macrobiotic restaurant. Zavala's authentic style of cooking earned her a spot cooking in the kitchens of celebrities, Ozzy Osbourne, Britney Spears, Iron Maiden, Snoop Dog and many more. Previous credits include, Cha Chas (Los Angeles) and in Philadelphia: El Camino Real, Xochitl, The Farmers Cabinet, Underground Arts and Will BYOB. Jennifer's star was on the rise, and included a stint on the 6th season on Bravo's popular cooking competition, Top Chef: Las Vegas. Accolades include, 2017 Billy Penn "Movers and Shakers," Best Cannabis Chef for Philly Mag, Best Tamales-Philly Current Magazine. Jennifer is a proud member of  Les Dames Escoffier, an international philanthropic organization. She is also a C.O.R.E ambassador for the Philadelphia region. Jennifer continues to blaze a trail for women by disrupting the food industry with her passion for Mexican cuisine.

Marilyn Johnson is a freelance food and travel writer covering the food and drink scene of Philadelphia, South Jersey, and beyond. Food news: phillygrub@gmail.com. Travel tips: phillygrubtrips@gmail.com.

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Marilyn Johnson is a Philadelphia area-based food and travel writer focusing on food & drink in the Mid-Atlantic region. Email phillygrub@gmail.com for Philly area news; phillygrubtrips@gmail.com for travel tips and opportunities.

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