At the corner of 4th and Popular in Northern Liberties, is a colorful cafe bustling with an early morning coffee crowd and a fair amount of customers who linger throughout the day enjoying delicious Latin cuisine while reading the newspaper or typing away on their laptop computers. We stumbled upon Cafe Chismosa on accident, but boy are we glad we did.
We were intrigued to discover this BYO Latin inspired cafe is owned by Jugo Stevcic, a former International DJ. Born in Mexico City, he gained the majority of his knowledge watching the great chefs on television and reading the cookbooks of Ming Tsai, Mario Batali, and Emeril Lagasee. “My mom’s Argentine, my dad’s Yugoslav Serbian and I was born in Mexico – figure that one out.” His passion for music and food only grew as he got older. After graduating college in 1996, he left for the UK to spend time working with music. “You could go out every night, I came back here and really wanted to get into it.”
Upon returning to Philly, he DJ’d at venues like The 700 Club, Fluid, The Latest Dish, and Silk City Diner. In 2002, Stevcic began working for Supper owner Mitch Prensky, who was then running only his catering company, Global Dish. In 2009 with the help of his younger brother Gregory, a Boston-based chef, he acquired a modest cafe space and opened Cafe Chismosa in 2012. “Chismosa” is spanish slang for gossipy woman.
The menu at Cafe Chismosa is “Latin, without adhering to any strict rules”. The space demanded creativity since it’s not zoned for an exhaust hood, there is no grilling possible unless done outdoors. Don’t be dsicouraged, the food here is not lacking in flavor. Jugo even has his own line of homemade hot sauces for you to spice up your meal or purchase and take home. Order them online through Philly Foodworks.
Start off your morning with Rival Bros. Coffee, some cappuccino art, or their signature drinks: a Coconut Cubano or Coco Frio (like an Americano with coconut milk). We loved the OJ, Spinach, and Ginger Smoothie which perfectly balanced healthy and sweet.
No matter what time of day you’ll also enjoy the homemade Classic Guacamole with Tortilla Chips. Be sure to check out the cafe’s daily specials. We loved the Breakfast Tamal with sweet corn tortilla tamal on top of chipotle black beans topped with a fried egg, drizzled with chile de arbol salsa verde, and a sprinkle of cotija cheese. Of course they’ve also got killer Huevos Rancheros with two eggs sunny side up, served on a corn tortilla with chile de arbol salsa verde and your choice of chipotle black beans or chorizo and white beans.
If you aren’t one for eggs, try the Ancho BBQ Braised Beef Short Rib Quesadilla with goat and monterrey jack cheese, truffle crema, and side baby arugula salad. This quesadilla was one of the best we’ve had in the city! The Chilaquiles is also served with or without fried egg on top of chipotle chicken over crispy tortilla chips, bathed in chile de arbol salsa verde garnished with lettuce, sour cream, pickled onion, and cotija cheese served with a side of black beans.
For lunch time we also recommend the El Gringo Grilled Cheese with queso chihuahua, avocado, tomato, pickled onion. We like to dip it in a variety of their homemade hot sauces. It’s not greasy or too heavy, so you don’t feel like you have a rock in the bottom of your stomach for the rest of the day. One of their specials was the Sloppy Jose. Just like a Sloppy Joe, this “Mexican Cousin” tasted like taco meat on a roll, and there is absolutely no way we wouldn’t love it.
If you don’t have time to sit down and eat we’d recommend grabbing a Mexican soda, homemade scone, or Paleta for the hot summer days! These homemade popsicles come in flavors like Strawberries and Cream, Dulce de Leche, Carmalized Banana, and even vegan options like Avocado, Coconut, and Orange Banana
If you get a chance to chat with the owner Jugo, ask him to tell you stories about his days as a DJ. Although he hasn’t performed since 2011 he still has special events like happy hours montly with$3 tacos and music.
“I definitely miss that feeling of DJing – getting a rise out of a crowd,” he said. “It’s a passion. When you’re trying to present it to somebody else, it comes from inside of you. You put your love into it. If you don’t, it’s not going to be good.”
Cafe Chismosa is BYO and available for private events and catering on site! Call ahead, reservations suggested on weekends for parties of 4-6. Delivery is available via Eat 24, Dining In, and Grubhub.
-Lea and Arielle
We would like to thank Jugo for allowing us to enjoy Cafe Chismosa and hear his story.