How La Roca is putting their own spin on classic mexican dishes and drinks. By Samantha Costa Photography by JPG Photography (jpgphotography.com)
La Roca has held down the Tex-Mex presence here on the southern end of Main Street since April 2018. Wall-to-wall sugar skull art, traditional Mexican tile decor, and live music are the backdrop for this industrial chic meets Mexican street food powerhouse. They’re serving up seasonally-inspired drinks and food, and an even more impressive tequila list in a chill space that’s welcoming to all. “Manayunk is a unique town,” manager Dave Spinosa said. “The restaurant community has really grown and become very strong with the options you can have.” La Roca, owned by the same team as Hilltown Tavern and Paper Street Pub, seem to have a good idea of what our corner of Philly wants from its local watering holes. These days, Dave is calling – and sometimes pouring – the shots at 4161 Main Street. But Dave is no stranger to the business. He worked in the hospitality industry throughout high school and graduated from Widener University with a degree in hospitality management. From there, he got his feet wet by working for UPenn, Di Bruno Bros., and Citizens Bank Park, before coming to La Roca in December 2018. “I was born in the area suburbs,” he said. “I always admired the Philly food scene and loved Manayunk.” On a typical Thursday, you’ll find him greeting customers, managing the staff, and making sure everybody is having a good time. You might have trouble keeping tabs on him while he’s keeping tabs open for everybody else.
There are two bars — one downstairs and one on the second floor. What makes it unique? La Roca is the only restaurant in Manayunk with roof deck seating, complete with a canopy of string lights, couches, a TV, and seating for about 20 people. The space is used for private parties or a random taco Tuesday. Neighborhood patrons dig the daily and weekly specials. Taco Tuesdays include $3 tacos and $5 margaritas, and on Wednesdays, tacos are just $1. And once you’ve had your chips and salsa, take a spin on the prize wheel, with chances to win specials on drinks and more. It’s like the games on the Wildwood boardwalk, but you’ll actually win. “The drinks are seasonally inspired by fresh fruits — from our watermelon margarita to our house margarita, everything is either muddled fruit or fresh squeezed lime,” Dave said. Instead of a traditional Moscow mule, they have a tequila mule; instead of a traditional old fashioned, they have a tequila old fashioned. La Roca uses everything from Don Julio to brands that are just starting to hit the Pennsylvania market. If you’ve ever waited a few extra minutes for that margarita, there’s a good reason: All of the drinks are made to order. That means there are no hidden batch bottles stored under the bar. Each drink is customizable. And if you don’t like something, speak up. Dave and the team will go out of their way to make it just right. But it’s not just about the drinks. Dave recommends the shrimp tacos with sambal slaw, pad thai sauce, peanuts, and sesame. The combination of the marinade and how it all comes together in a lighter taco is what makes it great, he said. I can’t attest to Dave’s preference, but I’m a fan of starting out with guac and chips, and splitting the al pastor burrito with a friend. It’s made with guajillo marinade, pineapple salsa, cilantro, and mint. If the food and drink specials weren’t enough, La Roca offers plenty of events — some weekly, and others on a monthly basis. Dave says he is interested in bringing entertainment to the next level with themed events that appeal to every type of customer. With that said, keep an eye on social media for Drag Show Karaoke and tell your friends. If all goes well, it’ll become a regular event. “Thursdays are the place to be in Manayunk,” Dave said. The last Thursday of every month is Latin Night with DJ J Holi. In July, the restaurant and bar teamed up with Kim Bailor’s Terrarium Therapy for an event that gave attendees the chance to create tequila bottle planters. Something is always happening here, and La Roca is positioned in a unique spot on Main Street for future events and what’s to come. “I think over the next few years, South Main Street will evolve due to more housing development and the resurgence of Venice Island, which will bring more people on the streets and more commercial and retail businesses to this part of Main Street,” Dave said, adding that he loves Manayunk for its sense of community. Same here, Dave.