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sygyzy

Top Philadelphia restaurants

52 posts in this topic

Hi,

I want to visit a friend in Philadelphia next month with the side agenda of dining. I don't know anything about the area and to be honest, Philly does not really pop up on the culinary radar, or at least it doesn't reach us here all the way on the west coast. So far I've come up with:

Zahav

Vetri Restorante

Amada

Volt (though this is over 100 miles away)

What else am I missing? I want recommendations of all kinds, not necessarily just fine dining, although that's what I am currently having difficulty finding. I am sure my host will take care of the cheesesteaks and "ice water (?) for me.

Any and all help would be appreciated.

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I can't wait for the response to this one. Sygyzy have you looked through this forum at all?

and also, isn't it "syzygy," not "sygyzy?"


--

matt o'hara

finding philly

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We have no fine restaurants in Philly. Just pizza places and cheesesteak stands. Been that way since Bookbinder's closed.

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I believe this guy would enjoy a real Philadelphia Surf and Turf

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How many days will you be here? My top 5 places in the city right now are Zahav, Bibou, Kanella, KooZeeDoo, and Han Dynasty. Vetri, Amada, Osteria, and Fond are all excellent too. If you want to check out our gastropub scene (Philly invented them), South Philly Tap Room is my favorite.

Skip the cheesesteak, they all suck. Some suck less than others. Stop by Paesano's at 9th St. and Christian St. for an Arista instead. You can walk a couple block afterwards for very good water ice at John's (7th and Christian).

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Skip the cheesesteak, they all suck. Some suck less than others.

seriously??

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Of course Philadelphia has some of the greatest restaurants in the world. We just keep them hidden from outsiders. Here's a hint though - if you go to the back door of a certain south Philadelphia cheesesteak place, knock two loud, one soft, and tell the man who answers the door, "Yo, whiz wit," you will be admitted to Philadelphia's oldest Michelin three star restaurant.

On a sadder note, tis a pity to go through life not able to appreciate the cheesesteak.


Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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Skip the cheesesteak, they all suck. Some suck less than others.

seriously??

Yes, seriously. The one that sucks the least is Steve's in the northeast. But none of them is something I ever crave, or would recommend to someone who's visiting Philly and only has a limited amount of stomach space with which to sample our city's food. The cheesesteak isn't worth the real estate in my opinion. But if you've gotta try one, take the trip to Steve's.

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you don't cheesesteaks, so they all suck? tony lukes, talk of the town, shanks on the pier, all make great cheesesteaks.

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you don't cheesesteaks, so they all suck? tony lukes, talk of the town, shanks on the pier, all make great cheesesteaks.

Of course, "they all suck" is my opinion, just as the assertion that those places "all make great cheesesteaks" is yours.

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extended reply below.


Edited by sygyzy (log)

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Thanks for the advice guys. I have been reading the forums and other sites I could get my hands on. Sorry to have offended any of you. That was not my intention. I'll be visiting for 4-5 days. Thanks for your list in particular, Buckethead.

I can't wait for the response to this one. Sygyzy have you looked through this forum at all?

and also, isn't it "syzygy," not "sygyzy?"

Good eye, it's a long story. Thanks for the warm welcome.

We have no fine restaurants in Philly. Just pizza places and cheesesteak stands. Been that way since Bookbinder's closed.

Sorry, I can't tell if you are being sarcastic. From the response of the other members, it seems like you are. But like I have said, I haven't had much luck finding restaurants. Maybe they are all local secrets.

How many days will you be here? My top 5 places in the city right now are Zahav, Bibou, Kanella, KooZeeDoo, and Han Dynasty. Vetri, Amada, Osteria, and Fond are all excellent too. If you want to check out our gastropub scene (Philly invented them), South Philly Tap Room is my favorite.

Skip the cheesesteak, they all suck. Some suck less than others. Stop by Paesano's at 9th St. and Christian St. for an Arista instead. You can walk a couple block afterwards for very good water ice at John's (7th and Christian).

I found multiple hits for Han Dynasty. Is it a chain? Also does Philly Tap Room differ from South Philly Tap Room or are they the same owner/franchise? I am looking forward to water ice.

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Han Dynasty is not a chain, and South Philly Tap Room is the proper name. There is no establishment called simply Philly Tap Room. That said, is there anything in particular that you would like to try? That might help narrow it down. For fine dining there is alway Lacroix and the Fountain Room, there are also a number of high end steakhouses.

Others may disagree, but Philly's wheelhouse seems to be the mid-range BYOB and gastropub. Many of these places are excellent. I'm talking about places like Garces Trading Company, Matyson, Melograno, Standard Tap, North 3rd, Good Dog, Cochon, Bibou, etc. For excellent cocktails stop by the Franklin, Chick's, Southwark, Oyster House (then run upstairs to Nodding Head for, in my opinion, the best beer in town). We can find you something good. Just let us know what you like! And after you get your water ice, please stop at Capogiro. On the frozen treat scale it is akin to comparing hamburgers and dry-aged ribeye. Both have their merits, but they're just two completely different animals.


I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer...

Homer Simpson

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Chifa is very good (Peruvian/Chinese) Its a little pricy, has a NY vibe excellent Cheecha Moradas

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Philadining turned me onto DiStrito (among others) which will be a must re-visit on my next trip.

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I know there are some dissenting opinions out there (what fun would the site be otherwise?) but I had a very good meal at Alma de Cuba last time I was in town. I'd also suggest stopping by the bar at Oyster House, Katie Loeb makes a pretty mean cocktail. Are you a beer drinker? Philly has a lot of places with fantastic beer selections.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Han Dynasty is a small chain, there are three locations but the one you would be going to is at 108 Chestnut St. Personally I've never had a great beer at Nodding Head, everything they brew there is slightly above average but that's about it. Ditto PBC (Philadelphia Brewing Company), though they don't have a brewpub there anyway. Philly's best brewer is Yards IMO (though I have yet to go to Earth Bread and Brewery, and EBB is pretty far away from center city for you anyway), Yards beers are available at many bars across the city, and they have a small brewpub at the brewery. I wouldn't recommend making a special trip there though. There are quite a few bars in the city with "Tap Room" in the name but the one you want is SPTR.

Of Iron Chef Jose Garces' places, I'd rate Distrito #1, Tinto and Amada tied for #2 (really all three are very good), and Chifa a distant fourth. If you're into burgers the city's best pub burger is at Village Whiskey, Garces' bar next to Tinto.

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'tis strange, between here and Chowhound I managed to find a list of >20 restaurants I want to try in my 4 days in Philly.....I guess I have a really good search engine. I mean, to not know of Le Bec Fin (a 40 year old institution of fine dining) and Fountain (one of only 21 Mobil 5 Star restaurants in the US) clearly means no homework was done.

Personally, I'm in the process of trying to narrow my lunches between Fountain, Lacroix, and Morimoto as my final choice and regretting the fact that I can't do all three because I'm otherwise doing Osteria, Le Bec Fin, and a quick stop at Paesano's during a break in the conference I'm attending.

http://uhockey.blogspot.com

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As a visitor to Philadelphia myself I must say that Le Bec Fin has been a transcending dining experience. On the Le Bec Fin topic there are many more eloquent than i could ever be discussions of it. I do understand that some say it is not what it used to be. Perhaps so. But if you are searching for a true dining experience I say you should go there.

I also highly second Mr, Libkind's suggestion of brunch at Lacroix. Another event that is unmatched in my dining experience.

Although I think Nodding Head is a cool little place I do agree that their beer sort of underwhelms. I think the best beer comes from Victory and though their brewery and pub in in Downingtown, not Philadelphia I think it is the best in the area.

Coming to town next week myself and am looking forward to our first trip to KooZeeDoo.

One of the reasons my wife and I enjoy coming to Philadelphia is to dine. From Le Bec Fin to John's Roast Pork. From Vetri to Tony Luke's. We always find something we like to try.

Finally, I must echo Holly Moore. You should try a cheesesteak.

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eGullet forums are not always easy to search, although the process has gotten much better... but still, a little poking around this area should probably have given you a FEW more places to consider. More importantly, you'll get better answers if you give us a little more guidance about what you're looking for. Do you want high-end formal dining? Prefer inexpensive, informal places? Looking for innovation or the classics? Interested in ethnic food? Anything you get plenty of back home, so you'd rather skip while traveling?

Also - when are you coming?

To add to some of the replies you've gotten already:

Han Dynasty isn't a "chain" in the traditional sense of them having a standardized menu and essentially being the same, but there are three of them, each of them a little different. Two of them are out in the suburbs, so unless you happen to be staying in the 'burbs near one (in Exton or Royersford) you'd be going to the latest, and I'd say best one, on Chestnut st, in Old City Philly. As I assume you've figured out if you've perused the thread, they serve traditional Chinese food from Sichuan, most of which is pretty spicy. They've been well-reviewed recently, so they'll be pretty busy for a while, especially on weekend nights.

You mentioned Zahav, which is a very good restaurant, and the concept of upscale middle-eastern street food is fairly unusual, so if that sounds good to you, put it on your list.

You Mentioned Vetri: the flagship restaurant is often mentioned as one of the best Italian restaurants in the country, but especially recently, I have read some mixed reviews. It's hard to know whether that's just a reaction to the hype, or the result of chef Vetri's expansion (he has two other restaurants now) or just the normal variation of opinion. FWIW, they've just appointed a new Chef de Cuisine there. Vetri himself bounces around in-between Vetri, Osteria and Amis, while the previous Chef de Cuisine at Vetri has moved over to Amis. Dizzy yet? If you're looking for a luxurious, elegant, expensive, special-event meal, the original Vetri is probably what you're looking for. But you can also get a taste of that cooking in more informal settings and at a lower price point, at his other places: Osteria and Amis. Neither of them is exactly cheap, but one could drop into either place and just have a couple of dishes if you're reluctant to commit to the full-on Vetri experience. The pizzas and pastas are especially good at Osteria, and Amis has a wide variety of smaller plates from which one can assemble a meal, or just a snack.

As others have mentioned, the other powerhouse restauranteur in town right now is Jose Garces, and you're likely to get an interesting meal at any of his places. I think I'd agree with Buckethead's rankings: Distrito, then Amada or Tinto, then Chifa, although to be fair, it's been a little while since I've been to any of them except for Distrito, and the Chifa menu in particular has been extensively tweaked since I last had dinner there. He has a new-ish, less-formal take-out market/BYOB restaurant called Garces Trading Company that I've been hearing good things about, but I haven't gone.

For better or worse, the rough generalization one can make about his places is that he buffs-up what are usually more casual cusines: Amada and Tinto riff on Tapas(Tinto concentrates on the Basque region); Distrito upscales Mexican fare; Chifa purports to be doing Peruvian-Chinese, but it's looking a little more like more general Asian-fusion these days. Whether that approach to these cuisines is appealing or appalling is a matter of opinion. I usually find his food to be quite delicious, but at the same time, I'm occasionally struck by how odd it is to eat precious, meticulously-composed, tiny, expensive versions of rustic dishes. Of course, it's not really a fair comparison to contrast his places with informal ethnic joints, the ingredients at the Garces places are very high quality, the preparations are meticulous, the setting and service are refined, there are good cocktails to be had...

It probably sounds like I'm criticizing Garces or dismissing his places, which I don't mean to do, I think they're among the best restaurants in Philly. But the general approach might not be everyone's cup of tea.

I suppose you could say the same thing about many "upscale" restaurants - there are a gazillion inexpensive Italian joints in Philly, but Vetri is something different. There are a few good little sushi joints, but if you opt for the flash of Morimoto, you'll get good fish, and pay a lot for it, but also have a different experience, a dramatic evening, as opposed to a simply tasty meal.

But if you are looking for upscale, you should consider Vetri, Le Bec Fin (for old-school French haute-cuisine) or Lacroix (for more modern, even experimental, fancy dining.)

Mid-upscale, try any of the Garces places. Then there are steakhouses if that's your thing, we've had some very good food at Union Trust. There's the Steven Starr empire, which tends toward the dramatic, as mentioned above. Morimoto serves good sushi and elaborate Japanese-fusion, including an interesting omakase tasting menu, in a cool-looking room. Buddakan remains very popular, and finally got a menu update recently, but I suspect people go there more for the overall experience than for the food in particular. Chris Hennes mentioned Alma de Cuba, and I have to agree that I've always enjoyed the food there, but it's another case of buffed-up cuisine, in this case Cuban, at a premium price. That's not good or bad, it just is what it is. His Barclay Prime is often mentioned as among the best steakhouses in town, and Butcher and Singer is a retro-styled steakhouse/supperclub thing that makes for an elegant occasion, if you're into that kind of thing. Parc is a startlingly accurate simulation of a French bistro, with OK food.

In the mid-level, as has been mentioned, Philly's very strong in small chef-driven places, often BYOBs that don't have liquor licenses, so you can bring your own wine, which makes them extra-affordable. Bibou has collected numerous accolades for their rustic, yet elegant French cuisine, served in a small, intimate setting. Matyson rarely dissapoints: the weekday-dinner thematic tasting menus are usually fun, delicious, and good values. Koo Zee Doo serves updated Portuguese food, and remains a favorite of most everyone I know, it certainly is for me. Cochon serves hearty, sort-of French-ish, bold-flavored food, focused on the pig, but not exclusively. Kanella is serving pretty amazing Greek/Cypriot food. There are plenty more good choices: Melograno, Pumpkin, Marigold, Nan, Fond... the list goes on and on.

Then there are the small-ish personal spaces, often owned and run by the chefs, but that do serve wine and beer, perhaps a full bar. The place called Fish is very good, you might be able to guess its focus. I've had some very good food at Meritage lately, ranging from country-French to Asian fusion. MeMe has a small-ish menu, but everything's good. I keep hearing good things about Supper, although I haven't been there for dinner in a while. I did have a very good brunch recently. Bistrot la Minette is very good, you know, bistro food. Southwark does really good hearty farm-to-table food, and has a killer cocktail program as well.

You didn't say when you're coming, but there's considerable excitement building about Speck, and its kitchen-counter tasting menu experience called Studio Kitchen. That should be open soon, but it's hard to say exactly when, or how possible it will be to get seats at the Studio Kitchen counter (check the Studio Kitchen blog for info.)

A couple people mentioned the Oyster House, which would be a very specifically Philly experience, it's an update of an old-school fish house, where you can get a huge variety of oysters, some uniquely Philly dishes like Snapper (turtle) soup, and Fried Oysters with Chicken Salad along with other seafood classics. And you can get some great cocktails there too.

As has been mentioned above, perhaps the strongest sector of our dining scene is the "gastropub." The neighborhoods are full of little bars that have really good beer on tap, and have kitchens that serve serious food in the casual bar context. It'll range from burgers and sandwiches right on up through sophisticated entrees, and that's part of the beauty of it, you can have a sandwich while your friend can get a steak or an elegant fish dish, and your other friend can just snack on fries. The granddaddy in this movement is the Standard Tap, and it's still very good. But depending on where you are, you can get great food and beer at the Royal Tavern, Pub and Kitchen, South Philly Tap Room, North Third, Monk's, Brigid's, Memphis Tap room, Resurrection Ale House, Local 44... there are really too many to list.

There's recently been a pizza renaissance, with Stephen Starr's Stella Pizzeria and Zavino leading the pack.

On the ethnic side, we have a small, but very interesting Chinatown. The above-mentioned Han Dynasty isn't in Chinatown, but in that neighborhood, there's some very good Cantonese seafood (Ken's Seafood), casual Shanghainese (Sakura Mandarin and Dim Sum Garden) and much more, wander around a little... There's also a very good Burmese place (Rangoon) and a couple of Malaysian restaurants (Penang and Banana Leaf.) There are dueling Vietnamese restaurants on the edge of Chinatown (Vietnam and Vietnam Palace) but if you're really interested in Vietnamese, you're better off heading south to the Washington Avenue area, between about 8th and 11th, there are lots of good places down there.

That neighborhood is also home to an increasing number of good Mexican Taquerias. Walk up and down 9th st, you'll see something good. We especially like the Tacos al Pastor at Taquitos de Puebla.

That neighborhood is still called The Italian Market, and there are lots of homey Italian-American restaurants, what are sometimes called "red-gravy" restaurants, places for good basics like spaghetti and meatballs, or Veal Parm, etc. We take these places for granted, often dismiss them, but I often find out-of-town visitors love them.

And last, but not least, as has been referred-to a few times, Philly is a great sandwich town, and not just for Cheesesteaks. There are a few threads about sandwiches, so look around if you want recommendations, but briefly: try DiNic's, Tony Luke's or John's Roast pork for a roast pork sandwich with greens and sharp provolone. Paesano's is making insanely great sandwiches of various types, from a roast pork to lamb sausage, to a hot dog with bolognese sauce, to a lasagna sandwich, and beyond. There are lots of good hoagies in south philly, and they really are something different than the standard submarine sandwich. Sarcone's is the standard=bearer down on 9th st, largely because of their bread.

And that's just barely scratching the surface. So yeah, there are some worthy places to eat here. Maybe not that many get national attention, but that's OK, we like to be able to get tables without a 2-month wait.

Give us some more details about what you're interested in, and I'll bet we can give you better-tailored recommendations. And less snark!


"Philadelphia’s premier soup dumpling blogger" - Foobooz

philadining.com

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And less snark!

Wouldn't be Philly without the snark!

Excellent summary, as usual. And I'll pile on to the recommendation that you have a cheesesteak: it's the most iconic food of the city, to come and not at least see if you like them would be a shame.


Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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if bibou interests you, be warned that it is or can be(depending on you flexibility) a tough reservation. the food there is excellent. and the 3 course (which is really 4 courses witha small starter of soup) for $45 on sundays is on eof the best dining deals in the city right now.

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