F&W names the best Philadelphia restaurants, bars and bakeries including local star projects like Marc Vetri’s Osteria and Village Whiskey from Iron Chef Jose Garces. Plus: a fried-to-order doughnut shop and the insider pick for incredible cheese steaks. » F&W’s Full Philadelphia Travel Guide
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Philadelphia Restaurants: Insider Picks
Marc Vetri (Vetri, Osteria and Alla Spina) is a master of sophisticated Italian, but lately he’s been going casual. At Amis he specializes in Roman comfort food. Amis’s industrial-chic space doesn’t look like a trattoria, but dishes like the bucatini all’amatriciana would fool a Roman. The succinct wine list has just two dozen Italian bottles, and all are available by the glass.amisphilly.com
Chef Marcie Turney and business partner Valerie Safran own six businesses on 13th Street, including restaurants and boutiques; their newest is Barbuzzo, a smartly designed Spanish- and Italian-inspired bistro with amazing wood-fired pizzas and house-made pastas. The bar snacks are especially stellar, from the slightly spicy, citrus-kissed olives to the Pig Popcorn (boiled, scraped, smoked, dehydrated and then deep-fried pig skin), a chefy take on pork rinds that seems to be on every table.barbuzzo.comPhoto © Jason Varney.
Loire-born Pierre Calmels has cooked in some of this country’s most refined French kitchens, including Daniel in Manhattan, and he led Philly’s august French restaurant, Le Bec-Fin, for five years. At Bibou, Calmels’s menu is still uncompromisingly French (foie gras–stuffed pig foot, snail ragout), and his standards are still unfailingly high (he bakes his own baguettes daily)—but the vibe is pure cozy bistro, with a BYOB wine policy and his gracious wife (and co-owner) running the front of the house.biboubyob.com
British-born chef Robert Aikens (twin of London celebrity chef Tom Aikens) heads the kitchen at Stephen Starr’s take on a British pub, complete with a wood-burning fireplace and bronze bust of Winston Churchill. The masterfully executed comfort dishes veer old-school British—shepherd’s pie, beer-battered fish and (triple-cooked) chips, family-style Sunday roasts—but there are some American standbys as well, like mac and cheese (made with English cheddar), complemented by a terrific selection of cask ales.thedandelionpub.com
Two of the city’s most ambitious young chefs—Jason Cichonski (formerly at Lacroix) and Chip Roman (Mica)—launched this rustic-modern spot in late 2011. Their food is New American with plenty of inventive pairings, like baby octopus with sunflower tahini and orange and duck Magret with heart of palm and guava. A 15-seat bar that runs the length of an airy dining room features rotating craft beers on draft and 20 wines by the glass served from a high-tech Cruvinet, which keeps the wines fresh for up to six weeks.elaphilly.com
Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki, both twenty-something Le Bec-Fin alums, run this small, East Passyunk BYOB bistro with bright yellow walls and bare wooden tables. For the casual setting and off-the-beaten-path location, the food is surprisingly elegant. Styer applies French technique to dishes like seared foie gras with lemon-ricotta and almonds; Prawlucki takes care of the short dessert menu that includes malted chocolate ice cream with crumbled peanut brittle.fondphilly.com
Philadelphia star chef Jose Garces is seemingly everywhere, running everything from a taco truck to an upscale Basque wine bar. His Garces Trading Co. has two components—a casual, 70-seat restaurant serving deep-dish pizzas with unexpected toppings like duck confit and lamb merguez, as well as a market with excellent cheeses, house-cured charcuterie and a house-brand of coffee (a partnership with a small-batch roaster in New Jersey). Also on the premises: a climate-controlled wine shop for purchasing bottles at retail prices to take home or drink steps away at dinner.garcestradingcompany.comPhoto courtesy of Osteria.
In this converted factory space with rustic pine tables, local Italian whiz Marc Vetri and his executive chef Jeffrey Michaud take on the pizza oven. They specialize in lightly charred thin-crust pies like the Lombarda (topped with a soft-cooked egg) along with house-made pastas such as the much-praised chicken liver rigatoni with cipollini onions and sage.osteriaphilly.com
Talula’s Table in Kennett Square, 35 miles outside of Philadelphia, is one of the country’s toughest reservations: The single table is often booked a full year in advance. But it’s just become easier to try Talula’s food. Owner Aimee Olexy partnered with über restaurateur Stephen Starr to open Washington Square’s Talula’s Garden in early 2011. The farmhouse ethos extends from the decor (herb planters everywhere) to the dishes, like a roasted Lancaster chicken with buckwheat crêpes and cider sauce.talulasgarden.com
Two Queen Village brothers own Village Belle: Louis Campanaro holds court at this tavern-like space with exposed brick walls, while brother Joey consults from New York City (where he made his name at the Little Owl). On the menu: excellent pastas like spaghetti with crab gravy, and Joey’s famous meatball sliders.thevillagebelle.comPhoto © Jason Varney.
In a small, laid-back Society Hill dining room, Zahav chef and co-owner Michael Solomonov isn’t just re-creating the foods of his home country, Israel, he’s updating the cuisine with top ingredients and meticulous technique. The laffa bread (a large Iraqi pita) is baked to order, there are four kinds of hummus (the hummus foul is studded with warm fava beans) and the super creative mezze uses ingredients like grilled duck hearts and sweetbreads.zahavrestaurant.com
Philadelphia Restaurants: Splurge
Photo courtesy of Vetri.
An F&W Best New Chef 1999 Marc Vetri’s flagship, housed in a redbrick townhouse with Venetian glass chandeliers, continues to earn accolades for its stellar house-made charcuterie and expert pastas, like spinach gnocchi with shaved ricotta salata and brown butter. Vetri now runs a handful of popular restaurants in the city (Osteria, Amis), but Vetri remains the pinnacle of his domain: Dinner is a $135 tasting menu consisting of a dozen or so dishes.vetriristorante.com
Philadelphia Restaurants: Best Value
Culinary It couple Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikora of cult restaurant Talula’s Table split up in 2010; a year later Olexy went on to found Talula’s Garden with Philadelphia empire builder Stephen Starr, and Sikora signed on to run a. kitchen in the AKA Hotel on Rittenhouse Square. The decor is minimalist and Scandinavian-inspired (white oak floors and booths, marble counters) while Sikora’s sophisticated, seasonal cooking—chicken liver mousse with sour cherry compote, cavatelli and sweet corn broth with roasted mushrooms—is complemented by a 200-bottle list that emphasizes natural wines.akitchenphilly.com
What started out as a cramped cheese shop in the Italian Market in 1939 has grown into a (still family run) mini chain of high-end food shops known for the very best artisanal cheese and charcuterie selection in the city (as well as the place to go for estate-bottled olive oils, smoked fish and prepared hors d’oeuvres). Their big, splashy store in Center City has a butcher counter, fish shop and state-of-the-art cheese cave, with over 500 varieties in two temperature-and-moisture-controlled aging rooms.dibruno.com
Every Philadelphian has taken a side in the battle of best cheese steak, and loyalties usually ping-pong between Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly. But true aficionados head to Jim’s, whose original West Philly outpost has been operating since 1939 in a narrow, no-frills space lined with a chipped counter and just a few stools. Fans line up for the “Wiz Wits,” (also spelled Whiz Wits) luscious chopped steak sandwiches piled with cheese and chopped onions on Amoroso rolls. Those who prefer to stay downtown head to the South Street location, which has a smart Art Deco look and the same terrific sandwiches—but even longer lines.jimssteaks.com
Philadelphia Bakeries and Breakfast Spots
Photo © Alison Conklin Photography.
There are now two outposts of this popular bakery named after Betty (also listed as Elizabeth on their website) Ruth Hinton, the mother and grandmother, respectively, of co-owners Linda Hinton Brown and Norrinda Brown Hayat. The mother-and-daughter duo update their family recipes for pound cakes and cupcakes and even name flavors after family members—the Jean’s Road Trip cake, for instance, combines layers of moist red velvet with cream cheese butter cream frosting. In 2011 the original Liberties Walk shop moved a few streets down to a space three times its former size. The other outpost, named Brown Betty Petite, is in Liberty Place.brownbettydesserts.comPhoto © Michael Persico.
Zahav chef-owner Michael Solomonov’s latest offers a wickedly great combo: fried chicken and doughnuts. The 24-hour-salt-cured chicken is double-fried for extra crispness and comes either spiced or glazed. The doughnuts come in two varieties: fried to order and rolled in sugar mixtures such as vanilla lavender, or stuffed-and-glazed “fancy” doughnuts in flavors like pomegranate-Nutella. Be warned: The chicken is ready at noon and often sells out. federaldonuts.comPhoto courtesy of Parc.
Stephen Starr’s Rittenhouse Square spot looks the part of a traditional French bistro (aged brass fixtures and frosted glass inside, red awning and sidewalk patio outside) and plays the part, too, offering house-baked baguettes and all the classics—a frisée salad with lardons and a poached egg on top, steak frites and moules frites. And just like a typical brasserie, Parc is an all-day spot geared toward lingering—whether over pain au chocolat in the morning or terrific classic cocktails at night.parc-restaurant.com
Philadelphia has a number of terrific beer bars, but this dark little Belgian-style tavern a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square has become iconic for its impressive list of 200 or so beers (including a sour ale it has custom-brewed in Belgium). Another reason Monk’s is so popular: The addictive, beer-friendly dishes—super spicy chicken wings, mussels and double-fried frites with bourbon-mayonnaise sauce—are served until 1 a.m. monkscafe.com
At star chef Jose Garces’s handsome, moody modern-day saloon just off Rittenhouse Square, the round marble tables and leather banquettes are filled with diners snacking on deviled eggs and tearing into build-your-own burgers made with house-ground beef and decadent toppings like truffled mushrooms. True to the restaurant’s name, the whiskey collection is outstanding, with 150-plus bottles, which can be ordered straight or in creative cocktails like the Smokey-Fashioned, prepared with bacon-infused bourbon.villagewhiskey.com
This narrow bar takes its name from the Prohibition-era speakeasy ring run by the famous mob boss Max “Boo Boo” Hoff. Mixologist Al Sotack channels the spirit of that earlier time with serious, sophisticated cocktails including classics like the Brown Derby and new creations such as the Restraining Order (tequila, Aperol and celery bitters).thefranklinbar.com
A pioneer in the resurgence of classic cocktails in Philadelphia, this corner restaurant and bar with pressed-tin ceilings specializes in old-time classics like Sazeracs and Sidecars. Kip Waide prepares the drinks behind the wooden bar up front, while wife Sheri takes care of the short but ambitious menu, which includes signature clams in a vermouth-and-chile broth, house-made charcuterie and milk-braised pork shoulder with mustard spaetzle.southwarkrestaurant.com