Philly’s rapidly-evolving restaurant scene holds plenty of adventurous new stuff to try as well as the old favourites. Here we serve up a mix of the two
No one was going to get out of this list alive without talking about cheesesteaks, that most Philadelphian of sandwich. Wars have been started over less than what the local fave of meat/cheese/roll is, and the recent history of venerable cheesesteak outpost Geno’s has been particularly controversial. However, for the overall “cheesesteak experience”, no one has ever been better than Geno’s.
• 1219 S 9th St, +1 215 389 0659, genossteaks.com. Mains $8.50-9.50
Jerry’s Bar is essentially the perfect neighbourhood eatery. The beautifully renovated space (run by father and daughter William and Christie Proud) has a timeless feel, and everything is done the way it should be. The local, seasonal dishes are always fresh and flavourful, and the brunch menu is arguably the best in town. There are cocktails to match the food – classics and new creations, but never too fussy.
• 129 Laurel Street, +1 267 273 1632, jerrysbarphilly.com. Mains $16-23
Vernick Food & Drink
There are few dining experiences in Philadelphia to top that of the husband-and-wife-owned Vernick Food & Drink. Chef Greg Vernick excels at creating consistently simple, fresh and refined fare that changes frequently, and includes an assortment of toasts, a raw bar, small and large plates and food roasted in the wood-fired oven. And the service is top-notch.
• 2031 Walnut Street, +1 267 639 6644, vernickphilly.com. Mains $25-$32
We’ve been eating at Vietnam since long before all but one of the spots mentioned on this list (Geno’s) were some young chef’s dream. And as Benny Lai’s flagship Vietnamese eatery in Chinatown has grown since the 1990s, so have we; by about 20 pounds. Now, we can’t attribute all of that to Vietnam’s venerable BBQ platter – which includes pork meatballs, char-grilled chicken, and beef wrapped in grape leaves – but between that and their iconic-in-these-parts vermicelli noodle bowls, there’s some serious representation. In this way, over the years, Vietnam has become a staple of Philly comfort food. A West Philly location, convenient to UPenn and Drexel, is now open, boasting all of that same goodness.
• 221 North 11th St, +1 215 592 1163, eatatvietnam.com. Mains $9-16
Chef-owner Joncarl Lachman has drawn on his Dutch lineage to create a first-of-its-kind northern European bistro in Philadelphia. The menu features smoked fish, delicious bitterballen (braised and fried pork meatballs with nutmeg and mustard) and Amsterdam-style mussels (to name a few). Lachman’s warm personality rounds out a notable dining experience.
• 1046 Tasker Street (@ 11th), +1 267 909 9704, noordphilly.com. Mains $17-$28
You may have heard of Stephen Starr fellow. He’s the restaurant-auteur who’s built a small empire of restaurants around Philly and then America, each jumping on some particular foodie bandwagon of the moment. Recently, it’s his new collaboration with Peter Serpico that stands out. Served in a sleek, dark and distinctly modern venue, Serpico’s menu is rounded out with elegant, ambitious “global fare”. His chilled dashi soup is a revelation; likewise his deep-fried duck leg served on a potato roll, and Cope’s corn ravioli.
• 604 South Street, +1 215 925 3001, serpicoonsouth.com. Mains $13-$26
The “core curriculum” at chef Michael Solomonov’s Zahav has changed very little since its opening, and that’s not out of laziness: eight years on, his take on modern Israeli cuisine is still essential – there’s still nothing else quite like it around. With a menu built from salatim (cold vegetable dishes, mostly) and hummus, mezze plates and kebabs, Zahav is deceptively simple in some ways; but the menu also contains dishes like grilled duck hearts and crispy haloumi with golden raisins and carrots. We strongly recommend the Tayim tasting menu at $39 per person: get more than two people on this train and you’re on your way to being able to taste the entire menu.
• 237 St James Place, +1 215 625 8800, zahavrestaurant.com. Small plates from $7, grilled plates from $9
Cheu Noodle Bar
The wildly successful Cheu Noodle Bar offers a range of traditional Asian dishes with the chef’s own spin. The menu of small plates includes dumplings that change daily, veggies such as Szechuan long beans, and barbecued pig tails. The “noodles”, all handmade, include a pork shoulder ramen, a brisket in chilli broth, cold jade noodles with crab, and more. The intimate space even features a wall made from the contents of instant ramen noodle packets.
• 255 S 10th Street, +1 267 639 4136, cheunoodlebar.com. Mains $9-13
Fette Sau, another Starr outing (see Serpico), is a barbecue restaurant specialising in dry-rubbed meats sourced from small, local farms and smoked in-house. The menu changes daily, with meats (mainly cuts of pork and beef) available by the pound. The sides are kept simple and include burnt-end baked beans, broccoli salad, pickles and potato chips. The drinks list offers numerous beers on tap and an extensive list of North American bourbons and whiskies. Ordering is done cafeteria-style, with tray in hand, and picnic tables give the former industrial space a communal atmosphere.
• 1208 Frankford Ave, +1 215 391 4888, fettesauphilly.com. Mains $12-20
Chef Michael Solomonov (see Zahav) and business partner Steve Cook’s goofy but delicious Federal Donuts is maybe the most successfully quirky foodery ever to hit Philly. The menu features a variety of inventive flavours of doughnuts and fried chicken, done with creativity and flair. Doughnut flavours include cookies and cream, banana cream pie and strawberry-ginger, while chicken seasonings include coconut curry, za’atar and buttermilk ranch.
• 1219 S 2nd St, +1 267 687 8258, federaldonuts.com. Mains $9-17, doughnuts from $1.25 or $6 for six
Lily Cope is the executive director of Cook, a demonstration kitchen in Philadelphia offering classes, chef dinners and tastings. Joey Sweeney is a writer, musician and publisher of the cityblogs philebrity.com and Phoodie.info