What West Philly has going for it: diversity, affordability and density. What’s required for a neighborhood to catch fire? Diversity, affordability and density. Sure, University City has its own thing going on with places like Midatlantic, J.G. Domestic and Distrito, but that tune’s been played. Be brave. Go a little further afield—say, west of 40th Street. See what you’ve been missing.
The city’s best Middle Eastern food is at Kabobeesh, where the excellent kebabs are fired to order. The Inquirer’s Craig LaBan loves the Pakistani fried chicken at Wah-Gi-Wah, and for a change, we couldn’t agree more—even if we suggest you stick with the chicken and leave it at that.
For Thai, go to Vientane Cafe. There are a handful of Ethiopian and Eritrean options in the neighborhood, and we like Abyssinia, both because the food is excellent and because it wears the hideaway whiskey bar Fiume like a hat. Vietnam Cafe, which is virtually identical to the Chinatown flagship, and fancified BYO Marigold, which is packed at almost every service because, apparently, the neighbors here like their wat, their curry and their sous-vide eggs Benedict.
The future of West Philly restaurants: There’s one more thing a hot neighborhood needs to keep up the heat: new blood. For West Philly to keep moving forward, some credentialed chef has to take a chance on these blocks and succeed with something as brilliant as it is simple. Right now, two possibilities are the new Grill Fish Cafe from Benny Lai—opened in the original home of his Vietnam Cafe—and the brick-and-mortar home of Honest Tom’s Taco Shop. But failing that, a second outpost of Federal Donuts would kick some serious ass here.