Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. How many times have you heard that? Enough, probably, that it’s just become noise—static, like the informational background radiation of a living, breathing culture. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods. Well, of course it is. What city isn’t?
But things here are different. In Philly, the boundaries are strict. A neighborhood is a vibe, a feeling, a sense of shared society that, from one side of a street to the other, can fall away as though you’ve walked off a cliff. First, you’re here. One step later, you’re elsewhere.
But as exacting and firm as the borders might be, the neighborhoods in Philadelphia are also ever-changing. They breathe in and out, expand, surrender to the forces of entropy and collapse. Among the factors that drive their life cycles? Restaurants and restaurateurs.
Look at North Broad, for example. Until recently, an eater traveling north out of Center City on Broad Street had nothing to concern him save a turn onto Spring Garden or Girard. The space between was a wasteland of tire stores, abandoned car dealerships and low-slung fast-food franchises. But how quickly did our notions of edible neighborhoods change with the opening of Osteria? Suddenly, there was something worth expanding our ideas of where to eat in this city. Route 6 followed. Alla Spina is on the way. Inch by inch and address by address, Marc Vetri and Stephen Starr are carving out a new locus, circumscribing a new boundary within which the well-heeled might find some pizza, pig tails and crab legs, even while the competition expands into Fairmount to the west with Hickory Lane (from Matt Zagorski), La Calaca Feliz (from Garces alums Tim Spinner and Brian Sirhal) and Lemon Hill.
And that is what we’re here to talk about: Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as seen through the lens of their restaurants. In the following pages, we’ll show you which neighborhoods are hot, which are not, how to fix the terminally dull and under-served (answer: more restaurants!), and where the next great restaurant neighborhoods could be.