Indian food has been a part of Philadelphia’s culinary landscape for a long time — so long that there’s no specific neighborhood devoted to it, but rather a spray of outposts scattered around: biryani on Ridge Pike in Eagleville, goat curry in Northeast Philly, Punjabi cuisine in Chester County, dosa just over the bridge in Cherry Hill. The Indian canon is broad and fractious in its variety of regional specialties, so here’s a must-hit list for those looking to expand their tastes beyond tandoori chicken.
In Philly, Southeast Asian flavors are the gift that keeps on giving. In Point Breeze, South Philly and Chinatown, along Washington Avenue and even out in the ’burbs, there are enclaves whose composition and abstract representation of geopolitical borders are constantly shifting and changing. This means Thai and Laotian food on traditionally Vietnamese-heavy blocks, and awe-inspiring Malaysian food in Chinatown. It also means a deepening and broadening of available flavors, so if you’re looking to explore the subtle differences between Malaysian and Indonesian food, Vietnamese that goes beyond a bowl of pho, or Thai more complicated (and delicious) than a simple plate of pad Thai, there are many options.
So you got your Korean fried chicken and your Korean street tacos, both of which became fads that cemented themselves in the culinary gray matter of borderless grubniks. There’s kimchi, which is so popular now, it’s surprising Lay’s doesn’t have it as a chip flavor. And yet despite the fact that Philadelphia has a thriving Koreatown right in Olney, this is still a cuisine whose more traditional aspects are foreign to many eaters in the city. If you’re looking to amend that blind spot, start here.
There are no two ways about it: African food is tough on dilettantes. It’ll confront you with vegetables you’ve never heard of, meat that runs from tough to tender to straight-up cow skin, and starches that bewilder your attempts to choose a utensil. And for eaters not seeking already-acquired tastes of home, Philly’s African restaurants can be hit-or-miss. But no other realm rewards the adventurous with more fascination and deliciousness.
Start baby-step-style at Kilimandjaro (4317 Chestnut Street, 215-387-1970), which despite its East African namesake serves Senegalese food, including a mustardy, sweet-onion-draped yassa chicken that’s among the best in town. Grilled lamb chops dressed with sweet peppers and onions are what to get at Sahara (6528 Woodland Avenue, 215-727-0812), where the cooking is Malian and the portions are huge. And now that you’re already smack in Philly’s Africana epicenter, try African Small Pot (6505 Woodland Avenue, 267-713-7603), run by a globe-trotting Mauritanian who does right by thiebou dien — which you could think of as paella with twice the concentration and spice.
Philly’s Hispanic population is mostly made up of Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, two Latin cultures that use similar ingredients but totally different cooking techniques. You’ll find the best Puerto Rican food in one neighborhood in North Philly, while Mexican food is more ubiquitous. Look out for a new wave of Mexican chefs who are combining authentic cooking with more attention to detail — the results are game-changing.
Middle Eastern flavors have long been a rich vein mined by chefs working in any number of styles. And Middle Eastern restaurants — whether of the wheeled or brick-and-mortar variety — have been a staple on the Philly scene for decades. But while you might think there’s nothing to this cuisine beyond chickpeas and falafel, here are six places that will prove you wrong.
Philadelphia has a deep well (and a deep history) of restaurants not hewing to the traditional mother cuisines — of neighborhood joints where pierogi, kitfo, roti and kimchi are far more important than red gravy or béchamel. With our ever-changing population comes an ever-changing array of dining choices. And while at this point in the evolution of Philadelphia’s food scene we all know where to get a classic cocktail or a great plate of pasta, it can be easy to forget sometimes just how much more the city has to offer.
So while you might be cool with hitting the counter at Cheu Noodle Bar for cold sesame noodles with tahini and yuba, or digging into the octopus congee at Petruce et al., do you know where the inspiration for these dishes came from?
Italian, British, French? Cinch. Even Dutch, Spanish and Belgian food is pretty easy to find close to the heart of Philly’s most tony neighborhoods. But for a long time, this city has also been home to a thriving community that brought all its borscht and sausages along from the Old Countries. So if you’re looking for a hit of post-Glasnost melting-pot Euro cuisine ignored by the likes of Vetri, Garces and Starr, here are some good places to start.
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Early bird tickets for the 2014 Philadelphia WhiskeyFest & Fine Spirits Festival are now on sale. The 2014 WhiskeyFest will take place on Thursday, October 23rd at Lincoln Financial Field.
WhiskeyFest brings a wide selection of spirits from around the world including premium whiskey, scotch, malts, bourbon, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and more to a single location.
Discounted tickets are being offered from now until September 23rd. Early bird VIP tickets, which come with an extra hour-and-a-half of sampling plus access to exclusive spirits, a behind-the-scenes tour of Lincoln Financial Field and Fine Wine & Good Spirits gift card are currently $30 off (now $120) and general tickets are $15 off (now $80).
Buy tickets now for 2014 Whiskeyfest [EventBrite]
2014 WhiskeyFest: Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival [Philadelphia Magazine]
We here at Foobooz certainly enjoy Philadelphia’s food scene but that doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally roll our eyes at some of the other dining room’s tables. Here is our list of the thirteen kinds of diners you’ll find in Philadelphia. Who do you recognize, what behavior are you guilty of?
Compiled by Isabelle Gallicchio, Ela Torres and Alex Tewfik