There’s the glitz and the glam, and then there’s the humble and the honest-to-goodness, the unaffected and the unassuming. To each his own, but I prefer the latter.
I get a kick out of the quirky buildings’ awkward seating arrangements and tiny menus—menus that need not say much, and food that says all too much; the chef-driven and food-focused holes, often orienting themselves in such a way that the preparer and prepared are shown off, experienced only through an intimate three-part channel between the chef, his food, and his guest. When done well, the following few weeks (or longer) will pale in comparison. That’s why the tasting menu is so important; it’s a facilitation of exchange between the hand of the cook and the consumed palate it feeds.
Some tasting menus you’ll find in places that don’t deserve them, and others are just a second menu to the main. Some are only available on weekdays, but there are those you can only take part in on a single day: Sunday, perhaps.
An ode to the Sunday tasting menus:
With only 22 seats and only two seatings (5:00 pm and 8:00 pm), getting a table here on a weekend is difficult, though, it’s well worth it if you do. The $33 Sunday Tasting Menu is such a steal, you’ll end your meal feeling guilty about it. Seafood specialist, Chadd Jenkins, doesn’t just deliver fish on a plate—this stuff isn’t simple seafood (even though that’s sometimes the best kind). You’ll find ingredients you’ve never heard of, pairings that’ll make your head cock, and flawless preparation of both.
746 S 6th St Philadelphia, PA 19147
It’s an Irishman’s (Peter McAndrews) regional Italian BYOB on Girard Avenue. From start to finish, from bread to dessert, the food coming out of the kitchen is, quite simply put, charming. There’s inspiration from both the South and North of Italy, with dishes that wow and dishes that bring you home. The Sunday Sugo dinners are McAndrews’ way of bringing the American-Italian family style dinners to guests who don’t feel like doing it themselves. For $35 a head, you go in blind. No menu. Just sit down, and they’ll start cooking. It changes from Sunday to Sunday, but usually, you’ll begin with cold antipasti—meats, cheeses, and bruschetta, then a pasta course, then a round of roasted chicken, or pork, or sausage, or meatballs (and salad), and then dessert. It’s a lot of food, and it’s a lot of fun. Go have some.
161 W Girard Ave Philadelphia, PA 19123
There’s nothing to say that hasn’t already been said. Both perpetually booked and easily one of the best restaurants in the city, Bibou offers a $45 Sunday tasting menu. It’s a gem of a deal, it’s absolutely delicious, but it’s a rare find since reservation openings are so few and far between. Chef Pierre Calmels does French with vigilance, creativity, and unprecedented execution, and he’s made quite the name for himself in this city. Try your best to get your name on the books, because $45 for some of the best French this city has to offer is undoubtedly worth your efforts.
1009 S 8th St Philadelphia, PA 19147
Pumpkin and “Sunday Prix Fixe Menu” kind of go hand-in-hand. The farm-to-table experience at Pumpkin has been loved by almost everyone who’s come to enjoy it. Chef/owner Ian Maroney been doing the Sunday dinner for about three years now, and it’s become a staple for their restaurant. Five really tasty courses for $40 is more than a bargain—two courses off the Prix Fixe menu will set you back around $30. That means three more courses for $10 if you order from the Prix Fixe menu.
1713 South St Philadelphia, PA 19146
This BYOB is a Rittenhouse beloved. Chef Ben Puchowitz is having more fun in his kitchen than most chefs do in their entire careers. Some places make themselves known through menu staples, whereas Puchowitz made his name through his ADD-like approach to what he churns out of his kitchen. He has an ever-changing themed chef’s tasting menu during the week, as well as a seasonally-themed five course $35 Sunday dinner. He’s constantly rotating through fresh ideas, and the menu is always friendly and approachable, and when the back of the house and the front of the house are having this much fun, you have no choice but to do the same.
37 S 19th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Local ingredients, seasonally inspired, and all that other good stuff we’ve come to get used to in Philly—The Mildred does all that. It’s the cast iron, stove-to-table cookware that sets them apart. The four-course, $38 Sunday dinner menu is flared with influences from all over Europe, because chef Michael Santoro is classically trained, and his dishes are classically done, and there are traditionally takes on modern cuisine, and modern takes on traditional cuisine, and everything else in the middle. They’re the only non-BYOB on this list, but their list is inviting and eclectic and absolutely worth your time.
824 S 8th St Philadelphia, PA 19147