In years past, there always seemed to be a few suburban spots we could depend on to crack our list of the best restaurants in Philly—places that were worth the drive and the time it took to step outside the echo chamber of Philly’s urban restaurant scene.
This year, though, was tougher. We lost a couple places that were always solid, saw some brave, pioneering chefs looking outside the more traditional restaurant neighborhoods, and decided that while not really strong enough yet to deserve a full list of its own, the suburban scene was sufficiently interesting to stand slightly apart from the main catalog of the 50 Best Restaurants.
It was places like MacGregor Mann’s JUNTO in Chadds Ford that drove this decision. Despite being surrounded by dry cleaners and yarn shops in the Olde Ridge Village complex, Mann (who recently returned to Philly after a culinary walkabout that took him as far as the kitchen at Noma in Denmark) is doing excellent, eclectic food inspired by Pennsylvania’s culinary heritage. Not cheesesteaks and scrapple, but alder-smoked sturgeon, and chicken soup with huitlacoche riwwels and corn consommé.
There’s BLACKFISH in Conshohocken, Chip Roman’s dependable, seafood-centric New American BYO, which remains one of the best bets outside the city limits. And not far away is another terrific BYO—the SPRING MILL CAFÉ, which does farmhouse French (hazelnut escargots, lapin aux pru- neaux and tarte tatin) in a lovely setting that feels more honest, with its 30-plus years of service, than many city restaurants trying to approximate that level of experience with their deliberately weathered, rustic design.
A thousand pizza places dot the ’burbs. Few of them are as good as the original VECCHIA in Phoenixville (which recently expanded with a second location in Wayne), where the menu is rigorously short (five or six versions, no more) and the wood-fired pies are as good as the ones at Pizzeria Beddia. Order one Covaccino with garlic, arugula, prosciutto and shaved parmesan, and one Regina Margherita topped with buffalo mozzarella and a perfect San Marzano tomato sauce, then go feel all smug about the fact that you didn’t have to wait in line for an hour.
More? Yeah, there’s more. RADICE in Blue Bell for neighborhood Italian. OLCE PIZZA GRILLE in Worcester because the specialty pizzas (like the roasted sweet corn available in summer, or the meat pizza with little veal meatballs and bacon and prosciutto) are original and awesome. THE FARM AND FISHERMAN TAVERN & MARKET in Cherry Hill, where Josh Lawler and Todd Fuller get to stretch a little and do family platters, big burgers, shrimp and grits, and soft pretzels with cheese fondue and bacon marmalade. Barbecue freaks can hit ZACHARY’S (hidden away in the Logan Square Shopping Center in Norristown) or PHAMOUS PHIL’S in Collegeville (which still turns out some great ribs) and walk away happy either way. Wayne has TERESA’S NEXT DOOR to scratch that gastropub itch. And the Main Line, while battered, abandoned and occasionally forgotten entirely by city restaurateurs, still has NECTAR in Berwyn, a restaurant approaching legendary status for its huge menus, seasonal sushi mash-ups, and dedicated chef Patrick Feury—the man who refuses to let Asian fusion die.
Originally published in the January, 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.