Food & Drink

14 Great Philly Restaurants We Wish Hadn’t Closed

From long-lived greasy spoons to concepts from hotshot chefs who flamed out, we're remembering these much-loved spots taken from us too soon.


little pete's diner

Little Pete’s Diner

Philly has been in the midst of a long-lived restaurant boom that shows no signs of slowing. But amid the onslaught of new restaurants opening all over the city year after year, there are the fallen soldiers: old-school spots that got priced out due to rising rents, hotshot chefs whose ambition outstripped their business sense (or maybe just their luck), and concepts that made great food but, for whatever reason, just didn’t take. They live on in the form of dead Yelp pages and in our memories. Here’s a list of some of the bygone Philadelphia restaurants we miss the most.

kanella south

Kanella South | Facebook

The Cooler Kanella

Kanella South
Closed in: 2018
With Kanella South, it finally felt like Konstantinos Pitsillides finally had the right tools — a spit, a wood-burning oven — to really show off his skills. The Queen Village space was just gorgeous, too. But tax issues forced the spot to close earlier this year, which is a shame — Philly’s Greek scene is in something of a shambles (though we’re optimistic about the upcoming Koukouzeli), so it was exciting to see a concept pushing the envelope. Luckily, you can still get that Cypriot goodness at Kanella Grill at 10th and Spruce.

The Everyman Diner

Little Pete’s
Closed in: 2017
The iconic 24-hour diner at 17th and Chancellor was one of the dwindling number of places in the heart of Center City where folks from all walks of life could congregate over a plate of scrapple or corned beef. Accessible, welcoming spots like Little Pete’s pump the lifeblood of a city, and it seems like there are fewer and fewer of them every year. Now, we’ll have the opposite — a luxury hotel erected by New York developers — on a spot that many Philadelphians consider hallowed ground.

The Italian Spot That Felt Like Italy

Modo Mio
Closed in: 2017
Peter McAndrews’s Modo Mio didn’t feel like an Italian restaurant — it felt like eating in Italy. It helped put Girard Avenue on the city’s dining radar a decade ago, and that highly affordable, Best of Philly-worthy tasting menu was a crazy good deal (and just crazy good). But problems with the logistics of the space and rent hikes got to be too much for the chef, who’s still got Paesano’s, Monsu, and Heffe Tacos. At least another great concept took Modo Mio’s place at 2nd and Girard: Cadence, our pick for 2018’s Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant.

The Soul Food Dive Bar

Elena’s Soul Lounge
Closed in: 2012
According to neighborhood lore, the West Philly building home to Elena’s Soul had housed a bar or nightclub continuously for 104 years before a fire on Christmas Eve in 2012 consumed the building. In its last incarnation, old heads from the Leroy’s Showcase Lounge days drank alongside members of the queer punk bands playing shows upstairs. It was the kind of spot where everyone felt at home, the drinks were cheap, and the food was simple but delicious. Booker’s has filled the soul food void in the neighborhood with its upscale take, but there’s nothing quite like enjoying a Citywide alongside a platter of top-notch fried chicken, collards, and candied yams in a dark bar with your neighbors belting karaoke in the background.

The Fat Ham’s hot chicken | Photo by Vanessa Beahn

The Spot That Nailed Southern Dining

The Fat Ham
Closed in: 2017
We’ll always love the Fat Ham for its hot chicken, but the memories are bittersweet: chef-owner Kevin Sbraga’s empire grew too big too quickly, and not long after the flagship Fat Ham shuttered, the rest of his concepts went with it. Now, the chef is attached to the upcoming Fitler Club, and yet another concept, Tipsy Bistro, has opened in the Fat Ham’s former home.

The Petite Portuguese BYO

Koo Zee Doo
Closed in: 2013
A 50 Best Restaurants-worthy (rare) Portuguese restaurant in Northern Liberties (rarer) run by a James Beard Award-nominated chef (yep)? How could we not love this place? But after three and a half years, slow weeknights at Koo Zee Doo prompted owners Carla Gonçalves and David Gilbert to close down. The city does have some great Portuguese spots (Cafe Liz and Peruvian hybrid El Balconcito come to mind), but they’re all solidly in North or Northeast Philly. Here’s hoping another Portuguese concept can make it work downtown someday soon.

The Pseudo-BYO from Jose Garces

Garces Trading Co.
Closed in: 2018
Before beer and wine were in grocery stores around Philly, there was Garces Trading, a BYO with a then-exciting (and beautiful) wine cellar inside the restaurant, which specialized in gourmet goods and sandwiches with the celebrity chef’s signature touch. But the retail counter was nixed and replaced with a full-service bar 2013 — and earlier this year, the concept became one of the surprisingly few casualties in Garces Group’s recent restructuring due to outstanding debts.

Khmer Kitchen | Photo by Alex Tewfik

The Best Cambodian Spot in Philly

Khmer Kitchen
Closed in: 2018
This family-run BYO in Pennsport repped Cambodian cuisine, broadening the scope of the city’s dining scene and serving incredible chicken curry and pleah (spicy raw beef salad with lime, peanuts, and fresh mint) in the process. Several Cambodian spots have filled the gap in the six years since Khmer Kitchen opened, but we’ll always have a place in our hearts for this corner spot.

The Original Chef-y BYO

Django
Closed in: 2008
Before there was Aimee Olexy and Stephen Starr — as successful a restaurant business partnership as the city has ever seen — there was Aimee Olexy and Bryan Sikora, chef and Olexy’s then-husband. Django’s homespun chic vibe and killer cheese plate  signaled what was to come. Both Olexy and Sikora have since gone on to better things: he owns concepts in Wilmington and Kennett Square, and she’s become an iconic restaurateur in Philly.

The Farm-to-Table OG

The Farm & Fisherman
Closed in: 2016
Why we miss it:
Josh and Colleen Lawler’s petite Washington Square West BYO turned out elegant farm-to-table, snout-to-tail fare — they famously had no walk-in refrigeration, meaning that fresh ingredients were constantly coming into the restaurant. Remember when farm-to-table was an exciting new thing rather than a Portlandia punchline? We do, and it was great. But the Lawlers outgrew their downtown space and chose to retool and relocate their farm-fresh ethos to the suburbs. There are now two Farm & Fisherman Taverns, one in Horsham and one in Cherry Hill.

The Midcentury Greasy Spoon

Snow White
Closed in: 2011
Philly has lost a lot of its great diners in recent years. Yeah, there’s Delco and Jersey on either side of the city, but stilla major American city needs the accessibility, affordability, and history that a solid long-lived diner can provide. Snow White’s space at 2nd and Market was reopened under the same ownership as Revolution House, a kid-friendly yet upscale spot for pizza, beer, and pub grub, but it just doesn’t have the same cachet.

taco angeleno

Taco Angeleno | Facebook

The Great Taco Cart in — Sigh — West Philly

Taco Angeleno
Closed in: 2018
West Philly’s lack of great pizza and Mexican fare is widely acknowledged (hey, South Philly has tons of both and is just a quick ride over the Gray’s Ferry bridge). But Taco Angeleno’s straightforward, L.A.-style tacos — flavorful slow-braised meats, a simple toppings bar of chopped onion, radish, cilantro and curtido, and seitan for vegetarians — this is West Philly, after all — filled that void. Owner Vanessa Jerolmack kept prices affordable and turned a once-vacant lot into a family-friendly seasonal  gathering place for the neighborhood, but she made the tough choice to not reopen for the summer season this year. At the same time, she hinted that her taco cart might be back in some form in the future, so we’re holding out hope. 

The Upscale Peruvian Spot

Chifa
Closed in: 2013
At Chifa, Jose Garces focused on the relationship between Peruvian cuisine and its Cantonese influence, putting yuca fries, lomo saltado, soup dumplings, and scallion pancakes all on one glorious menu. But Chifa was also the first Garces restaurant to falter, closing after four years in business. Whether that was a sign of things to come with the celebrity chef — Chifa was eventually replaced with Cuban diner Rosa Bianca, another concept that didn’t take — or it just opened a decade or so before its time, it would have been nice for Peruvian fare to take hold in the city back then.

The Neighborhood Hangout

Mémé
Closed in:
2012
A beloved neighborhood spot (Fitler Square) serving quality New American fare is a beautiful thing. And apparently, making killer fried chicken will make folks fondly remember your restaurant for years after it folds. After closing Mémé, chef-owner David Katz has been a culinary director at Honeygrow and is now spearheading Capogiro’s nationwide expansion. And the space at 22nd and Spruce became Fitler Dining Room, which was then transformed into its current occupant, Trattoria Carina — another beloved neighborhood spot.