50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia
No one is going to look back on last year fondly, especially in the hard-hit restaurant industry. To be real with you, it’s why we never updated our 50 Best Restaurants list: Updating such a celebratory list — a ranked one at that — is fraught, to say the least. Yet even during a pandemic, we saw new life — a kind of experimentalism and entrepreneurship born of perseverance. That makes us both hopeful about the future of Philly dining and excited to eat here right now. Whether you want to be wowed with extravagance or are looking for a perfect plate of comfort food, here are the places — pop-ups, coffee shops, food trucks and, yes, restaurants — that are serving exceptional food in an exceptional time. If you’re looking for more recommendations, you can still find a somewhat-updated 50 Best list below—now unranked, and shortened to 42 spots because of pandemic-related closures.
“Korean-ish” takeout from Peter Serpico
Peter Serpico is the kind of chef who spends days and days and days on a single dish. Obsessing over it. Fine-tuning it. Throwing it out and starting from scratch if it so requires — whatever it takes to get the dish exactly right. And he always, eventually, gets it exactly right. That was the secret to his success on South Street for all these years. When COVID forced Serpico (the restaurant) to close, he reactivated the space as Pete’s Place, a “kinda Korean” (his words) takeout operation that specializes in tsukemen-style kimchi noodles, spicy pickled pepper ramen, Korean fried chicken and the like. And though the food may be different, his dedication hasn’t wavered a bit. He’s still chasing perfection, even if it’s takeout. Order online at petes.place.
A sandwich shop with a fine-dining brain
Every good sandwich starts with good bread, and the best sandwiches start with the best bread. And at Huda, chef-owner Yehuda Sichel (formerly of Abe Fisher) makes pound-for-pound the best sandwich bread in the city. The sliced kind is sourdough (which he learned to make at the beginning of the pandemic, just like all of us — except he mastered it), and he tops it with seasonal goodies like apple butter, cheddar and roasted Brussels sprouts, or cheffy things like house-smoked lox and mushroom butter. The buns are milk buns, of course (all sandwich buns are milk buns in 2021): fluffy and feathery, yet strong enough to hold a hefty cut of grilled swordfish over Napa cabbage slaw, or a crispy fried hunk of maitake mushroom with Mexican torta fixings. You could order a drink and a side of chips. But again, it’s 2021. Make it a side of lamb chops. Because at Huda — and we’re not joking here — you can order a side of lamb chops. Two of them, glazed in sweet chili. 32 South 18th Street, Center City.
A Sri Lankan initiation
When you order takeout from Sri’s Company — on Instagram or Facebook, via DMs — you’re probably going to order a curry. It could be a chicken curry, or a potato curry, or a snow crab curry, if you’re lucky and they’re in season. And that curry won’t taste like any you’ve ever had in this city, because the intense hum of cinnamon and deep spice is purely Sri Lankan — a cuisine born from the country’s geographic circumstance, influenced heavily by the spices and cooking styles in South India and Southeast Asia (but not defined by them, and with Dutch and Portuguese cuisine weighing in, too). Before Melissa Fernando’s pop-up, you couldn’t find Sri Lankan food in Philly. There was no masala vada, no rice noodle breakfasts, no chicken and roti casseroles. But you know, Philly’s different now. Multiple locations; @sriscompanyphilly.
A favorite restaurant, reimagined
It’s really hard to pull off what chef-owner Pat O’Malley has pulled off at Fitz and Starts. Because Fitz and Starts used to be Hungry Pigeon, a restaurant this magazine once touted as the best in the whole damn city. Last summer, there was some chef drama, and an ownership change. O’Malley went from a co-owner to the sole owner, and he kept the Pigeon name while he finalized a new identity. He beefed up the bakery side of things (playing to his strengths as one of Philly’s best bakers). He added a wine shop; he retooled the business model — in lieu of tipping, there’s a 20 percent service fee added to each check. He changed the name. And just like that, Fitz and Starts picked up exactly where Hungry Pigeon left off, back on the list of the places we just plain love. 743 South 4th Street, Queen Village.
Detroit-style pies with a mission
In a more just world, a Detroit-style weekend pop-up pizzeria doing crab and vodka-sauce pies, frying never-frozen wings, and spinning milkshakes made with local ice cream wouldn’t be such a novelty in Philly’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. In a more just world, we’d have better systems in place for the formerly incarcerated attempting to reenter the workforce. In a more just world, all restaurant owners would pay all their workers a living wage. That ain’t the world we live in — at least, not yet. But because of chefs like Kurt Evans, who’s bridging those divides with a revolutionary business model that addresses all those issues head-on — and who hopes for a full-time grand opening here soon — we get to live in a world that’s that much better. 2804 West Lehigh Avenue, North Philly.
Honest-to-goodness venezuelan eats
Amid all … this, Ardmore’s food scene quietly and quickly morphed into maybe the most exciting foodie hub on the Main Line. And there’s no better example of its ascension into restaurant stardom than homespun restaurant Autana, which lures the arepa-hunting, tequeño-hoarding, patacon-inhaling denizens of our region into traveling from the city to the suburbs for an unabashedly authentic taste of Venezuelan cuisine. 6 Station Road, Ardmore.
A proudly Ethiopian all-day cafe
It’s exciting when a restaurant opens that’s so proud of itself. Proud of its purpose. Proud enough that it stays open from breakfast to dinner, giving each meal of the day its due respect, from bowls of soft cracked wheat topped with vegetables and beans in the morning, to the big family-size platters of spongy injera soaking up all the spice and heat of the stir-fried tibs at night, to the coffee — flown all the way here from back home in Ethiopia and house-roasted, so it’s bold and fresh for us when we return the next day. And the day after that. 5121 Baltimore Avenue, West Philly.
Filipino food that knows no bounds
This roaming pop-up has such a good time tweaking and toying with Filipino cuisine (think: pork sisig tacos on Barney-purple ube tortillas; chicken wings tossed in an oh-so-Filipino adobo glaze; banana egg rolls that eat like doughnuts). The crew behind Tita Emmie’s doesn’t seem to be trying to achieve any sense of purity or authenticity or tradition. In fact, they seem to be cooking in spite of all that. Multiple locations.
So a fishmonger opens a seafood restaurant …
In Season 5 of Queer Eye, the Fab Five designed and built Alma del Mar in the Italian Market, then left it up to owner Marcos Tlacopilco (who opened Italian Market staple Marco’s Fish & Crab House almost 20 years ago) and his family to make it a success. That they did, with a killer brunch of souped-up waffles, bacon banana French toast, and, at dinnertime, one of the greatest whole snapper presentations — grilled and lacquered with a citrusy achiote sauce, served simply with grilled pineapple — in all of Philly. 1007 South 9th Street, Bella Vista.
Because there’s always something new
Some days, you’ll go to River Twice and eat local trout, pickled and then grilled over white birch — a bowl of Robuchon-style mashed potatoes and caviar on the side. Other days, it’s an order of hash browns completely inundated with uni and white truffle, followed by a cured and slow-roasted leg of lamb for the table. Sometimes, it’s just a cheeseburger, and other times, it’s a muffaletta sandwich at lunch. You could eat at River Twice seven days a week and have a different meal all seven of those days. The menu (or is it chef and co-owner Randy Rucker’s kitchen?) has a short attention span in the best way, constantly chasing the ingredients, not of the season, but of the moment. 1601 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
A pizzeria that’s made for dough nerds
It’s not Detroit-style. It’s not Neapolitan. It’s kind of New York-y, but not really. It’s both artisan and everyday — as if the dudes behind your neighborhood pizzeria went to some prestigious pizza school, won a bunch of pizza awards, and decided to open a place of their own on a quiet corner in Fitler Square. 240 South 22nd Street, Fitler Square.
Destination dining in Delaware
It’s hard to eat at Le Cavalier without feeling just a tiny pang of guilt: that in the age of COVID, we still get to snack on lobster tails poached in warm butter (those of us willing to travel to Wilmington, at least). That we still get to drag our knives across the crispy skin of the whole branzino just to hear the crackle. That we’re not even so much chewing our food anymore — instead, we’re letting the little nubs of Parisian gnocchi with lump crab and caviar melt away on our tongues. The longer you’re there, though, the more that guilt starts to feel an awful lot like gratitude — that even in a year devoid of experiences, this one still exists. 42 West 11th Street, Wilmington.
A cult classic comes to town
It used to be so annoying to have to drive out to Princeton or the Whole Foods in Spring House to get our hands on Alex Talbot’s award-winning fried dough creations. So we couldn’t be happier that he’s established a residency at ITV Philly, Nick Elmi’s East Passyunk cocktail bar that’s currently on a COVID-inflicted hiatus (but still offering takeout cocktails and snacks). Talbot’s doing his thing there every Friday, Saturday and Sunday till sellout. And remember: Curiosity Doughnut devotees are planners. The lines will be long, and the doughnuts will sell out fast. Inside ITV Philly at 1615 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk.
A heartfelt Haitian-American experience
The word “lakay” translates to “home” in Haitian Creole. That’s what chef Chris Paul named his pop-up restaurant, because to him, Lakay is a return to roots. Through grilled whole porgies marinated in garlicky epis and crispy conch fritters splashed with mango-habanero sauce, Paul is taking his years of culinary training and his experiences in and out of restaurants and applying them to the food of his childhood — the food of his home. Follow @chefchrispaul on Instagram to see where Lakay pops up next.
Birria tacos — and only birria tacos
Used to be you had to know someone who knew someone in Philly if you wanted to eat birria tacos — a special kind of shredded meat taco (goat, beef, pork or lamb, but usually beef here. The dish, born in Jalisco, Mexico, is soaked in jus and served with consomé.) And then, late last year, all of a sudden, for reasons that can’t be explained, birria started appearing on menus across the city. In our opinion, Mi Pueblito Tacos, the evenings-only, weekends-only food truck in South Philly, does birria best. 1812 South 7th Street, South Philly.
Not your average everyday coffee shop
It’s a coffee shop, sure. But calling it that would be reductive of Mina’s World — less than a year old and already such an important part of the surrounding community. Owners Sonam Parikh and Kate Egghart made their small, happy space into a combined coffee shop/marketplace/community food fridge/snack emporium (with pakoras and samosas fried daily by a nearby Indian grocer) — a.k.a. the center of the modern Cedar Park universe. 511 South 52nd Street, West Philly.
At this minimalist pizza and wine restaurant in Kensington — millennial bait, at this point — from the ReAnimator Coffee crew, the pie dough is sour and naturally leavened; the toppings — kale and fermented chilies, or fennel cream and fontina — are both elevated and smart (without being, you know, too smart); and the wine is, as you’ve come to expect, au naturel. 310 West Master Street, Kensington.
Published as “Where to Eat Now!” in the January/February 2021 issue of Philadelphia magazine.
50 Best Restaurants
Looking for more dining inspiration? Here’s our list of the 50 Best Restaurants, last updated in January 2020.
Funny how things change. How fast they change. Last year, we ranked the 50 absolute best restaurants in the city — and this year, we’re doing it again with a largely different cast. But change is good, and with a new decade ahead of us, let’s give a warm welcome to the 50 Best Restaurants in Philly, class of 2020.
Friday Saturday Sunday
Vernick Food & Drink
Palizzi Social Club
South Philly Barbacoa
Fiore Fine Foods
The Good King Tavern
Washington Square West
Washington Square West
Arak cocktails, Lebanese omelets, kouign-amann, and the smell of sumac, lemon and char. Dining in Philly didn’t always look or taste like this, but thanks to Suraya, it does now. 1528 Frankford Avenue, Fishtown.
Friday Saturday Sunday’s transformation from neighborhood landmark to one of the most polished, stunning city restaurants has been complete for years now, but it still never fails to surprise.
Greg Vernick has two restaurants, a coffee shop and a wine shop to his name (literally) now, but this original remains an unparalleled showcase for his adoration of modern American cuisine.
There are moments at Hiroki that feel like meditation. And there are moments that feel almost alien — your brain unable to process how some fish, a little rice, and a swipe of horseradish can taste so pure and rich and complete. Dinner at this indulgent omakase sushi bar is, quite literally, a perfect meal.
With each menu iteration, Nick Elmi’s stalwart becomes more or less French, Asian, American, Mediterranean, Philadelphian. The one constant? The talent that elevates Laurel to the top tier.
Even if Marc Vetri’s venerable restaurant was the only spot in Philly, we’d have more creativity, more variety and more talent than some cities have in their entire lists of trattorias and ristorantes.
The breakfast sandwich is legendary. But the real strength of Res Ipsa Cafe happens after dark — when it morphs into a candle-lit restaurant serving remarkable pastas and that famous charred octopus.
Michael Solomonov is now the head of a restaurant group and a bona fide celebrity. But all these years later, Zahav is still the best expression of the love that drove him to show the world just how good Israeli food can be.
You come here for black bass swimming in brown butter dashi or the duck leg with hoisin on a potato roll. No matter what you order, you’ll leave in awe of Peter Serpico’s vision of American cuisine.
South Philly is full of places to eat nonna Italian food. But Palizzi is a pure distillation of all of them. It’s a clubhouse built entirely of nostalgia and red sauce, and it’s yours to play in — provided you have a membership card.
In a restaurant scene that lives and dies by every plate of pasta, it was brave for Anthony Andiario to add one more to the mix. All he had to do to stand out was make the best tonnarelli, the best fusi, the best ricotta gnudi with pears and fonduta that you’ve ever tasted. And he succeeded.
Different addresses, different rooms … it doesn’t matter where Cristina Martinez is; her food is some of the most heartfelt you’ll find on the planet.
It’s no longer revolutionary to say that this city has some of the best vegetarian food in the country. What is surprising is that the restaurant that started it all has remained on the cutting edge of meatless eating for years.
The consummate modernist, chef Chris Kearse made an unusual choice to open a French restaurant full of foie gras, roasted chicken and rabbit cassoulet. His menu is a textbook example of how to do French food properly today — with perfect technique, international influence and zero stuffiness.
It’s hard to say which half of this clandestine place is more fun: the loud front room, with its canned sake, crowded bar, and amazing little Japanese sausages, or the quiet back, where chef Jesse Ito’s omakase sushi dinners draw crowds from all over the city and beyond.
Want to know one of the most surprising things about Joe Beddia’s follow-up to the original Pizzeria Beddia? It’s that this place, which arguably does some of the best pizzas in America, can also make a simple bowl of beans swimming in olive oil memorable.
There are two chefs operating restaurants in the new Comcast building. Greg Vernick may be the lesser-known name, but his is the better product. His vision of Jersey Shore seafood is upscale and polished, complex, global and local all at the same time.
Nok Suntaranon and My-Le Vuong run one of the purest expressions of a BYOB we’ve seen in years (a tiny dining room, exciting cooking, personality galore), with a menu that glorifies traditional Thai food in ways we’ve never seen before.
Quick breakfasts, sit-down dinners, coffee on the run and pastries on the side — Fiore thrives on the friction between authenticity and modernity in a world where people want both, all day long.
The true strength of Stina’s menu is in the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern options. The borek will blow your mind. The giant manti dumplings are the comfort food you didn’t know you needed. And while the wood-fired pizzas are good, the pide — footballs of dough filled with egg and cheese — are the true standouts.
In summer, the backyard patio is one of the coolest places around. In winter, the dining room is cozy. No matter the season, Joey Baldino’s heartfelt cooking proves how deep the flavors of Italian simplicity can go.
The menu reads like a poem about comfort, all pork croquettes, fried potatoes and baked apples. Owner Joncarl Lachman opened Noord as a place Philly could return to every year, but what we got is a place we want to go back to every night.
James Beard winner Camille Cogswell heads up this all-day cafe from CookNSolo where daylight crowds swarm over the bakery cases, snatching up her chocolate rugelach and Jerusalem-style bagels. At night, there’s table service and candles, labneh toasts with smoked trout, and lamb with pistachios. And all of it rests on the ample strength of Cogswell’s talents.
With every new chef who comes through the kitchen (currently, it’s Jeremy Hansen), Fork reinvents itself. Locality, sustainability, and global inspiration are the guardrails that keep this place on the road. But within that, the possibilities are endless.
The stuffy fine-dining French restaurant is one of the most enduring myths of the food world. Philly’s reality is much more like TGK, with its steak frites, white burgundy by the bottle and easy vibe.
The way to truly get Little Fish is to walk in with a bottle of wine and the sure knowledge that whatever you eat tonight will be a singular dining experience, never to be repeated.
Royal Boucherie would be at home in any city — a cozy, loud French spot where everything from the cocktails to the charcuterie is created with both modernity and classical technique. Lucky for us, we got this joint — one of the most comfortable dining rooms in Philly.
There are neighborhood restaurants that are thinly disguised art projects by chefs, and then there are those that exist to serve the community. The great thing about Hardena — besides the beef rendang — is that it’s absolutely the latter.
Middle Child seems like a retro luncheonette, but the toast and jam is Japanese milk bread with whipped ricotta, the Phoagie is a vegan marvel, and the So Long Sal is a wonder of the sandwich arts.
We often don’t pay enough attention to restaurants that aren’t flashy. Cadence is a soft-spoken masterpiece where the herb dumplings with seafood ragu and the pork loin with a mole sauce speak for themselves.
Here, chef Lou Boquila does Filipino home cooking in a BYO setting. There’s soft scrambled egg tortang talong, chicharrones with cheese, and roasted chicken with lemongrass and calamansi. If modern Filipino food is having a moment, then Sarvida is leading the way in Philly.
Hearthside presents as another open-kitchen faux-rustic New American restaurant. But sit down, and you’ll find a wickedly talented kitchen putting an inspired twist on almost every dish.
Upstairs, it’s a cool bar that does a booming happy hour. Downstairs, it’s like an escape hatch from the real world, with flickering candles and tables full of people eating gyoza, crab udon and unagi donburi like they’re getting away with something.
With its customizable menu, hybrid counter/table-service setup, and fast-casual heart balanced against its serious commitment to Southeast Asian traditions, this is the future of chef-driven dining in Philly.
The Schulson Collective is all about big spectacles. But Alpen Rose is different: a cloistered 40 seats, a handful of staff, a short bar, that’s it. Well, that and expert steaks that are dry-aged in-house. It’s a personal, surprisingly casual (if still VERY pricey) experience that you won’t get anywhere else.
There was never a point where onion soup wasn’t delicious. Where duck à l’orange and trout amandine weren’t brilliant combinations. Tastes may be fickle, but talent isn’t, and Parc has been doing what it does well for so long now that it keeps rebounding into the hearts of diners.
Because Fishtown just wouldn’t be Fishtown without a place to get fried chicken bao, brisket ramen, dan dan Brussels sprouts, and potato latkes okonomiyaki with Kewpie mayo and kimchi.
People come to Blue Corn for green tacos, margaritas, brunch eggs, and an authentic taste of Mexico City-style food. It’s a small place, but it manages to offer something for everyone and enough surprises to keep people coming back for more.
Le Virtù’s commitment to the flavors and history of Italy’s Abruzzo region (plus its warm approach to service, evolving menus and killer events) has kept it vital in a city that’s not exactly lacking in Italian food.
Can ancient cuisines meld with modern ones, and can the history of a people manifest in its food? The modern Jewish cuisine being served at this CookNSolo eatery — the veal schnitzel tacos, the Manischewitz steak sauce — is our answer.
The sandwiches are massive and built on housemade bread, and honestly, everyone can stop arguing about who has the best pizza in the city now, because Angelo’s is it.
You might come here for kebabs and discover the dolmades. You might come for the falafel and find that Kanella makes its own gyro meat and hot sauce, or has octopus on the menu that you never noticed before, or really excellent baklava. What’s remarkable is that such a small place with such a seemingly simple menu can be so full of surprises. What’s not surprising at all is how often you’ll want to go back.
A couple years back, Bok Bar — with its sweeping views and stunning rooftop location — was the city’s darling: an undeniably hip, summery spot that made Philly feel like it was right on the edge of being truly cool. Now, with Irwin’s, we can feel the same way all year ’round, with the added benefit of small plates, comfortable, mismatched chairs, graffiti on the walls and Middle Eastern-influenced cocktails drunk by candlelight.
Musi has a menu of comfort foods and creative surprises: soft pretzels with jam and cheese, a bagna cauda potato salad. There’s something so Philly about it — so BYO and DIY, with so much street-kid swagger — that this little joint gets elevated to a place the whole city can be proud of.