50 Best Restaurants – January 2016
It’s an exciting time to be an eater in Philadelphia — our new 2016 list represents a staggering amount of talent, an amazing collection of experiences, and almost an embarrassment of edible riches. Beginning now, 50 Best Restaurants will be a living, evolving document — a list we work on year-round, updated regularly on Foobooz and every six months in print, so you can watch the evolution on a schedule more in keeping with the speed at which our scene moves.
Last updated: December 20th, 2015
50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia
- Vernick Food & Drink
- Bing Bing Dim Sum*
- V Street*
- Marigold Kitchen
- Cheu Noodle Bar
Washington Square West
- Bud & Marilyn’s*
- Fitler Dining Room
- High Street on Market
- Le Virtu
- Le Chéri
- The Fat Ham
- Abe Fisher
- The Good King Tavern*
- The Farm and Fisherman (closing May, 2016)
Washington Square West
- Talula’s Garden
Washington Square West
- Talula’s Daily
Washington Square West
- Kensington Quarters*
- Pub and Kitchen
- Il Pittore (closed January, 2016)
- Bistrot La Minette*
- Brauhaus Schmitz
- Little Fish
- Barclay Prime
* New to the list.
East Passyunk | French
1617 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-8299
It takes a lot to make it to the top of a Best Restaurants list in a city like Philly. You’ve got to be a genius in the kitchen, for starters, because you’re in competition with some of the best chefs in the country. You’ve got to have good hands, an excellent crew, connections to the best product. You have to understand not just the back of the house, but the front, too—how to make every dinner an event and hospitality seem like second nature. But in order to maintain that spot for a second year, as Nick Elmi and Laurel have? More than anything else, that requires consistency. Elmi is a chef who knows who he is and what he wants, and he has never strayed from it. Every night, he serves a seven-course French-inflected New American tasting menu and nothing more, a board full of beautiful and innovative dishes like the braised pork cheek with squash, sweet pumpkin and the cutting bite of lemon that he served through the fall, or a counterintuitive Jersey scallop with ginger and crispy chicken. Every menu he puts out is a perfect expression of all the hardworking years behind him, and Laurel is a restaurant that has never aspired to be anything more than the greatest, most welcoming, most gracious neighborhood restaurant any city could ever hope to have.
Rittenhouse | American
2013 Walnut Street, 267-639-6644
Year after year, the experience of dining at Greg Vernick’s Rittenhouse restaurant feels easier, smoother, more charming, almost narcotic in its ability to calm the neurosis of today’s frantic gastronaut. Vernick and his crew aren’t playing with fireworks here. There’s no liquid nitrogen or tweezered garnishes. But in settling into a seat in the back room, feeling the heat of the stone oven, and looking through a menu that’s an ideal representation of modern, worldly American cuisine, you’re experiencing a different kind of excitement. From the grilled romaine to the lamb rack, the cod swimming in its bath of oxtail broth to the perfect roasted chicken with a simple lemon and herb jus, there’s nothing on the menu that isn’t a good choice, nothing that doesn’t leave you feeling happier and more comforted than when you walked in.
Old City | American
306 Market Street, 215-625-9425
Though the menu feels as though it’s been simplified over the past year, it’s nevertheless a testament to chef Eli Kulp’s vision (and to his staff) that even after Kulp was injured in the Amtrak derailment last year, even though he’s still out recovering, Fork’s kitchen remains expert at walking an ever-shifting line between innovative flavor combinations (smoked beets with poached oysters) and deeply heartfelt cooking, like handmade chicken liver ravioli with pickled Swiss chard and ginger.
Midtown Village | Vegetarian
1221 Locust Street, 215-320-7500
There are a handful of restaurants here that we regularly use to show up any snooty foodies who come to town still thinking the cheesesteak is the height of Philly’s culinary achievement.
Vedge is one of them. With its groundbreaking seasonal vegetable menu and unbelievable flavors coaxed from some of the most unlovely plants available (turnips, rutabaga, cabbage), it remains our favorite place to send anyone looking for a true taste of Philly talent in this edible moment.
East Passyunk| French
1623 East Passyunk Avenue, 267-639-3203
Fine dining in Philly has never been an easy bet. So when Townsend Wentz gambled on opening an unabashedly French white-tablecloth restaurant at ground zero for the post-gastropub movement (East Passyunk Avenue), we wished him nothing but the best—while keeping a wary eye on the execution. Now, more than a year in, we can confidently say that his eponymous restaurant—with its grand bar, polished wood, easy formality, sweetbreads with olives and seared branzino over confit potatoes—remains proof that fine dining isn’t yet dead. It just requires a level of commitment, confidence and refinement that most other restaurateurs are too scared to even attempt.
Midtown Village | Italian
1312 Spruce Street, 215-732-3478
It sometimes seems as though nothing that happens in Philly, in food or in the world can touch Marc Vetri’s namesake restaurant. It’s an oasis—a sheltered space where nothing but the next plate or next glass of wine matters. And Vetri spares no expense here, doing everything from picking the chairs to approving menus, and packs his tastings with surprises (like antelope, or little crepes with truffle fondue). He knows pasta better than any chef in this city (no small accomplishment), and, most remarkably, even with all the changes to his empire lately, he’s never let his best, most personal restaurant slip even an inch from his command.
Center City | American
440 South Broad Street, 215-735-1913
There’s one thing that keeps Sbraga at the top of this list, and that’s Kevin Sbraga. He’s a great culinary mind, dedicated to experimentation, who runs competitions between his own cooks regularly and rarely seems to step away from his namesake restaurant. With his seasonal, global New American menu (as much Indonesian as Italian some nights, as French as it is Pennsylvanian), servers who always seem to be having almost as much fun as the customers, and the timelessly modern (never stuffy) space, Sbraga has helped to define the new landscape of dinner out.
East Passyunk | Asian
1648 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-279-7702
A year ago, Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh finally opened the restaurant they’d been promising forever—a border-crossing, convention-defying fusion dim sum restaurant for the modern age. From the minute the lights went on, it was a good restaurant, but Puchowitz’s constant tinkering (he made thousands of bad soup dumplings before he got one he was satisfied with) and bonkers ideas about what fusion means (bagels-and-lox buns, roast pork bao, breakfast-y turnip cakes with matzo meal, fried egg and maple syrup) have pushed it beyond the level of anything else ever seen in Philly—and right into the top 10 of the best restaurants in town.
Bella Vista | American
604 South Street, 215-925-3001
There was a time when heavily invested grubniks hotly debated whether Peter Serpico (ex of Manhattan’s Momofuku empire) understood what it means to be a chef in Philly. But then they ate his Cope’s corn ravioli, his chicken and snail lasagna (no, really), and his awesome fried duck leg on a Martin’s potato roll, and now no one wonders about that anymore.
Kensington | French
1305 North 5th Street, 215-309-2211
There’s always going to be a wild strain of DNA in Philly’s culinary makeup that’s all about the DIY spirit of the neighborhood BYO. And Helm, with its simple, ever-changing chalkboard menu, plain wood tables tucked into book-crowded nooks and welcoming neighborhood atmosphere, is a throwback to those days when the local BYO was a more seat-of-the-pants operation. Roast pork with cabbage, mussels with potatoes and shishito peppers, and a Basque gâteau for dessert—Helm is inconstant and small, but its impact in the neighborhood (the only thing a true BYOB should ever really concern itself with) has been huge.
Society Hill | Israeli
237 St. James Place, 215-625-8800
Most restaurants have a moment. It comes and just as quickly goes as the fickle dining public latches on to the next shiny, pretty thing. Zahav, though? It’s had an age, an era, an epoch in which it has stood as one of the restaurants that signify the depth and excellence of Philly’s scene on a national scale. But the best thing about it? It still feels like our restaurant—a place that throws awesome parties for the neighbors, and where you can still walk in on a Tuesday night and have some of the most amazing and deeply considered Israeli food you’ll ever taste.
More about Zahav | Return to top
12. V Street
Vegetarian | Rittenhouse
126 South 19th Street, 215-278-7943
Of course a city like Philly is going to have not only one of the best vegetable restaurants in the entire country, but a vegetable-focused bar as well, where inventive cocktails (bourbon and Turkish coffee; gin and mustard) pair with vegan versions of international street food. And because it’s the second restaurant from the team behind that aforementioned vegetable restaurant (Vedge), what’s most notable about V Street is that eating here doesn’t feel like eating at a vegan restaurant at all—it feels like dropping in on one of the coolest bars in town and ordering a few snacks (za’atar flatbread, Peruvian fries, dan dan noodles and Korean tacos) that just happen not to have any meat in them.
Center City | American
300 South Broad Street, 215-670-2303
Jose Garces’s workshop, laboratory and playground has gone through some massive changes (and a three-month vacation) since reopening. There’s a new pricing structure, an end to the complicated reservation process, and a new executive chef (Justin Bogle, snapped up from the ruins of Avance). Everything about it is easier now, more approachable. And there’s also a new menu that resets every single dish on the massive 12-course tasting with a fresh, occasionally challenging, often comforting and exceptionally conceived plate. Say what you will about Volvér (because everyone already does), but it shows Jose Garces at his smartest and most engaged. And if you get the chance to dine here, it’ll be a meal you remember for years to come.
14. Marigold Kitchen
University City | American
501 South 45th Street, 215-222-3699
Dinner at Marigold is supposed to be a surprise. The expansive, wide-ranging tasting menus from the crew at this West Philly rowhouse-turned-temple-to-modernist-cuisine are kept (mostly) secret in order to preserve the shock of never quite knowing what the cooks are going to attempt next. Pumpkin slow-cooked in brandy, scored and seared and served in the style of foie gras? A salad dressed in a caramel apple vinaigrette? Sure, why not? Chef-owners Andrew Kochan and Tim Lanza call what they do “avant-garde” cuisine, and they try to live up to that heavily freighted designation every single night.
15. Cheu Noodle Bar
Washington Square West | Asian
255 South 10th Street, 267-639-4136
While many other noodle shops have vanished over the years, this fusion noodle bar has maintained its place at the top of the heap owing to the middle-finger-to-tradition attitude of a menu that sees brisket, matzo, cornbread and collards as perfectly reasonable things to put in a bowl of ramen (and dumplings as an excellent vehicle for pizza).
Grad Hospital | American
1713 South Street, 215-545-4448
But no one talks about Pumpkin anymore … That’s what you’re thinking, right? And that’s exactly how Pumpkin’s fans and regulars want you to keep thinking. But 26 seats and a menu that changes according to the turn of the seasons and the whims of the chef—that’s every young cook’s dream. And Ian Moroney has been living it from behind the rail at Pumpkin, serving a short, beautifully conceived menu to those smart enough to seek out this tiny, cozy 11-year-old BYO.
East Passyunk | French
1911 East Passyunk Avenue, East Passyunk, 215-271-7683
Chris Kearse has long been one of the city’s most intellectual chefs. His modernist plates show off layered, complex seasonal flavors, and he has an artist’s eye for composition—his presentation always arriving like an explosion of color in the narrow, crowded gunmetal dining room. But now, with his weekly Sunday prix-fixe menus (full of maitake mushrooms with foie gras, and burgundy snails with bacon “cassoulet”) and monthly third-Tuesday tasting menus to keep things interesting for his regulars, Kearse seems to have added warmth and heart to his already formidable arsenal of skills.
Bella Vista | French
1009 South 8th Street, 215-965-8290
After a year of changes (a brief shutdown, a remodel, the loss of a few seats, and a refocusing of the menu into a multi-course prix fixe), Bibou has come back strong. Stronger, really. And the biggest reason for that? The return of chef Pierre Calmels, who has backed away from Le Chèri (his other restaurant) and gotten back behind the stoves here on a regular basis. The loss of a few seats (there’s now room for 20) has given Calmels a little breathing room, and the weekly set menu of rustic French dishes (lamb filet with persimmon; pig snout ballotine with burgundy truffle; the best foie gras in Philly) allows him to concentrate on perfecting just a handful of dishes each week.
East Passyunk | American
1537 South 11th Street, 215-551-5000
For its risottos alone, Fond might have made this list. Or for the kitchen’s pork rillette with pickles and truffled parmesan aioli—a nearly throwback dish these days, but so perfectly executed that it could stand as an object lesson in How To Do The Classics Right. But the fact that these are just two of the starters on chef Lee Styer’s menu should give you a clue to how much talent and finesse he brings to the game.
20. Bud & Marilyn’s
Midtown Village | American
1234 Locust Street, 215-546-2220
Chef-owner Marcie Turney grew up in the Midwest, eating the meatloaf, fried chicken, bratwurst and cheese curds that dot her menu at Bud & Marilyn’s. The place is a love letter to the restaurant run by her grandparents, for whom it’s named, and there are great, reimagined American classics all over this menu—from chop suey with pork belly that’s like the greatest drunk food of all time to fried chicken with salted honey butter and house-made hot sauce. But what brings it all together is a space that feels a little like you’re eating dinner in your weird uncle’s rec room circa 1978. You know, in a good way.
Midtown Village | Italian
412 South 13th Street, 215-732-2647
With so many restaurants in town, you’d think Marc Vetri and his crew would run out of things to say about Italian food—would begin repeating themselves or poaching their own ideas. But Amis, with its classy-comfortable vibe, its trattoria feel and Roman flavors, is completely its own creature. The mortadella with hazelnut honey is an exemplar of the kitchen’s style, and the sweet-potato ravioli with pancetta shows the reach of its comfort. Having a couple plates at the bar with an Italian cocktail remains the best way to experience the best of Amis.
Collingswood | Italian
618 Collings Avenue, 856-854-2670
Chef Joey Baldino is an unabashed classicist when it comes to his menu, offering those diners lucky enough to get a table at his 35-seat BYO deceptively simple dishes that might sound like those at every street-corner trattoria in town (antipasti, gamberetti e fagioli, spaghetti vongole, cannoli for dessert) but are prepared and served with such an understanding of tradition and attention to detail that they’ll show you why they became classics in the first place.
Fitler Square | American
2201 Spruce Street, 215-732-3331
There’s something so reassuring about dinner at Fitler Dining Room. It’s the restaurant that fads forgot—a kitchen where seriousness trumps quirks, one that remembers what dining used to be like before small plates, share plates, tasting menus and grazing at the bar became the way we all approach dinner. Here, the starters (a couple salads, some oysters, a slab of apple-glazed pork belly) feel like proper appetizers, and the main courses manage to be solid and traditional without sacrificing modernity or a sense of adventure.
Old City | American
308 Market Street, 215-625-0988
There are moments at Fork (High Street’s more serious sibling) that can feel a little didactic. A little daunting. There’s a significance to dinner there that’s not always part of the experience you’re after. High Street, on the other hand, is lighter, bouncier and more engaging, and can be just plain weirder depending on the night, the crowd and how you order. Squid ink baguette with lamb tartare, tripe diavola, angry crab spaghetti and sourdough ravioli with smoked brook trout were all choices on a recent menu. But for those overwhelmed by having to choose between jerk-spiced parsnip and potato toast with potted shrimp (which is the better choice, BTW), there’s always the option of simply letting go of the reins and having the kitchen cook you a multi-course tasting menu of its own design.
25. Le Virtù
East Passyunk | Italian
1927 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-5626
After months of running the line at his new restaurant, Brigantessa, chef Joe Cicala decided to refocus his attention on Le Virtù, the restaurant where most of us got to know him in the first place. And that was good news, because Le Virtù seemed to have wandered a bit, losing some edge of awesomeness and excitement without his regular presence in the kitchen. Now it again stands as a destination restaurant in a city full of Italian food, remarkable in its single-minded dedication to Abruzzo cuisine and the depths to which Cicala is able to mine that rich vein of culinary tradition.
26. Le Chéri
Rittenhouse | French
251 South 18th Street, 215-546-7700
There’s good seating at the bar, a lovely garden, lunch service, and an à la carte menu of recognizable French classics. The pork rillon arrives with a simple whole-grain mustard. The escargots come as a ragout with fava beans and mushrooms. And the ravioli de champignons—a mere appetizer—are like a French declaration that pasta is what you eat when you can’t think of anything better to make. Everything about Le Chéri is bigger, louder, less intimate and more approachable for a casual night out than at its sister restaurant, Bibou, and both have carved out places for themselves in Philly’s newly (and highly) competitive French restaurant scene.
Center City | American
1521 Spruce Street, 215-546-1521
There are restaurants that loudly announce their (alleged) genius to the world, and others that quietly go about the business of feeding people dinner without making a big goddamn fuss about it. Russet is one of the latter. And while it’s shameful how often we forget, in the glare of the new and the novel, how good Andrew Wood’s intensely seasonal, rustic farm-to-table cooking can be, Russet’s climb up this year’s list should be a reminder to everyone enamored of the new: Sometimes it’s at the quiet, capable, competent restaurants that the best food can be found.
28. The Fat Ham
University City | Southern
3131 Walnut Street, 215-735-1914
Southern cuisine has been gaining traction in the American restaurant scene for some time now. Kevin Sbraga got into it fairly early (by Philly standards) with this brash and casual ode to the pleasures of the Southern table, but the Fat Ham has maintained its high level of quality (and fun) over the years, becoming an easy sell for anyone out looking for kicks, grits, collards and bourbon (even if not necessarily in that order).
Spring Garden | Italian
640 North Broad Street, 215-763-0920
One of the best, most indulgent lunches in Philly remains two glasses of wine, the Parma pizza from Osteria, with its freight of arugula and prosciutto, and a snack from the antipasti menu—grilled octopus with lemon and potatoes, maybe, or an olive-oil-poached pear with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and capers. Give yourself a couple hours to enjoy it, of course. Or, hell, maybe just call it a day, go home, and take a nap, because there’s no way your afternoon gets any better than this.
30. Abe Fisher
Rittenhouse | Jewish
1623 Sansom Street, 215-867-0088
There was a moment when Abe Fisher felt like the most exciting restaurant to hit Philly in forever—a return to sit-down dining for Michael Solomonov after Federal Donuts and Dizengoff, and a brilliant intellectual experiment in the powers (and flavors) of Diaspora cuisine. More than that, the kitchen was knocking out killer veal schnitzel tacos, goat cheese blintzes and chopped liver with pastrami-onion jam. And while some of the shock of newness has rubbed off of Abe, it remains an undeniably cool place for eating at the bar, for entertaining out-of-town foodies looking for a thrill, or for a group looking to dig into the now-legendary Montreal short ribs for four.
East Passyunk | Italian
1520 East Passyunk Avenue, 267-318-7341
If for no other reason, come for the freaked-up list of mutant Neapolitan pies Joe Cicala’s crew is serving here—weirdly shaped things topped with chili oil, Meyer lemon, broccoli rabe and squash puree. If that doesn’t do it for you, come for the long, dreamy list of antipasti that an intemperate man could easily spend all night eating without ever tasting the same thing twice. Come for the handmade pastas, the sausages and goat all charred on the grill or run through the big oven. Come because Brigantessa, on its best nights, feels like what every Italian restaurant in this city ought to feel like—loud and happy and vital and alive.
Northern Liberties | American
914 North 2nd Street, 215-627-7500
Chef Sean Magee’s menu at this new NoLibs jazz bar is rich. The black walnut bar runs a full 40 feet, decorated with 36 taps pouring craft beers, cider and session sours. The space is open and warm and sky-lit. In other words, Heritage isn’t your standard-issue dank and smoky juke joint. And the food is precisely not what you’d expect, either. No soul food, no generic pub grub. Instead there’s a solid menu of rustic, meat-heavy and locally sourced dishes like steak tartare, French beans, smoked cabbage and bacalao.
Bella Vista | French
614 South 7th Street, 215-625-3700
Everything about the Good King Tavern speaks to our current obsessions. It’s a neighborhood pub, sure—casual and welcoming and squarely in the middle of the zeitgeist—but the menu is French (filled with escargots, bowls of mussels, steak frites, trout moutarde, and French radishes with butter and sea salt), the beers are well chosen, and the wines by the glass are organized by “good,” “better” and “best” (which is awesome).
Midtown Village | American
1120 Pine Street, 267-687-1555
Closing May, 2016
Josh Lawler’s farm-to-table bona fides are strong. He learned how to source from Laurent Tourondel and Bill Telepan in New York, served as chef de cuisine at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill, and came home to Philly with the intention of opening a locally sourced farm restaurant in the heart of the city that could prove both the viability and the deliciousness of our evolving network of farmers and suppliers. Now, years later, the Farm and Fisherman remains one of our signifying farm-to-table restaurants—and manages to earn that spot every day without ever being preachy about it.
Old City | Spanish
217 Chestnut Street, 215-625-2450
It’s remarkable, after all the years and all the restaurants, that Jose Garces’s first Philadelphia location still holds up so well. The menu is unabashedly Spanish, offering tasting menus, wine pairings, and an à la carte selection of tapas that’s like a greatest-hits mixtape of everything you ever loved about the small-plates craze. Plus, the place has one of the best (forgotten) happy hours in town, with a long list of $5 snacks and bargain glasses of wine that’ll make even the longest day a blurry memory by the time you go reeling off for home.
36. Talula’s Garden
Washington Square West | American
210 West Washington Square, 215-592-7787
Aimee Olexy owns New American cuisine at Talula’s Garden. What with the autumn parsnip soup with Oregon hazelnuts, the Chesapeake crab salad, the Berkshire pork belly with pan-roasted apples and the Southern-inflected blackened chicken with peanuts and pickled mustard greens, there is simply no restaurant in town more New American than Talula’s Garden is right now. Olexy and her crew own it. No one else should even bother trying.
Midtown Village | Mediterranean
110 South 13th Street, 215-546-9300
Yes, it’s crowded, but that’s because everyone in town knows that Barbuzzo remains one of the most homey and delicious Mediterranean restaurants in the city, offering everything from a great lunch menu to pizzas that hold their own in this pizza-mad moment—and some of the greatest meatballs in the city. The addition of the upstairs space now allows for some private dining, but it’s still the blazing open kitchen and the action at the bar and counter and among the tiny, crammed-together tables that secure Barbuzzo’s place on this list and in this city.
38. Talula’s Daily
Washington Square West | American
208 West Washington Square, 215-592-6555
Of the two Aimee Olexy restaurants that made the list this year, Talula’s Daily speaks more to the changeable, quixotic age in which we’re eating. It’s a simple cafe by day, with pastry cases, coffee, little tables and all the other hallmarks. But come the evening, it sheds this skin and transforms into a kind of quasi-supper club, with variable seating and a monthly set menu. More often than not, it’s a menu made not to impress but to comfort, with plates of spaghetti, fresh breads, salads, roasted meats, beautiful seafood and expertly paired wines, all executed with museum-quality precision in an environment that’s both worshipful and fleeting.
Fishtown | American
1310 Frankford Avenue, 267-314-5086
In the big food cities of America, hipster butcher shops are totally a thing. Most of them are awful—more about the beards than the meat. But Kensington Quarters isn’t. Existing as a combination restaurant and butcher shop, KQ should stand as the model against which all modern butcher shops are judged—a place that exists to put customers in close contact with the proteins they’re having for dinner and the people who get them to the plate. Rather surprisingly, no one who has ever eaten here would call the place a steakhouse (the kitchen is far too good with vegetables for that, and there are no actual steaks on the menu); instead it features beautiful, wild and well-constructed dishes like parsnip ravioli, pork head cheese with fennel mayo, a crispy chicken leg over grits, and one of the most interesting charcuterie plates in town.
Spring Garden | Southern
600 North Broad Street, 215-600-0220
Chef Paul Martin is a Louisiana native who knows the canon he’s working with at this combination restaurant and jazz lounge. And he hits all the right notes with Carolina shrimp laid over a perfect white cloud of lobster-infused grits, unbelievably good pickles, crab toasts sitting plainly on bare white plates, and crawfish fritters that walk the line between the New South trend and straight-up American fusion.
Midtown Village | Spanish
105 South 13th Street, 215-922-6061
The worst part about Jamonera is how good it is. If it were a worse restaurant, fewer people would go there. The floor would be less crowded, the cramped space less elbow-y, the bar less packed with those looking for snacks and cream sherry, warm Medjool dates wrapped in bacon and stuffed with Valdeon or wispy slips of hand-cut Iberico ham. But unfortunately, Jamonera is that good. So for now, you’ll just have to suffer the crowds, keep your elbows in close, and learn to tolerate your neighbors in order to get your taste of Marcie Turney and Val Safran’s still-excellent ode to quick Spanish snacking.
42. Pub & Kitchen
Grad Hospital | Gastropub
1946 Lombard Street, 215-545-0350
After almost eight years in business, Pub & Kitchen is still the neighborhood restaurant we all wish was in our neighborhood. If it could be replicated—cloned a hundred thousand times and dropped onto every Main Street and crossroads in America—it would be the most successful chain ever devised. Because great beer, smart cocktails, whiskey and sage bread, lamb neck chili and one of the best bar burgers in Philly is a combination that’s never going to go out of style.
43. Il Pittore
Rittenhouse | Italian
2025 Sansom Street, 215-391-4500
Closed January, 2016
There are nights when Il Pittore seems to glow—the soft lights, the creamy walls, the polished wood of the tables. There are nights when the mood in the room, the flow of dishes from the kitchen and the gliding staff all come together to make service look like a ballet. It might not be every night, but on its best nights, Il Pittore can feel like one of the warmest and most welcoming rooms in the city. And always, behind it all, is the kitchen, doing its own idiosyncratic brand of new/old rustic Italian pastas, breathing new life into rabbit agnolotti with hazelnuts, or giving a fresh spin to corzetti with braised goat, mint and chili oil.
Center City | American
1901 Chestnut Street, 215-454-6529
Aldine had a rough start. There were opening delays, equipment issues, signage issues. (It actually opened without one.) The critics weren’t in love with it even though it was the first real restaurant opened by a post-Stateside George Sabatino, one of the best chefs in the city. And the menu? Well, the menu was challenging, to say the least—an art project of incomprehensibility, shading far too modern for most people’s tastes. But over the past year, Aldine has fought back from the brink. With new staff, multiple new menus, and a hard-won understanding of the differences between cooking for ego and cooking for customers, it has earned its place on this list as surely as any restaurant in town. Aldine is growing stronger with each passing season and has finally become, if not the ideal expression of Sabatino’s modern-yet-comforting style, then certainly a restaurant worth watching.
Queen Village | French
623 South 6th Street, 215-925-8000
The long, narrow space, the wine-colored banquettes, the short bar and haze of yellow light and menu full of rustic French classics—everything about Bistrot La Minette puts it in that category of restaurants pretending that they exist somewhere other than their physical space. And yet it’s the connection between the kitchen and the floor, between what exec chef Kenny Bush and his crew are cooking and the experience of tasting this vision of classic, hearty yet delicate French food, that elevates Bistrot out of that class of pretenders and makes dining there an experience that no one in Philly should miss.
46. Brauhaus Schmitz
Bella Vista | German
718 South Street, 267-909-8814
Chef Jeremy Nolen has been working hard lately—writing cookbooks, opening restaurants. But he made a good staffing decision when he handed over day-to-day kitchen operations at Brauhaus Schmitz to Henrik Ringbom, who understands the essence of Nolen’s modern German cuisine well after their long collaboration and brings to the table a fresh set of ideas and presentations that keeps the place lively and interesting as it moves into its sixth year.
Midtown Village | Greek
1311 Sansom Street, 215-545-0170
If you haven’t been to Opa in a while, you should go back. The place has changed under the command of new chef Bobby Saritsoglou, the menu going deep and broad with Greek influences that reach past the tired clichés of saganaki and stuffed grape leaves (both of which remain on the menu) and bring flash-fried smelt with grilled lemons, grilled octopus with almond skordalia, and delicate grilled pears with goat cheese and Greek honey to the table alongside the kebabs and souvlakia. The place is both more settled and more fun than it’s ever been.
48. Little Fish
Bella Vista | Seafood
746 South 6th Street, 267-455-0172
At just 22 seats, the name fits. But no matter how cozy the dining room might feel, chef Chadd Jenkins is doing some big work here. With a menu that changes daily, he represents one of the very few restaurants in this city focusing on seafood—which is ridiculous, yes, but also sadly true. Even better? His seafood is excellent—smartly sourced and paired with a border-hopping spread of sides and accompaniments that in almost every case glorify the fish without overpowering it.
49. Barclay Prime
237 South 18th Street, 215-732-7560
When someone else is footing the bill, this is the only steakhouse you should consider. And when you’re celebrating something that demands the backdrop of a meat-scented temple to the luxe life? Barclay Prime is your place, too. The service is fawning, the wine list is epic, the menu reads exactly like you’d expect it to (many steaks, few vegetables, crab cakes, foie gras and butter-poached lobster), and the dining room is so clubby, you might feel weird without spats and an ascot.
Queen Village | American
627 South 3rd Street, 267-687-8512
Ela’s menu reads like a map to what’s cool and cutting-edge in New American cuisine. In this way, it’s like an anti-Talula’s Garden—serving gnocchi with BBQ potato skins, and topping potato parsnip soup with rye oil. And that’s all before you get to the General Tso’s duck hearts with broccoli and milk-poached garlic. Yes, the menu still calls the cocktails “elixirs” (which is so annoying and twee), but Ela is a restaurant that isn’t afraid of newness or reinvention—and that’s something that should be respected.
Published in the January 2016 issue of Philadelphia magazine.