50 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia
Our highly anticipated, hotly debated list of the 50 restaurants in Philly (and beyond) defining what it means to dine out in the region right now.
Meet the restaurants defining what it means to dine out in Philly right now, the ones that make us feel lucky to live in this city every day. With years of navigating pandemic restrictions behind them (and new labor and inflation challenges awaiting every service), they’ve found ways to pioneer our restaurant scene while making 2022 a little more fun for us all — even on the days when the news indicates that fun is extinct.
In almost every case, these restaurants represent a quintessentially Philadelphian tension between what’s been true of the past and what could be true of our future. They subvert diners’ expectations in injera wraps; they update and elevate the comfort of gnocchi sardi; they empower their neighborhoods through pizza, barbacoa, and bánh mì.
We’re gathering them here to steer you towards best-in-class dining experiences you’ll have a hard time recreating anywhere else. In case you were looking for 50 more reasons to brag about our often-weird, always-lovable city, you’ve come to the right place.
Every year in January we launch a brand new list of the 50 best restaurants in Philly. But we keep things fresh with seasonal updates. New to the list for the fall: EMei in Chinatown, Georgian Bread and China Gourmet in Northeast Philly, and a.kitchen + bar in Rittenhouse.
Browse by Neighborhood
Neighborhood: Bella Vista
Angelo’s makes a world-class cheesesteak and city-defining pizza. And, for that, we’re officially coining the term “Philadelphia carb privilege” to describe the feeling of living in a city with two superstar items available at one single establishment — albeit a takeout establishment that requires waiting an hour for your order and/or calling multiple times to reach a human being. Sure, it’s a pain in the butt to get your food at Angelo’s. But it’s our pain in the butt. And when you take your first bite of cheesesteak — ribeye chopped like confetti and clinging with Cooper Sharp ooze on Angelo’s own sturdy, sesame-seeded rolls — or the first slice of cheese pizza that sticks out straight when you hold it in the air but collapses at the slightest chomp, you’ll understand exactly what we mean.
With Fiorella, Marc Vetri proves, once again, that he does pasta better than anyone else. Better than Italians from Italy? Maybe. Your grandma? Sorry, but probably. The proof: ricotta gnocchi that are at once densely satisfying and light as a cloud, deceptively simple cacio e pepe, perfectly al dente rigatoni with robust house-made sausage ragu. You don’t have to admit it to your pasta-making elders, but you should definitely bring them to dinner here.
South Philly Barbacoa is one of those rare, nationally acclaimed restaurants that’s still able to hang onto the humble, neighborhood feel of the original project. So despite Cristina Martínez winning a James Beard award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic, there are no daily specials or flashy Instagram gimmicks, for instance. Instead, Martínez has been making the same barbacoa tacos since day one, using the same Lancaster-grown corn (originally sourced from Chiapas, Mexico) for fresh-pressed tortillas and the same labor-intensive techniques for pit-roasting the lamb. The tacos and consommé are every bit as worth waiting in line for as they were back when Martínez’s empire was still just an itty-bitty South Philly food cart. Better yet: SPB’s social justice arm is just as enduring — to wit, the People’s Kitchen, which fed food-insecure Philadelphians throughout the pandemic.
Neighborhood: Center City
Even after so many visits, we’re still surprised by how exceptional Yehuda Sichel’s sandwiches are. Crisp maitake mushroom, slow-cooked brisket, grilled swordfish — all feel like something you’d see on the menu at a swanky sit-down restaurant, not a fast-casual lunch spot. That they’re tucked into soft milk buns made in-house every morning — the perfect vehicle for these fillings — has raised the bar for every other fast-casual operation in town.
If you’re of a certain age and living in Philly, you probably remember when High Street opened on Market Street. Specifically, you remember the Forager breakfast sandwich and how, with its messy-delicious mix of scrambled eggs and pickled mushrooms hanging over a house-baked roll, it changed what we thought about restaurant breakfasts. When landlords jacked up the rent on Ellen Yin and Eli Kulp’s landmark restaurant and bakery, the duo found a new home. The Forager is still on the menu, but so is a dizzying array of baked goods: kabocha squash bread, lemon squares, muffins, cookies and biscotti, sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, soups, salads, pizza and much more.
EMei’s Szechuan plates marry numbing peppercorn heat, savoriness and fermented funk — thwarting any idea that the cuisine can be described solely by a whack-you-across-the-head shock of spice. We’re talking pieces of freshly fried Chongqing chicken that will make you wonder if you’re now the kind of person who fills your purse with Chongqing chicken (rightly assuming the crispy, crunchy pieces laced with dried Szechuan chilies might come in handy the next time you’re stuck in line at CVS or on the 42 bus or simply desperate to microdose the EMei experience). We’re talking mapo tofu, its cubes gathering in a thick, numbing sauce with momentary salt explosions from fermented black beans and rich ground pork. A whole grilled sea bass swimming in pickled pepper sauce with cabbage and bean sprouts. For all these reasons, the city is vastly better off with EMei in it. And we shouldn’t take the business for granted, especially given Chinatown’s recent challenges: pandemic-ignited anti-Asian racism, a slowdown in foot traffic, and a Sixers arena looming on the horizon.
Neighborhood: East Passyunk
Blood and bone and dirt and fire: That’s what 2020-opened Ember & Ash is working with on East Passyunk. It’s a nose-to-tail, root-to-leaf restaurant, which means you’ll see beef shin and a whole pig’s head on the menu. But the sustainable model isn’t just about showing off animal cuts that don’t always get the spotlight, Ember & Ash use their produce to the fullest extent possible to cut down on waste. Get excited to uncover a party of house-made ingredients even when you weren’t necessarily anticipating it: sweet potato miso and housemade gochugaru fermenting in big jars in the kitchen, a dish with fresh fettuccine ribbons sliding around a butter, squash shoots, and squash blossom bath, or roasted broccoli in a chimichurri sauce made with the vegetable’s stems. Sure, the place might look like a run-of-the-mill gastropub that serves burgers and beer. Don’t let that fool you: It’s fundamentally so much more.
Philly certainly isn’t lacking in Vietnamese restaurants. But Gabriella’s chef and owner, Thanh Nguyen, proved to us — with bowls of water fern dumplings, vermicelli platters with bright and funky mắm tôm dip, and plates of crispy thang long-style catfish — that all along, we’ve been missing her specific approach to Vietnamese cuisine: a new generation of Vietnamese Philadelphians responding to its past, food made for gathering, and street-food traditions turned into BYOB feasts.
We don’t know how else to say this, but, Irwin’s is going to make you want to rip your clothes off. (Ideally you do this with a date once you’re already home, and not in the restaurant — though take it to the bathroom if you must.) There’s just something about the combination of Sicilian food and a lounge-y eighth-floor Bok space. Between the comforting-but-stylized dishes — sticky agrodulce chicken, gnocchi sardi studded with melting eggplant and chili flake, and lemon-spritzed fritto misto we’d happily eat buckets of — the views of South Philly, and a bar with Italian wines and amari, there is truly no restaurant like this in Philadelphia right now. Or maybe anywhere in the world. And, for that, it feels special and sexy.
It might be enough that we finally have bagels worth waiting in line for — even according to the New York Times. Indeed, bagel baker/poet Philip Korshak cracked the code for crispy, chewy, soft sourdough wonders, perfectly seasoned and offered alongside a raft of spreads like house-made tangerine date jam and whipped cream cheese. But Korshak Bagels wouldn’t be Korshak Bagels without the people behind it: The 12-person staff unionized last summer.
This century-old members-only club is thriving thanks to its 2019 revamp. Now, chef and operating partner Eddie Konrad — formerly of Laurel and Top Chef — offers a $95, six-course tasting menu as well as inventive a la carte dishes like a blueberry cheesecake deconstructed on a plate so it looks like edible abstract expressionism. Come for a well-made cocktail and some snacks at the bar (which stays open until 3 a.m. on weekends); or book a table in the dining room for a special occasion involving strip steak, an optional $65 beverage pairing, and paintings hanging on the ceiling. Memberships start at $25. Email them for yours.
The remarkable thing about River Twice is that chefs give the same TLC to a cheeseburger (a double-patty honker with pickled onions, everything mayo, and American cheese) as they do to a deceptively simple plate of mushrooms with black truffle. Dining here means knowing that every plate chef Randy Rucker dreams up will be deeply considered. Reserve the tasting experience for special occasions and check out their outdoor a la carte menu for a nicer-than-normal Thursday night featuring some interesting wine (we recently had Galen Glen’s Grüner Veltliner from the Lehigh Valley) and oysters with caviar or a handroll with benne, trout roe, and New Jersey-grown sushi rice that will make your week.
Years ago, with a noggin full of anarchic sandwich ideas and an advertising background to bring them to life, Matt Cahn opened a joint called Middle Child in an unassuming storefront in Washington Square West. Who knew that in four years, it would become indispensable? That its fluffy breakfast sandwiches and Italian hoagies would be name-dropped in conversations about destination dining? For Middle Child Clubhouse — the more ambitious, full-scale restaurant sibling of the original — Cahn decided to take what he’d already built and expand its ethos under the El in Fishtown. The kitchen still serves breakfast sandwiches and hoagies during the day. But at night it’s about latke rectangles dotted with trout roe, cheeseburgers dripping with Russian dressing and American cheese, and Spicy Water cocktails served in Topo Chico bottles. In its heart of hearts, MCCH is still the same playful, delicious Middle Child. Just with a bigger space to throw parties when Mom’s not around.
Joe Beddia — and his obsessive attention to ingredients and technique — made Philly give a shit about pizza. We’re talking about the sort of crisp-bottomed, thin pies with air pockets in the crust handle and shaved Old Gold gouda on top that you want to spend 20 minutes alone with. While Beddia originally started selling 40 pies a night out of a tiny Fishtown storefront, the restaurant now operates in the pizza version of a Barbie Dreamhouse, complete with juicy and complex natural wines, soft-serve that’s drunk with amaro, and thick, olive oil-slick tomato slices that warrant their own trip entirely. His pies endure as some of the best in Philly, or anywhere else in the world where water and flour are available, for that matter.
There are three different Surayas for three very different moods. At 9 a.m. on a weekday, it’s a casual daytime coffee shop with kouign amann and brioche sticky buns, and a market that sells spices, dishes, and cookbooks. On weekend mornings, you’ll find a massive and sceney brunch universe filled with natural light, the smell of lavash baking, and groups eating sweet muhammara and mint-spiked kafta kebab in the garden. On Friday night, it’s a special-occasion destination where you can try their tasting menu of Levantine mezza and mashawi and six different kinds of arak. You’d think, in theory, one of these concepts would work less effectively than the others. But the truth is that Suraya shines in all its categories.
Neighborhood: Fitler Square
With a notable dearth of good dining options in the neighborhood, Fitler Square needed a new restaurant — any restaurant. And it struck gold with the perfect neighborhood restaurant. Sally, from Martha‘s Cary Borish and Mike and Lena Parsell, is everything you want in your local spot: snacks like house-made ricotta and fluke crudo, spot-on salads and small plates, a pizzazz pie. There’s an attached wine shop, and the vibe is fun and casual and just what you want on a Saturday night. Or a random Wednesday with friends.
Neighborhood: Grad Hospital
The historic Royal Theatre got a long-awaited revamp over the past few years and finally, blessedly, opened in early November as Rex at the Royal. And if the gorgeous dining room with a glistening marble bar, plush banquettes, and dramatic golden chandeliers isn’t enough to bring you in, the menu of she-crab soup, shrimp and Marsh Hen Mill speckled grits, and other Low Country favorites surely will.
Thu Pham was already turning out some of the most exciting (and energy-inducing) coffee in Philadelphia before the pandemic — beans from smallhold farms in Vietnam and Thailand, locally roasted and conjured into dark, powerful, woody brews unlike anything that anyone else in the city was doing. But late in the fall of 2021, Pham, in collaboration with pop-up chef and Instagram sauce entrepreneur Jacob Trinh of Trinh Eats, doubled down and opened a full-on cafe offering up fried chicken bánh mì, tomato-and-egg breakfast sandwiches, and just about anything Trinh can imagine in that wonderful, creative noggin of his. The food works in tandem with Pham’s extraordinary coffee, sure. (Get a creamy egg coffee and a savory sandwich, and you’ll see what we mean.) But it’s also 100 percent in keeping with the collaborative, community-focused nature of the business, which donates a portion of their profits to the Philly-based education non-profit, 12 Plus.
Every city should have an Eeva: a place for crispy-fluffy sourdough pies, marinated olives, good natural wine, and a breezy energy. Eeva is, depending on how you look at it (or utilize it), a retail bakery and bottle shop, a takeout pizza joint, a delivery operation, or a full-blown sit-down-and-eat restaurant. It’s a place that is whatever it needs to be — changing day to day, and customer by customer. To sit down and eat is to be folded into the easy embrace of casual, comforting service, and the menu — fresh bread with house ricotta, hot salami pies drizzled with local honey or topped with fennel cream and roasted hazelnuts — is straightforward yet deeply fulfilling no matter how you choose to approach it.
Think of Laser Wolf as Zahav’s younger, more reckless shipudiya sibling who wants to go dancing, eat lamb for every meal, and listen to slightly bad ’80s rock. You only have one decision to make while you’re here: choosing which grilled main you’re ordering. The rest of the meal — about a dozen tiny bowls of sour and spicy and savory salatim, unlimited fluffy pita rounds, and brown sugar soft serve for dessert — is included in the price of the entree. Frankly, the grilled mains are stellar. But the salatim with pita are what will keep you coming back here. Once you’ve been for your inaugural Laser Wolf dining experience, come back to the restaurant, sit at the bar, and order the salatim and soft serve sans entree for $18. They hold the entire bar for walk-ins, and getting one of those seats will make you feel extraordinarily cool (since reservations can be hard to come by).
Neighborhood: Midtown Village
There was a time not that long ago when Philadelphia needed an award-winning, fine-dining vegetarian restaurant to convince people that vegetables could take the place of meat at the center of the plate. That’s what Vedge was — a proof-of-concept experiment that escaped the lab and became a nationwide phenomenon, with cookbooks, t-shirts and spin-off locations. Today, Vedge operates with that same revolutionary spirit, but in an environment where it no longer has anything to prove.
There are plates at Vetri that you’ll remember for the rest of your life — pastas as carefully crafted as a Picasso painting, simple salads that will change the way you look at vegetables forever. No list of Philly’s Hall of Fame restaurants excludes Marc Vetri’s stunning celebration of Italian cuisine. And no list, at least one that’s concerned with food as the primary decider, should. From the epic, hours-long prix-fixe dinners that once defined the place to more contemporary tasting menus, cooking classes, and Quattro Piatti dinners served in one of the city’s most storied dining rooms, Vetri has continued to evolve while maintaining its focus on handmade pastas, seasonal flavors, old-school service and exquisite technique.
Neighborhood: North Philly
Our city is the proud home of dozens of stellar pizza shops that serve what would be the best pizza in any other town. Among them is Down North, which isn’t just delivering (not literally; you have to go pick them up) hefty, frico-crusted Detroit pies topped with genius concoctions like barbecued chicken and pepperoncini. It’s also operating on a groundbreaking mission-based model — one that pays formerly incarcerated folks a fair wage and offers them a chance to learn a culinary career. Doing either one of these things would make Down North special; doing both makes it a highly worthy pizza destination.
Neighborhood: Northeast Philly
Want to eat the city’s most outstanding dim sum? Get in the car and go to Mayfair. This 2,000-seat Cantonese restaurant, which opened next door to a roller rink and an Asian grocery store in the Northeast about six years ago, serves dim sum starting at 9:30 every morning. Here, carts drift between tables, showing off pleated har gow, glistening rice rolls and xue shan bao (with their stucco-like exterior and a sticky pork center) that taste distinctly like they were all steamed or baked within 10 minutes of hitting your mouth. Though to call China Gourmet just a dim sum place would be like saying an iPhone is just a fancy camera or that Pete Davidson is just America’s favorite ex-boyfriend. All of these things are true, but there are more layers at play to consider. Come back for dinner and focus on seafood — live lobsters, wiggly eels, and diabolically large crabs bob around fish tanks lining the dining room’s walls.
At Georgian Bread, a teenager with one AirPod lodged in his ear will likely serve you some of the most flavorful beef-and-rice soup you’ve eaten in your silly life. This will happen inside a long wooden room on Bustleton Avenue with an attached bakery and a TV playing Georgian music videos so catchy, they’ll be impossible to abolish from your mind. And that’s just the start of your meal here, which will be as memorable as a fine-dining special occasion. Next, order the boat-shaped adjaruli khachapuri, with its egg yolk resting in the middle of the open-faced cheesy center. Then some smoky-cold adjapsandali made with eggplant and tomatoes, plus steaming sacks of boiled, thick-skinned khinkhali soup dumplings that taste more like dill and caraway than pure pork and beef. Plus as many orders of $2 bread — baked in a concave tone oven until they’re crusty and steaming — as you have people at the table. (215) 677-4323
Neighborhood: Point Breeze
With her brilliant #NotPizza box, Diana Widjojo created an entire national pandemic trend. But really, it was just a reminder that wherever you eat Hardena’s homespun Indonesian dishes — the beef rendang, the tofu curries, the collard greens stewed in coconut milk — be it at a table in their no-frills dining room or out of a banana-leaf-lined cardboard box at your kitchen counter, they’re always comforting and always perfect.
Yes, Stina is a wood-fired pizza joint that serves some really excellent pies. But that’s never been all Stina does. First, there’s the surprisingly deep Mediterranean menu, full of filo pie, soujouk and shawarma. Then there’s the delightfully weird decor, and the community partnerships and charitable giving. Make sure to follow their Instagram so you can keep up with their guest chef series that brings some of the most interesting chefs in the city into the house to cook amazing one-off benefit dinners.
Cicala had barely opened when the pandemic shut the entire city down. And Joe and Angela Cicala came back slowly, just like everyone else. They did curbside; they did outdoor seating; they did classes and event dinners. But now that things are back to something resembling normalcy in the city, Cicala is getting a second chance. On offer: ziti in a rabbit ragu, cider-brined pork chops with apples and hazelnuts, glasses of Italian wine, and eggplant polpette. With its glamorous reclaimed space and soft light, Cicala was an Italian fantasia during its first incarnation. Now, in its second, it’s even stronger, more soulful, and more special for our knowing what we nearly lost.
Neighborhood: Queen Village
When restaurants were forced to close to dine-in customers, owners Ed Crochet and Justine MacNeil found new ways to connect with their guests: takeout Sunday suppers of lasagna and broccoli rabe, pints of Justine’s made-from-scratch gelato, pastry chef Catherine Peña’s baked goods, with standouts like morning buns, pistachio cornetti, and cream-filled bomboloni. Thankfully, now, you can still get the best of the cafe during the day along with a consistently exceptional pasta-and-steak dinner in a big comfortable dining room.
Little Fish is Philly’s perfect BYOB: humble in size and scale, but with the emotional impact of a white whale you’ll be chasing again and again. It’s where you should be sending out-of-town visitors, your mom who hates 80 percent of restaurants, your best friend, and just about anyone else you know who appreciates a nicely cooked piece of mackerel. Over the past few years, the tiny seafood-centric spot has gone through a few iterations, but, now, they’re back open with an a la carte menu and a weekday-only schedule that prioritizes the staff’s needs. Come prepared with a bottle of white wine (or maybe even a gin martini in a Hydro Flask), and share a bunch of the fishy goods like a sashimi platter or some grilled octopus coated in Chinese hot mustard. The menu always changes, but you can count on chef Alex Yoon to highlight the best of whatever is in season — all while taking inspiration from Japanese, French, Chinese, and Spanish cooking traditions.
Jesse Ito at Royal Izakaya sees the phrase, “party in the front, business in the back” and raises it twice over. The dining room in this city-defining Japanese restaurant dedicates itself to better versions of izakaya classics: crispy agedashi tofu, maki filled to the gills, and spareribs lathered in a funky-sweet ume-shiso glaze you’ll want to eat while slugging back a highball. And the space — with anime projected on the walls and a big wooden bar — feels like an old-timey tavern was remodeled such that it’s perpetually 10 p.m. on a Friday night. In the back, behind a black curtain, Royal’s omakase churns quietly, serving precisely cut pieces of nigiri in an eight-person room. The two experiences live on opposite ends of the dining spectrum, but both are worth having. Even if that means you do the omakase once in your life and come back to Izakaya every month.
With its warm wooden bar, twinkly outdoor patio, crisp-skinned roasted meats and flowing rum punches, Southwark was already pretty much perfect before its mid-pandemic renovation. Nowadays, though, you can go for Winewark Mondays, when you can get a glass from some of the swankier bottles and hang out until 1 a.m., or breeze by on Tuesdays when they serve a weekly-changing menu of bar food like chicken and porcini terrine, blistered shisito peppers, and poutine made with milk-braised pork.
A Rittenhouse restaurant for grown-ups that knows exactly what it is — and isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. A reliable stalwart anytime you need a place in Center City with the best-of-the-best seasonal veg, comforting (and perfectly cooked) roast chicken, and an even better double cheeseburger slapped with Dijonnaise and briny diced cornichon. A date-night destination for inventive cocktails at the bar. A business-dinner hot spot that doesn’t make you want to fall asleep at the table and therefore lose your job. We appreciate A.Kitchen for all of these reasons and eat here more often than we care to admit.
The evolution of Friday Saturday Sunday from a casual neighborhood spot to Chad and Hanna Williams’s low-key, elegant destination has hit its apex with the launch of a new tasting menu. It’s not a regular tasting menu. It’s done the Williams way, which is as a pitch-perfect mix of luxury and fun. It’s flaky bite-size empanadas filled with pig’s head. It’s a mini buttermilk biscuit topped with beef tartare and osetra caviar. It’s a canelé — glistening a little with the lacquer of local beeswax, double-baked in a copper mold after the batter rests for three days—that comes with the check at the end of the meal. Paired with cocktails by Paul MacDonald, the decades-old restaurant reigns as one of the city’s best.
Amanda Shulman bills her Sansom Street spot as a “supper club,” but really, it’s a straight-up dinner party — like the kind you’d have with your friends and family at home, except here, your friends and family are spearing their forks into pickles and picture-perfect pâté en croûte. They’re oohing and aahing over all the fresh black truffles on top of free-form lasagnetta. They, like you, are floored by the amount of love and warmth and dedication to craft radiating through the dining room.
Parc works for anything from an anniversary dinner to an apology dinner, for Grandma’s birthday, visiting in-laws, or celebrating a successful parole hearing. It’s just one of those places that’s always on the list of possible destinations. And while some restaurants might get that kind of reputation by being so patently inoffensive that no one could possibly complain, Parc — with its French heart and Philadelphian soul, its onion soup, buttery trout amandine, bustling patio, and seafood towers — has earned its street cred through years and years of practice.
The best table at Vernick has always been in the narrow back dining room, where you can watch the cooks in the crowded kitchen work. The best plates have always been the simplest ones — a perfectly grilled pork chop with cherry au poivre and polenta, cheese toast with onion jam or tartare and horseradish. And the best thing about chef Greg Vernick’s original, namesake restaurant has always been its near-magical ability to walk the incredibly narrow line between casual comfort and high-end hospitality while making it look effortless. Go often and always.
People wait on the street for a chance to eat Treley and Tsering Parshingtsang’s Tibetan momos. Maybe they wait because Tibetan food — and the spareness, heat and stripped-down focus that define it — is tough to find in our zip codes. But the truth is that White Yak’s food would stand out even in a town overflowing with shoko khatsa and steamed beef momos. Come for plates of stir-fried potato sprinkled with chili powder and perfect green shards of scallion, or soft ting mo steamed buns (hidden in the “side dishes” section of the menu, but worth discovering), and mo thuk beef momos swimming in a salty beef broth threaded with whatever greens the kitchen has on hand. If you haven’t been to White Yak yet, go tonight. Order simple: momos, and banana tempura for dessert. Then go back again tomorrow.
Neighborhood: Society Hill
Here’s the thing: Zahav is still as good as people say (and people love to say how good it is, don’t they?). There’s a totally feasible world in which that might not be the case anymore, what with the onslaught of national attention, the cooler-by-comparison Laser Wolf joining the party, and a Goldbelly partnership that allows anyone in America to order Michael Solomonov’s pomegranate lamb shoulder with all the trimmings — golden saffron-scented rice, twice-cooked eggplant, the hummus. Goldbelly or not, Zahav still feels like our city’s restaurant. And if you’re persistent enough to score a reservation, your prize will include a parade of brightly flavored salatim, mezze like black bass tartare and haloumi sparkling with honey, and, yes, the lamb, always falling off the bone.
Neighborhood: West Philly
In a neighborhood full of Ethiopian restaurants, Alif Brew & Mini Mart stands out by twisting any preconceived notions we may have about what an Ethiopian cafe is supposed to be and what it can do for its community. The typical notes of Ethiopian cooking are on full display here, but flexed in a casual grab-and-go environment where kifto and stewed collard greens are sometimes layered and wrapped together in injera like a burrito. Where Taco Tuesdays mean berbere-spiced squash with black beans stuffed inside injera tortillas. Where malawah are stuffed with Nutella and bananas, rolled into cones, and wrapped in foil so you can eat them with cups of Alif’s house-roasted coffee at Clark Park down the street.
After serving Senegalese food in West Philly for over 15 years, owner Youma Aisse Ba recently moved her restaurant’s operations to Baltimore Avenue, into the storefront where she runs her other restaurant, Youma. Fortunately, you can still get the same great classics here — dibi lamb chops topped with punchy marinated onions or tomato-heavy thieboudienne and plantains on the side — in a space sporting bright yellow walls and comfy chairs. Another upside of Kilimandjaro moving: It’s right next door to a well-stocked African grocer stocked with spices, huge bags of rice, and dried, smoked fish, plus two friendly kittens try to distract you from shopping.
The Suburbs and Beyond
Five nights a week, Anthony Andiario cooks a prix-fixe meal based on what he can get from local farmers and producers. He doesn’t announce the menus in advance and that’s part of the fun. Once something is gone, it’s gone — possibly never to return. Eating here is often the kind of experience that sticks with you for years — a carefully curated and expertly prepared taste of a particular moment or season in Pennsylvania, expressed through the flavors that best represent the state. Yet your meal never feels forced or heavy. Dinner here is just dinner, after all. But Andiario stands as an example of just how extraordinary something as simple as “dinner” can be.
Dubu dazzles with comforting bowls of soondubu jjigae, made with soft tofu and a creeping buzz of heat. With an endless array of banchan that kicks off your meal, with crisp and savory haemul pajeon flecked with shrimp and scallion, and with handmade mandu in broth that’s been simmering for two days. Lastly, you come for the warm, familial energy and the K-pop that plays in the background as you fervently wish this place existed in every neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The dining room is all stonework, dark wood, and flames licking from the big wood-fired ovens in the kitchen and the gleam of candles on every table. The menu is lobster spaghetti, brussels sprouts with the sting of Calabrian chilies, smoked pork chops with grits and bacon jus, and whole roasted branzino with olives and artichokes in a white wine beurre blanc. Together, they make Hearthside feel like a Restaurant With a Capital R — a place for dining that eschews the flighty and impulsive in favor of something more refined. Serious but not stodgy, solid but not stuffy.
Sometimes at June, Richard “Todd” Cusack — the chef who runs the restaurant with his wife and sommelier, Christina Cusack — will wheel an antique duck press to your table. He’ll use the silver-plated press to crush the carcass in a century-old tradition that extracts its juice, leaving nothing edible to waste. The pomp is followed by a sequence of duck courses that show off the chef’s decidedly French culinary prowess and cred. (His résumé boasts stints at New York’s Daniel as well as Bibou here in Philly.) Not up for partaking in that tradition? There are plenty of other French-inspired dishes on the menu, from escargots imported from Burgundy to Parisian gnocchi, all of them deserving a visit to Collingswood.
Since 2013, Nick Elmi has been working from his teeny-tiny kitchen at Laurel, his East Passyunk tasting-menu restaurant. Lark, which opened in 2021 with partner Fia Berisha, is sprawling by comparison, with a scenic outdoor patio overlooking the Schuylkill River. For most chefs, the expansion might mean road bumps, but not for these two. The service is friendly and professional as ever, and every single dish—from wide pillows of gnocco fritto served with silky ricotta and paper-thin prosciutto to squid-ink chitarra dusted in garlic breadcrumbs to the oh-so-fluffy espresso budino — nails the mark.
The historic Green Room inside Delaware’s Hotel Du Pont served the same menu in the same archaic, heavy-draped environs for decades. Then Tyler Akin took over and breathed new life into the space. Gone are the curtains; gone is the wall-to-wall carpet that covered the original terrazzo floor. The menu, too, got a modern revamp, with French brasserie-inspired plates of duck frites and chicken Provençal. The result is worth traveling for.
Some people might call Sagami a perfect Japanese restaurant. That’s not necessarily wrong. But maybe a more accurate description would be a happy place where the same sushi chefs have been behind the same sushi bar, making the same chirashi bowls and eel rolls, for decades. Where the servers know guests by name, and where technique and tradition live together in perfect harmony inside a 47-year-old suburban New Jersey dining room.
The Sweet Amalia Farm Market, smack in the middle of South Jersey between here and the Shore, is at once a side-of-the-road farm market, a raw bar and artisan hoagie shop (backed by the one and only Melissa McGrath), and an event space. Which means there’s a reason to get in the car and take a drive without, you know, having to pack the car with beach chairs, swimsuits and a cooler.
It takes a lot for an Italian restaurant to justify leaving Philly for dinner, but chef Joey Baldino’s intimate BYO is absolutely worth crossing the bridge for. He’s channeled generations of technique and passion for Sicilian food into one room with simple wooden tables and black-and-white photos hanging on the walls. Tagliatelle with lemon and prosciutto, stewed rabbit with tomato and rosemary, whole shrimp sautéed with garlic and lemon and resting over cannellini beans — all of it is so simple yet so perfect, reduced to only its most elemental ingredients.