Taste: Where We’re Eating, September
The motto printed on the receipt at designer Owen Kamihira’s vibrant first restaurant is optimistic: “Eat, Drink, Love.” But there are things to love at this lively (read: loud) Northern Liberties tapas destination, starting with the melon-scented white sangria. Chef Blake Joffe’s lengthy menu is overwhelming, but with plates averaging $6, the easy solution is to order almost everything: sweet Serrano-wrapped seared watermelon skewers, hard-to-share fried pork sandwiches, roast lamb with lush date-raisin chutney, and on and on. Liberties Walk, 1030 North 2nd Street, 215-923-1313; barferdinand.com. — A.W.
This family-owned office-building mainstay has a new image — what with the West Philly branch’s popular Mar Bar lounge and the Commerce Square branch’s happening summer happy hour — and is adding trendy dishes to its something-for-everyone menu. But don’t worry — the matzo ball soup and soft chocolate chip cookies are still available. Look for another outpost at 10th and Walnut later this year. 16th and Sansom streets, 215-569-3278; 20th and Market streets, 215-568-7766; 1339 Chestnut Street, 215-561-4460; 40th and Walnut streets, 215-222-0100; 1818 Market Street, 215-561-1818; marathongrill.com. — A.W.
Blue Sky Café
Thomas Groff’s new East Norriton restaurant is a colorful fantasy of the Colonial Caribbean: mosaics, wicker, wrought iron, weathered wood and stripes, all designed by the chef himself. (Avoid the restaurant’s namesake room; the glow from the puffy-clouded blue sky is unflattering.) Groff’s tropics-inspired menu is as surprisingly eclectic. A bright gazpacho sampler is followed by a deconstructed Stilton and asparagus salad, curried goat with Asian edamame, and spicy beef brisket that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to its name. 144 West Germantown Pike, East Norriton; 610-275-3407. — A.W.
Chef Albert Paris’s new Mantra will be familiar to those who recall the Zanzibar Blue chef’s praised but short-lived Guru. It’s been reincarnated as a moody off-Rittenhouse haven with an Asian-meets-comfort-food-meets-small-plates menu. Zingy lobster cocktail, duck confit atop ubiquitous sweet potatoes, and darling Bombay burgers with cucumber relish, served in a soft roti with more sweet potatoes, are among the best options. 122 South 18th Street; 215-988-1211. — A.W.
A Full Plate Café
It isn’t exactly health food, but the crew at this young, casual Northern Liberties BYOB stays away from that extra dab of finishing butter. The result is a home-cooked-style menu of small plates with clean flavors, like the tangy spinach and bread salad, and pulled pork with Southern slaw on challah. Although the price point is refreshing (nothing’s over $10), we suggest choosing a few of the extensive side-dish options, like Brussels sprouts au gratin or whole wheat mac-and-cheese; otherwise, you run the risk of leaving without a full stomach. Liberties Walk, 1009 North Bodine Street; 215-627-4068. — A.P.