Taste: Where We’re Eating: March 2007
Fogo de Chão
The concept is Brazilian — meats grilled over an open flame and carved tableside by gauchos — but it could as easily be a Philadelphia tradition. South American-born Fogo de Chão (“fo-go dee shoun”) is a white-tablecloth beef-and-beer, with the Eagles chant shouted by that well-dressed table of 12 echoing off the ornate vaulted ceilings. At $44.95 per person, it isn’t cheap, but it is all you can eat from the well-stocked salad bar and fast-paced meat service. Add a bottle of rich malbec, and be sure to ask for the picanha, a tender cut of sirloin flavored with garlic. 1337 Chestnut Street, 215-636-9700; fogodechao.com.
When chef John Mims took Carmine’s Creole Café to larger digs in Bryn Mawr, he bequeathed his neighborhood-y Narberth space to a loyal customer. BYOB Margot has replaced Mims’s Southern vibe with cooling blue walls and a Continental menu that mixes seasonality with a hint of home-style cooking (and health-conscious subtleties like trans-fat-free oil). You’ll find $20-something entrées like daily duck and fish specials, and such menu standards as a pleasant sweet-potato-pancake appetizer with chipotle sour cream. But simpler items like the oversalted mâche salad beg for better execution — new-restaurant kinks that consulting chef Mims can easily remedy, if he tears himself away from greeting the crowds at the new Carmine’s. 232 Woodbine Avenue, 610-660-0160; margotbyob.com.
We’ll get this out of the way first: it’s pronounced “So-cheet.” The ancient Aztec word’s spelling is so foreign that the Headhouse Square spot’s logo includes this phonics lesson. The restaurant, too, will seem foreign to Philadelphians whose Mexican-food experience has been largely limited to chips-and-salsa chains and no-frills Washington Avenue tacquerias. Xochitl’s approach to south-of-the-border flavors is polished without being precious, with entrée prices hovering around $20. Terrifically tender octopus ceviche is piled generously on a corn tortilla chip; enormous prawns are salt-baked and served smiling. And the bar pours a fresh lime margarita that allows the distinct flavor of the tequila — there are about 75 on offer — to shine. 408 South 2nd Street, 215-238-7280; xochitlphilly.com.
The Original El Wingador To-Go
This Girard Avenue spot from five-time Wing Bowl champ Bill “El Wingador” Simmons combines two culinary heritages: Simmons’s aunt’s home-cooked Puerto Rican favorites, and the wings that made him famous. These are jumbo flappers, deep-fried and bathed with traditional buffalo sauce (10 for $5.75) or El Wingador’s own thin, sweet-tangy version of BBQ sauce (10 for $6.50). It’s a tasty rendition of the Philly takeout standard, but not irresistible enough to convince you to down 162, Simmons’s 30-minute record. 342 West Girard Avenue; 215-925-9464.