Taste: Where We’re Eating March 2008

Find out where some of the Philly Mag staff is eating this month

Ugly American This cozy Front Street spot feels like a pub but eats like a bistro, with a thoughtful little wine list and playful, smartened-up familiars (most for under $20). You may think your supper won’t — can’t — get any better than the basket of pillowy homemade biscuits the waitress brings as a starter. But that’s before the roasted poblano topped with bits of lobster in a cheesy béchamel, or the warm apple and endive salad, scattered with blue cheese and caramelized cauliflower. And the cassoulet: a hearty twist on the traditional, with three types of sausage and sweet collard greens. Then comes dessert — a warm wedge of cinnamon-laced apple pie with a scoop of house-made cheddar ice cream. 1100 South Front Street, 215-336-1100, uglyamericanphilly.com.

Tortilla Press Cantina Mark Smith’s second Tortilla Press, this one in Pennsauken, has a lot that the original in Collingswood doesn’t: parking, a better chance at scoring a seat, a liquor license. But it has a little less, too. The colorful Mexi-ish spot is missing the neighborhood energy of the first, perhaps because the margaritas — straight up, on the rocks or frozen — lack the liberal dose of tequila patrons pour when it’s BYOT. But the two Presses share a menu of familiar staples — enchiladas messy with a politely spicy tomatillo sauce, nachos piled with guac — and Smith’s Mexican-influenced specialties, like pulled pork in the restaurant’s chipotle-peanut barbecue sauce. 7716 Maple Avenue, Pennsauken, 856-488-0005, tortillapresscantina.com.

Le Virtù The owners of Le Virtù rode Passyunk Avenue’s restaurant wave all the way down to their 1900 block locale. But a meal at this trattoria feels more Abruzzi than South Philly. The homemade pastas are inspired, not by Nonna’s red gravy, but by Central Italian classics: spaghetti-like maccheroncini alla chitarra coated with a lamb ragu, and surprisingly savory cocoa raviolis stuffed with braised rabbit (both $19). Despite the ever-increasing presence of local ingredients on city menus, Le Virtù isn’t shy about using Italian staples — Loreto Aprutino olive oil for bread-dipping, and saffron from the Navelli plain for the irresistible panna cotta. 1927 East Passyunk Avenue, 215-271-5626, levirtu.com.

Carlino’s Market Family matriarch Mama Carlino passed away soon after the opening of Carlino’s West Chester location, but employees say she’s here in spirit — and in her portrait, her aproned self overlooking the crowded shop. From that vantage point, the 14,000-square-foot market, an offshoot of the Ardmore original, is a maze of aisles funneling shoppers past a small selection of pretty produce, through shelves of refrigerated and frozen pastas in numerous, unexpected shapes, and dozens of house-made sauces, sausages and soups, and finally, to lunch — the pizza oven, the deli counter, the samples of tomato pie. But to make your way back to the entrance, you still have to pass the prepared-food cases, the bakery, the imported pastas and oils, and the cheese counter. We say, good luck. 128 West Market Street, West Chester, 610-696-3788, carlinosmarket.com.