Mediterranean Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

Washington Square | Greek | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 44 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Kanella’s “dips of the day” appetizer—three beige blobs served with soft pita—doesn’t look like much. But the minute the creamy, fish-roe-infused taramosalata passes your lips, you’ll know this isn’t the usual humdrum restaurant dip. Nor is it a typical Greek-restaurant-menu item—but this is no typical Greek restaurant. It’s Cypriot, like its obsessive chef, Konstantinos Pitsillides, who stays true to the time-honored cooking traditions of his native Mediterranean island. This BYO is so food-focused that service snafus are common, but, like the rustic dishes that are mostly simply grilled or braised, they add to the authentic magic. Order: Whole grilled fish. 1001 Spruce Street, 215-922-1773. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Grays Ferry | Mediterranean | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 43 • Last Year’s Ranking: 42
Graduate Hospital’s Pumpkin is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, down to its diminutive size (just 28 seats) and familiar service (warm enough to melt butter). But if your neighborhood BYO can pull off the sophisticated food this place serves—a cold, fresh trout tartare zipped up with cilantro and an ­avocado-mango salsa, or the tender sturgeon in an oxtail broth with cabbage and shiitake ­mushrooms—count yourself lucky: Few places have managed to blend such a modest vibe (the tablecloths are brown paper) with such an ambitious menu (it changes nightly). Order: Chef Ian Moroney’s flavors really sing in the seafood dishes. 1713 South Street, 215-545-4448. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Old City | Israeli | Entrèes: $13-$20
Ranking: 1 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Just when we think we’ve seen it all, Zahav comes along and introduces us to the haute side of Israeli food — a cuisine we barely knew existed beyond falafel. But it’s more than just the novel, national-attention-garnering concept that earned Zahav the prime spot on this year’s list. The room is sophisticated, yet energetic and unpretentious; the attentive (if quirky) servers are engaging; and we have yet to find a situation (out-of-towners, business deals, mother-in-law dinners, girls’ night out, romantic dates, picky eaters, snacks-at-the-bar) for which this restaurant isn’t a perfect pick.

But while the scene is set, it’s the food — which is really ethnic-turned-approachable—chef Michael Solomonov creates that steals the show. We debate which of the four hummus options is best (the answer obviously being all), and agree there’s no better way to start a meal than with the salad tasting. There are options for those who look for something atypical — smooth chopped liver on rye toast, whole roasted lamb shoulder, spices like sumac—but the skewers of beef, house-made sausage, eggplant or chicken have something everyone loves: a hot-off-the-grill, addictive charred flavor. Order: The hummus is a must, as are the just-pulled-from-the-wood-oven flatbreads to scoop it up with. 237 Saint James Place, 215-625-8800. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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