Moderately Priced Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

Old City | Spanish | Entrée: Under $13–$21
Ranking: 8 • Last Year’s Ranking: 4
Nearly four years after its debut, Jose ­Garces’s flagship is still one of our restaurant scene’s crown jewels. While other eating places have lost relevance, Amada continues to set the bar high for stylish but fun fine dining. The place is somehow equally perfect for a peaceful early-evening albarino paired with the city’s best charcuterie (still sliced to order) or a rowdy night out with a gaggle of pals. Its dim light, gauzy fabrics and dark wood make it simultaneously sexy and serene. Amada has always been a restaurant that knows what it is: authentic Spanish tapas. And in a city where new restaurants can lose their luster fast, it remains one of the best—and most reliable—spots in town. Order: Tortilla Espanola. 217 Chestnut Street, 215-625-2450. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Queen Village | Continental | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 20 • Last Year’s Ranking: 17
While Ansill may not be as tightly focused as some of our other favorites, the dishes on its eclectic menu always have one thing in common: utter deliciousness. Chef David Ansill has a reputation for serving offal, and while he does have a way with ingredients like tripe and pig trotter, most of Ansill’s menu is far more approachable than you might expect—a big braised osso buco sandwich, bacon with Brussels sprouts, tomato-and-garlic-slathered toast, mussels fragrant with orange and rosemary. Not so scary, huh? There’s nothing like hunkering down for a gimmick-free meal amid the earth-brown and sage hues of Ansill’s decidedly grown-up bar. All of this—and the fact that it’s your best bet in town for spotting other city chefs eating on their nights off—makes it a true foodie destination.  Order: Rack of lamb. 627 South 3rd Street, 215-627-2485. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

El Vez
Center City | Mexican | Entrées: $21-$30
Ranking: 47 • Last Year’s Ranking: 35
El Vez always catches us by surprise: The funhouse and drinkery can turn out complex and polished food. We just wish it would be more consistent, so that the creamy open-face shrimp quesadilla, the many gaucamole options, the sweet-corn, lobster and crab enchiladas and the well-charred, meant-for-sharing tacos al carbon were as good as we know they can be, each and every time. No matter; the crowd-­friendly, just-­different-enough dishes (that are composed with care) and always-a-party vibe make every visit satisfying. Order: The tacos for two—the sizzling table-top grill they arrive on makes for a lot of drama, and a whole lot of food. 121 South 13th Street, 215-928-9800. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Bella Vista | Vegan | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 40 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
It’s not that Horizons is merely a great vegan restaurant (although it is one of the most acclaimed vegan restaurants in the country). It earned a place on this year’s list because it can hold its own against area eateries that aren’t meat-challenged. Tables at Horizons are unexpectedly set with steak knives—but they come in handy when you’re diving into chef Rich Landau’s deceptively meaty entrées. Based on alternative ingredients like seitan, tofu and tempeh, these dishes have flavors and mouthfeels that are hearty and satisfying. And while a full bar, complete with vegan wines and beers, makes Horizons the ultimate fine-dining establishment for veggie-lovers, what really sets this restaurant apart is the fact that it appeals to vegans and carnivores alike—because everyone enjoys creative, boldly flavored dishes, with or without meat. (Just ask regular M. Night.) Order: Vegan cheesecake. 611 South 7th Street, 215-923-6117. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

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

Marigold Kitchen
University City | New American | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 14 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
When a restaurant reinvents itself, it’s usually a sign that something’s not right. But that’s not the case with this West Philly BYO, which, since it opened in 2002, has been helmed and stamped by three different chefs. In its latest incarnation, Erin O’Shea (who trained under former chef Michael Solomonov—see Zahav) brings us New American fare that reflects her Southern roots. Dixieland ingredients are surprisingly delicate and creatively executed, so grits are light enough to let barely-butter-poached oysters shine, and collard greens are found in fluffy fritters. These flavor combinations, solid execution and stellar price points (entrées are in the $20 range) make Marigold stand out from the tired beet-and-goat-cheese fare at other BYO’s. Order: Any of the delicate but flavor-packed desserts. 501 South 45th Street, 215-222-3699. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | Italian | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 25 • Last Year’s Ranking: 19
This past year, beloved Italian BYO Melograno moved to a new home on Sansom Street, but the larger, airier dining room didn’t diminish the hour-long waits. As dissuading as those waits may be, they’re a testament to all the things chef/owner Gianluca Demontis and his front-of-the-house wife, Rosemarie Tran, continue to do so well. This neighborhood-feeling restaurant manages to elevate itself with a take on Italian that leans towards the streamlined and refined. Even though the curt waiters and the clamor of the wide-open room can make dinner feel rushed, the well-set price point and light flavors that linger—like the bright lemon dressing on the arugula and prosciutto salad, or the dash of truffle oil on the cod—give this spot a cult-like following. Order: Any of the house-made pappardelle pastas. 2012 Sansom Street, 215-875-8116. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Modo Mio
Northern Liberties | Italian | Entrée: $13—$32
Ranking: 15 • Last Year’s Ranking: 29
If you’re hoping for a quiet evening, Modo Mio is not your spot. But that’s not a bad thing, because the chaos, cramped tables, clamor and hard-to-flag-down waiters are part of this small Italian BYO’s something-special charm. Regardless, all will go still when you bite into the dreamy, hard-crusted-but-doughy-soft house-baked bread—a good tease for the surprisingly lofty meal to come. Chef Peter McAndrew’s larger-than-life Italian food isn’t confined by the small kitchen it comes from: The cotechino sausage is made in-house and served with a ­balsamic-poached egg; a lasagna special is re-thought with sausage and sweetbreads; the gnocchi with a thick wild boar ragu is spiked with chocolate. If that’s not enough, we promise you’ll be addicted when you get the bill—the available-all-the-time four-course Tourista menu is a jaw-­dropping $32. Order: The Milanese-style veal on a well-matched bed of tangy radicchio. 161 West Girard Avenue, 215-203-8707. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

Pub & Kitchen
Rittenhouse Square | Pub Food | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 23 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
Overnight, it seemed, Chaucer’s vanished and this new, cleaner bar appeared in its place. Locals were skeptical, because Chaucer’s was a lovable dump. But as soon as we got a taste of Pub & Kitchen’s burgers and onion rings, potato chips and meatballs, oysters and lobster BLTs, most of us happily erased Chaucer’s from our memories and threw our collective arms around the newcomer, where delicious but unpretentious food meets the relaxed corner bar of our dreams. (And now, Northern Liberties and South Philly aren’t the only ’hoods with real, not-trying-too-hard, food-focused bars.) It helps that Jonathan “Johnny Mac” McDonald (formerly of Snackbar) has brought his personality and passion to the kitchen. He’s given us bar food that’s some of the best food in the city. Order: Sautéed chicken breast with Irish biscuits and gravy. 1946 Lombard Street, 215-545-0350. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Queen Village | American | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 42 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
In a sea of beer-centric gastropubs, this polished Queen Village speakeasy, with its stately gin-and-rye-stocked bar surrounded by tall, candlelit tables, stands out as a refuge for grown-ups. Owners Sheri and Kip Waide are chef and barkeep, respectively, and their efforts to create a gentlemanly atmosphere with a locavore ethos have paid off. Southwark’s standout cocktail list brilliantly resurrects the Sazerac and the gin fizz, while its menu proffers absolutely redeeming presentations of a succulent pork chop and a farmhouse platter—and the best seat in the house is always, always at the bar. Order: Baked Shellbark Hollow Farms goat cheese and flatbreads.701 South 4th Street, 215-238-1888. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other Details

Standard Tap
Northern Liberties | Pub Food | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 26 • Last Year’s Ranking: 11
It’s true that the waitstaff can be rude. And that no one who works here cares that you’re waiting for a table. And that there’s no printed menu, and it’s pretty hard to see the chalkboard, especially given how poorly lit the place is. But Standard Tap is more than a gastropub. It’s the original gastropub, the restaurant that helped put Philly back on the national food radar in 2000. Almost 10 years later, the Tap has stuck to its simple mission of great local craft beer, good local food, and prices that are ever more appealing as our 401Ks swirl the drain. If you go at an hour when there’s no competition for tables, it’s a downright relaxing place to be. After a microbrew or three, you’ll realize that Standard Tap not only has a strong sense of place; it gives us a sense of current Philadelphia. Order: Steak frites. 901 North 2nd Street, 215-238-0630. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

South Philly | New American | Entrées: $15-$30
Ranking: 24 • Last Year’s Ranking: 14
Jen and Mitch Prensky’s two-floor homage to comfortable, contemporary dining wooed us instantly with its fall-off-the-bone short ribs and gleaming glass windows and duck-fat-fried fingerlings and Warren Muller chandelier and marshmallow-schmeared carrot-and-orange soup and … well, we just can’t get enough of Mitch’s new takes on usual ingredients, and are constantly in awe of the care he gives to each element in each dish. A seat at either the upstairs or downstairs bar makes for a perfect laid-back meal, but ravenous diners (or larger groups) may find that the bevy of petite, easy-to-sample plates can add up to an unplanned splurge. Order: The $38 prix-fixe Sunday supper. 926 South Street, 215-592-8180. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Rittenhouse Square | Spanish | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 22 • Last Year’s Ranking: 22
Tinto, Jose Garces’s Basque-themed Rittenhouse restaurant, has a neighborhood-y feel, especially during happy hour, when the bar fills with solo drinkers knocking back glasses of Spanish red while reading the paper. But that only adds to the warm, clubby vibe here. The food is from a region that straddles France and Spain, and whose proximity to the ocean means a more seafood-focused menu than at Tinto’s sister restaurant, Amada (though offerings can be overseasoned). Luckily, the places share a commitment to excellent Spanish cheeses and charcuterie, as well as an interesting selection of Spanish wines. Before the restaurant’s 2008 expansion, the cramped quarters and high-top tables made it a little uncomfortable, but now, with plenty of room to spread out, this is a cozy, grown-up place for a leisurely, authentic-feeling meal. Order: Moules Basque. 114 South 20th Street, 215-665-9150. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsMake a Reservation

Chinatown | Vietnamese | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 39 • Last Year’s Ranking: 28
Your unadventurous parents, your foodie friends, your kids … you can take anyone to Vietnam. And people do. This Chinatown standby with a distinctly un-Chinatown ambience (polished hardwoods, a modern decor) perennially has a 30-­minute weekend waitlist. That’s thanks to things like the behemoth BBQ platter—Vietnam’s equivalent of a greatest-hits album—packed with grape leaves, lettuce-wrap fixin’s and savory grilled meatballs. It’s also thanks to aromatic broths, searing curries, and saucy pan-fried noodles. Flavors here always shine, even in the $6 dishes. (Indeed, the least-fancy food is generally the best.) Order: Wait upstairs at Bar Saigon and get the embarrassingly ostentatious Flaming Volcano cocktail for two. (It’s delicious, we swear.)221 North 11th Street, 215-592-1163. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee Menu

Queen Village | Mexican | Entrées: $13-$20
Ranking: 21 • Last Year’s Ranking: 20
A survey of Philly’s culinary landscape proves there’s room for all types of Mexican here, and unrivaled authenticity is Xochitl’s niche. It all starts with chef Dionicio Jimenez—the Mexican native spent time cooking at Vetri, and the rustic sensibility he gives to Latin flavors is reminiscent of what makes that Italian restaurant so special. But rustic doesn’t mean elementary—dishes at this Headhouse Square eatery and bar are complicated and simple at the same time. Lamb is slow-cooked, yet served with an easy cactus salad; pork ribs are braised for hours and accompanied by only guacamole and rice; house-made masa tortillas are finished with a trio of distinct toppings. The result is a rare Mexican eating experience so understated, it makes you wonder if what you’ve eaten everywhere else is just an Americanized version of real Mexican cuisine. Order: The Parrillada, a mixed grill for two. It’s a study in delectably uncomplicated meats. 408 South 2nd Street, 215-238-7280. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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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