South Philly/Queen Village Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

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

South Philly | New American | Entrée: $21—$30
Ranking: 12 • Last Year’s Ranking: 21
Truth be told, we’ve always liked Daniel Stern best at his smallest. And now that the all-things-to-all-people project that was Rae is, at least for the moment, tabled, we’ve ­happily returned to his Queen ­Village ­jewel-box bistro. Here, among Stern’s black-and-white family ­photos, the perfectionist chef-owner continues to turn out über-precise, just-edgy-enough cuisine that has, in our opinion, taken a turn for the accessible. The menu is as manageably sized (there are about a dozen items, sans specials) as ever, with descriptions that are less opaque—chicken and waffles is comfort food with a twist—and portions that have grown, so you’ll fill up on that steak and potatoes. Order: Minestrone, or breakfast for dessert. 617 South 3rd Street, 215-922-3850. 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

South Philly | Italian | Entrée: $21–$30
Ranking: 3 • Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Candied bacon, it turns out, tastes like peanut brittle. But better. Sweet, crunchy, salty, and vaguely redolent of actual meat, it takes an already luscious dessert—roasted apples atop a brown-sugar cake—and turns it into something you remember. Something you talk about the next day. So it goes with pretty much every dish at James, the refined little foodie refuge in Bella Vista, where a sunchoke soup manages to be light (tinged with lemon) and rich (served over black truffles), and a buttery, loose risotto—the most delicate you’ll find this side of Milan—is dotted with bits of oyster. Chef Jim Burke and his wife, Kristina, run the show with such intense attention to detail that naysayers have called the place too precious. The naysayers are wrong. James has earned serious accolades from Food & Wine magazine for the very reasons that we remain evangelical about the place: It has a serious chef making memorably good food in a pretty space. What’s not to love? Order: Tagliatelle with duck ragu, shaved chocolate and orange. Seriously.824 South 8th Street, 215-629-4980. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

Little Fish
Queen Village | Seafood | Entrées: More than $30
Ranking: 41 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
This restaurant is so small that busboys have to walk tubs of dirty dishes out the front door to get to the back washroom, so as not to disrupt the 23-seat dinning room. That ­welcome-to-my-home South Philly appeal, a small, well-priced menu, and high-quality ingredients make this corner restaurant a prime example of all that a mom-and-pop BYO can be. Of course, the food here—fish that’s masterfully prepared by owner Michael Stollenwerk (who took over the spot in 2007), with exciting but never daunting ­combinations—is what brought this restaurant national attention when Bon Appétit named it one of the best seafood restaurants in the country late last year. Order: The Sunday-night-only, five-course, $28 tasting menu, filled with dishes like mussels in a carrot soup, and skate with veal cheek.600 Catharine Street, 215-413-3464. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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

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

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

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