West Philadelphia Restaurants: The 2009 Philly Mag 50

University City | Mexican | Entrée: Under $12
Ranking: 7 • Last Year’s Ranking: New to the List
The mango margaritas flow, the neon-pink walls glow, and the roaming mariachi sings his heart out at Jose Garces’s whimsical homage to Mexico City. You might find the sensory overload overwhelming, but this manic space feels just right in University City, where diners include compulsively texting Penn students, hard-drinking docs, and young West Philly families. The focus is on the flash here, but Garces’s gourmet versions of Mexican street food—tacos, tamales, guacamole—are shockingly elegant, not to mention some of the best eats we’ve had anywhere all year. This culinary carnival is not only pure fun, but a shining example of how Garces manages to brilliantly achieve diversity while never straying too far from what he does best. Order: Skirt steak nachos. 3945 Chestnut Street, 215-222-1657. See User Reviews, Hours, & Other DetailsSee MenuMake a Reservation

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

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

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