Philadelphia’s 15 Best Restaurants (Slideshow)
April 2, 2014
Philly has a great dining scene just waiting to be discovered. These are Philadelphia's best restaurants
15) Han Dynasty
Chef Han Chang has taken over Philly with his unique brand of Szechuan cooking, and he’s brash in both his super-spicy cuisine and his tableside manner. Szechuan cuisine, with its aggressive use of face-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into it you’ll love Han Dynasty which has three locations in the city and one in New York. Make sure you try the Dan Dan Noodles, and if you can take the heat don’t miss Dry Pot-Style entrées.
Open since 1997, Ellen Yin’s seasonal bistro is still going strong, and was reinvigorated by the arrival of chef Eli Kulp in 2012.. Fork was one of the first restaurants in the area to orient their menu around showcasing local ingredients from the greater Delaware Valley and the menu changes daily and is always exciting and inventive. Expect dishes like spruce-smoked yellow beets with poached oysters, horseradish, and green juniper; handmade chickpea “postage stamp” pasta with sesame, raw artichoke, and lamb ragu; and grilled lobster with polenta, dandelion amaro, and chichories, and a wine list that showcases small, lesser-known producers.
13) Vernick Food and Drink
This spacious and light-filled newcomer showcases the cooking of Greg Vernick, and he’s turning out food that’s accessible and delicious. There’s an “On Toast” section featuring everything from Maryland crab to beef tartare on lava-rock charred sourdough; “Raw” items include tuna poke with macadamia nuts and sweet soy; small plates include warm ricotta cheese with Swiss chard, pine nuts, and lemon and buckwheat pasta with butternut squash, scallion, and chili; large plates include a killer roasted pork chop with sweet potato and spiced cabbage, and a wood-fired oven is roasting up instant classics like a whole organic Amish chicken and a 28-ounce, dry-aged, bone-in strip loin. Great for everything from a post-work cocktail and appetizer to a blowout special occasion dinner, this is one restaurant to definitely keep on your radar.
12) Brauhaus Schmitz
A German restaurant might not come to mind as one of Philly’s best, but Brauhaus Schmitz, showcasing chef Jeremy Nolen’s modern approach to traditional German fare, certainly is. Besides the fact that you can order your bratwurst by the meter or find beers that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere outside of Germany (Kyritzer Mord und Totschlag, anyone?), there’s some truly delicious fare, like house-smoked and pickled fish, roasted pork shank, and housemade foie gras sausage. The space is also gorgeous, and will transplant you directly to Germany. Prosit!
11) Le Virtu
Want to try quite possibly the best pasta you’ve ever had? Head to chef Joe Cicala’s Le Virtu, a rustic eatery inspired by the simple restaurants of the Abruzzese countryside. As many ingredients as possible are sourced from the area surrounding Philadelphia; just about everything else is imported directly from Abruzzo. Meats are house-butchered and house-cured while the pastas are cut by hand. Don’t miss the house-made Abruzzese-style sausage or the simple and near-perfect maccheroni alla mugnaia — hand-pulled pasta tossed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, hot pepper, and pecorino.
This is the restaurant that started it all for chef Jose Garces back in 2005, and today the chef (ahem, Iron Chef), is one of the city’s most renowned and prolific. Tapas is the name of the game here, spanning the entire spectrum from cured meats (chorizo Pamplona, lomo embuchado) to traditional tapas (tortilla Española, gambas al ajillo), from vegetables (chickpeas and spinach, roasted eggplant with whipped goat cheese and raisins escabeche) to items grilled on the plancha (shrimp, wagyu beef brochettes). Paella is a standout, as is the roasted suckling pig. If you’re feeling adventurous, leave your meal in Garces’ hands; he’ll make sure you’re taken care of.
9) The Farm and Fisherman
This BYOB standout is all about taking advantage of Philadelphia’s proximity to the fishing grounds off the Jersey Shore and the farms of Lancaster County. Chef Josh Lawler (a former Chef de Cuisine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns) trawls the city’s farmer’s markets daily, leaving no stone (or fresh vegetable) unturned, and he’s turning what’s available into masterpieces like a “Bloody Beet Steak” with yogurt, pan drippings, aged balsamic, and bull’s blood (!), rabbit terrine with watermelon radish and mustard seed, and pressed veal breast with beluga lentils, orange, and tonnato sauce.
One of the city’s most consistently-busy restaurants, Stateside was named the city’s best for 2013 by Philadelphia Magazine, no small feat. Chef George Sabatino helms this South Philly gem, and focuses on sourcing products locally and showcasing them in inventive small plates that reflect the current state of American cuisine with really no rhyme or reason, in the most refreshing way possible. There’s pad thai with shrimp, mussels, and tamarind; buckwheat crêpe with peekytoe crab, apple, and curry; house-made rabbit pâté; bison tartare with a quail egg; a pork, spicy cucumber, and black bean lettuce wrap; andouille and chicken cassoulet; and just for the heck of it, brisket for two with puffed beef tendon and green papaya. If you’re looking for a restaurant that’ll keep you on your toes that also happens to be stunningly delicious, look no further than Stateside.
Even though the new(ish) location comes with a fully-stocked bar (as well as a stellar wine list and an oak-clad chef’s table in a private dining room), the owners of this contemporary American restaurant have kept their BYOB policy during the week. The cuisine is inventive and takes advantage of what’s fresh and in-season. Menu standouts include crispy short rib rillettes, grilled duck hearts, and pork belly with Okinawan sweet potatoes, escarole, and Dijon jus. Pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki is the restaurant’s secret weapon, baking all the restaurant’s bread and preparing all of their stellar desserts, including standout spiced dark chocolate cannolis with salted caramel ice cream and chipotle raspberry coulis.
6) Marigold Kitchen
Still relatively under the radar (but not for long), this cozy restaurant located inside a Victorian-era former boarding house is the playhouse of chef–owner Robert Halpern, who offers an $85 tasting menu that changes daily. Tell them your dietary preferences when you make your reservation and leave your meal in their hands; it may include everything from a cauliflower bisque with ham bubbles to lamb with summer beans, artichoke, chick pea panisse, and cauliflower-almond purée. Bring plenty of wine (it’s also BYOB) and strap in, because it’s going to be an exciting ride.
Yelp/ Michael U
This cash-only BYOB French spot is cozy and inviting and the menu, which changes regularly, is short and sweet. There’s a duo of foie gras (seared with poached rhubarb, custard); roasted veal sweetbreads with crushed Yukon potato, artichoke, sour orange, and watercress fricassee, and veal jus; and a stunningly delicious pied de porc, a braised pig’s foot stuffed with foie gras and French lentils. It’s small so be sure to plan ahead, and don’t forget to bring along your biggest Bordeaux.
The eponymous restaurant of newly-minted Philly culinary icon Kevin Sbraga (thanks in no small part to his win on Top Chef’s seventh season), proves he’s got what it takes. After a bumpy start, his Rittenhouse Square restaurant has settled into a consistent rhythm of bold, well-executed, and impeccably prepared globetrotting cuisine. For the bargain-basement price of $49, you can choose four courses from a menu that features dishes like foie gras soup with rose petal garnish, octopus with harissa and escabèche, rabbit golumpki with maitake mushrooms and borscht, and dulce de leche cheesecake with coconut and pineapple, and a wine pairing costs only $35 more.
One of the finest Italian restaurants in the country, this big and bustling restaurant from Jeff Michaud and Marc Vetri offers plenty of opportunities for a spectacular meal, whether you’re enjoying a Parma pizza (with mozzarella, fontina, arugula, and prosciutto) at the bar or enjoying a multi-course feast in the spacious dining room. Pastas include chicken liver rigatoni with cippolini onions, sage and saffron bucatini with smoked chorizo and wine-braised octopus. Secondi includes a traditional bistecca Fiorentina, spit-roasted lamb braciole with baby turnips and rapini, and chicken alla griglia with brown butter roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnip crema. If ever there was a perfect restaurant to celebrate a birthday or other big special occasion, this is it.
A "modern Israeli" restaurant in Philadelphia? Just what does that entail? The answer would be a melting pot of Middle Eastern and Central European cuisines, woven together with a fine hand into a feast of flavors. Zahav, which means “gold” in Hebrew, was selected as Philadelphia’s number one restaurant by Philadelphia Magazine in 2009. Settle into the warmly lit, casual dining room and start on the hummus with house-baked laffa flatbread or warm Turkish hummus with butter and grilled garlic. If you’re in the mood for small plates, Zahav offers chicken liver mousse, a soft-cooked egg with spice beef and cauliflower amongst other dishes. Move on to the duck kebab roasted with black garlic and served with grapes and pistachio, or the Middle Eastern specialty kofte “meatballs,” made with ground beef and lamb. Finish off your meal with traditional Israeli desserts like ma’amoul (a date tart with flavors of orange blossom and almond). Israeli Goldstar beer, imaginative cocktails, and one of the largest arrays of boutique Israeli wines outside the country itself complete the picture.
In this little jewel box of a place which celebrated 15 years this past fall, chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties off of a tasting menu (pappardelle with cockles and tardive, almond tortellini with white truffle, roasted capretto with stone milled polenta, and pistachio flan for dessert), served with precision and grace, as well as a wine cellar of over 2,500 wine bottles to choose from. Mario Batali has hailed the place as "possibly the best Italian restaurant on the East Coast." In September, the Vetri family opened up Pizzeria Vetri nearby and Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan called their pizza “the morsel of the year.” And as for Vetri, we call it the best restaurant in Philadelphia.