Living in Philadelphia gives you access to a wealth of great places to eat, from greasy spoons to gastropubs to gourmet Nirvanas. Entire industries exist to weigh through the dazzling array of dining options available to Philly folk and recommend that they eat here, not there, and eager diners hang on the words of either top reviewers like the Inquirer’s Craig LaBan or the crowds whose collective wisdom gets distilled into Zagat Guide blurbs.
We’re sure some of you reading this may quibble with these choices, but the food editors and restaurant reviewers at Philadelphia magazine decided to settle a bunch of arguments once and for all – for now – when they picked their just-about-annual “50 Best Places to Eat Right Now” last summer. Their chief criterion: The restaurants lived up to their promise. As most of the 50 are within the city limits, and most of those in Center City, we’re offering you a handy guide to these places by neighborhood. If you own a home in Old City – or are one of the many visitors to the neighborhood – these places are definitely worth heading out for.
Amada, 217 Chestnut Street, 215-625-2450. The restaurant that introduced superstar chef Jose Garces to Philadelphia still turns out the best tapas in the city. PhillyMag recommends the octopus, the pernil asada, and the assortment of Spanish cheeses from the many menu items. If you go, book your table well ahead of time, as it’s still next to impossible to get one at the traditional dinner hours.
Bistro 7, 7 North Third Street, 215-931-1560. Homestyle food doesn’t get more stylish than this, says the mag in its praise of this BYOB. But even though the dishes may be familiar, the execution and ingredient combinations aren’t: beef short ribs braised in Burgundy, garlic and rosemary are just one of the items that showcase this small restaurant’s new American flair.
Fork, 306 Market Street, 215-627-0666. Ellen Yin’s upscale bistro is the most praised restaurant in Old City; critics both in the city and beyond recommend it as a place to go for everything from a casual lunch to a special occasion. Its menu, which emphasizes fresh, local ingredients, changes daily to reflect what’s currently in season.
Han Dynasty, 108 Chestnut Street, 215-922-1888. Better than anything Chinatown has to offer. Han Chiang’s dynasty has spread from Exton to encompass four locations; this is his in-city outpost. Patrons rave about his fiery fare, in particular the Dan Dan noodles, often served with a generous side of equally fiery chatter from the proprietor.
La Famiglia, 8 South Front Street, 215-922-2803. The name is accurate – this Old World Italian standby is truly a family affair, run by the Sena family since 1976. It has set the standard for fine Italian dining in the city ever since, with outstanding food and top-notch service. Its wine list of more than 13,000 bottles is equally renowned.
Zahav, 237 St. James Place (Society Hill Towers Shopping Center), 215-625-8800. Michael Solomonov’s critically acclaimed restaurant has changed the way we think about Middle Eastern cuisine. His continual experimentation with Israeli fare draws diners back again and again to his restaurant, which was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Esquire magazine when it opened in 2008. It’s also affordable, with entrees under $15 and a generous $38 tasting menu.
–By Sandy Smith for PhillyLiving.com
All photographs by the author