Chuck Klein’s Restaurant Guide: Philly Dining

Chuck Klein takes CTAM Summiteers beyond Philadelphia’s cheesesteaks and hoagies (but he doesn’t skip them entirely, either).

In Philly, the Geno’s or Pat’s question is to cheesesteaks what the John or Paul question is to the Beatles. (Cable’s version of Zagat, Chuck Klein, comes down solidly in favor of Pat’s.) Then there’s the Cheez Whiz versus provolone debate. (Chuck opts for provolone.) If you’re looking for more than a traditional Philly cheesesteak or hoagie, however, Philly’s got plenty of restaurants from which to choose (including the excellent Le-Bec Fin, pictured above). We’re honored that Chuck and his wife Shelley Babcock, have allowed us to excerpt their latest Philadelphia restaurant guide, and have even provided their 11 favorites. The full guide can be found at Feel free to contact Chuck to report new finds in Philadelphia or anywhere else; he’s always on the lookout.–The Editors

While we have tried to make specific comments in the brief reviews, ratings, from K – KKKK, are overall ratings most heavily influenced by the food, but also factor in ambiance, decor and service. Our $ estimates are based on one dinner with a cocktail (when available) and tip: $ under $21; $$ from $21 to $35; $$$ from $35 to $50; $$$$ from $50 to $60; $$$$$ over $60. Keep in mind that in Philadelphia, as everywhere, restaurants and clubs can open and close, change hours, credit card policies and even move with very short notice. Many restaurants are closed Sundays and Mondays, or even Tuesdays. We recommend calling ahead to address any special needs, and don’t forget to check if your restaurant is a BYOB…you will want to prepare. Philadelphia strictly regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol and, as a result, many restaurants are BYOB. One more reason to call ahead! Your hotel concierge should be able to direct you to a liquor store, or you can order a bottle at a bar, and after one glass, ask to take it with you.

Art Museum/Fairmont: A cab ride is recommended, as it’s a bit out of the way.

Center City: Exactly what it sounds like: the center of Philadelphia Proper and totally walkable from most hotels.

Old City: Be warned–Philadelphia’s historic district can get a little “girls gone wild” on Saturday nights.

Chinatown: Close to the Convention Center and many municipal offices.

University City/West Philly: Basically the campus for the University of Pennsylvania. It’s safe and walkable.

Northern Liberties: The hipster center of Philadelphia.

South Philly: South Philly, South Street and Queens Village are all pretty much the same area. South Philly is where Rocky was from and can spread pretty far out; South Street is the Haight/W. 4th Street/Deep Elm of Philadelphia–tattoo parlors, comic books stores and pierced teenagers abound; Queens Village is a cozy little neighborhood where hipsters rub elbows with stalwart Italian mammas.

Manayunk: A semi-suburb about five minutes’ drive ($25 cab) from Center City; it has a lovely Main Street and plentiful shopping.

The Top 11

1. Lolita–106 S. 13th St. (Center City) 215-546-7100 KKKKK $$: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins! Lolita doesn’t take reservations, but you shouldn’t have any qualms about waiting for a table. Grab a drink across the street at El Vez while you wait, but forgo bar snacks and save room for the far finer Mexican fare at this darling BYOB. If you bring a bottle of tequila, Lolita provides the mixin’s for classic margaritas or a seasonal selection of flavored margaritas, like mint-watermelon. Chef Marcie Turney utilizes local ingredients to create inspired Mexican dishes. Don’t miss the ceviche, guacamole with homemade plantain chips and salsas, or the outrageous cheesecake made from fresh tangy goat’s cheese.

2. The Smoked Joint: A Barbecue Experience–1420 Locust Street (Center City) 215 732 7500 KKK $$ “Nobody Beats our Meat” is one of the many tag lines of this quirky, funky barbecue joint. Ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken are rubbed with a secret mix of spices, then wood-smoked for up to 18 hours. Homemade sides such as mac & cheese, celebration slaw, Virgil’s root beer baked beans and smoky collard greens complete the experience. Adventurous diners must try the hot smoked salmon, served with remoulade and “dill dough” chips, and the unbelievably good Reuben, made with perfectly smoked, spicy crusted pastrami. Vegetarians are accommodated with smoked portobello mushrooms and grilled pizza.

3. Fork–306 Market St. (Old City) 215-625-9425 KKKK $$$: One of the forerunners of the Old City renaissance, Fork has received national accolades for a vibrant seasonal menu of New American bistro wonders. Atmosphere (i.e., the bar scene) is a big draw here. Recently opened Fork: Etc (next door) offers tastes of Fork to go, as well as sandwiches, soups, salads and freshly baked bread.

4. Django–526 S. 4th St. (South Philly) 215-922-7151 KKKKK $$$: One of Philly’s most charming little BYOBs, Django feels a lot like a warm, inviting, somewhat hectic kitchen in the home of a large and boisterous family. Once you’re seated amidst the butter yellow walls and a little flowerpot-baked bread arrives at your table, you may fall in love. And that love only grows after sweetbreads with crab, goat cheese gnocchi and veal with bacon apple chutney. But it’s the cheese plate finale that brings you to your knees.

5. Jim’s Steaks–400 South St. (South Philly) 215-928-1911 KKK $: Jim’s Steaks on South Street, though less famous than the dueling Pat’s and Geno’s, is way better. House-cut top round, doused with provolone (yeah, yeah, we know some of you like Cheez Whiz) and fried onions on a soft-yet-sturdy Amoroso’s roll is the best Philly cheesesteak around. Chuck grew up with Jim’s Steaks–and look how he turned out!

6. Buddakan–325 Chestnut St. (Old City) 215-574-9440 KKK $$$: Warning: Buddakan’s lobster fried rice can be addictive. A big-bellied Buddha (a la Buddha Bar, Paris) smiles benevolently as fashionistas chow down on Pan-Asian winners like edamame ravioli, crispy calamari salad, supremely sticky tea-smoked spareribs, whole sizzling fish and angry lobster. Madonna/Esther eats here when she’s in town.

7. Pasion!–211 S. 15th St. (Center City) 215-875-9895 KKKK $$$ James Beard Award winner Guillermo Pernod serves up brilliant Latino fare in this sexy jewel box of a restaurant. Chef Pernod’s ceviches are transcendent, and the chuleta de puerco,(chorizo-stuffed pork chop) is a taste of piggy heaven. This is the stuff that dreams are made of…at least, our garlic-laden, mojito-filled dreams. The chef’s tasting menu is a tour de force (or whatever “tour de force” is in Spanish). Desserts are gorgeous, service impeccable; you will tango out with a rose in your teeth.

8. Shank & Evelyn’s Luncheonette–932 South 10th St (South Philly) 215- 629-1093 KKKK $: There’s no better place or lunch in the Italian Market. This old-fashioned luncheonette is run by a group of tough broads, and their chicken cutlet, roast beef and roast pork sandwiches are sublime. If I had a group of Italian aunts, I would want them to cook (and look) like this. Every sandwich is served with a plate of long hot and grilled peppers, and the garlicky spinach, bitter broccoli rabe and aged provolone are so good they should not be passed up. In the summer, they serve fresh tomato salads made from tomatoes they grow in their backyards. You will find local South Philly politicos slurping pastina soup and meatball parm sandwiches at the counter. BYOB.

9. Vietnam–221 N. 11th St. (Chinatown) 215-592-1163 KKKK $: This elegant two-story temple of fine Vietnamese fare is a perennial favorite amongst the Philly foodie set. Inexpensive, flavorful and authentic flavors can be found in the aromatic phos and delicate summer rolls. If the food isn’t enough to transport you, one of Vietnam’s funky-yet-powerful cocktails, like the lemongrass martini, will send you on your way.

10. Striped Bass–1500 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-732-4444 KKKK $$$$ Many consider Striped Bass the best in town, and we don’t expect that to change now that it’s under new ownership (you guessed it, Stephen Starr!) and direction (consulting chef Alfred Portale of NYC’s most excellent Gotham Bar and Grill). Executive chef Christopher Lee, was named 2005’s Best New Chef by the James Beard Foundation. A night spent in this soaring, beautiful dining room is a night well spent. The seasonal menu focuses on seafood and includes winners like grilled Hawaiian escobar with pecan maple grits, and crispy striped bass piprade with Spanish chorizo and red bliss potatoes in a Spanish saffron broth. Desserts are transcendental, particularly the caramel pudding with milk chocolate banana foam.

11. Le Bec-Fin–1523 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-567-1000 KKKKK $$$$ Le Bec-Fin is la grande dame of Philadelphia restaurants. The main dining room is haute to the max. Impeccable French service and wonderful French cuisine fashioned by the master himself, Georges Perrier. You may begin your dining experience with un trio de foie gras or cassoulette d’escargot aux noisettes. Enjoy main course delights like the pearl rice crusted grouper with sweet corn pancake or the Pennsylvania rack of lamb with eggplant caviar and zucchini-apple chutney. Desserts are required. The six-course chef’s tasting menu will change you forever. For a less haute but just as French experience, Le Bar Lyonnais offers bistro fare such as lobster ravioli, entrecote de boeuf au poivre and, for those on a budget, try the $12 order of frites with dipping sauces.

And the Rest…

Alma de Cuba–1623 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-988-1799 KKK $$$ Famed NYC chef Douglas Rodriguez brings his spicy Cuban cuisine to Philadelphia, courtesy of Stephen Starr, Philly’s reigning restaurateur. Crispy-skinned lechon asado (roast pork), signature oysters Rodriguez and a selection of ceviches are the cornerstones of this celebrated menu. Cocktails are tropical and extravagant–don’t miss the potent mojitos or the Alma colada.

Angelina–706 Chestnut St. (Old City) 215-925-6889 KKK $$$ www.angelina- Romantic and red! Stephen Starr’s romantic, toile-covered spot ain’t your typical South Philly red sauce joint. Angelina’s features gourmet takes on humble Italian classics like polpette (meatballs) and polenta or panzanella (bread salad) with Maine lobster.

Anjou–206-08 Market St. (Old City) 215-923-1600 K $$+: French, Korean and Japanese Anjou has a DJ and sushi. If you like a bit of Old City madness with your miso, you’ll fit right in.

Astral Plane–1708 Lombard St. (Center City) 215-546-6230 K $$ A Philadelphia institution for 31 years, romance is always on the menu at this quirky, adorably cluttered cafe. Popular with the Judy Garland set as well as first-daters, the menu has offered the same Maxfield’s Blue salad of spinach, blue cheese, apples, walnuts, red onion and raisins for all 31 years. And, P.S., Bette Midler had her 30th birthday here (just last year, natch).

Audrey Claire–276 S. 20th St. (Center City) 215-731-1222 KKK $$ : A favorite BYO for Rittenhouse denizens, Audrey Claire’s Mediterranean menu changes daily. Outdoor tables are the place to be on hot summer nights, while the charming, though cramped, dining room offers a view of the open kitchen. Simple touches like a bowl of green apples, or a vase of calla lilies are the only nods to decor…Martha would approve. BYOB.

Barclay Prime–123 S. 18th St. (Center City) 215-732-7560 KK $$$$: Stephen Starr’s steakhouse menu offers a few over-the-top surprises (a $100 cheesesteak and clever Kobe sliders to name names) but the real winner is the signature Gachot & Gachot ribeye that’s worth every darn ducat. Sides like nutmeg-dusted creamed spinach and truffle-whipped mashed potatoes won’t disappoint.

Beau Monde–624 S. 6th St. (South Philly) 215-592-0656 KK+ $$ Philly has its own charming creperie serving authentic sweet wheat and savory buckwheat crepes in the Breton style. Opt for the chef’s suggestions, like eggs, Roquefort, mushrooms and bacon, or create your own masterpiece. Salads, soups and country pate are also tasty. Dark wood, a cozy fireplace and exquisite hand-painted fruit and wildlife panels warm the place up. Warning: the Bloody Marys are fierce!

Bistro St. Tropez–2400 Market St. (Center City) 215-569-9269 KK+ $$ It’s not easy to find, but this hidden gem is its own reward. Tucked on the fourth floor of the Design Marketplace, Bistro St. Tropez serves Provencal bistro cuisine in an odd, though friendly, warren of rooms. Conveniently located across from 30th Street Station, it’s perfect for a quick lunch or dinner while waiting for a train.

Bliss–224 S. Broad St. (Center City) 215-731-1100 KKK $$$: Kimmel Center patrons with dollars to spare head to Bliss for a serene pre-theater experience. Chef Francesco Martorella turns out Asian-inflected dishes from the open kitchen that’s visible from the Avenue of the Arts. Martorella’s creations and the water-inspired decor earned kudos from Esquire Magazine (Bliss made their top 10 in 2004).

Bookbinder’s–125 Walnut St. (Old City) 215-925-7027 K $$$$ Bookbinder’s is back. New chef David Cunningham (of NYC’s famed Le Bernadin) updated the menu to match the updated decor, but stalwarts like snapper soup and lobster remain the draws. While Bookie’s is a well-known Philly landmark, better meals can be had for less. At one time, it was the only place to eat in this City of Brotherly Love. Stop by for oysters, a cocktail and a bit of Philadelphia history.

Brasserie Perrier–1619 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-568-3000 KKKK $$$ Little sister to Le Bec-Fin (Philadelphia’s four-star grande dame of the fine-dining scene), Brasserie Perrier is just right for a casual dinner with exceptional food and service. The lounge menu is a standout, featuring clever fondues, steak frites and Alsatian choucroute. In our not-so- humble opinion, BP might even be better than big sis.

Brigid’s–726 N. 24th St. (Art Museum) 215-232-3232 KK $$: This wee Belgian pub has an elevated bar menu featuring Belgian-style mussels and frites. Perfect for a cozy tete-a-tete.

Capital Grille–1338 Chestnut St. (Center City) 215-545-9588 KKK $$$$ It’s all business at Philly’s branch of the Capital Grille high-end national steakhouse chain. Large round tables and comfy booths, generous portions and hefty drinks seal and deal. Dry-aged steaks, a well- thought-out (though pricey) wine list and better-than-average steakhouse favorites like crab cakes, creamed spinach and home-fried potatoes make this a popular hangout for the rich and hungry.

Cafe Spice–35 S. 2nd St. (Old City) 215-627-6273 KK $$ Indian friends turned us on to this winner in NYC. The fresh food and flavors soar over Little India (NYC’s 6th Street) standards, even at these reasonable prices. Masalas, tikkas, curries and a variety of light, Indian breads satisfy us like nothing else, and there are plenty of vegetarian options.

Capogiro–119 S. 13th St. (Center City) 215-351-0900 KKKK $ Gelato heaven! Owner Stephanie Reitano whips up out-of- this-world creamy batches of cilantro-lime, Mexican chocolate, Lancaster strawberry and La Colombe cappuccino at this zippy Italian cafe and gelateria. Prices are steep, but a $4 4-ounce serving packs more punch than a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Caribou Cafe–1126 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-625-9535 KK $$ This French bistro is popular with the pre-theater crowd and rightfully so–it’s the closest Philadelphia has to the genuine Parisian article. Plats du jour are handwritten on the large windows every day while an intriguing cocktail selection and hearty French fare like house-made country pate and French onion soup are always available.

Chickie & Pete’s–1526 Packer Ave. (South Philly) 215-218-0500 KKK $ It’s all about the crab at Chickie & Pete’s: seasoned hard crabs served by the pound and their famous crab fries. It’s the place for serious sports fans (and this being Philly, there are no other kind) to catch the game. Endless screens and a location just a stone’s throw from the stadium helped earn Chickie & Pete’s ESPN’s Cold Pizza vote as one of the top three sports bars in the entire country.

Chloe–232 Arch St. (Old City) 215-629-2337 KKK $$: One of the first–and best–of the city’s husband/wife-operated BYOBs, Chloe’s endearingly romantic room makes for a great date, but the contemporary American fare is sure to please everyone. Be prepared: no reservations, no credit cards and they won’t seat you until your whole party arrives.

Continental Downtown–138 Market St. (Old City) 215-923-6069 KK $$$ A trendy corner Starr-bar with plenty of attitude and nifty olive shaped bar stools. Martinis are the thing here: Faves include the melon martini and the Dean Martin (served with a juicy olive and an unfiltered lucky strike). The crab pad thai, calamari salad and lobster mash are our picks from the eclectic menu. Expect lots of pretty people and a fairly long wait for a table on the weekends.

Continental Midtown–1801 Chestnut St. (Center City) 215-567-1800 K $$$ Put the Continental Downtown’s menu in a swingin’ ’60s-style airport-ish lounge, with lots of levels and groovy seating (basket swings and Ikea-like big green hobbyhorses), and add a bonus outdoor lounge. A separate elevator delivers you to the very L.A.-style bar with a reflecting pool. Don’t mind the chintzy plastic cocktail glasses…they’re for safety. The Wharton crowd loves the lobster mac & cheese and the crab dumplings with their posh martinis.

Copabanana–344 South St. (South Philly) 215-923-6180 KK $$ This South Street classic, anchoring the corner of 4th and South for as long as we can remember, is growing into a bona fide chain with two other locations. Favored for its margaritas and other Tex-Mex cocktails, regulars also can’t get enough of their gourmet burgers and Spanish fries– topped with shredded onion, jalapeno and Whiz for a Philly-Tex-Mex experience. Perfect for a drink before catching a show at TLA down the street.

Cuba Libre–10 S. 2nd St. (Old City) 215-627-0666 K $$ This picture-perfect replica of 1950s Havana is in the heart of Old City Philadelphia. With the 60 varieties of rum on hand for killer mojitos, daiquiris, caipirinhas and potent Cuban coffees, you might be tempted to overlook chef Guillermo Veloso’s authentic Cuban plates. Don’t cheat yourself out of spicy guava pork ribs, hearty ropa vieja or the authentic pressed Cuban sandwiches. Go for dinner and stay for the revelry–the bar scene heats up later on.

Dark Horse–421 S. 2nd St. (South Philly) 215-928-9307 KK $-$$ One of Philly’s many gastropubs, Dark Horse looks like a pub, acts like a pub, but feeds like a bistro. Sandwich options include an organic free-range chicken cheesesteak with wild mushrooms and Brie, and beef brisket with caramelized onions and burgundy demi glace. Knife and fork options are steak frites with mont-briac and proscuittto-wrapped day boat scallops with mache in a blood orange vinaigrette. Really good nibbles at the bar. The chipotle roasted wings with Gorgonzola, and the Cajun cornmeal-crusted calamari with salsa verde and lemon aioli are just delish!

Dahlak–4708 Baltimore Ave. (University City) 215-726-6464 KK $: A little off the beaten path, both location and foodwise, this funky, casual restaurant in West Philly serves authentic Ethiopian food eaten exclusively with your hands and a spongy homemade pancake called injera. Spiced and spicy, Dahlak is a rollicking, colorful neighborhood gem.

D’Angelo’s–256 S. 20th St. (Center City) 215-546-3935 K $$ The never-ending party swings on at this hearty Italian restaurant/nightclub off Rittenhouse Square. Clams oreganato galore are devoured by slightly menacing gentlemen and ladies who are not their wives. D’Angelo’s is the place for the over-40 set to get fed, get down and get crazy.

Davio’s–111 S. 17th St. (Center City) 215-563-4810 KK $$$ Big food, big wine and big architecture are on deck at this Italian steakhouse mini-chain. Centrally located (though easy to miss–it’s on the second floor above a Rite Aid in a historic building), Davio’s offers Italian specialties like sauteed chicken livers with dried cherries and Gorgonzola tortellini to complement the selection of dry-aged premium beef. This expense account destination has a large second-floor space for private functions with a lovely terrace and city views.

Devon Seafood Grill–225 S. 18th St. (Center City) 215-546-5940 K $$ Owned by Houlihans, this chain flies seafood in daily from both coasts and boasts a primo location overlooking Rittenhouse Square. It’s worth a stop for a more casual vibe and much-lauded filler-free crab cakes.

Deux Cheminees–1221 Locust St. (Center City) 215-790-0200 KKK $$$$ Step back in time in this elegantly appointed historic mansion for a classic French feast. Rack of lamb with truffle-y sauce perigord, escargots a la bourguignonne and an adaptation of James Beard’s scotch-laced crab veloute can be found on chef Fritz Blank’s $85 prix fixe menu. Beluga caviar is also available for a supplement. After dinner, peruse Blank’s 10,000- volume collection of culinary tomes.

Dimitri’s–795 S. 3rd St. (South Philly) 215-625-0556 KKK $$: There’s always a wait for a table at Dimitri’s but, happily, there’s a bar across the street where you can wait for your table and pick up a six pack to bring back. Why the wait? This crowded Greek BYOB serves fantastic grilled fish garnished simply with olive oil and lemon in true Greek tradition, small plates of grilled octopus, roasted beets with feta, snap peas with stewed tomatoes and a killer garlic walnut dip. It’s a Philadelphia must do. (If you can’t stand the wait, you can go to their second location, on 23rd and Pine, which has a bar, but it’s not anywhere near as good.)

El Vez–121 S. 13th St. (Center City) 215-928-9800 KKK $$ Anchoring the newly named “B3” neighborhood, Stephen Starr’s Mexican is all flash and fun. Margaritas come classic or fruit-flavored from the hoppin’ bar in the round. Check out the seafood crab salsa, made-to- order guacamole and spicy carne asada…they are all winners. A $30,000 custom- made low-rider bicycle rotates on a dais above the bar and photos of tequila- infused patrons plaster the walls. A communal bathroom (a Starr signature feature) adds to the wacky vibe.

Fountain Restaurant–Four Seasons Hotel, One Logan Square (Center City) 215-963-1500 KKKKK $$$$ First-class elegance is always on the menu at this five-star hotel. It’s the place for a Philadelphia power breakfast or special occasion brunch, but dinner ain’t shabby either. The kitchen, under the direction of chef Martin Hamann, maintained its otherworldly reputation after the departure of longtime chef Jean-Marie Lacroix (now running his own show across town at the Rittenhouse Hotel). The menu changes frequently, but look out for super luxury dishes like roasted veal tenderloin with Jerusalem artichoke and truffle ravioli. Ask for a table with the coveted view of the Logan Circle fountain.

Friday, Saturday, Sunday–261 S. 21st St. (Center City) 215-546-4232 KK $$ Fri Sat Sun began life as a beatnik coffee bar in the ’50s, but it’s evolved into a neighborhood bistro over the years (while retaining a bit of the hepcat vibe.) The chicken pate with brandy rocks! Other favorites include the vegetarian chili, crab cakes (rumored to be some of the best in the city) and the homemade desserts (if they have the coconut cream pie, get it!). The friendly upstairs Tank Bar is a local hangout and perfect for lone diners, but parties of two or more are better off dining downstairs, amid the twinkling lights.

The Grill–The Ritz Carlton, 10 S. Broad St. (Center City) 215-523-8211 KKKK $$$$ The Grill is everything you would expect from dining at the Ritz: elegant with a capital E, without being stuffy. An evening here is a taste of what it truly is to be a member of the privileged class. The Grill offers a variety of dishes ranging from the simple (like the “simply grilled dry-aged Black Angus strip steak) to the sublime (like Tasmanian sea trout with green olive tapenade, roasted garlic and verjus).

The Happy Rooster–118 S. 16th St. (Center City) 215-963-9311 KK $$$: Covered in rooster and chicken paraphernalia, this dimly lit corner bistro is a favorite haunt of old school Center City businessmen for lunch. Lots of action at the bar, as well. It’s something of a throwback–you won’t see many women in here, although it is owned by a woman. The dusty ambiance evokes a Philadelphia of times gone by. The somewhat French menu is written on a chalkboard and placed on every table. Caviar, an omelet, or filet mignon…food to suit your mood.

Jack’s Firehouse–2130 Fairmount Ave. (Art Museum) 215-232-9000 KK $$ Chef/owner Jack McDavid, star of the Food Network’s Grillin’ and Chillin’, created a down-home country spot in a former firehouse with treats like smoked brisket, oyster fritters and pecan-crusted catfish. The bourbon collection is unparalleled north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Jake’s–365 Main St. (Manayunk) 215-483-0444 KKK $$$ Many consider Jake’s the finest food to be had in Manayunk. Chef/owner Bruce Cooper’s New American fare…like barbecued salmon and grilled calves’ liver…has drawn diners to Main Street for years. Especially beloved–and for good reason–is Jake’s brunch; try French toast with Chantilly cream or the seafood salad napoleon. Yum.

Johnny Manana’s–4201 Ridge Ave. (Manayunk) 215-843-0499 KK $$: If you find yourself out in Manayunk hankering for some good ol’ Tex-Mex, stop on by Johnny Manana’s. In fact, it may even be worth the $15 cab ride from Center City. Johnny’s is low frills and high taste. Tacos, enchiladas and burritos served in plastic baskets are as tasty as those you’d find in Amarillo. The Margaritas are strong and the beer is cold.

Jones–700 Chestnut St. (Old City) 215-223-5663 KK $$ www.jones- A simple name for simple fare. This retro-Starr glorified diner features comfort favorites like deviled eggs, fried chicken and waffles and macaroni & cheese. Funky cocktails and a lo-fi Brady Bunch feel make it a fun place to pop in for a drink, quick bite or Sunday brunch.

Joseph Poon–1002 Arch St. (Chinatown) 215-928-9333 KKK $$ The unofficial mayor of Chinatown, Pan-Asian pioneer Poon takes diners on a virtual globe trot in his eponymous restaurant. If cross- cultural favorites like grilled cilantro bread with foie gras in a wasabi honey glaze don’t appeal, you can create your own entree from a list of carefully culled ingredients. Tempted by tea? Poon offers a wide variety of exotic loose leaf teas. If you’ve got time, sign up for a Wok ‘n’ Walk tour of Chinatown, conducted by the maestro himself.

Kisso Sushi Bar–205 N. 4th St. (Old City) 215-922-1770 KKK $$: Kisso is an oasis of calm amid the madness of Old City. This BYO sake spot serves traditional Japanese tavern food such as edamame, grilled eel, sashimi and a variety of tasty rolls such as hako (pressed sushi) and double tuna. Warm rust- colored walls, tatami mats, delicate flower arrangements and subtle strains of West Coast jazz will make you wonder if you fell into a spa on the way to dinner.

Kristian’s–1100 Federal St. (South Philly) 215-468-0104 KK $$: A favorite of South Philadelphia locals who come for the spruced-up Italian classics, this is a bit more elegant alternative to the typical checkered- tablecloth joints. They serve osso bucco, calamari and pastas of all sorts. Ask for a table by the window and watch the local color pass by this central South Philly corner location.

La Castagne–1920 Chestnut St. (Center City) 215-751-9913 KK $$$ La Castagne is large and airy with wafting white curtains, leather seats and accommodating service. The pastas are all made in-house. It is quite the place for power lunches, and also a nice place for a special occasion dinner, especially if you wish to avoid the hullabaloo of Walnut Street. The house special of chestnut pasta sauteed with walnut and dusted with bitter cocoa powder is surprisingly addictive.

Lacroix at the Rittenhouse–Rittenhouse Hotel, W. Rittenhouse Square (Center City) 215-790-2533 KKKK $$$$ One of the most prized reservations in town, Philadelphians long for a taste of Jean-Marie Lacroix’s exquisite French cuisine. A dinner tasting menu, which changes daily, offers three-, four- or five-course options, as well as a marvelous cheese cart and “complimentary” dessert. Portions, though seemingly petite, turn out to be just right. Sunday brunch is another stellar option, with a multitude of hot and cold selections, and the opportunity for hard-core foodies to walk right into the kitchen to visit the hot buffet stations.

Latest Dish–613 S. 4th St. (South Philly) 215-629-0565 KK $$: Yo, Latest Dish is chill, you know what I mean? The spice-rubbed chicken and baked mac & cheese are off the hook and, like, the filet dinner is the shizzle fa ziz-ill, potatoes au gratin and garlic spinach are mad, crazy good. You’ll earn props from your sweet-toothed sweetie if you order the chocolate silk pie.

La Terrasse–3432 Sansom St. (University City) 215-386-5000 KK $$+: La Terrasse has been around forever, and that is a good thing. Once one of the few bastions of creative cuisine in Philly, this University City old-timer can still delight. Escargot in bordelaise, truffle-scented poached eggs over tomato slices, foie gras brulee snuggle up to the more common sandwich/burger/pasta options. The strawberry shortcake with mascarpone is well worth the trip uptown.

Le Bus–4266 Main St. (Manyunk) 215-487-2663 KK $$: Imagine a lovely weekend afternoon strolling and shopping Main Street in Manayunk. Imagine you’re feeling a bit puckish and your companion is either a vegetarian or a child, or maybe even a vegetarian child. Now imagine the perfect restaurant for people dining with vegetarians and children. That restaurant is Le Bus. This homey, ever so slightly earthy-crunchy bakery/cafe is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It features spectacular baked goods, homemade soups, mom’s meat loaf, vegetarian chili and something called a brown rice nut salad that is sure to satisfy even the most rabid vegan.

Little Fish–600 Catherine St. (South Philly) 215-413-3464 KKK $$: Little Fish is very, very little indeed! But it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the quality of the fish that matters. Chef/owner John Tiplitz turns out some of this city’s best fish in his very small BYOB. The menu changes nightly, and features piscine surprises like wild rockfish with Moroccan stew. Little Fish is open for dinner only, Thursday through Sunday.

Little Pete’s–219 S. 17th St (Center City) 215-545-5508 KKK $: Between the hours of 1 a.m. and 8 a.m., Little Pete’s is the place to dine in Center City. This has more to do with the fact that it is the only place that is open, than with its culinary pleasures. But when the late-night craving hits, it must be satisfied. Bacon, egg and cheese on a bagel is a good bet, as are any of the egg dishes. Their Reuben is legendary, as is their monte cristo. Skip the burgers. Expect to wait for a table on the weekends after 2 a.m.

London Grill–2301 Fairmount Ave. (Art Museum) 215-978-4545 KK $$ An eclectic menu draws inspiration from international street food, but there’s still classic American fare (like burgers) to keep it local. A variety of beers, mostly hometown, flow from the 13-tap system in the turn-of-the-century bar.

Mamma Maria–1637 E. Passyunk Ave. (South Philly) 215-463-6884 KK $$ “Mamma” Maria-host of the PBS cooking show Cooking With Mamma-does double duty as the chef of this restaurant located on Passyunk Avenue in the heart of South Philadelphia. The menu changes daily, depending on what Mamma feels like making, so go with an open mind, but expect to find native Abruzzo dishes like pollo al’Abruzzese and Mamma’s homemade limoncello.

Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant–4120 Main St. (Manayunk) 215-482-8220 K $$: Fight your way through the frat boys for the drunken rotisserie chicken and oven-fired pizzas made with house-brewed Krook Mill American Pale Ale. The menu is hardly high concept dining, but dude, the deck is killer on a sunny day!

Marathon Grill–16th and Sansom, 19th and Spruce, 1339 Chestnut, 40th and Walnut (Center City) K $-$$ Local mini-chain of quick- bite eateries are a step above fast food. Multiple downtown locations and a variety of healthy menu options make it an easy choice for a convenient Center City lunch.

Matyson–37 S. 19th St. (Center City) 215-564-2925 KKK $$ One of the best husband-and-wife-run BYOBs in Philadelphia, Matyson’s fare is simple American with hints of French and a sprinkling of Mediterranean influence. Matt Spector’s menu changes frequently and utilizes local products and purveyors, while wife Sonja’s pastries are good enough to make a meal on their own. Lunch is also excellent and reasonably priced for the quality. Check out the avocado and grapefruit salad. Daily soups are also noteworthy.

McCormick & Schmick’s–One South Broad St. (Center City) 215-568-6888 K $$ Another high-end chain offers decent seafood selections and a lively happy hour that is popular with the City Hall set. As with all the chains on the Broad Street corridor, it’s a safe choice, but not very exciting.

Melograno–2201 Spruce St. (Center City) 215-875-8116 KK $$: Melograno means pomegranate in Italian and it’s one of the many charming BYOBs run by an equally charming couple. This lovely spot touts itself as a Tuscan bistro, and chef Gianluca Demontis turns out unpretentious tasty dishes from his minuscule open kitchen. The yummy antipastos feature proscuitto de Parma atop fresh arugula, and Tuscan-style cannellini beans adorned with squid, shrimp and octopus. Pastas run the gamut from the traditional (marinara) to the unexpected whole-wheat pastas. Some entrees, like the stuffed quail and pork chops, are elaborately constructed. Fish dishes are treated simply and with care. Service can be spotty, and often the wait is long. Melograno does not take reservations.

Monk’s–16th Street and Spruce (Center City) 215-545 7005 KKK $$ Monk’s bills itself as a Belgian beer emporium…stocking over 250 beers at any given time. The menu is also Belgian (and beer-driven.) Mussels made with beer, octopus braised in beer and rabbit braised in beer are but a few examples. Don’t miss the famous house frites, served with an Altoid- defying side of bourbon mayonnaise loaded with garlic. A Philadelphia institution and a must for beer mavens.

Morimoto–723 Chestnut St. (Old City) 215-413-9070 KKK $$$$ Iron Chef fans will fawn over the heavenly sushi prepared by the Iron Chef himself, Masaharu Morimoto. The best seats in this Kareem Rashid-designed house are at the sushi bar, where you can watch the pros at work, preparing your seven-course omakase (chef’s tasting menu). Toro tartare topped with osetra caviar, tuna pizza and lobster epice are perennial favorites from the a la carte menu, but the freshly prepared sushi is really the star of this Starr restaurant. If you can’t get a reservation, visit the upstairs lounge where the full menu, although not the omakase, are available.

Moshulu–401 South Colombus Blvd. (South Philly Waterfront) 215-923-2500 KKK $$$$ Set sail (not really) on the largest four-masted sailing ship afloat for a surprisingly enjoyable meal-on-a-boat. Moshulu’s fare is not your typical sailing rations: butter-poached lobster, char-grilled filet mignon and Cervena venison loin all appear on Four Seasons and Pierre veteran Ralph Fernandez’s upscale menu. You’ll be moored (but not bored) as you dine on the Delaware.

Nan–4000 Chestnut St. (University City) 215-382-0818 KK $$ Fans rave about the French-Thai fusion fare at this University City BYOB. You’ll find escargot and chicken satay side by side on the menu at this Best of Philly–Thai winner. A hidden gem tucked away among the Penn and Drexel campuses in West Philadelphia.

Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant–1516 Sansom St., 2nd Floor (Center City) 215-569-9525 KK $$ Nodding Head is Philly’s own award-winning brewery featuring yummy, beer-inspired fare. The menu is surprisingly articulate, with a melange of dishes like polenta puttenesca, New Zealand lamb chops with hazelnuts and country mustard and what some consider the best ribs in Philly. A great spot for happy hour. The appetizer menu holds such delights as house-smoked seafood salad, Belgian style mussels, a variety of beer-battered and fried items and lots of tasty house-brewed beers to wash them down.

North 3rd–801 N. 3rd St. (Northern Liberties) 215-413-3666 KK $: Funky artwork adorns the walls and tiki torches light up the sidewalk at this Northern Liberties gastropub. Excellent bar fare, courtesy of former Rouge chef Peter Dunmire. He wins raves from the boho local crowd, who also come for the blood orange margaritas and well-priced wines and local beers. Dunmire’s soups are a consistent favorite, as are the wings and the breakfast quesadilla.

The Palm–200 S. Broad St. (Center City) 215-546-7256 KKK $$$$ The power-lunch crowd flocks to the Palm in Philly, as it does to every other Palm in the country. Why? The steaks are great, the service discreet and professional and the Caesar salad is legendary. What’s fun to do at the Palm? Match the caricatures on the wall with their real-life counterparts seated nearby.

Pat’s King of Steaks–1237 East Passyunk (South Philly) 215 468 1546 KKK $: Bring on the great Philly cheesesteak debate! Right across the street from Geno’s, Pat’s serves up a better cheesesteak. There are plenty of people who disagree with us, though. Fuggedaboutit. Get on line (there’s always a line), order your steak “wid” (with onions) or wid provolone. (Plenty of people disagree here, too–they go for wid Whiz). Then, bask in the really bright light, soak up the local culture and allow your arteries to harden. If the line is really long, remember, Geno’s is right across the street.

Penang–117 N. 10th St. (Chinatown) 215-413-2531 KK $: A trip to Malaysia without the shots. It’s just a short walk from the Convention Center and you can enjoy the curry roti, mango chicken or go out on a limb and sample stingray. Have at least one fun, fruity cocktail.

Penne–3611 Walnut St (University City) 215-823-6222 KK $$+: An excellent place for those who like a bit of control over their sauces. Don’t be put off by the fact that Penne resides within a Hilton. The homemade pastas are nearly perfect, the portions generous and the sauces made with a deft hand. Penne’s three-glass wine flight presents some eclectic and interesting options.

Pif–1009 S. 8th St. (South Philly) 215-625-2923 KKK $$: Another noteworthy husband-and-wife-run BYOB, Pif’s dining room is also the tiniest, and that’s saying a lot. Chef/owner David Ansill’s French cuisine is fabulous. Francophiles are sure to love the escargot, as well as the menu which changes daily. Be prepared to get up close and personal with your fellow diners…tables are elbow to elbow at Pif.

Pod–3636 Sansom St. (University City) 215-387-1803 K $$$: Stephen Starr owns Pod, so of course it has a moving sushi sidewalk. The “pod” banquettes change color at the customer’s request, and the bathrooms look like something in a Japanese gas station. Pod is an exercise in wacky style over substance, but if you are up by Penn and wish to watch sushi in motion, this is the perfect place.

The Prime Rib–1701 Locust St. (Center City) 215-772-1701 KKK $$$$ Considered one of the top steakhouses in Philadelphia, the Prime Rib also boasts a Baltimore and the original Washington, D.C., location. A little more formal than some of the others (jackets are required), it offers an old-time swanky feel along with its signature steaks and seafood platters. Tuxedoed waiters and live nightly music add to the upscale vibe.

Pumpkin–1713 South St. (Center City) 215-545-4448 KKK $$: The tiny BYOB trend strikes again, although the couple that owns this one are boyfriend and girlfriend, rather than officially married. Ian Moroney, formerly of beloved Bella Vista’s Little Fish, runs the kitchen, while Hillary Bor tends the front of house. Moroney has a deft hand with fish, and his rendition of veal cheeks will melt in your mouth. What the room lacks in ambiance it makes up for in attentive service and wonderful, reasonably priced fare. Reservations are a must at this minuscule (and we mean minuscule) storefront.

Ralph’s–760 S. 9th St. (South Philly) 215-627-6011 KKK $$ Operating under continuous ownership by the same family for over 100 years, Ralph’s is a landmark on 9th Street, directly in the center of the famed Italian Market. Tradition, tradition, tradition is what it’s all about at Ralph’s. Get the veal parmigiana, spaghetti with gravy or any other Southern Italian classic at this stalwart.

Reading Terminal Market–12th and Arch Streets (Chinatown) KKK Visit one of the oldest and most vibrant food markets in the country, home to a huge variety of foods at its many stalls. Local favorites like cheesesteaks, Famous 4th Street Cookies, Sang Kee, Delilah’s and Termini’s are interspersed with Amish vendors (Wed. through Sat. only) and world-class cheese, produce and meat markets. With so many options, you might have a hard time making a decision, but you won’t go hungry.

Ristorante Panorama–14 N. Front St. (Old City) 215-922-7800 KK $$$ While the food is tempting at this Italian restaurant, the wine bar is the real draw. It features a custom-made wine storage system that allows them to serve as many as 120 wines by the glass at any given time. Sample one of their fabulous flights or just make up your own. A unique experience for serious oenophiles, wine geeks and cork dorks.

Rose Tattoo–19th and Callowhill Streets (Art Museum) 215-569-8939 KKK $$$ Fresh flowers are a constant in this N’awlins-style dining room. You’ll want to scream “Stella!” from the wrought-iron balcony. Rose Tattoo is chock-full of the Tennessee Williams-style romance for which it’s named. French Laundry alum Sean Weinberg mans the stove, turning out inspired seasonal cuisine. Don’t miss the jambalaya.

Rouge–205 S. 18th St. (Center City) 215-723-6622 KKK $$: Overlooking chic Rittenhouse Square, Rouge is Ground Zero for the see-and-be-scenesters. From early afternoon till late into the night, Rittenhouse denizens spill out onto the sidewalk, cosmos in hand, to hobnob and people watch. Rouge’s food is surprisingly tasty for glorified bar food. The Rouge Burger, piled high with caramelized onion and Gruyere, is a late-night standard.

Roy’s–124-34 S. 15th St. (Center City) 215-988-1814 KKK $$$ Roy Yamaguchi’s Philadelphia location is the latest of 30 nationwide. Featuring contemporary Hawaiian cuisine, a trip to Roy’s is a mini-vacation complete with tatami mats, palm trees and tropical flowers. For a change, skip the obvious sesame-crusted tuna and flourless chocolate cake and go for the local chef’s specials such as truffle-scented lobster dumplings, snow crab sushi roll and wonderfully sticky spare ribs.

RX Restaurant–4443 Spruce St. (University City) 215-222-9590 KKK $$: Owner Greg Salisbury had his eye on this ancient apothecary for years, and when it came available, he snatched it up and opened this BYOB restaurant. Chef Tim Olivett culls his ingredients from the bounty of locally grown and raised agricultural products available in the Delaware Valley. The menu changes with the seasons, but is always, always worth the somewhat substantial wait.

Sang Kee–238 N. 9th St. (Chinatown) 215-925-7532 KKKK $: Don’t be put off by the no-frills decor and the dangling ducks. Sang Kee is hands-down the best Chinese in Philly. Roast pork, Peking duck and fried dumplings with oyster sauce are all phenomenal. If you can’t make it for dinner, stop by their stall in Reading Terminal Market for a quick fix.

Sansom Street Oyster House–1516 Sansom St. (Center City) 215-567-7683 KK+ $$ This pearl of a place is all about the oysters. Oysters from Maine, oysters from the Pacific Northwest and oysters from the Northeast…you get the idea. Of course, they serve other forms of marine life as well and locals recommend the seafood bisque. The newly revived wine list is thing of beauty. Sansom Street also features one of the city’s best happy hour specials…with the oyster of the day and little neck clams for a dollar apiece.

Smith & Wollensky–210 W. Rittenhouse Square (Center City) 215-545-1700 KKK $$$ Situated just off Rittenhouse Square, the Philadelphia Smith & Wollensky is home to many of the city’s bright and beautiful young things. The first-floor bar plays host to up-and-coming young lawyers and power brokers. This does not detract from the superior aged steaks, decadent sides and a killer seafood tower. The local special of roasted pork shank with cracklings and applesauce is worth the detour from typical steakhouse fare.

Susanna Foo–1512 Walnut St. (Center City) 215-545-2666 KKK $$$$ One of the pioneers of the Walnut Street fine-dining scene, Susanna Foo, helmed by the lady herself, is home to upscale Chinese cuisine with a generous helping of French technique. Don’t come expecting your usual Chinese ambiance (or prices)–this four-star spot is a step above and beyond. Foo was mentored by Culinary Institute of America founder Jacob Rosenthal. Whatever you do, don’t miss the elegant dim sum presentation.

Tangerine–232 Market St. (South Philly) 215-627-5116 KKK $$$ Gorgeously lit by hundreds of suspended candles, exotic Tangerine feels like it’s in another country. A Mediterranean-influenced menu features such delicacies as shrimp Afrique and chicken tagine. Cocktails like the strawberry blonde and tangeroni keep revelers flocking to the lounge scene, which offers its own tasty tapas for nibbling.

Tequila’s and Los Catrines–1602 Locust St. (Center City) 215-546-0181 KK $$$ Mexican cuisine gets kicked up a notch at Tequila’s, located in a stunningly restored townhouse on historic Locust Street. Tequila’s selection of over 90 premium tequilas makes this a can’t-miss destination for spirit connoisseurs. The whimsical menu, written by owner David Suro, is a great read, and will be sure to tempt your palate in all kinds of directions. You can’t go wrong with the chocolaty, rich mole.

Tony Luke’s–39 East Oregon Avenue (South Philly) 215-551-5725 KKK $: There are some who believe Tony Luke’s has the best cheesesteak in Philly. Better than the cheesesteaks, however, are the roast pork sandwiches with bitter broccoli rabe and aged provolone. Some patrons swear by the Papa Luke, a cheesesteak made with cream cheese and tomatoes. (But to this, Philly-raised Chuck Klein responds, “Not in this lifetime!”)

Tria–123 S. 18th St. (Center City) 215-972-8742 KK $$ Celebrating the “fermentation trio” of beer, wine and cheese, Tria’s four-page menu features snacks, sandwiches and, most interestingly, a rotating selection of domestic and imported cheeses, sold by the piece. A nicely edited beer and wine list highlights lesser-known and local producers. Tria is an ideal stopover before or after dinner, or for a very filling midday snack.

Twenty Manning–261 S. 20th St. (Center City) 215-731-0900 KKK $$ This sleeker, more grown-up sister of BYOB Audrey Claire actually has a liquor license. Though the restaurants share an owner (Audrey Claire Taichman) and an executive chef (Kiong Banh), the vibe and cuisine are distinct. Twenty Manning offers more Asian-inspired fare, Calvin Klein-ish black and silver decor and a bustling happy hour. Outdoor tables provide an inviting spot to pass a summer evening, sipping a cocktail from Twenty Manning’s seasonal list.

Valanni–1229 Spruce St. (Center City) 215-790-9494 KKK $$ Valanni is a congenial marriage of a warm and inviting atmosphere with a unique menu of Mediterranean-Latin delights. A pioneer in a neighborhood known for its eclectic mix of locals, theater district patrons and restaurant industry folk, Valanni has established a solid clientele. Devoted fans flock to Valanni’s $3 happy hour for delicious cocktails like the Brazilian pop and tasty tapas.

Vetri–1312 Spruce St. (Center City) 215-732-3478 KKKK $$$$ The cozy Italian country home decor belies Vetri’s ambitious fare and extravagant prices. Chef Marc Vetri turns out seasonal, Italian cuisine at a four-star level. With only 35 seats, it’s not easy to get a reservation, but worth the effort for this Beard Award-winning chef’s interpretation of Italy.

Washington Square–210 W. Washington Square (Old City) 215-592-7787 KK $$$ www.washingtonsquare Starr strikes again with this global tapas emporium on historic Washington Square. It’s best visited during the warm months when the attached outdoor patio is open to the elements. Has a bit of an L.A. vibe.

White Dog Cafe–3420 Sansom St. (University City) 215-386-9224 KK $$ Owner Judy Wicks, recent winner of the James Beard Humanitarian Award, is Philadelphia’s answer to Alice Waters. The White Dog Cafe and the White Dog Foundation are dedicated to responsible farming practices and to matching chefs with local farmers. That being said, White Dog is a whole lot less sanctimonious than it sounds. Their bar serves up one of the city’s best cosmos, and menu items include wild caught Nova smoked salmon over warm spring pea pancakes, wild striped bass choucoutre with homemade sauerkraut, and crispy Chinese spiced peking duck with raspberry ginger glaze. Of course, being hippies, they offer seitan, but here it’s corn-crusted and served with balsamic glazed roasted onions.

Zanzibar Blue–200 S. Broad St. (Center City) 215-732-4500 K $$: “If music be the food of love, play on”…but you can’t make a meal out of a song. Zanzibar Blue has great live jazz seven nights a week, and during Sunday brunch. The upscale soul food menu isn’t the best we’ve had, but the music is great, so who cares?? The place is always packed.

Zocalo Restaurant–3600 Lancaster Ave. (University City) 215-895-0139 KKK $$$: Upscale Mexican off Penn’s campus, Zocalo is a bit expensive for undergrads, but the enchiladas, guacamole and big bubbly crock of queso with poblano peppers are worth every peso. For the heat-meisters in the group, habanera-infused tequila is presented in a martini glass, with a whole habanero garnish. Those of us who are not insane opt for the dangerously tasty passion fruit margarita.

[Copyright 2005 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]

COPYRIGHT 2005 Access Intelligence, LLC.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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