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Jan 5, 2001 12:20 PM

Need Phila suggestions from New Yorkers

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My husband is living in Philly this year and when I visit, we have a hard time finding good or unique places to eat. The restaurants recommended by the locals tend to be imitations of mediocre NYC restaurants. Any suggestions, particularly in Center City? (It seems to be fairly easy to find decent ethnic and/or vegetarian eats in West Philly near Penn.)

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  1. I worked for a few years in restaurants in Phila, and you are right -- the best are poor imitations of bad restaurants in NY. At least they are less expensive (or were). A friend whom I trust said that The Fountain at the Four Seasons Hotel is excellent. Beyond that, the way to go is still ethnic. In Center City, near Arch Street, the Vietnamese restaurants are very good. Otherwise, your best choices are still in West Phila. If you haven't been there already, try Zocalo for maybe-above-average and almost real Mexican, and the Red Sea for Ethopian. Can't remember the addresses, but I am sure you are resourceful.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Pat P

      ...(and it is very good) Le Bec-Fin is one of the worlds top tables. Foodwise, I think it is as good or better than Daniel, Lespinasse or Jeans-Georges. Perrier has brought over a new Chef from Taillevent in Paris to run a Provencal style restaurant in Wayne ("Mas de Perrier"), which sounds promising. Still, The Fountain is a wonderful restaurant, although I prefer it for lunch or brunch to dinner.

      1. re: R Washburn

        Le Bec Fin is a muesum of American French cooking, and I don't mean that in a good way -- so relentlessly old-fashioned that it is hard to keep from laughing, and pretentious in a way that no New Yorker under the age of 50 or so would even recognize: the kind of French restaurant Wilma was always trying to get Fred to take her to. If you think of it as theater, it may be worth a visit, although it probably is, after Ducasse, the most expensive place in America.

        1. re: Pepper

          Hi Pepper,
          Actually Perrier's cooking has changed and evolved considerably over the 30+ years since he came to America, and he is constantly changing the menu. I think you are refering to the structure of the meal rather than the cuisine. Dinner starts off with an amuse-bouche followed by an appetizer, a fish course, a meat or game course, a salad or selections from the cheese cart,
          the ice cream and sorbet cart, the multi-tiered desert cart and then coffee and petit-fours. I consider Georges Perrier to be one of the worlds premier chefs. He is a fanatical perfectionist.
          I guess by your criteria, you would consider restaurant Daniel to be a museum of French cooking ? If you were thinking of Deux Chiminee I would be inclined to agree with you.

    2. I'm guessing you haven't had a chance to check out the Chowhound board for Pennsylvania, which would be a more fruitful place to look for recommendations.

      PS I don't agree that being a New Yorker makes one a more trustworthy restaurant guide. (But I do think being a Chowhound does.)

      I have a couple of Vietnamese places I've been putting off writing about. Let's meet on the PA board.

      1. I was there for a seminar in Feb. 2000, and enjoyed lunch at the Striped Bass (wonderful lightly crisped fish and a crisp risotto cake) and at the sister bistro to Le Bec Fin (I forgot the name)(I also had a pan sauteed fish entree, nicely done). Both restaurants served us wonderful complete lunches, with great service and cheaper prices than in NYC. We had dinner at the famed Susanna Foo's, but were quite disappointed there. Personally, I look forward to another trip to Philladelphia to try more of the "restaurant row".

        4 Replies
        1. re: Claire Li

          ...Susanna Foo a few years ago when she raised the prices. Susanna Foo learned western culinary techniques at the CIA which she applied to Asian cooking. Her new Chef de Cuisine is the highly regarded Bruce Lim (?) from Ciboulette. My problem with the restaurant revolved around the extremely amateurish fresh-of-the-boat-from-China waitstaff. At those prices the service should be much better.
          What was your problem with the restaurant, and what did you have?


          1. re: R Washburn

            Le Bar Lyonnais is the cozy bar/restaurant underneath Le Bec Fin, right?

            1. re: Bilmo

              ...superior Le Bar Lyonais. Brasserie Perrier (which is more of a bistro) isn't nearly as good, although it is much more spacious. I haven't been there since Francesco Marterella left, though, so it may have changed. I did have a few excellant wine dinners there (sponsored by Moore Brothers), so the kitchen was capable.

            2. re: R Washburn

              umm, yes, I was referring to the Brasserie Perrier. I didn't see Le Bar-Lyonnais.

              At Susanna Foo's, I was there back in February, the food wasn't very good, so my memory is sketchy. What I do recall is that the waiter strongly recommended the fois gras appetizer with carmelized pinapple, which I tried based on his recommendation, and was greatly disappointed. I think that I also may have tried the rack of lamb chops and maybe some crab siu mai(but I am not sure). My friend and I each ordered at least an appetizer and an entree, and the waiter told us that we needed to order more food, and again he recommended a special rice dish which turned out to be nothing more than bland white rice mixed with a few vegetables, a dish that we did not need at all in terms of food quantity. In other words, the waiter padded the bill. We also each had a dessert, but the entire meal was unimpressive and disappointing, and of course, the waiter disappeared once he took our order and he consistently gave us the wrong advice about what to order.

          2. ...Bookbinders ? I just moved back to NY after 7 years in Philadelphia, so I can attest to the fact that Philadelphia does have several restaurants worth traveling from Manhattan to dine at. The current issue of Philadelpia magazine gives a good survey, and covers different price ranges. Email me if you want my personal picks.


            1 Reply
            1. re: R Washburn

              Robert, please don't keep your opinions secret in an email - the whole purpose of this site is to give people a place to share their personal picks! (But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this discussion of Philadelphia restaurants belongs on the PA, not Manhattan, board.)

            2. Thand you for your suggestions. I'm going to Philly this week well-armed. I am a newcomer to the site, and did not think that New Yorkers would regularly go to the Pennsylvania board. That's why I didn't post there. Also, rather snobbishly (that's what 20 years in New York will do to you - I apologize), I didn't think that Philadelphians would be as discriminating about restaurants, especially since my husband's acquaintances were suggesting places that we found pretty dull (like Audrey Clair (sp?)). Thanks again.