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In Philly during all of Oct -- help me chow down!

Hi, Philly 'hounds. I'll be on a research trip Oct 1 - 30 and living in what I understand is the Historic District. (Apologies if this is misstated and please correct me.) I'm a grad student, so I'm looking for maybe one or two spendy meals -- one with my boyfriend when he visits and another with a friend visiting from NY, but other than that I will be on more of a budget. But, really, BRING IT. What are places I shouldn't miss? White tablecloth, hole-in-the-wall, great bakeries and cafes (esp if there is a place with good breakfast/coffee/pastries near where I'll be working at the American Philosophical Society on 5th St.), local specialties, quirky grocery stores and co-ops... They all interest me. Oh, and I brew beer at home, so I'm interested in brew pubs, too. Many thanks!

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  1. Just to double check, can you be more specific about where you are staying? By historic district do you mean Old City?

    1 Reply
    1. re: saturninus

      Yeah, I suppose so. The address of the place is 13xx Locust St.

    2. You are not too far from the unique Asian restaurant called Buddakhan (sp?) and I would sincerely go for it!
      Reading Terminal is also a must for breakfasts, pastries, sandwiches, you name it.
      Get yourself a sloppy, messy cheesesteak. (I'll leave others to fight over the best one!)
      Seafood/Greek restaurant that is pricey but great is Estia off Broad and Locust.
      Right around the corner on Broad Street is the lovely Bliss.
      Grab a bottle of wine and head on over to Caffe Casta Diva on 220 S. 20th St. for a delicious Italian dinner or Branzino's (also fine!)
      Going out of the city a bit appeal to you? Try Jakes' in Manayunk.
      Bon appetit!

      2 Replies
      1. re: idia

        Reading Terminal Market is a few blocks to the north at 12th and Arch and has great pancakes at the Dutch Eating Place (Weds thru Sats only) and DiNic's roast pork sandwiches. Termini's at the market is a great Italian bakery with great pastries. Avoid the diner there though. Also, at Walnut and Juniper (very close to you) is the Naked Chocolate Cafe, which has killer hot and frozeen chocolate drinks and really good cupcakes. Estia, as mentioned above, is very good but very pricey (once had a $51 fish for lunch accidentally).

        1. re: idia

          The only place on idia's list that fits into a grad student budget for regular dining is the Reading Terminal Market. All the others would only be good for one of the two "spendy" meals. For more budget-conscious options, do gelato from Capogiro, Burmese from Rangoon, hoagies from Primo's, tacos from Los Taquitos de Puebla, and I second the recommendations of Szechuan Tasty House, pho on 11th and Washington, Monk's, Eulogy, and Good Dog.

        2. As the previous poster said, you are near Buddakhan, and if you want to splurge, that is an option. Personally, I'm not overly fond of it, but tons of people seem to really love it. For a splurge Stephen Starr, I would probably pick Alma de Cuba.

          For beer, you'll want to check out either Eulogy or Monk's. Monk's, around 16th & Spruce, is closer than Eulogy, which near Penn's Landing around 2nd & Chestnut. The Foodery is a good place to buy gourmet beers if you just want some to take home. Dock Street, a Philadelphia brewery, just opened a spot at 50th & Baltimore, so that's something to check out if you're up for a small trip.

          Reading Terminal Market will probably be recommended over and over again for good reason. If you want to get some sandwiches or whatever, there's some great ones here - I love DiNic's. Alternatively, this is also a good place for fruits or veggies or cheese or whatever your fridge might need that night.

          Chinatown, around 11th & Race, will also be good for you. Sang Kee's has good duck & wontons. Lakeside, Ocean Palace, Joy Tsin Lau are all good places for dimsum. Ong's is good, and I just went there the other night for a surprisingly decent and cheap soft-shelled crab appetizer. There's a bunch of other places in Chinatown you'll want to check out, and I'm guessing that other folks will chime in with their favourites.

          Good Dog, just a couple of blocks from you, have great burgers, my favourite in town. It's also a good place to hang out and grab a beer.

          Naked Chocolate & Bonte are 2 little sweet shops/restaurant on Walnut, right before Broad. (They're next to each other.) Bonte has Belgian style sugared waffles and coffee, amongs a few other things. Naked Chocolate is, I suppose, somewhat self-explanatory in that they most have chocolate in the forms of drinks, cookies, etc - there are, however, a few other non-chocolate items on the menu that are pretty tasty, too.

          That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but really, you're in a great place for food, just pick a direction and walk. You'll find something.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Ali

            I personally do not like Bonte's waffle. It's sticky, not fluffy and a little too sweet. Their pastries are not the best I've had. But I do go there cause it's the closest there is other than Starbucks (I live near there). Plus, it's at 9th and Walnut...which is a good 10 minute walk from 5th, where you work...I'm assuming.

            0. I don't know if there's a place near where you work. There's Cafe Ole in Old City (3rd and Quarry), which has a more "local" scene and regulars who hang out there.
            1. Try Beau Monde, which is an excellent creperie/french for brunch.
            2. Farmer's market on Sunday at S. 2nd street (it's 2nd between Lombard and South) for very good produce, bread, etc (I don't know when it starts exactly, but I usually go there around noon). I go to Whole Foods on South Street for groceries during the weekdays, but it's not anything unique to Philly or anything. But they do sell quality seafood, meat, organic produce, EXCELLENT brownies (I got very good Chillean seabass and dry aged NY strip the other day---they were a bit pricy though).
            3. Honey's sit n' eat in Northern Liberty for good breakfast/brunch (order from their specials menu!)
            4. Try BYOB places (there are so many)...Lolita, Matyson, Audrey Claire, Raddichio, and a number of other good ones I haven't tried.
            5. Most Starr restaurants are more for the hip experience and ambiance rather than it being good food (that's worth what it costs)...in my opinion. Most of them have been disappointing...except Morimoto's tasting menu (but I'm a little biased---I am a huge fan of the iron chef).
            6. Italian market on 9th street. Good frozen pasta and gnocchi, meat shops specializing various sausages, olives, baked goods, gelato, and so much more!
            7. Vietnamese groceries, restaurants on 11th and Washington Ave. If you want awesome, authentic, cheap vietnamese food, go there. All the places in that little strip mall is good. impossible to find parking most of the time and most ridiculous sidewalk violation you've ever seen to increase parking space.
            8. Szechuan Tasty House for greasy, authentic szechuan place.

            1. re: baekster

              I agree with the assessment of Stephen Starr establishments as being more "hype and ambiance" than quality food. Last time I spoke with Chef Morimoto, he indicated that he would spend most of his time in Manhattan now that his non-compete with Nobu has expired. His preference has always been New York City; Philadelphia just happened to be outside his geographical non-compete.

              If you're looking for a good "splurge" place, I'd suggest going to Le Bar Lyonnais. They have a very fine menu apart from Le Bec-Fin's menu, and you have access to the Le Bec-Fin's dessert cart and cheese cart. You can also order a la carte off of Le Bec-Fin's menu in Le Bar Lyonnais at a reasonable price. Le Bar Lyonnais is in the same price range as a place like Buddakan.

              As for BYOBs, the ones I would strongly recommend are Caffe Casta Diva and Matyson. However, buy your wine in NJ if you can; the PLCB's selection is underwhelming, at best. There are two good places in Pennsauken: Moore Brothers in Pennsauken (7200 N Park Dr) and Roger Wilco Liquor Store (1001 Route 73 in Pennsauken). If you can make it up further to Princeton, the Princeton Corkscrew and Joe Canal's Discount Liquor are also good.

              1. re: Mr_Pickles

                I second the suggestions for Moore Brothers. Very friendly staff; they will suggest wine for your meal (so think about what you'll eat with the wine before going there). They only have European wines though.

                Yea, I never met Chef Morimoto. But the omakase is always very creative and uses the best, freshest ingredients. If you're a Gourmet food fan, however, you should at least give it a try and say "I went to Morimoto's restaurant". :) Just like I would go to Babbo at least once if I were in Manhattan for a month.

                1. re: Mr_Pickles

                  Total Wine & Spirit(Cherry Hill,NJ)has a ton of wines in stock.

                2. re: baekster

                  this was the most recent place i see honey's sit'n'eat mentioned, so i guess i'll post here. i don't know if anyone's noticed, but they've quietly opened for dinners as a BYO spot. they're not my favorite brunch spot out of the plethora of neighborhood options, but they are one of the only places open for a decent breakfast before the brunch spots open up in late morning. i figured i'd try them for dinner.

                  first off, their dinner menu is overwhelming. four pages of small print. i was starving, so i skimmed it quickly. lots of fish dishes. i tried the crabcake to start with the mahi mahi in a white wine sauce for the main course. the crabcake was near-perfect (from a former marylander). nicely lumped together, no breadcrumby goo, atop a baby greens salad with cocktail sauce on the side. it was really good. i would have been happy with another of those.
                  main course came, and we were i suppose less than thrilled. my dining companion's pork chops she actually sent back (she's a picky one) in favor of the chicken breast, which she liked much better. my mahi mahi was way overdone. i'm not a food-sender-back at ALL (there's got to be a more grammatically correct term for that), so i finished my plate, though it was so tough my jaw feels strained. equally overcooked was my side of a potato latke. i chalked it up to an example of offering TOO many choices but specializing in only a few of them (one of which i had apparently not picked). this is a shame, because overcooking aside, the seasonings were quite pleasant and not overdone at all.

                  great place to escape dinner crowds for sure... possibly for a reason? prices were reasonable. if you find yourself there for dinner i highly recommend the crabcake (saw it comes as an entree too). good luck getting a table for brunch though. people think that place is the best thing since sliced bread. (i skip their line in favor of north third, for brunch)

              2. if you like burritos, el fuego (walnut by 7th) and the place at 5th and south are both good, filling options. not as cheap as burritos should be, esp. if you're coming from california/new mexico/etc., but still a good filling healthy meal for the money.

                bars that are good to eat in, but don't cost too much, include fergies (13th and sansom) and good dog (already mentioned). fergies is more of a good place to sit, eat, and have a drink than an actual food destination. very non-profit-y kind of crowd.

                definitely take advantage of reading terminal.

                brew pubs - you should check out nodding head on sansom. ask for a taste first - some of their beers are quite good, some are just kinda wierd.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Bob Loblaw

                  Call me a snob but I don't like el fuego that much. Everyone I know hyped it up for me so much, but I felt like I had better near Northern Liberty somewhere (I forget the names). There's a post somewhere that talk about taco carts...so search for it if you want cheap, good mexican. But it's dependable, decent, and healthier than street cart food.

                  If you want to walk about 5 mins for lunch, Aso Sushi (right next to El Fuego) has a great selection of rolls. Their special sushi and sashimi are always very fresh; the sushi chef will remember you the 2nd time, etc. Being typical Japanese food, it's not cheap. :)

                  1. re: baekster

                    might be fun to check out some of the off-the-beaten-path places, too, if you can rent a bike or take the el and get out of center city. there are a bunch of polish places up on allegheny ave sorta up in the close NE/port richmond. i have been to new wave which was a total hole in the wall but really good!

                    on the south side, head down to washington street and check out the italian market, all the little taquerias, and pho - all vaguely close to 9th and washington. los taquitos de puebla has been my fave mexican joint so far. verrrrrrry cheap, no ambiance (except for bright orange walls) but awesome food. folks here will recommend the tacos al pastor. they also have eyeballs (ojos) if those are up your alley. :) i think their guac and salsas there are excellent, the backbone of any good mexican place!

                    there is a felafel thread around here with all your options, but my fave is mama's with locations at 6th and south, and 20th and market (the latter all-vegetarian). good for when you have $5 to spend on dinner and are hungry!!!

                    northern liberties has a bunch of fun brunching spots. there's north third (my fave), standard tap, the abbaye, honey's, a full plate, m room (that's technically fishtown) ... am i missing any? within a couple blocks' walk of each other. also a bazillion coffee shops, all independently owned. two great italian BYO cash-only (but not cheap) options in the same area are modo mio and il cantuccio.

                    1. re: rabidog

                      Hey rabidog, have you been back to Modo Mio since Craig LaBan's review? I remember reading your positive review way before his was published, but I think I also remember reading on this board that a few people who went right after his review were disappointed. Wondering if it's still worth the cash.

                      1. re: Dib

                        when was his review? it must have been 3 months since i've been. tried to make it in there the other night but it was PACKED with a long wait out the door... we went to il cantuccio instead. i am waiting for another weeknight opportunity - forget the weekend.

                        1. re: Dib

                          okay, this got me wanting modo mio tonight! i headed out for the unfortunately-named turista (the first time i heard the term was in the "don't drink the water" travel sickness context) $30 four-course menu. i have heard from three different people recently that the food there has been too salty, which admittedly lured me back. i like salt and capers - and i think this is really a place to go if you favor extreme tastes. there is nothing subtle about anything i have eaten there, right down to the shot of sambuca they hand out on the house at the end of your meal. first out came a complimentary dish of thinly shaved meats (which i don't eat, so i'm no help there). i do eat seafood, so they brought me out a bite of toast with tuna and balsamic. then they brought bread with dipping oil and mascarpone (the only subtlety of the entire meal). first course i had a crabcake topped with a creamy sauce and a lot of lemon zest. i thought it was delicious. my s.o. had a salted cod brushcetta (in retrospect this was a bit blandly flavored in comparison to the rest of the meal as well). next course we had two different pastas, a delicious thick, hollowed spaghetti in a REALLY spicy marinara (hold the pancetta) which was perfectly al dente. then a flat noodle in a creamy sauce with mushrooms - i couldn't place the spice details, and it was dark outside by this point which didn't help. verrry rich, and by this point i was full. third course i had a trout with capers and pistachios in a light butter sauce - this was very salty which i liked. the s.o. had a veal cheek which i had no part of, but supposedly it was tasty. for dessert we had the pannacotta (i think that was its name) which is like a creme brulee that's not fired on top, topped with berries, and a flourless chocolate torte. capped with sambuca and a cappucino, i was totally stuffed. i think it was a good meal, but i wish they had chairs outside that reclined after such an intense, filling experience. waiting for the check at a glass-top table in stiff chairs while totally stuffed was a bit awkward. a dessert lounging area sounds great, but maybe i am asking too much. i like this restaurant a lot. our waiter mentioned they are shopping around for spots to possibly open a pizza joint. that would be an interesting thing. their bread there is awesome.

                  2. Definitely hit some of the excellent and very affordable tacquerias in south Philly. La Lupe is a favorite. Vietnam Restaurant (not Vietnam Palace) in Chinatown is excellent.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: hungry100

                      i just ate at vietnam palace last night! what's not to like?
                      have not been to vietnam yet but that is next on the list.

                      1. re: rabidog

                        IMHO, both are about the same; and both aren't as great as the places in Washington Ave and 11th in terms of variety and taste (but they do have more refined atmosphere than the real deals). If you do go back to Vietnam Palace, do order the beef carpaccio appetizer. Very yummy.

                        1. re: baekster

                          ah, well, i'm vegetarian (save for the occasional seafood lapse) but i will let any dining companions know!!

                          that said... do the places down on washington ave have a broad vegetarian selection like those two do?

                          1. re: rabidog

                            I've never really had anything vegetarian at a Vietnamese place...or vegetarian meal at any type of restaurants (maybe with an exception of Italian that have really good gnocchi). But a lot of south-eastern asian cuisines liberally use fish sauce, so if you're hardcore about your vegetarian diet, it's hard to get by in Vietnamese or Thai. If you do eat seafood, bbq-ed shrimp vermicili noodle salad is good. We usually go to Nam Phuong (there are several places), but there are also other places in the strip mall so check the places out.

                            1. re: baekster

                              nah, i'm not a strict vegetarian. i will make it a mission to get down to these places on washington ave. i'd also heard somewhere around here about a vietnamese section of NE philly. are you familiar with that at all? it's another place on my list to explore.

                              1. re: rabidog

                                No, I haven't heard of it. I went up to Upper Darby for Korean (which NW philly)...which is just mediocre. Let me know if you find some cool stuff although I think 11th and Washington Ave is good enough vietnamese experience for me.