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Dinner and/or brunch on a short Philly weekend

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So I'm about to leave for a very-impromptu weekend trip to Philadelphia, where I haven't been in about 10 years despite being two hours away. I'm looking for a place to have dinner tonight, and maybe brunch tomorrow if the hotel offering turns out not to be free. (I can't turn down a free brunch.) Here's what I'm looking for: good (obviously), reasonably with-it food; hip neighborhood; entrees more like $20 than $30. Cuisine is not important, though if Philly is as happening as everybody says it is, I bet a lot of the places that meet my specifications are Thai, and I've had just about enough of that at home, thank you very much.

I don't know about Internet access where I'm going, but I'm sure I'll at least be able to read your responses (thanks, work-issued BlackBerry), so your help is much appreciated.

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  1. Is this a solo trip? If you are by yourself you can eat at the bar at quite a few places. If I were you I'd go to Ansill, Osteria, or Zahav, all are fantastic and all have bars where a single diner won't feel out of place.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Buckethead

      Thanks! No, I'll be with my wife, though she does have this weird thing for eating at the bar, so we just might do that anyway.

    2. i know the thai phenomenon you're talking about, but i don't really think it applies to philly. there's not a lot of it, and i think that cuisine just isn't our forte. my favorite things that make philly philly are, IMO, the BYOBs and gastropubs with local beers.

      hip neighborhood - i'd suggest you check out northern liberties (i'm a bit biased cause i live here! ;) )... but it really is a great spot for bars and restaurants all sorta clustered together, albeit a bit off the beaten path if you're staying in center city. you can get here from the el, though - take the blue line MFL towards frankford, exit at either spring garden or girard depending on where you go... ask the blackberry. :) my favorite BYOB is on the very edge of the neighborhood, modo mio. it's small-plates italian - there's an excellent 4 course menu for $32. individual plates are mostly under $13 i think. it's cash only. though i'm not sure if you can get in on a saturday night without a reservation, unless you dine very late.
      this neighborhood also has a gastropub on nearly every corner, i swear. i love north third's food the best (mmm pierogies and fried fish sandwich...), and standard tap is very good as well (with an excellent beer selection). there's also spanish tapas at bar ferdinand up the street (2nd st) and its new sister restaurant across the walk, el camino real, serves texan BBQ and mexican. also the bowling alley, north bowl, in the center of it all, has a very cool bar and some surprisingly tasty comfort-food munchies (i can't go there without ordering pretzel bites).

      where are you staying? if you go to a BYOB you'll want to go prepared with wines from one of the better state stores, which are mostly located in center city.

      2 Replies
      1. re: rabidog

        Thanks for all the advice! We checked out a lot of these places (there is Internet access in our Center City hotel, it turns out), and I think we're going to go hit Bar Ferdinand. Off the beaten path is great -- I always try to go to the places where tourists don't really go. Will let you know what we think.

        1. re: masterofzen

          If you're in Center City, Meme has a nice Sunday brunch, but it's byob.

      2. Amada has great tapas at the bar. I still like Brasserie Perrier for lunch or dinner.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gfweb1

          Brasserie Perrier closed NYE.

        2. So we just got back from Bar Ferdinand -- great place with a really great atmosphere in a fascinating neighborhood the likes of which I'm not sure I've seen before. (I'd love to see what that place will look like five years from now -- for the time being it's vacant lots being cleared for what looks like condo construction.) It was pretty much exactly what we were looking for. I crosschecked on Yelp and noticed someone said you got a lot of food for the money -- I didn't eat cheaply, but I did leave full, which is sometimes not easy to do with tapas. So thanks for the recommendations, everyone!

          3 Replies
          1. re: masterofzen

            glad you liked it!! and thanks for the real-time reporting back! :) based on your timing you probably passed me somewhere along the way! i ate late lunch across the way at el camino real, then headed to a bar a few blocks south on 2nd st to watch the eagles game.

            i'm interested to see what it's going to look like in 5 years, too... having heard from locals (i'm a transplant) stories of how it looked 5 years ago! across the street from bar ferdinand is a restaurant application for a liquor license... and there are rumors of the bistro 7 owner taking over the former sovalo spot, so i think the future looks bright!

            1. re: rabidog

              Rabidog, Any idea if El Camino real is open for lunch on Saturdays? They don't seem to have a website yet!

              1. re: bluehensfan

                yea, i dunno what's up with the website.

                i went for lunch on sunday, which would lead me to believe they're open saturday.

                been there three times now. that spicy BBQ sauce might have gotten even spicier, or maybe i just got a super-spicy batch. i love it. love it.

                oh, and i dunno where the other thread went, but i'm going to revise my thoughts on the seitan preparation - i am guessing it IS deep fried, then grilled maybe. i don't know for sure. i'm going to try to ask next time i go in. but after experimenting with seitan on my own at home the only way i could get remotely similar flavors was to fry in oil.