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Aug 18, 2009 07:21 PM

2 nights in PHL... The best the city has to offer... Where should we go?

Here's the deal...My wife & I are in PHL from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. Our culinary tastes are very broad, so I'm looking for suggestions for dinner for 2 nights. We r not limited by budget constraints, but I do not want to wear a jacket & tie. i actually prefer restaurants that I can go in shorts & a collared shirt.

I'll put on pants if I must!!!

I've been to Valanni, Buddhakan & Morimoto. I enjoyed Mori & Valanni both equally based on the food and keeping in mind the different price points.

Any new ideas? Heard Little Fish is good, but I cant get a rez for Sat. nite. If it helps, the only food I don't want is typical Chinese (live in NYC..get it all the time), middle eastern cuisine or old world Italian.

Please, please, please bombard me with some names of places that really knock your socks off. Thx!!!!

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  1. Try Xochitl. It is Mexican, but a little more "gourmet" than a taqueria (guacamole made tableside). I took my wife there for her birthday and we really liked it.

    No pants required.

    (Actually, you might be able to get away with shorts there, but you might want to ask when you reserve)

    1. Tinto - a very special Spanish tapas restaurant , across from Capogiro gelato (world's best) or, for ultra casual, simple, great food, Pura Vida - Guatemaltecan in Northern Liberties. And Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties has fabulous food also.

      1. My socks were recently blown off by Jose Garces' Distrito, a Mexican tapas place in West Philadelphia. Everything about the decor and the look of the menu was so over-the-top trendy that I was suprised and delighted by the refinement and complexity of the food. Check Craig Laban for highlights, or just order the fish tacos, all of the ceviches, the mushroom huarache, and the tortilla soup. I can also vouch for the nock-outness of Amada, Garces' traditional tapas place, and I've heard mostly dynamite things about his other two, Tinto and Chifa.

        You would also be in excellent hands at Osteria, which is right at the boundary of too nice to go without pants on, but I think you'd be fine. This is a Philly restaurant that would be very at home in New York--a beautiful space, a very serious and knowing menu (Italian words are sprinkled liberally throughout and properly conjugated, classic dishes are tricked out with the latest techniques...), and accordingly steep prices. I've detected a heavy hand with salt and I hate their wine mark-ups, but the cooking here is definitely a cut above. My must order dishes: porchetta tonnato, octopus salad, lombarda pizza, any of the pastas (though this is where I wish that the salt (and animal fat) could be dialed down some) and semolina budino for dessert. Another udated Italian that I've also found so satisfying for the money is Melograno. It's a BYO, noisy, simple, delicious. I vouch for scallops with artichokes, wild mushroom tagliatele; also check out the Inquirer's recent review.

        Though I haven't been, on the basis of the formal press and the foodie buzz, I would vouch for Zahav, Bibou and perhaps Fork as having socks-knocking-off potential. They're all at the top of my list. Good luck scoring a weekend reservation, though.

        Have fun in Philly! Also, note that I've given only sit-down dinner recs. Did you want street food/ethnic/lunch/brunch recs also? Cuz that's a whole different conversation.

        Finally, if you want to play a more active role in the decision, I recommend the city's food critics--browse 3- and 4-bell reviews at the Inquirer and search back issues of Philadelphia Weekly and City Paper. There are so so so many good things to eat in Philly right now!

        3 Replies
        1. re: nwinkler

          To help filter a little bit--you should go to at least one of: Amada, Tinto, Distrito (all three have been mentioned so far). These are all tapas restaurants run by the same chef and they are all excellent. Amada is Spanish, Tinto is Basque, and Distrito is Mexican. Everyone has their own favorite but you should get to a least one of these while you're here as you're guaranteed great food and service.

          1. re: nwinkler

            My vote is also for Osteria. Went there the other day, it just keeps getting better and better every time. Runner up - Tinto.

            1. re: nwinkler

              Melograno is one of my favorites, definitely, of the Italian BYOBs in the city. Definitely a cut above. For a homier experience I am also very partial to Roberto's - they do a wonderful job on the branzino and the vitello milanese is consistently the best I've had anywhere. Nothing super fancy, just Italian food that really reminds me of being in Italy.

            2. If I had only two nights, I would go to Amada and Lacroix. But there are obviously a number of options.

              As mentioned above, Fork is good and an old Philadelphia standby. People seem to stay away from mentioning the big names: Le Bec Fin and Lacroix. I personally like Lacroix better, though Le Bec Fin offers great lunch and dinner menus and tasting menus. Lacroix offers very good French food with a lovely view of Rittenhouse Square Park. Also a very nice place to walk around before or after dinner. I am also very fond of Beneluxx (extensive selection of cheeses, beers and wines with a few Belgian dishes, and fondues) which might make a nice lunch or afternoon stop.

              Others that haven't been mentioned, but are nice: Oyster House, Pumpkin, Roberto's. A lot of people also like Matyson, Kanella, and Bibou. Of the three, I am most excited to try Bibou myself. You might also want to make the trek to West Philly for Ethiopian (Dahlak or Abyssinia) it is a bit different than in NYC -- though I think it is better in Washington DC.

              I dissent from the mainstream and that I was underwhelmed with Osteria and Tinto. However, I love Amada -- another Garces restaurant. I recommend Amada to any visitor who likes food and is a little adventurous. It is more fun with a large party though because there is so much to try. Amada is also nice because it is in an old area of town that is pleasant to walk around both on the downside and the riverfront. Although I was disappointed with Osteria, I am still very interested in trying a Vetri tasting menu. Vetri is near Valanni and in a nice -- though more modern -- area to walk around afterwards.

              You might want to check out some of the reviews of the Garces' restaurants before you make a decision, there are many, including my own:

              I am new to the forum, however, here are a few recommendations threads I've seen:

              the author of this one seems to have done some pretty extensive research, you might check out her posts:

              these recommendations are little further afield from Center City, but not far:

              1. not a local, just a tourist from up north so take my advice for what you feel it is worth..... here is a link that has other links to reports i did from a trip a month back:

                if anyone suggests matyson - run far far away, not even competent is how i see it.

                i do think that one of the unique aspects of philadelphia is the jose garces restaurants and the only one i've been to so far is distrito and during "dining days" (i believe in nyc you have an equivalent of restaurant week or some such?) but it was excellent for the price point and overall experience - the styling of the restaurant is intense... i wish i booked earlier and sat in a swing! i really really enjoyed the ceviche and i'm not normally a ceviche kinda gal... i tend to like my fish raw and simple.

                i haven't done nyc in a while and in food mode so if you have great proper gelato there, do not go to capogiro. it looks like gelato but is not gelato. it has the consistency of soft serve and not the luxuriant mouth feel and richness that gelato should have. if you go in with that expectation, the flavours are interesting and delicious and the experience can be quite enjoyable. would have been better if it was a bit toned down, but the goat's milk rosemary honey i had was really lovely.

                i'm hoping to do amada/little fish/bibou the next time i'm in town.

                2 Replies
                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  While it is a matter of opinion, I disagree with the comments about Matyson. I did not comment on your review because I thought it was well-written and thoughtful, but I do not think it fair to tell visitors to "run far far away" from a restaurant based on the ONE meal you had there. As you correctly note, the majority of locals on this board holds the restaurant in high regard. Perhaps you were there on an off night. You should at least consider the possibility before you label a restaurant as "not even competent."

                  I happen to really enjoy Matyson based on the 10-15 meals I've had there and I appreciate its contribution to our city's dining scene. I would recommended it highly to any and all visitors.

                  1. re: Chimpo

                    i guess i'm looking at this from the perspective of a tourist. that if i were to go visit a city i'd prefer to go to a place that was consistent and good at the least. if i was expecting something exceptional then i could at least settle for competent but when it's a complete miss i'd prefer to be warned of that possibility.

                    perhaps i went on an off night, but i also ordered off the regular menu (majority of people who seem to like matyson order the tasting menu mostly or only) and felt that component, flavour, and textural combinations were completely off. this is what they serve on a regular basis and keep on their menu for an extended amount of time. the overcooked duck was a bit more forgivable but the ridiculous amount of spicy mustard and matching sweetbreads with an omlette just was not right at all. even reading it off of the menu sounds peculiar.

                    i did offer a caveat that this is coming from a tourist and so should be concluded that no i haven't had multiple meals at the restaurant. so perhaps i should also offer that others that have gone before me certainly seem to enjoy it and often only go for the tasting menu. perhaps this is just a personal peeve because i really only found positive reviews of matyson and only after i wrote a negative review do people come out of the wood work mentioning how they didn't really enjoy it either. i would have gladly heard those thoughts before i went and felt i should share them with someone else who might choose to go there for one of their few precious evenings in the city.