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Center City Weekend: Best Buys?

sbp Aug 24, 2009 10:30 AM

I'll be in Philadelphia (Warwick hotel) this weekend with the family (5 -- all pretty adventurous eaters). Looking for dinner suggestions for places that are tops in food quality, low in prices. Any ethnicity. Anywhere in Center CIty, South Philly/Italian Market, University area. I'd love to go to Bibou or someplace like that, but I'm trying for something a couple of notches down in cost. Vietnamese, Mexican/South American, old-school Italian. Anything goes.

We're already planning on one Cheesesteak lunch (haven't settled on which place) -- though I prefer a provolone steak wit, rather than cheese whiz. I know, heresy.

  1. sbp Sep 1, 2009 10:02 AM

    So, had a fun weekend; Mutter Museum, FIU (Star Trek Exhibit, Galileo), and Academy of Sciences (Geckos!). Walked through Penn and visited my old haunt, Koch's Deli. As for food, we arrived around lunchtime on Saturday, and stopped at Reading Terminal Market. DiNic's roast pork with greens/provolone is everything it's cracked up to be: superb. Same with the pulled pork. My wife and one son checked out Dutch Eating Place -- she had the best BLT she can remember. He was fresh off having wisdom teeth pulled so he had corn chowder. Excellent -- the broth itself had a very penetrating corn flavor.

    As it turns out, the great BYO places mentioned here were not available on such short notice, so Saturday night we thought we'd try Vietnam Palace. As we were stepping out the door to the hotel, the skies opened up. Torrential rain. So we decided to eat at Tavern 17 (our hotel restaurant). It was fine -- nothing special, but well done bar food.

    Sunday, we hit the Italian Market around 10:30. Many places not opened yet, but it was fun. Wanted to get a cannoli and the like for breakfast, but the few bakery/coffeehouses on 9th Street seemed pretty boring. We walked over to Isgro's, but it was closed for August (how European!). Got a muffin from one of the coffee houses, but it was wrapped in cellophane -- no further explanation neeeded.

    Sunday night, had reservations at Alma de Cuba. Very nice. Excellent food, not too expensive. I had the Pulpo appetizer -- nice and charry octopus, garlicky side of mashed yucca, maybe? The Sancocho soup was very much like a good Tom Kha Gai without the lemongrass. The smoked marlin could have used more "oomph". It was mashed like a smoked whitefish salad, but the flavor was a bit washed out. Empanada apps were delicious.

    My daughter had the lechon asado -- like the best chiccharone you've ever had. The topper was my son's "Chicken Combo." Horrible name, great dish. A chickent breast served on top of a paella style rice, except that the rice has melted manchego cheese in it. The rice alone was worth the price of admission.

    Monday, final meal was lunch at Tony Luke's. Pretty good -- the "sharp" cheese was, indeed, a pretty sharp provolone. So even though there wasn't a ton on it, the flavor came through. Good onion rings. Got curly fries too, but ugh. They were coated/battered fries. Not even sure if they were sliced from a potato, since they had the texture of packaged latka mix. I suspect these fries were extruded.

    Good weekend. Philly is a nice food town.

    1. n
      nwinkler Aug 27, 2009 06:27 PM

      You've got terrific options in the above suggestions. I just want to add my support for the taquerias that have been mentioned, and add to that list Los Taquitos de Puebla on 9th Ave past Washington in the Italian market; go for the tacos al pastor.

      While it's sad that Vietnam Restaurant is on vacation, I have friends who are loyal to its neighbor/arch nemesis, Vietnam Palace (me, I'd never set foot in the place; I'm a Vietnam Restaurant guy). You could search philly.com for recommended dishes from the Inquirer's food critic. I like the Vietnamese restaurants along Washington Ave, but I only ever go for pho.

      Around lunch time, I'd be sure to visit either/both the Reading Terminal (DiNic's roast pork sandwiches) and the Italian Market (cheese sampling at DiBruno Bros, hoagies from Sarcone's).

      1 Reply
      1. re: nwinkler
        sockii Aug 28, 2009 11:26 AM

        I'm one of those diehard Vietnam Palace folks who loves the place and won't set foot in Vietnam after a just-ok meal in comparison :P The Vermicelli Combo plate (charbroiled shrimp, spring roll, beef wrapped in grape leaves, meatballs) at $15 is a steal, enough to feed a small army, and would probably be my Last Request meal.

      2. hollyd Aug 27, 2009 10:56 AM

        Vietnamese on Washington Ave is my best buy in the city. You can grab a cab or a bus down from Center City.
        Good Dog is a fabulous and well-priced burger and fries.
        Italian: Villa di Roma, and it's a fun, philly experience
        Paesano's Roast Pork Sandwich
        Rangoon's a great suggestion! Chinatown in general would be fun and cheap.

        For a great BYOB that's not very expensive, I'd suggest Audrey Claire, but there are plenty to choose from that can give you really great food for a cheaper price. And they're very casual.

        4 Replies
        1. re: hollyd
          sbp Aug 27, 2009 11:08 AM

          Thanks again. I was thinking of one semi-splurge meal at Little Fish or Modomio. Maybe with the hurricane on its way, we'll be able to get in with a last minute reservation!

          1. re: sbp
            b
            Bigley9 Aug 27, 2009 11:34 AM

            Vietnam Restaurant on 11th street and Sazon on spring garden are both on vacation this week!

            1. re: sbp
              hollyd Aug 27, 2009 01:52 PM

              Little Fish is worth every single penny. And on a weekday, it's not problem to get a reservation, I've found. Weekends are trickier but worth a try.
              Amazing. Just. Amazing.

              1. re: hollyd
                sbp Aug 27, 2009 05:15 PM

                From seeing online menu (which is very ambitious) and the reviews, it seems too good to be true for the price. We've got a similar place on Long Island called Kitchen-A Bistro. Also BYOB, they do a $42 prix fixe, which in these parts, is a steal for a "high-end" restaurant.

          2. sbp Aug 24, 2009 06:15 PM

            Thanks all; a great cross section of places that sound amazing. Reading Terminal Market was already a given for breakfast/lunch (I went to school at Penn ages ago, so I do know of some of the "classics.").

            2 Replies
            1. re: sbp
              p
              PhillyA Aug 24, 2009 06:58 PM

              Mexican:
              Nice selection of small, cheap taquerias with some pretty impressive food. My favorites:

              Que Chula es Puebla in Northern Liberties
              http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20090510_Que_Chula_es_Puebla.html

              Taco Riendo in Northern Liberties
              http://philadelphia.menupages.com/restaurants/taco-riendo/

              Taqueria Veracruzana in South Philly (Italian Market
              )http://www.taqueriaveracruzana.com/

              Ethiopian:
              There are several, but by far my favorite (although beware, slow service - just expect it) is Abyssinia in West Philly/University City. Cheap meal, very different, very fun, and very good.
              http://philadelphia.menupages.com/restaurants/abyssinia/

              Burmese:
              As mentioned, Rangoon in Chinatown is awesome, and rare to find.
              http://www.phillychinatown.com/rangoon.htm

              Thai/Laotian:
              Vientiane - Always good, but they also have an AWESOME Saturday lunch deal - appetizer, soup, and huge entree for $10. Tiny byo, but one of my favorite places in the city - West Philly/UCity
              http://philadelphia.menupages.com/restaurants/vientiane-cafe/

              Tapas:
              As mentioned, Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties is a great alternative to the (admittedly even better, but much pricier) favorites of Amada and Tinto. My absolute favorite is their under-appreciated, amazing, and inexpensive brunch, but also a good dinner or drinks option.
              www.barferdinand.com

              1. re: PhillyA
                s
                Schpsychman Aug 24, 2009 08:09 PM

                If you can snag a reservation I believe THE best buy in all of Philly is the Sunday 5-course dinner at Little Fish for $28 and BYOB. Seatings at 6 and 8 but I believe they book up far in advance. An incredible meal and an incredible bargain!

            2. Seeker19104 Aug 24, 2009 02:58 PM

              Rangoon -- Burmese food. Unusual, tasty, reasonably-priced, full-service restaurant in Chinatown with great family atmosphere:

              http://www.phillychinatown.com/rangoo...

              Some of the dishes at Rangoon made other Chowhounders' lists of foods they dream about...'nuff said.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Seeker19104
                bluehensfan Aug 24, 2009 05:33 PM

                Reading Terminal Market is a must-eat for breakfast or lunch (especially pancakes at the Dutch Eating Place and roast pork at DiNic's). Bebe's in the Italian Market has great BBQ, a real hole in the wall but very authentic. Also Estia has a great business lunch for $30 p/p that has grilled octopus, a whole grilled fish, and baklava. They serve this on the weekend too. Finally, I like the Moroccan lamb pita sandwiches at Argan near Rittenhouse and if you get to No Libs do try Paesano's sandwiches.

              2. e
                Elaine Aug 24, 2009 02:55 PM

                Wow - where to begin? Off the top of my head: Raddichio, Salento, or Melograno for Italian, Bar Ferdinand, in N. Liberties, for tapas, Villa di Roma, in the Italian Market, for cheap Southern Italian, Cedars for Middle Eastern, Campo's for hoagies, Beau Monde for LaCreperie for crepes, Vietnam Restaurant, Ariana or Kabul for Afghan, Konak for Turkish. Don't forget to visit the Reading Terminal Market - great place for lunch.

                1. d
                  doxiemom Aug 24, 2009 02:02 PM

                  Try Modo Mio - excellent food, and the turista menu is the best deal in town: http://modomiorestaurant.com/menu
                  PLUS it's BYOB - the only drawback is they only accept cash, so stop at the MAC before.

                  Also Caribou Cafe on Walnut St has a $29 pre-fixe option if you are interested in french bistro.

                  For amazing and authentic Mexican (NOT Tex-Mex), Las Cazeulas at 4th and Girard cannot be beat. Also a BYOB, which keeps the price down. http://www.lascazuelas.net/Index.html

                  There are so many great restaurants doing "pre-fixe" options for a small price at the moment, you may want to browse www.foobooz.com or www.uwishunu.com. Or of course - this board always has some great comments on current specials.

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