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Jul 9, 2010 08:03 PM

Working in Rittenhouse Square for 6 months (with per diem but no car)


For the next 6 months, every Monday morning thru Friday evening, I will be working & EATING in Philly. On the weekends, I'll be back home in Brooklyn trying to make my wife happy.

1) What neighborhood restaurants should I be sure to visit at night? A little fancy OK, but not too fancy. (Al Di La is my favorite in NYC) I prefer Italian, Mexican, and Thai. I also like a new twist on comfort food (like in the 90's @ Grange Hall in NYC or Liberty Bar in San Antonio).

2) Who does good take-out for lunch in Rittenhouse Square?

3) Where should I do my shopping for organic/local vegetables? Whole Foods is a last resort.

And although I'll have per diem, I won't have a car. I'll have to walk or bike it.


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  1. 1) My favorite Italian restaurants in the area (all BYOB) are La Viola, Branzino, and Melograno. There isn't a ton of Mexican in that immediate area, but Stephen Starr just opened up El Rey, which I tried recently and is great. It is a bit trendy but I feel it is reasonably priced considering the quality of the food. Thai places include Erawan and Thai Chef & Noodle Fusion, which I felt were just okay - Philly is not known for Thai.

    2) When I worked downtown I would frequent Primo Hoagies, Shank's, Di Bruno Bros. is a fancy cheese shop/gourmet prepared foods place but is good to stop by and grab something , Slice is good for pizza. The Comcast Center marketplace has some great spots to get a quick meal, like Under the C which has affordable and tasty seafood. I especially like the softshell crab sandwiches.

    3) Sue's Produce is great for veggies, right in Rittenhouse. It's a mom and pop operation. Reading Terminal, a little farther, has an excellent selection at Iovine's. And there is a great farmer's market in HeadHouse Square on Sundays.

    1 Reply
    1. re: lacitoyenne7

      Argan on 17th just north of Walnut does great slow cooked lamb sandwiches. You may want to try Tria for a light dinner, Capogiro for gelato, and Reading Terminal Market for produce. Under the C in Comcast is great for an inexpensive seafood lunch...just ask what's freshest.

    2. I'll chime in on lunch... options are really endless, but here are a few of my favs, all within a few blocks of the square...

      Mama's Falafel
      Giwa - Korean fast food, I guess I would call it
      Mexico on the Square - tacos
      Le Bus - sandwiches and gazpacho, and affordable!

      Also a second for DiBruno's though I can't get out of there without spending $15.

      1. Here are a few farmers markets semi close to where you will be;

        South Street West Farmers’ Market: Apples, peaches, organic growers, baked foods, preserves and more. Open June-mid-November, Wednesday from 3-7 p.m. 16th & South Streets, (215) 568-0830

        12th Street Farmers' Market: Small market with produce and flowers. Open June-mid-October, Tuesday from 3-7 p.m. 12th Street between Walnut & Locust Streets,

        I also stumbles upon these two:

        In the concorse by City Hall close to Suburban Station on Thursdays Not sure of the hours but the locally grown produce was stunning!

        On 9th and Chestnut Streets on Chestnut itself is a lovely multi vendor farmers market; local baked goods, local produce and possibly more
        closes down about 3 pm

        HTH some

        1 Reply
        1. re: Prettypoodle

          Rittenhouse Square itself hosts a small farmer's market on Thursdays and Saturdays:

          All good suggestions so far. For dinner eating by yourself, you might like ponying up at the bar at Pub & Kitchen, Meritage, or Grace Tavern. Meritage is a bit fancier and more expensive. The other two have good gastropub food and P&K in particular may scratch your comfort food itch.

          If you are on a per diem, I think you will fall in love with DiBruno's.

          Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal is like a farmer's market 7 days a week. Everything is local, fresh, and organic or similar.

        2. Village Whiskey ftw! Amazing burgers and bartenders who know their craft. Other than that, try Nan Hzou (spelling?) Hand Drawn Noodles in Chinatown, as well as the Banh Mi at Q T Sandwiches (it closes at 7 though) because I think NYC lacks really great Banh Mi.

          12 Replies
          1. re: AgentRed

            Now that I disagree with. Philly may have a better Vietnamese restaurant selection (and even then ...), but NYC beats us in terms of better banh mi joints (either the classic or "new fangled" options).

            OP - of the things you listed ...

            Thai - as mentioned, Philly isn't known for Thai, but there is a stand in Reading Terminal Market that's more than decent. Still not to the caliber of what you'll get at a great Thai spot in NYC, but it's good, especially if you've got a craving. For take-out in the area (lunch only), try Thai Singha House on 20th - north of Sansom, I think.

            Local produce - as mentioned, the Rittenhouse farmers' market is your closest option (Tuesdays and Saturdays). It's actually my fav since there's a bakery that has great bread and croissants, though that may be only on . The produce and such tend to be local, and there are also stands to pick up local items like John & Kira's chocolates. (Sue's and whatever is that 20th are both locally-owned spots but they don't have just local produce - not sure how much of their stuff tends toward local, actually.)

            Lunch in Rittenhouse - I don't know. I've had much better luck with dinner since take-out lunch around here is something I've yet mastered - seems like you mostly either go expensive or bring your own.
            - The falafel truck and Mama's are both good falafel spots if you're in the area. The falafel truck wait is, oddly enough, always long - I've yet understood this particular issue.
            - Tampopo does a few nice bento for lunch. The lines tend to get long but the wait isn't too bad.
            - Pagano's in the square between 20th and 21st on Market is a nice salad bar and hot foods option. The sweets are all locally baked (the Dr. J cake seems to be hugely popular), and there is a little gelato case (think its Ciao Bella but am not certain) that's good if you don't want to make another stop to Capogiro.

            Reading Terminal Market should be a go-to spot for you if you can deal with the walk (about 12th & Filbert, which is a block north of Market). It's take-out and groceries all in one, and the vibe is nice if you've been chilled in a hotel/office.

            1. re: Ali

              The wait at the falafel truck (20th & Market, NE corner) is long because the proprietor is inefficient and out of his mind. However, it is worth the wait. Order the platter, don't request any changes (except to omit the chicken if you are veg), and don't ask any questions. Enjoy.

              BTW I saw you have a bike. Via bike, short taxi rides, and public trans you have easy access to many neighborhoods outside of Rittenhouse. If you really want to 'hound, search the boards and scan yelp to get some more options. There are lots of good eats within a 3-4 miles radius and IMO the best cozy spots to eat alone are outside of Center City.

              1. re: barryg

                "inefficient & out of his mind". Love it! The Falafel Nazi, as we like to call him. Yep, worth the wait.

                Thai Chef & Noodle Fusion is not bad for lunch. Chestnut, between 20th & 21st.

                The Pagano's that someone mentioned before has very good thinner crust pizza by the slice with some fairly creative toppings. Their whole wheat crust is particularly good.

                If you miss NY deli, try Famous 4th Street Deli, which has a 2nd location on 19th Street, between Market and Chestnut. Very very close to REAL NY deli, & priced at NY prices. The plus is that you will be able to eat half of whatever you order for lunch & still have plenty left over for dinner. And maybe even lunch the next day.

                The problem with Reading Terminal Market for you may be the times that they are open -- may not mesh with your work hours. Mon. through Sat. 8-6.

                You are also not that far from a Trader Joes, if that floats your boat: 21st and Market.

                If you just need some snacks, there's Nuts to You, on 20th, between Market & Chestnut. They have tons of dried fruit and nuts, snack mixes, bagged candy (like Swedish fish), as well as freshly popped pop corn and freshly roasted peanuts. This is a great place to go if you want stuff to gnosh on at your desk or back at your temporary place at night. There is a very nice fruit/veggie store next to it, by the way.

                1. re: PattiCakes

                  The pizza and deli recs reminded me of Dolce Carini pizza on Chestnut btwn 20th & 19th. It'll satisfy any craving for NY-style pizza by the slice. I actually think it's better than the average Manhattan pizza shop <ducks>.

                2. re: barryg

                  I have to disagree about Christos, the "Falafel Nazi". I got the falafel sandwich (your only choice is sandwich vs. platter), it was so loaded down with other ingredients that I could barely tell there was falafel in it. There were peas, lettuce, pickled carrots, chicken (?), probably a couple other things I'm forgetting, and those were easily 75% of the contents of the sandwich. I don't think it's worth the wait, or the price ($10).

                  1. re: Buckethead

                    Yes the falafel is not the only star of the show--the salads and daily changing accoutrement are just as good as the crispy falafel and grilled chicken. It's an ensemble cast. That's why I recommended the platter, so you can get the full experience, which includes a changing selection of bread. I've heard people describe it as a street side omakase, since Christos serves you whatever he wants.

                    The platter is also $10 and can easily be two meals. If you just want great, traditional falafel, Mama's is the spot.

                    1. re: barryg

                      "Street side omakase" is the best way to describe this!! It's definitely Christos' show - it's his world and we're all just visiting. That said, it is a bit of a misnomer when I [and you] and others recommend "the falafel truck" to someone seeking falafels - the falafels are the star in the way that Jennifer Aniston was the star of Friends. The sides/toppings are as much a part of the [delicious] attraction. Now if only those platters weren't so enormous, I could eat them more often - I'd be okay with a quarter of that size of a platter!! But, of course, no one dares ask that. :)

                      Christos reminds me of Sonny D'Angelo in some indefinable way.

                      1. re: Ali

                        I like the Sonny D'Angelo comparison, and there is something there, but a crucial difference is that Sonny is coherent when he speaks!

                        Maybe we should call it the Jennifer Aniston truck.

                        1. re: Ali

                          Went to the nazi yesterday, and he had a helper in the truck with him! So maybe the lines will move more quickly now. Also, if you want a less heavy platter, get it without chicken, it's only $7 and not as dense in the stomach. It's actually a good deal given the quality and quantity of the food. The new gryo/chicken & rice truck on that corner charges $5 a platter for much less fresh and interesting food. The crappy Asian cart's prices are about $5 too and it's less food, mostly rice, and bland.

                          In case anyone is interested, the selection was greens, orzo with olives & chickpeas, hummus, grapes, falafel and topped with a fresh basil sauce along with the other things he puts on (no idea what these are). Only disappointment was the bread was store bought laffa instead of the crusty, fresh bread he sometimes has.

                          1. re: barryg

                            A helper??? Is this an era of a newer, kinder, gentler falafel nazi? (Okay, dude's always been nice to me but I've seen him skewer other people.)

                            Thanks for the tip, barryg. I'll try to make it there next week. Probably will still go for the chicken (love that chicken) and will definitely end up feeling like a disgusting pig but I'll love every second. Did the sans chicken once (he ran out) - good, even great, but not the same.

                            Agree on the other food carts. Christos' food may not be the cheapest of the trucks, but the prices are more than reasonable for what you're getting, at least where Center City is concerned. The UCity food carts are so much better. I miss having those close to me, made getting a cheap & delicious lunch so so easy.

                        2. re: barryg

                          I don't care for Mama's Falafel. Don't know why, but it's just not my fave. That doesn't mean it can't be YOUR fave; it's just not mine. I like Cartman's better,

                          1. re: PattiCakes

                            I haven't had cartman in a while but what I recall is that he serves a Turkish or Lebenese style, which is served like a wrap in laffa. Mama's is an Israeli/Palestinian style stuffed in soft pita. The spices and different, too. So yes, different strokes, etc.

                            A nice change of pace at Mama's you won't find elsewhere is the sabich sandwich, which is fried eggplant, hard boiled egg, and a couple of falafel balls served like a regular falafel sandwich. It is pretty kickass and I have never seen it anywhere else in Phila.

                3. Welcome to Philadelphia from a former Brooklynite!

                  Le Bus on 18th Street just north of Walnut has great sandwiches if you want to eat in the park. Some of them are so large, I have to save half for dinner.