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Aug 18, 2010 04:43 AM

Where to eat this weekend?

A friend and I are going to Philadelphia this weekend, arriving Saturday and leaving Monday. We will have a car. We are staying at the Center City Best Western. She is fussier than I when it comes to the aesthetics of a restaurant. I have read about some of the dim sum restaurants in the city. I love dim sum, and she does also, but one of the restaurants near the bus station sounded very tacky, so that is out. Other suggestions? Also for dinner on Saturday and Sunday? We like most things. Years ago (more than 50 as I'm now in my late 60s) my folks took us to Bookbinder's. That obviously was a memorable experience as I still remember it. I know that it is out of business. A seafood restaurant would be a good suggestion. Thanks in advance.

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  1. I hope you are not staying in the Best Western near the Art Museum because that is a dump. Hopefully you mean the Best Western Independence Park. If not, I strongly suggest that you change your reservation if at all possible. I mention this, thought you didn't ask, because of your comment about not wanting to go to a "tacky" chinese restaurant and from this I assumed that you would not want to stay in a shabby, run down hotel.

    You might enjoy the new incarnation of the Sansom Street Oyster House- now called Oyster House Philly- good seafood in an updated yet casual atmosphere. Another reliable seafood choice is Devon Seafood Grille. If you want to go more upscale check out restaurant XIX at the Bellevue Hotel.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rocknroll52

      I second the comment about the Best Western. It's verrrry sketchy looking which is odd given it's decent location.

      I was not a big fan of Devon (except for the biscuits) and it's a quasi-chain if that matters. Oyster House has great oysters but some of the entres are hit-or-miss. Estia, a Greek place, has very fresh fish, excellent octopus and sardines, but is very pricey. It's still worth it IMO and if you want a steal they have a three course lunch for $30 with a whole fish, octopus, and dessert. Fish is the new seafood place in town that gets mostly good reviews. I thought it was mostly good (especially the peekytoe crab and the scallops) but not worth the price.

    2. Dim Sum Garden, the dim sum restaurant you are referring to, is not really tacky; it is just a total dive. The real dim sum restaurants with the carts could be considered tacky in the true sense of the word. You should look into our city's more upscale Asian-inspired offerings like Morimoto, Chifa, and Sampan, which go from great to good in that order.

      There are not so many restaurants left that have the ambiance of a place like Bookbinders. The Oyster House (hit or miss) and fish. (excellent), have modern and casual vibes. You would probably like the mentioned Estia; the setting is grand and seafood is great.

      BTW you will be much better off walking or taking a cab to all of these places; leave your car at the hotel.

      8 Replies
      1. re: barryg

        I also agree with Estia. Its a place where you could be a little dressed up and has a nice atmosphere. I've been there a couple times for the pre-theater prix- fixe and it is a great value. My only knock is it a kind of a big, crowded place and the service is only average, but then again, Bookbinders was a lot like that too.

        1. re: rocknroll52

          If you do go to Estia, make sure to ask to be seated in a booth (they are very comfortable and you feel less crowded) and ask if Saki is working. He's a wonderful server who has been there since the restaurant opened.

          Here is a link for Estia:

        2. re: barryg

          The best dim sum in something that resembles a restaurant is at Sakura Mandarin at 10th and Race. It is an a la carte experience and the food is as good as Dim Sum Garden. In fact there is an on going debate on this board about which has better soup dumplings. Ocean Harbor and Joy Tsing Lao are two other places with the "cart" experience, but personaly I am not a big fan of them. IMNSHO if you want good Dim Sum go to Queens or South San Francisco.

          I heartily second the recommendations for Fish, and for Oyster House. Note that Oyster House is NOT open for business on Sundays so if you want to go you will have to go on Saturday. Oyster House's Lobster roll just got rave reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and they have a great take on snapper soup as well.

          10 Arts at the Ritz Carlton is an Eric Riepert restaurant, and has some featured fish dishes. I have not eaten there but friends have and enjoyed it. The Chef de cuisine there is Jennifer Carroll of Top Chef notoriety which may or may not sway you to go to the restaurant.

          There are certainly other great fish dishes on the menu at other restaurants, from whole snapper "huachinango" at Distrito in West Philadelphia to skate at Parc on Rittenhouse Square, to the grilled bacalhau and monk fish at Koozedoo in Northern Liberties, to the wonderful dishes at Le Bec Fin (a Philadelphia institution that will be closing early next year.).

          1. re: cwdonald

            PS: I don't mind tacky, but I think my friend would really object to a dive.

          2. re: barryg

            Thanks for your responses. I am a little apprehensive about the hotel because it has gotten very mixed reviews. Although I am not planning on doing anything besides sleeping there, I would like it to be clean and to have the air conditioning and plumbing working properly. Independently owned or not, it seems that Best Western should be concerned about its condition.
            You have given me several recommendations and combined with some other earlier posts with this subject, I have no worries that we will be less than satisfied this weekend. Thanks to all.

            1. re: BRN

              Let us know how your dinner(s) go and enjoy your visit!

              1. re: bluehensfan

                I took your suggestions and made reservations elsewhere--the Embassy Suites Hotel. More money, but I don't have to be concerned about anything.

                1. re: BRN

                  I'm sure it's a wise move seeing how the outside looks (like surprisingly neglected). A little price to pay for peace of mind...

          3. On the off-chance that you're checking this board from the hotel (since we always do!) try to get to Sampan for their banh mi. It's amazing!

            3 Replies
            1. re: kukubura

              I would really recommend against that if you are just visiting. There are many, many other more delicious things to be had. There are at least two better banh mi to be had.

              1. re: Buckethead

                Well don't hold out on them! Which are they?

                1. re: kukubura

                  What I'm saying is that I like banh mi a lot, but if you're visiting Philly and have expressed the preferences that the OP has, I wouldn't put any of Philly's banh mi on your to-eat list. If you're a big sandwich fan, I'd put Cafe Nhu Y or even O Sandwiches (which I'm not a huge fan of) ahead of Sampan's banh mi.

            2. We're back from your city. Saturday night we went to Fish, but it was too hot in there, so we walked to the corner and ate at La Baia. Cute place, people friendly. I had Caesar salad which was excellent, and linguini with clams and a red sauce which was fair. Very mild, little flavor. My friend had an eggplant, tomato, goat cheese appetizer which she enjoyed and then walnut encrusted salmon which she also enjoyed. The presentation was lovely. We didn't have dessert. Breakfast was included with our hotel room, so we didn't go out for that, and last night we ate at Amada which we thoroughly enjoyed. We sat at the "chef's table" and the people next to us on either side were friendly and they even shared their food. Nice experience. Saturday for lunch we were in Chinatown and we ate at a soup place famous for their noodles. Tasty. We have a few good Vietnamese restaurants here in Springfield, MA, so we're used to good soup. We went to the Terminal market today, but just walked around. I did buy a cookie. Do go to a farmers' market for your vegetables; the ones there looked just okay. Thanks again for all of your suggestions.

              10 Replies
              1. re: BRN

                Thanks for reporting back! I'm sorry you didn't get to try Fish... but glad you got to try Amanda!

                Haha, I wonder if the veggies you saw @ RTM could have been Iovine Brothers' dollar rack? I know sometimes they locate the clearance stuff out on the center aisle apart from the rest of their corner, and that stuff is definitely use-it-today produce. :)

                1. re: rabidog

                  I wondered that too, because the veggies at the Fair Food Farmstand are incredible.

                  1. re: urbanfabric

                    Iovine Bros main selection is quite good, as well. They have some dreck, but overall a good place. Some of the Amish counters, away from the main Amish area, have a handful of good stuff too. Fair Food is usually great, but a recent visit a couple Fridays ago left me a bit cold.

                    The smaller produce-only shops in the middle are pretty blah, maybe that's what BRN saw.

                    1. re: barryg

                      Why did the farmstand leave you cold barry?

                      1. re: Bigley9

                        A lot of the produce was just not great, like the tomatoes and peaches. I attribute this to that week's harvest and maybe the day I visited--perhaps they didn't get a big shipment and a lot of the stuff could have been picked over--not FF itself.

                        1. re: barryg

                          Just curious - I've shopped there regularly since Anne Karlan set up the folding table in center court - oh what 10 years ago? - and this time of year is usually its best, so you worried me. I'm not sure I am thrilled with the current manager.

                          1. re: Bigley9

                            Sorry don't want to turn anybody off... Fair Food is and will remain my main produce shop.

                          2. re: barryg

                            Having recently moved to South Jersey, I know a lot of the tomato and fruit crops this summer are not what they should have been...the weather's been terrible and a lot of farmers lost a lot of their crops. I've been shopping mostly at the farmstands around here and the tomato crops even right off the farm have been disappointing, so I imagine the same must be said about Philly selections.

                  2. re: BRN

                    La Baia was one of my old neighborhood haunts when I lived in the area...too bad you missed dessert as they actually do some really nice ones there. The walnut-encrusted salmon is one of my favorite entrees, but it's definitely just a neighborhood/casual Italian BYOB, not destination dining.