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Sep 13, 2010 09:24 AM

Why is there such a lack of great (or even good) restaurants in the 'burbs?

We have this discussion everytime we go out. Why do we have to go to center city to have a great meal? Why is there such a difference in the quality of the food and the service between the city and the burbs? We live in the Chestnut Hill area. I"m not just talking about fine dines, I include casual and ethnic places, too.

It is one reason why I really miss living in center city.

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  1. I have been asking myself that question for years.

    1. I'm on the other side of that fence. I'd much rather dine close to home in the "burbs" than travel an hour or so into Philly, pay exorbitant prices for parking, and overpay for so-so meals. Certainly there are exceptions, and I'm not saying that center city doesn't have wonderful restaurant choices. But I must say, we dine fairly well out here in Chester County without all the city hassles. I wonder... could it be that Chestnut Hill is so close to Philly that it's more difficult for good restaurants to compete with the city venues?

      5 Replies
      1. re: CindyJ

        I honestly don't know the reason! And believe me, I have to think twice about going to center city on a Saturday night. It isn't the cost of is driving on the Schuylkill....really hate it even during the day!

        1. re: DaisyM

          That is why they call it the "sure kill". It's been bad for a very long time.

        2. re: CindyJ

          I have to disagree with the "overpay for so-so meals" part of your post. Many suburban restaurants (many of which indeed provide so-so meals) or just as or more expensive than center city restaurants. I often feel that they are taking advantage of all of those people who don't want to travel into the city.

          1. re: JanR


            Just as expensive when you take into account $20+ to park (or public transit plus cab), not to mention the time to get downtown? Going downtown versus eating locally adds a minimum of 90 minutes to an evening out (and that's living relatively close to downtown in Blue Bell so you can add more to that for anyone living past Conshy going west).

            I certainly won't argue that there are more good restaurants downtown than there are in the burbs because, just by the numbers, there are. However, when I go out to dinner after a tough week at work, I'd like the evening to be stress free and getting to/from downtown is rarely stress free.

            1. re: mitchh

              I hear you Mitch. I guess I'm lucky because I'm a bit closer to center city than you and I usually find free or metered parking. I admit this is easier near graduate hospital, center city east, and south philadelphia than it is near Rittenhouse Square - although I did park only a few blocks from Meme last time we were there. That said, if I had to drive 45 minutes to get into the city, I would dine in the suburbs more often.

        3. The burbs has its share of chain restaurants for sure, but there are more and more independents popping up all the time; Phoenixville, Wayne/Paoli, and Conshohocken come to mind as places where there are a good number of non-chain, very good eating establishments.

          11 Replies
          1. re: 94Bravo

            I agree in that the burbs have alot of "go to" places that the city doesn't have. Overall, the city is the better place to go for great food, but there are a ton of places outside of philly where you won't be disappointed.

            1. re: paychecktoday

              I am totally in agreement with Cindy, Bravo and Paycheck. Going into the city is just such a freaking ordeal. You never know what you will get with traffic. It could take 30 minutes or it could take 60 minutes plus (and that's both ways). Add on top of that the cost to park and the premium city prices and I'll stick with the burbs.

              I also think there are plenty of good independent eateries in the suburbs of any kind of food you could possibly want as well.

              Are there great restaurants in the city? No question about it. Is it worth the time, hassle and cost to go to them? Not in my opinion.

              1. re: mitchh

                I don't really worry about parking, since I usually take the train in. People whine too much about parking, it gets old.

                as for the OP's question...
                I don't think that there is much in teh C-Hill/Mt. Airy that's 'great,' I do think that we have a good amount of 'good' options - Earth, Avienda, Tavern on the HIll and Baccio all pop to mind. Oh, as does Tiffin. I'm NOT trying to say that they're as good as center city, but for where we are, they're good options.
                DOesn't make me not miss downtown. I love being down there, it's part of the great part of going into center city for dinner!

                1. re: Bob Loblaw

                  "Training in" is easy from some parts of the 'burbs - not from others. I recently moved from Center City to South Jersey (Mullica Hill area) - and the only semi-direct, regular public transportation from around here to Philly are the NJ Transit buses, which first I have to drive 20 minutes into Woodbury to catch, then if I'm lucky catch an express to Center City (30 minutes instead of 50-60 if it goes through Camden)... Driving (45 minutes each way) is really the only option for an evening meal out in Philly and parking IS a pain in the butt.

                  I'm slowly exploring my neighborhood dining out options but there seriously is no comparison to Center City Philly. I miss good Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese being a short walk away. The Italian food out here is mostly all sloppy red gravy or places trying hard to be fancy but failing, putting quantity over quality. Granted I enjoy my now close-to-home "Jersey diners" for comfort food, but for the most part I stay at home and cook now. Of course, finally having the monster kitchen of my dreams compared to the tiny one I suffered with in my old rowhome makes that no hardship at all... :)

                  Since I still work a day or two a week in Philly, I just try to treat myself to a nice lunch out once a week to enjoy the meals I simply can't get close to home.

                  1. re: Bob Loblaw

                    You're lucky that you have a train that's convenient; I'd have to drive at least 25 minutes to the nearest SEPTA station, and then spend the better part of an hour on the train into the city. As for "whining" about parking -- in my book, $25 to park for a couple of hours is whine-worthy. When I crave the sights, sounds and culinary offerings of a big city, I'm MUCH more likely to head to NYC than I am to Philly. Parking costs me $6.50 and that includes the bus that drops me off in the theater district.

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      It's not a matter of luck, it's a matter of priorities. well, luck that i can afford to live where i do, but I wouldn't have lived anywhere that didn't have a train line. I didn't want to live in center city any more, but wanted to maintain access - for restaurants, for stores (food and otherwise) and for the excitement of downtown on a weekend evening, when the weather's good and there's just that energy in the air.
                      we actually went back and forth btwn whether we should get a smaller house and use the remaining money for a studio condo. training back out you don't have to worry about driving drunk, but you don't get to pee, either. :-)

                      1. re: Bob Loblaw

                        True enough! Our choices are generally driven by our priorities. 34 years ago we chose to live in what was then the "boonies." Train access into Philly was never even a consideration. Having been born and raised in NYC, an escape to the quiet life was compelling. As they say, different strokes... :-)

                        1. re: CindyJ

                          I moved here when I got married, but I kept my little house in the city and rent it out. Everytime we go to center city for dinner, I keep wishing we could just walk home to that little house. (but I shouldn't complain about anything....husband is great and truly I would have moved anywhere to be with him.) I guess that is the compromise thing that we hear so much about!

                        2. re: Bob Loblaw

                          True. And my priority had to be finding a home close to my SO's long-established medical practice and his family with a mother in failing health. That took priority over easy/fast access to Philly restaurants - which now that I'm in the burbs is about the *only* thing I miss about Center City life! :)

                    2. re: mitchh

                      I completely agree with Mitch, it is an ordeal to go into center city between parking, traffic, congestion. There are a few great restaurants where I will happily trek into center city to try, but then it becomes an event. On an average night ought, I want a simple hassle free meal. Maybe that makes me biased towards local restaurants but I actually feel really fortunate that we have the restaurants we do in Eastern Montco - Bridget's, Yalda, Arpeggio, Honey, Mina Cucina, the list goes on and on. I never feel like I am lacking options. That said, I do feel like there are some not-so-good places in the burbs that are overpriced and overhyped and I simply avoid them.

                  2. re: 94Bravo

                    Add West Chester and Kennett Square to that mix of dine-worthy destinations.

                  3. I'm with DaisyM. It's not that I love going into Center City, but it's just not possible to get the same quality of food in the 'burbs. I'm in eastern Montco and it's pretty desolate. Sure, there are plenty of places to go, but none of them are better than acceptable, and I'm just not going to spend the $ and calories on a mediocre meal. There are some ethnic places I like - Tiffin, Yalda Grill, Pho 75, Picanha (not the burbs, but a short drive from here) - but they are few and far between.

                    I wish I knew why.there weren't better places. Given the numbers of people that flock to the chains and average places, you'd think the economy could support a better class of restaurants. Sigh. . .

                    1. I am torn as I live in Montco and really want to like the restaurants here. But, my most memorable meals have been in the city.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: crazyspice

                        But what is the reason for the huge difference?

                        1. re: DaisyM

                          While I respect the efforts of our local chefs to source locally and create imaginative dishes, the translation often falls flat. I eat lunch out every day and dinner out regularly. I read the reviews from my fellow hounds and never hesitate to try the new options. I am not saying there are no decent restaurants in the 'burbs. I do enjoy Honey, Bridget's, Arpeggio, Domani Star, Slate Bleu and we are planning to re-visit Freight House, after having a less than enjoyable experience the last time. It always makes me crazy when a steak house can't cook a steak rare. Then there is the service part. With few exceptions, service does not seem to be a priority and that can completely ruin a dining experience.

                          I read all the comments about the cost of dining out locally versus Center City. As far as I am concerned, if the food is exceptional I have no problem paying for it. Everyone has different tastes and expectations, right?

                          1. re: DaisyM

                            One reason might be the lack of competition. Also, many people (as you can see above) want to avoid driving into the city at all costs. Finally, if you were a great chef, would you want to hide your light under a barrel in the suburbs?

                            Having said all this, I want to mention that I had my third great meal at No. 9 in Lambertville last weekend. Not exactly the suburbs, but still...

                            No. 9 Restaurant
                            9 Kline's Court, Lambertville, NJ

                            1. re: JanR

                              No. 9 is on my list to try.

                              No. 9 Restaurant
                              9 Kline's Court, Lambertville, NJ

                              1. re: crazyspice

                                I really think a great restaurant would clean up here. I'm waiting for Cantina Feliz to open.

                                1. re: DaisyM

                                  We are too! I hear there is yet another effort going into the former Domenico/Blue Horse space.

                              2. re: JanR

                                Some of those suburban lights shine brighter, even, than the city's stars. Think Talula's Table -- which STILL shines, despite the changes of the past year.