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Three or four days in Philly -- Where should we eat? (high and low)

We of the Philly sandwich tour article ( http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/722934 ) are going to be returning for 3 or 4 nights in Oct/Nov and want some more great recs. We're looking for:

-1 high end dinner. I'm talking reservations a month in advance, chef's menu, wine pairings, the whole nine. Vetri and Le Bec Fin sound intriguing. We'd like to try a really fine meal Philly-style.
-The best Malaysian restaurant. We don't seem to have any around here.
-The best food carts. We'll be there on a Friday, so any food carts that are open then will be a possibility.
-Any sandwich shops we missed the first time around (link to the article is near the bottom of the thread I posted, or google "Heroes, Just For Two Days"
-Any local faves, off the beaten path joints of any cuisine that we might miss without a rec

Also, what do people think of Square 1688 or whatever that place is called? We had a cocktail there last time and it looked great.

Thanks!

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  1. I will chime in first about Square 1682 (is that the right number?) at the Palomar. The food was pretty mediocre when we went and not all that memorable. In fact I recall that the best part of our meal was the flatbread and olive oil that was served with lunch. The fried oysters were ok, a lot of breadcrumbs and tomatoes but not many oysters, and the short rib sandwiches were good but overwhelmed by the roll. All in all, decent but not worth rushing back to.

    I suspect your better off at Vetri than LBF...

    Of course, this time you must try the roast pork sandwich with provolone and broccoli rabe at DiNic's in Reading Terminal. Order it "wet" so it's extra juicy (preferably at the counter so you can get it served in a basket so it's less messy). It's one of the top sandwiches in town. Will happily trade Berger Cookies for DiNic's roast pork if you are there on a Saturday!

    To be honest with you, I really love the slow cooked lamb sandwiches at Argan (132 S. 17th St.) a half block south and across the street from the Palomar (look down!). It's a cute, spotless Moroccan joint that has great sandwiches served in Moroccan pocket-bread that is like a cross between cornbread and sourdough. Looks like a pita but is much softer and fluffier. I always order the slow cooked lamb with roasted eggplant puree, tomatoes, roasted peppers and onions, and greens. All of the items combine perfectly and with the seasonings, it's tops on my list . They also serve La Colombe coffee, and the owner's a really nice guy.

    1. 1. Vetri and LBF are very good, but Shola Olunloyo's Speck should be open by then, I'd make a reservation for one of the Studiokitchen dinners if there's one available for one day you'll be here:

      http://www.studiokitchen.com/home

      I like Vetri but I don't feel it's worth the exorbitant price. My other suggestion would be to go to Bibou and get the 7-course tasting menu. It's BYO but the food is fantastic.

      2. We have Penang, Banana Leaf, and Aqua that I know of. I like Aqua a lot, their house-made tofu is great.

      3. Some people will tell you to go to Christos' falafel cart at 20th and Market, I'm not a fan. I don't have any other suggestions though. We do have some good food trucks, they mostly roam around University City, as do the best carts.

      4. Seriously, go back to Paesano's and get a couple sandwiches you didn't get the first time around.

      5. Brunch at Kanella, biweekly multi-course feast at Han Dynasty, udon noodle lunch at Izumi, South Philly Tap Room (best gastropub in the city), bar snacks at Pub & Kitchen, queso tacos at La Lupe, Clammy Hour at Snockey's, Portuguese family-style dinner at Koo Zee Doo

      5 Replies
      1. re: Buckethead

        I'll be one of those. Yes, you need to go to Christos' falafel cart at 20th & Market; order the platter, not the sandwich--this is the only option you have, besides omitting meat. It's not really a falafel lunch--it's a platter of a few different salads that change weekly if not daily, hummus, grilled chicken, great fava-heavy falafel, and a daily changing bread. The platter is huge, it can easily feed both of you if you're eating a lot that day. You can compare with Mama's traditional Israeli-style falafel down the block if you want, which is also excellent.

        1. re: Buckethead

          The Falafal King is awsome. Its an experience aside from the food. Never knew his name, thanks Buckethead for the revelation. Christo really has alot to share about his life. But the falafal is worth the wait. I work around there and its a weekly spot. There is a TON of garlic, go easy on your first try.

          Have also been reading about Studio Kitchen. It seems like it might be the Ko of philly. Yea, finally some david changness in our city :) Have you been ?

          Second Han Dynasty. Thought brunch as Kanella was fun, exotic. Pub and Kitchen is a philly staple ! i May have to edit my post to add that ! Good Call. And very excited for Koo Zee Doo.

          1. re: foodstatic

            foodstatic, are you talking about King Of Falafel at 16th & JFK? That's not Christos. Christos is on the NE corner of 20th & Market, and is more commonly known by his street name: the Falafel Nazi.

            Studio Kitchen the restaurant isn't open yet. Shola used to do private dinners in his home also under the name Studio Kitchen, however.

            1. re: barryg

              Yes, i mixed up the king with the nazi ! My bad !
              Is there a preview for the Studio menu

              1. re: foodstatic

                There is Speck, the restaurant, and Studiokitchen, the restaurant within the restaurant (reservations for those seats are available now, pre-paid). I have not seen menus for Speck, although I believe it's opening soon. Studiokitchen menus will vary from week to week.

        2. for the high end dinner, I think Vetri makes more sense than Le Ben Fin which is about to close ( am I corrrect to assume your wife will be writing a food article about this trip again?)

          For Malaysian, my husband recently tried Banana Leaf and liked it. I think a good theme for an article would be the many cuisines that are available in Philly's Chinatown.

          Food carts are located in University City just google and you'll find the location. There was recently some news about a roving cupcake truck that would be worth trying and fun for an article.

          As far as sandwiches, I don't think you can top Paesano's but I assume you've already been there, done that. I think anything Argan has to offer will be a let down after that! I have eaten there a couple times and found the found strangely bland.

          I happen to think the sandwiches at Tria are awesome.

          PS try the Gustaio at Paesano's if you haven't already!

          1 Reply
          1. re: rocknroll52

            Then there is a new article on Philly sandwiches in Philly Mag: http://blogs.phillymag.com/restaurant...

          2. I'd like to strongly nominate Banana Leaf for your Malaysian restaurant. Also, Rangoon, while serving Burmese rather than Malaysian, is delicious as well. I'd second rocknroll52 with the suggestion of touching on all that Chinatown offers beyond Chinese food.

            1. Thanks for all the great feedback! Gonna sift through it and start to form up some plans. Paesano's is definitely getting a return visit, as is probably Sampan for a late night snack and maybe one other sandwich shop.

              This trip isn't for an article, although I'm sure it'll end up on her personal food blog, Tasty Trix. But doing a tour of Chinatown is a great idea. We passed through it briefly last time. Baltimore's Chinatown disappeared years ago, sadly.

              One other thing I wanted to ask about is if anyone knows if the October night market dates are known yet? We're hoping that it falls when we're there. The lineup for the September one looks awesome.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kukubura

                I don't think the Oct Night Market date is set - not even sure they will be exactly monthly. I think they said six a year or so.
                In Chinatown have soup dumplings at Dim Sum Garden and then at Sakura a block north!

              2. I'm sure you saw all my reviews kukubura - Vetri vs. LBF is a push - both were excellent, but I felt LBF at lunch to be a better deal than Vetri at dinner. It is an institution and about to close forever - it is probably the one to visit.

                You should get to modo mio while you are in town, as well.

                http://uhockey.blogspot.com

                1 Reply
                1. re: uhockey

                  I second uhockey. You cannot miss LBF in its final year. It has been a Philly landmark for decades, and rightfully so. Vetri will still be here for your next visit.

                2. Welcome back to our fair city!

                  I'd like to suggest KANELLA (10th and Spruce) as a must go place. No textual description can fully do it justice, so keep that in mind as you read the following. It's a Greek-Cypriot place whose chef spent time in London (a decade) before returning to Philly. The flavors of Cyprus are NOT quite the flavors of Greece-- what connects them is more a basic culinary outlook, spawned not doubt by geography and location. What Constantinos does with lamb and goat is stuff I've never quite tasted in Athens' tavernas. His tongue (lamb) was delicious, even for this squeamish type. I've loved his octopus. His skate was marvelous. The salads are magnificent-- who knew that cumin could blend so magically with the best olive oil in the world (yes, he really sources it from some olive growers in the old country-- you can smell the earth and the trees in it!). I've had his lemon tart and was transported. And those weekend brunches with eggs and baked beans (remember, the guy spent a decade in London) are spectacular.

                  And best of all, try to walk on 10th Street to read Constantinos' fiery broadsides posted on his kitchen window. I gather he routinely flames the pretentious food establishment and gets flamed by his fans in turn. Very entertaining reading. Lunch and brunch are ca. $8-$10 for portions which are GENEROUS. Dinner is pricier and worth every penny. Bring a few lovely bottles to drink as it's a BYOB.

                  At the lower end, but no less fabulous, do visit KABOBEESH on Chestnut and 42nd in West Philly. It's a Pakistani tandoor house in a diner car and is spectacular in a very undercapitalized way. The nans are magical-- best I've had INCLUDING in San Francisco's fabled SHALIMAR OR in Pakistan itself. The curries are a bit oily, but the lowly chicken curry is a HIT every time I have it. I am personally a major fan of the resham beef kebabs which are perfectly seasoned, juicy, and very satisfying. My husband is mad about the chicken tandoor (get the leg with bone as it's more flavorful than the breast). The cauliflower when they have it is superb as is the okra and the spinach. On Saturdays, they have haleem (rice, wheat, lentils, and meat all cooked in a porridge). It's one of the best haleems I've ever had. Make sure you ask them to serve it with the fried onions, cilantro, and ginger on top. Sometimes they forget. You can pass on the desserts and samosa. But do ask for lassi which is always delicious. And ignore the lackluster ambience and downmarket hygeine. This is fabulous food in an unpretentious setting made by folks for whom the food matters. They should know--they feed all our city's cabbies!

                  Bon appetit

                  And do tell us what your faves in our city are!

                  1. (1) Vetri
                    (2) Amada
                    (3) Barbuzzo
                    (4) Han Dynasty
                    (**) Pub and Kitchen

                    1. For high end - the toughest reservation in town is Bibou.(former LBF chef) Forget LBF he's closing and many of the good staff left.

                      Sandwiches - Paesanos.

                      1. First and foremost, Sandwiches that nobody else has. Food truck, great sandwich. George's at 23rd and Chestnut, Lunch 11 to 2 Pm though he strarts serving breakfast a 6 AM. You've got to try the grilled marinated chicken breast, with or without his special gyro sauce. With Lettuce and tomato, simply superb. Also two unique sandwiches only to be found at McNally's tavern at the top of Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. The GBS (after vegetarian GB Shaw). It's a double decker grilled chees sandwich with Russian dressing and grilled onions tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms. FANTASTIC A vegetarian sandwich that tastes as rich and satisfying as a cheese steak. Also the Schmitter, a cheese steak on a bun with cooked salai, and onions and Russian dressing. Forget Dinic. Try Nick's roast beef at 18th and Jackson. Best roast beef sandwich in the state.

                        2 Replies
                          1. re: barryg

                            Preferably roast not pulled pork... Although if you get the roast beef rare at DiNic's it is heavenly.

                        1. for gourmet food carts, we've got high end coffee, falafel, desserts, cupcakes, multiple tacos, housemade sausages, and I think our own Iron Chef Jose Garces is coming out with a truck as well. Mostly on Twitter:
                          http://twitter.com/ButtercreamPhl
                          http://twitter.com/sugarphilly
                          http://twitter.com/coupdetaco
                          http://twitter.com/HubbubCoffee
                          http://twitter.com/HonestToms

                          Note - I think all of these folks are limited to M-F operation, with rare exception if there's a fair or something going on.

                          1. FYI, we're here now and will monitor this thread. We arrived late last night and immediately hit the ground running with TWO amazing meals at TWO 13th street restaurants. I'll do a full trip report when it's all done since, if we keep it up, it'll be a weekend to remember. Off to the trucks!

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: kukubura

                              Welcome back. I'm sad to report that Christos the falafel nazi has been MIA for the past week. You can check and see if he is back today, but I'd wager against it. If you do end up at that corner and he's not there, excellent traditional Israeli falafel and barekas (finally tried them--they're awesome) are available at Mama's around the corner on S. 20th St.

                              1. re: kukubura

                                Zavino? Lolita? Do we get a hint? :)

                                1. re: bluehensfan

                                  I'll trade you the answer to your question for a recommendation... We started at Sampan and then moved on to Barbuzzo. Full recaps to come.

                                  If we were to choose between Tinto and Amada which should we choose?

                                  1. re: kukubura

                                    I have only been to Tinto once, but I like Amada better. Order the pernil asado.

                                    1. re: kukubura

                                      I've had better meals at Amada too so I would recommend that. But based on what others usually say on this board, I think it's pretty much a toss up.

                                      1. re: barryg

                                        Wow...I wrote Zavino and meant Barbuzzo.
                                        As far as Amada versus Tinto, I have not been to Tinto but have had lots of good tapas at Amada. Just skip the whole pig thing there.

                                        1. re: bluehensfan

                                          Thanks for the feedback everyone, reservations have been made ;)

                                          FYI Christo didn't seem to be there but we managed to hit a gang of trucks in University City... More details to come... Now, we're heading out for a night of MORE EATING! This trip is working out just fine...

                                      2. re: kukubura

                                        I'm on team Tinto--menu is more seasonal, preparations are a bit more fanciful--but I agree that you won't go wrong either way. One word of caution--I urge you to resist the temptation to order the prix fixe (at Tinto, at least), which ended up feeling to me like a bit of a ripoff.

                                  2. Actually, here's a question: Is Mikey D’s Grill at 33rd and Market still around? I want their breakfast sandwich but all the mentions I'm finding are from 2009... Either way we'll head over there and see what's up. (just made this question its own thread so it would actually be seen...)