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Main Line or NW Philly?

We're moving to Philly soon and are torn between renting on the main line or in NW Philly. Insider tips on the food scene might help us decide one way or another.

We love going out to eat, especially for Asian/Indian food. We have a preschooler who joins us at many restaurants, but we also regularly get a sitter and check out nicer places without her. We know we can travel into Philly for great food, but also definitely want to live in a walkable neighborhood that has non-chain restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, etc.

Any neighborhood suggestions for this chowish family?

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  1. Not commenting on the food scene but if your preschooler is getting close to school age and you plan to rent for awhile, the public schools on the Main Line are in general more highly rated than those in Philadelphia. In this case talking about Lower Merion, Radnor, and T/E School Districts. I don't care for Indian Food so I can't comment on that. There are some good Chinese restaurants.

    2 Replies
    1. re: FayeD

      Oh yes, definitely. This would be a short-term living option until kindergarten when we'll buy and pay more attention to school districts. That's why it would be especially nice to live in a neighborhood walkable to many restaurants and other attractions for the year or so we're renting.

      1. re: katebauer

        I agree with rocknroll52, if you "want to live in a walkable neighborhood that has non-chain restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, etc.", you should live in the city. The main line is car-centric, and the restaurants aren't nearly as good.

    2. there are not too many neighborhoods on the main line with walkable restaurants. Main Line is a car culture. If you want walkable, then you would be better off in Center City IMO. Better restaurants too!

      1. While Chestnut Hill is very nice, l lived in Wynnewood for 25 years before coming an ex-pat. Seeing you are coming from the midwest, the Main Line area is IMHO better in two significant ways. first to get to CC from the Ardmore-Wynnewood area is far faster and easier whether by car or train than from NW Philadelphia. If one is living in Philadelphia, they pay Phila taxes even if work outside the city, this is about 3-4%. Have found food stores and resto ok in both areas with a nod to the Main Line due to more options. While there are food walks in both, neither comes close to NY, for example, this takes a lot of planning.

        1. like others have said, you can't beat center city for walkability.
          BUT I live in NW Philly (mt. airy); while it's not easy to live here car-free, it is doable, and it's easy to be a 1-car couple and only use the car once a week or so.
          We were living in C-Hill before. Although much of it is filled w/mansions, living near Germantown Ave there are a lot of small houses (it's far easier to find a place to rent in c-hill than mt. airy), and you'd be walking distance to good eating and drinking options. Limited, and don't expect to stay out late on streets filled with people, but there are good options. Good cafes and bakeries as well.
          Mt. Airy is a bit more limited, and less commercial, but again, there are a few decent options and two very good places to drink.
          Both neighborhoods are relatively chain-free. as for Asian and Indian - 2 good sushi places in c-hill, and a good indian place inMt. Airy (don't let the haters fool you - everyone here gets food from tiffin regularly and enjoys it). we're not that into the chinese food up around here, but we're kind of picky for chinese food. for bringing a pre-schooler to a restaurant, Earth Bread and Brewery can't be beat.
          my sister lives in villanova; she's walking *distance* from the train station but can't walk there because the roads have no sidewalks and much traffic. but perhaps toward narberth it's more walkable?

          1. If you were to go the main line route, I'd look into ardmore since there are alot of houses that are walkable distance to some good food. Again, the main line definitely is a commuting town to get to desired areas (alot of major roads to walk/cross). If I had a choice of NW philly and ardmore, i'd go with ardmore. better surroundings, better school district, and the food quality is pretty neck and neck.

            1. Another vote for Center City (I know, you didn't give that as an option). If my kids weren't school age (or if I could afford private school), I would absolutely choose it. Many people with young kids live in the Rittenhouse and Queen Village neighborhoods and love it.

              I lived in C-Hill for a while and it is definitely walkable, with a good independent coffee place, several ok and at least one very good restaurant.

              You might also check out Narberth. I think it counts as main line. It is very cute, with a walkable town center and at least decent choices for eats. I'm not as familiar with it though.

              1. Manayunk/Roxborough (NW Philly) is a very walkable area, low crime, a lot of young families and a bunch of restaurants and bars along Main St. that range from ehhh-to-very good, however Agiato, Cooper's, and Gemelli have upped the dining profile recently. Plus you're 10-15 minutes away from downtown Philly. The only comment I have on the Philly public school system is that it's a joke. But hey there's always Catholic or private school if that's within your means.

                1. Thank you everyone... and we're still stuck in the debate as our two specific neighborhood choices were Narberth and Chestnut Hill ;). I do really appreciate knowing that there are similar pros and cons food-wise in both areas, although we know no area is going to be like Center City. We weren't considering living in Center City because we'd like to have a little more space and we figured the rents for that would be astronomical, but we'll take a look, maybe we're wrong.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: katebauer

                    We had to make that same decision - deciding between Narberth/Wynnewood and Chestnut Hill. We decided on Narberth - but it was done solely because of the schools and the wage taxes. If we had the luxury of doing it for the food scene and ability to walk to cool stuff, I would definitely have chosen Chestnut Hill. Narberth is very cute - but it's definitely suburban with a 'small town USA' feel that's great for family, but terrible for food choices. With a lot of trial and error, you'll find the 1 chinese, 1 indian, 1 thai, etc. that you can drive to in 10-15 minutes - but not a lot of good options that you can walk to. That said, you can walk to the train station and be in Philly in 20 minutes, which is a wonderful thing - and one that we take advantage of frequently... even with small children.

                    1. re: katebauer

                      I live in West Mt Airy, and Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill has it all over Narberth. Narberth is cute, but you can do the whole area in one day, and the restaurants are "meh". Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill is walkable, inexpensive (relatively), and has excellent acess to light rail. Rental housing is definitely available, the neighborhoods are safe, and easy access to the park makes it great for kids. The recent revitalization of the restaurant scene on this end of Germantown Ave continues with a nice balance of quality family friendly options (Avenida, Earth Bread Brewery are my two faves with kids) and higher end cuisine (Mica, Osaka). The Weaver's Way Co-op on the Hill is a great option for specialty foods you can feel good about, while the weekend and Tuesday Farmer's Markets provde afordable local in-season produce.

                      The best thing you can do is just drive around for a day or two, and get a feel for the neighborhoods and what feels right to you. When I was house-hunting, I never thought I would leave Center City where I had been renting for ten years, but a friend insisted on taking me out to brunch in Mt Airy and driving around the neighborhoods. I fell in love with the stone houses, huge trees and meandering side streets coupled with a walkable distance to several restaurants, a grocery store, etc.. I let my Center City Real Estate agent go, and limited my search to a 1 mile radius of basically where I am now. It felt right to me then, and it still does. Best of luck to you!