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Sep 20, 2012 05:07 AM

Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill Area Board

Hi! I wanted to start a thread that helps us zero in on the best restaurants (regardless of price, fare, atmosphere) up, down,east and west of Germantown. I'm relatively new to the area, so I'm hoping that by polling all my fellow hounders, I can dig up some less obvious recommendations, while also starting an alternative to the broad zip code search on yelp. I love yelp, y'all, but I want a higher class of commentary.

SO to begin, a few places I have been with a review to start the discussion:

Mi Puebla on Germantown in Mt. Airy-

First of all, I loved the atmosphere when I walked in. Totally unpretentious. Half the restaurant is a dining room for eat-in customers and the other half is a takeout counter and bakery. Total Mom n Pop type shop that's here to serve good food, not fleece you. And true, their prices were not steep, but they also weren't dirt cheap. I got the avocado salad for 7.50 and what I thought was the Taeko Enchilada for 10.95. The salad was phenomenal. Tomatoes, roasted red pepper, something that looked like sweet potato but wasn't mentioned on the menu, and a delicious almond cranberry vinaigrette. It was quite large too. I would recommend it for lunch. Now the taeko enchilada. This was described as having a chipotle tomatillo sauce, yum, but what I got tasted a lot more like a mole sauce, which happened to be the menu item below what I picked. I would like to say that it was still delicious, but honestly, I hate mole. It all tastes like dirt to me. Maybe I just haven't had a good mole yet, but this mole didn't change that fact. The chicken inside was dry and the cheese melted on top had the consistency of rubber. I didn't finish. In the end, I'm not writing this place off at all, I'm just writing off their mole enchilada.

Tiffin in West Mt. Airy-

I ordered delivery, so I didn't see the inside of the restaurant, but WOW. BAM. First of all, they have one of those nifty online ordering systems set up, and it is super convenient, BUT here's the catch:
The earliest delivery option offered is 7-7:30, so I took that into account when I placed my order at 5. Turns out, they fudge that rule a little bit and will show up earlier if you place your order earlier. The guy came around 6. This is something you could work to your advantage, but just be aware when you're working a tight schedule. I almost wasn't home to accept the delivery.
Now to the food. I ordered the aloo papri chaat, the lasooni naan (garlic naan) and the malai kofta. The chaat was good, but not the best I've had. The lentil wafers were not crispy (maybe from steaming in a closed container) and that really ruins the texture, which I think is the best part of the dish. The flavors were good though, so I would recommend trying this while eating in. For the record, first and best chaat I had was the samosa chaat at Ekta in Bryn Mawr. Wowie. It was takeout AND good the next day. Now the naan and the malai kofta. Both were out of this world. Naan from an indian restaurant is almost always pillowy and amazing, and this one was no exception. But the malai kofta was unlike any I've ever had (I've tried making it myself, and this just pushed my dreams of perfection into the realm of implausability). The sauce was lightly spicy (I requested the medium spice level), very aromatic, creamy and nutty, with scattered golden raisins, nuts and what I think were pieces of onion. The koftas themselves were larger than what I'm used to, but equally delicious broken up and dunked in the sauce before eating. They weren't light and fluffy like some other koftas, but I think that their density was important for their structural integrity in the thick sauce. I would recommend ordering more than one serving so that you'll have leftovers, because when it's sat for a while it tastes even better. Three days (and kofta-dream-nights) later, I'm researching recipes so I can try my hand at the stuff for the millionth time.

I'll stop here because I'm tired, but please, please add on your favorites or even just your most recent tries WITH a blurb (or a novel) on why you liked it. Markets and whatnot are welcome, too.

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  1. My husband and I moved to the area about a year ago from NYC and have overall been underwhelmed by the Mt Airy/Chestnut Hill food scene. I think there is so much potential for some new good places! But here is my rundown:

    Mica - Our only true top tier restaurant. Pretty flawless experience. Ranks up there in the best meals out I've ever had, even by NYC standards. Prices to match, though.

    Cafette - Nothing groundbreaking, but this is my go-to for brunch on a nice day. Their food is consistently tasty, it's BYO, and their patio is charming (with no wait, usually!)

    Baker Street - there are several bakeries in CH. This is the best. More bread-focused than sweets-focused, but try their muffins.

    Osaka - Has grown on me. They can be inconsistent, but for the most part, a solid sushi joint. I find that their salmon and yellowtail rolls are especially delicious.

    High Point Cafe @ Allens Lane station - Excellent coffee. Excellent pastries. I go several times a week. Crepes are great too.

    Toto's - Does not come close to NYC pizza. but it's best in this area that we've found.

    Wine Thief - This is our go-to for drinks at the bar. Good wine and beer selection. I shy away from their cocktails b/c the bartenders are hit or miss. Wouldn't come solely for the food, but it's OK. Definitely more family-oriented early on in the evening.

    Cake - Cute atmosphere. I don't find their menu too exciting. I had a bad initial experience there when my friends and I got all excited to bring our homemade bloody marys to brunch (they are byo), only to find out they were "out of ice" that day.

    Iron Hill - Is what it is.

    Campbell's - NO for food, YES for drinks. Cute, cozy pub. Especially nice in the winter time.

    Hokka Hokka - Second tier to Osaka IMO, but fine.

    McMenamin's - We go, since it's the only pub within walking distance, but I always leave just wishing it was a little bit better... food, beer selection, crowdedness, etc.

    Earth Bread & Brewery - We've tried so hard to like this place, but I've now just had one too many disappointing food experiences. Their bread is good, and it seems like they use good ingredients, but they top their flatbreads so sparingly that we're always just unsatisfied, And we are just not fans of their beer. Also very full of families/kids.

    Avenida - They try, but this place is just not good. We've never been happy with any of the food or drinks we've ordered there. A Cuban place should certainly be able to make a good mojito, right? Not here....

    Thai Kuu - Keep trying to like this one as well, but the menu is super hit or miss, And over-priced.

    McNally's - I'm sorry, but I just cannot support a place that charges $6 for a Coors light draft.

    Cosimo's Pizza - Just don't.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Silverpink

      Silverpink, I generally agree with your opinions. I also wish there were more good restaurants in the Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill area. Have you tried Heirloom in Chestnut Hill? I think it is very good, and not as expensive as Mica. Also, it is byob. You have probably passed by if you've been to Thai Kuu. It's right nextdoor.

      1. re: JanR

        Thank you so much, JanR and Silverpink! These are exactly the kind of open and honest critiques I was hoping for! Now I want more people to chime in!

        My extended family is based out of Chestnut Hill, and from what I have gleaned from them, McNally's is more of an institution in the community than a restaurant standing on it's own merit. The last time I was there, the entire crowd was fundraising for a high school sports team. Great if you're part of that local, all-in-the-family customer base, a little off-putting if you are not. Especially because the prices are high and the quality not so much.

        Earth, Bread and Brewery did not disappoint me in the flat-bread department (I grew up in the South, so no quality pizza experience to speak of), but what really let me down was the atmosphere. I'm 23. I thought EBB might offer some kind of alluring, younger atmosphere. But as Silverpink said, it's a lot of kids or young marrieds. I am trying to find the place where the hippest, most interesting people of Mt. Airy are hanging out. This is not it.

        1. re: kateearle

          With the crowd/atmosphere at EBB, it really depends on when you're there.
          Yes, for dinner we bring our toddler, who likes it, and we all feel right in place. but later at night - like after 9, say? - when the kids are in bed, it does get a more young, hip crowd. it's still mt. airy, so it's still on the scruffier side - no one there of either sex is keeping Gillette in business - but it's got a lot of 20-somethings. This is especially true when they do their every-other-thursday music.

          Big disagreements on the above food list, btw. Along w/ EBB, I'd also put Cosimos and Avenida much higher, and Baker St. much lower. And Cafette, each time I go, is just a little bit weaker and a little bit more expensive.

          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            Thanks for the tip on the Thursday night music, Bob Loblaw. I might head down for that. And great username!

            1. re: Bob Loblaw

              I moved to the area from center city about ten years ago and was expecting something similar to Manayunk. Well that's not Mt. Airy/ Chestnut Hill. Tons more families w/ kids than I expected. There are few if any "hip" places although the crowd at Campbell's and Chestnut 7 can be more youthful. However I got married and had a child w/in a couple years of my move so it worked out. We frequent many of the above mentioned places. For live music the wife and I like Relish in West Oak Lane. Not mind blowing food, but fried chicken livers, red wine and real jazz, I'm good.

        2. re: Silverpink

          Nicely done review. We agree on those mentioned that we have tried and a BIG "Got-that-Right" for Advenida! Nice people, lots of potential; problem is potential is not a very enjoyable meal. Had done a full review after our last "experience" there, ugh!

          1. re: Bacchus101

            Easy for me to add two of the best little known gems in Chestnut Hill:
            Heirloom -- definitely a cut above. Innovative cuisine and a chef with mega talent. Georges Perrier is a regualr. Does that tell you anything? BYOB

            Stella Sera on Germantown Ave. a block away from Heirloom for really fine Italian fare.
            The place is charming looking and the food is simply deelish. BYOB

          2. re: Silverpink

            I prefer the Metropolitan Bakey and think that the quality far exceeds Baker St.
            The food looks great at the cafe near the Top of The Hill Mkt. Anyone tasted it?

            1. re: missclaudy

              I agree that Metropolitan is better then Baker Street. Top of the Hill is good for a casual lunch.

              1. re: DaisyM

                I like Metropolitan more than Baker St for bread, though its prices seem to keep creeping up. I like Cake the most for pastries, etc. Not into bredenbecks at all.
                I've never sat in teh Top of the HIll Mkt for lunch; I have gotten stuff to-go, though. Nothing's ever been awful; I have wound up surprised how much I spent. I've never found myself thinking that there was something I had there that I absolutely had to get again.

                I will say that the best baguette I've ever had in Philly was from Baker St. (I claim expertise in very few food items, but I know a good baguette when I eat one). But that was just a one-off, it seems, as every subsequent baguette I got from there was fine, but nothing spectacular.

                1. re: Bob Loblaw

                  Try the superlative baguette at Main St. Market in Manyunk. Baked by the baker for Agiato restaurant next door, THE BEST according to my French dad and very particular me.

                  1. re: missclaudy

                    Totally agree re the baguette. We were there a couple of weeks ago and they were closed for rennovations. We had lunch at Agiato and they said they would sell the baguettes.

              2. re: missclaudy

                Sandwiches are great, but somewhat expensive. Service can be very slow, depending on how much flirting/joking the young staff are doing that day. ;)

              3. re: Silverpink

                Nice write-up but I'd like to ask what you find lacking in McMenamin's beer list?

                1. re: Silverpink

                  I mostly agree Silverpink, but Toto's not good pizza at all. To that place I say just don't. Earth is the oddest place in the world, they are so stuck on their view you cannot get a pizza well no that is wrong a flatbread not of their creating. There is no give, no pleasing the customer. No way to take out a flat bread because flat bread is superior to pizza? Owners tend to lose on staff their too which is completely wrong. Too Kid friendly to parents who have no courtesy for others. No your children are not cute or endearing when screaming, running around the place, whining, or in general not up to being out to eat. Create a separate space for those of us who are beyond the kiddie years. Maybe a play area because Earth looks like and feels like playgroup vs a brewery some evening.
                  Cake not so good. Cafette ok, Iron Hill forget it.

                  Needs are great in an area that would support new food places, as what is here is not so great. Not everyone can afford Mica.

                  1. re: dublindoll

                    Ditto dublindoll. Would love to see something good and more affordable than Mica in the area. Except for Heirloom, what we have is meh.

                    1. re: dublindoll

                      If you don't want what Earth has, don't go there. They make no pretense of being something other than what they are. You want take out? that's your problem, not theirs.

                      I'm overall generally pleased with what the area has to offer - Earth, Tiffin, Bacio, McMenamin's and Avenia in Mt. Airy, Tavern on the Hill, Rollers, Osaka, Hokka-Hokka, CinCin in C-Hill. I like the new Goat Hollow, too, though I wish it was a little less expensive.

                      I thought Mica had good food, it just took itself too seriously. Have not been to Heirloom.

                      1. re: Bob Loblaw

                        The only thing I had against Bacio was I thought their red sauce was too spicy. On two visits, no one agreed with me on that.

                  2. Sorry no excuse for almond cranberry vinaigrette in a Mexican restaurant. Wish we had a great ,simple,authentic taqueria around here, Norristown and South Philly are too far. I have eaten at Mi Puebla several times over the years and have never had anything I liked, Just my taste.

                    I find Tiffin too rich and creamy and heavy, bring on the South Indian cuisine Tiffin!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: missclaudy

                      I agree about Tiffin. Plus, I ate there a couple of months ago and the floor was extremely sticky. I would have walked out without sitting down, but we were meeting people who'd chosen it. Reminded me of down at the heels movie theaters where generations of children have spilled sodas and no one ever washed the floor. We get takeout Indian from Bhagya's Kitchen on willow Grove Ave in Wyndmoor.

                      On the other hand, we like Geechee Girl: a pleasant room, genuine cooking with fresh ingredients, not a huge menu but enough variety and specials to keep things interesting.

                      1. re: myra

                        Alright guys! Awesome.

                        What about Joa Mart? Has anyone checked that out? And can I get more words on Geechee Girl? I might go there for lunch soon since it's only a few blocks from my place.

                        1. re: kateearle

                          Also, what about your favorite cheap eats?

                          1. re: kateearle

                            Technically not in CH but close:
                            Fairlane Diner in Erdenheim. Very good but small. Lines on weekends.

                            Roberto's in Erdenheim. Homemade pastas. BYOB on Tuesday nights. Good southern Italian. Friendly bar.

                          2. re: kateearle

                            Geechee girl is dinner Wed.-Sun. and Sunday brunch. When you go, keep in mind that the pace is relaxed. It takes a while. We like the Crispy Hoppin'' John,

                      2. Looks like there's a new Italian byob in the Umbria space. Hope it's good.


                        9 Replies
                        1. re: JanR

                          I was just going to ask if anyone's been to Trattoria Moma.

                          1. re: asmith

                            I wanted to try it to tomorrow night. When, I called I was told it has a no reservation policy. I don't usually go to restaurants that don't take reservations but I might try since it's nearby. Has anyone been yet?

                            1. re: asmith

                              We were there Saturday night, with another couple. We went at 5pm, although a server told me when I asked that now they are accepting reservations. Good experience. Very nice atmosphere and service. The food was surprisingly good. All pasta is homemade. My fettucine with blue crab and sundries tomatoes was delicious. Two in the group had pappardelle bolognese. My husband had matagliati with sweet fennel sausage and broccoli rabe. Salads were good, as were the desserts. Everyone was very pleased. Prices are very reasonable.

                              1. re: JanR

                                Has anyone else been to Trattoria Moma? We have been 3 times and liked it.

                                1. re: JanR

                                  No, and thanks for reminding me! We eat in Chestnut Hill quite often and I keep forgetting about it. I will make it a point to go soon. Thanks for the rec.

                                  1. re: JanR

                                    We going this Friday. Looking forward to it!

                                2. re: JanR

                                  Has anyone been to the Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange, the new resto where the Wine Thief was?

                                  1. re: asmith

                                    Hi All, Any responses to this post now that they have been open for awhile?

                                3. Did anyone mention the Chestnut Grill in the holtel? I've only had lunch there and based on that one visit I thought it was pretty good.

                                  1. Reposting this here:
                                    El Poquito-Chestnut Hill
                                    Four of us dined at this week-old restaurant Friday night. It's in the space that was formerly Solaris Grill (and, briefly, Chestnut 7). This is the best restaurant that has occupied this space in the last 20 years, in my opinion. Aside from the (to be expected) noise on a Friday night at happy hour, it was a good experience. We enjoyed cod tacos (both grilled and crispy), chicken enchiladas, and a fajita-like chicken dish. Guacamole was excellent, as were the chips. The refried beans tasted canned, however. A few complaints: Frozen margaritas came in small highball glasses, which wasn't appealng. Our waiter forgot to put in the refried beans order. We reminded him after the other dishes arrived. They came to the table after everyone had finished eating. I was charged $22 for my one glass of beer. When we pointed it out, the waiter apologized and said that he had put it in as a pitcher. Considering they have only be open a week, not bad. The space is very attractive, and the patio looks like it will be enjoyable in warmer months. There was one table sitting around one of the two fire pits. I enjoyed looking at the colored lights strung above the patio. Indoors, they have the popular Edison lights but in unusual chandeliers. We will go back. Chestnut Hill needs more good restaurants,

                                    Flag 0

                                    2 Replies
                                      1. re: JanR

                                        I will never darken their door with the mention of canned refried or fresh that tasted like canned beans. NO excuse for this!!!!!!