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A Baltimore and a London 'hound seek South Street surprises

My sister, an active member of the U.K. board and an adventurous eater, is coming over for Christmas and we're spending a couple of days in Philly. We'll be staying near South Street and I want to take her to one or two great food restaurants that she wouldn't experience in London, i.e. not French, Indian or Italian. Decor doesn't matter as much as food quality, but it should be a place we can chat a while, and I'd like it to be in walkable distance if possible.

Any ideas? maybe a Chef's table one night? We'll be going to Reading Terminal Market for at least one lunch. Many thanks, and I'll report back

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  1. You might try Zahav for dinner - it's not far from South Street - and while there's plenty of good middle eastern food in London, it's really just where the restaurant takes it's cue - it's not "traditional" in any way...www.zahavrestaurant.com

    You should also take advantage of our local "iron chef" Jose Garces - you won't find better burgers than at village whiskey...www.villagewhiskey.com - it's not close to South Street but South Street itself isn't much of a food destination in my opinion. It's more for lunch than dinner.

    London isn't known for Mexican food - so you might want to look at some Chowhound postings on that topic...http://www.chow.com/search?query=mexi...

    1. Agree with the Zahav recommendation. Philly is a very walkable city and you also have a lot of options in Old City, 13th St. corridor, and Rittenhouse areas not too far away. If you want something vegetarian, Vedge is a few blocks off South Street. Percy Street BBQ on 10th and South Sts has excellent BBQ, particularly the brisket and pecan pie. Zavino on 13th st has really good small plates and pizzas.

      2 Replies
      1. re: bluehensfan

        I second Percy Grill (or any quality BBQ joint in the city) for a visitor from Britain. Now when it comes to BBQ, Philly isn't Texas. But I'm sure you can't get this quality American BBQ in Britain. I'd suggest Mexican as well but can't think of a solid spot near South Street.

        1. re: Chinon00

          Las Bugambilias is very good. Xochitl is good too but I like Bugambilias better.

      2. Some excellent suggestions, totally agree with Zahav. What type restaurant is not found in London? Now there is a good question. Agreement here also on South Street not being a food destination, while popular with many I would think other areas of the city may be of greater interest in many aspects. English colleagues always enjoy "Steak Houses" there are a number of very excellent ones in Philly. I avoid the chains, although they are also popular and quite good and many from which to choose. Perhaps consider Barclay Prime, The Prime Rib, Butcher & Singer for beef. Should you be interested in some high octane beverages try Franklin Mortgage, Hop Sings or the Ranstead Room.

        1. If there aren't good Jewish delis in London try Famous 4th St, a block off South at 4th & Bainbridge, for brunch. Across the street, Southwark is great for a nightcap cocktail and snack (great housemade charcuterie).

          Otherwise I agree with the others, there is no reason to restrict your search to the South Street area, as all of Center City is walkable or a very short transit/cab ride. But, in the Queen Village/Bella Vista area blow South, there are a few options that may be of interest to an international visitor.
          1) Catahoula, a small bar serving good cajun food.
          2) Kennett, a neighborhood bar/restaurant focused on local, seasonal ingredients.
          3) Royal Tavern, one of Philly's best gastropubs, which I know they invented in England but this is a very American/Philly take on it. All the food is great but they also do fantastic versions of typical American bar food like nachos and burgers. Good American-craft focused beer list. Very good Bloody Marys as well. Much better than the more expensive and pretentious "gastropubs" around IMO.
          5) Cochon, pork-focused BYOB. Pretty representative of Philly's chef-driven BYOB culture.
          6) Little Fish, tiny seafood BYOB that does a tasting menu on Sunday nights. Reserve early.

          3 Replies
          1. re: barryg

            If you are going to look on South Street, Pizzareia Stella is worth considering. Its at 2nd and south and makes decent neopolitan style pizza. I think it is better than Barbuzzo but not as good as Zavino and a lot closer than either two.

            Right off of south streeet is Ela, a great innovative restaurant with interesting cocktails and small plates menu that is quite good. The whipped foie gras, or the diver scallop noodle are wonderful dishes.

            1. re: cwdonald

              Have you been to Nomad (7th St just off South)? Blows Stella out of the water IMO. Haven't been to Zavino in quite some time so can't compare to that but Nomad is awesome. I didn't mention because I figured that style of pizza is common in England, but don't really know.

            2. re: barryg

              Also I should add Fitzwater Cafe at 7th & Fitzwater for great American breakfast food.

            3. Thanks to all my fellow chowhounds. I think I misled some of you by saying that decor doesn't matter-- we still want a semi formal meal, so pizza, cheese steak and bbq (specially above the mason Dixon line) are out.
              Zahav seems really interesting, and Ela sounds great-- even though the protein will be familiar to my sis, many of the veggies and accompaniments, like butternut squash, pretzels and kale will not be. Also going to look at Fitzwater Cafe for a breakfast.

              9 Replies
              1. re: curioussheridan

                Not that they are better choices than Zahav or Ela but Stella, Nomad and Percy Street are real restaurants with nice atmosphere and service. I don't mean this is a negative way but they are yuppified versions of those cuisines. They are not on the level of Zahav or Ela though which are more upscale.

                1. re: barryg

                  For the food, I would choose Kanella over Zahav - not that they are exact matches but they feature similar eastern Mediterranean flavors. Though I'd qualify that statement by saying that really professional service, decor or liquor license aren't big concerns of mine...

                  1. re: caganer

                    Kanella-- wow! I can visualize and already mentally enjoy these surprising combinations

                    1. re: curioussheridan

                      At Kanella be prepared to have both elbows on adjoining tables. As noted by Yogi, "it is so crowded nobody goes there any more" ! Perhaps Zahav shares some flavors with Kanella but IMHO that is the only similarity.

                      1. re: Bacchus101

                        Kanella is small and gets crowded but it's not uncomfortable even for my 70-year old parents. Not every meal needs to be eaten in perfect comfort and tranquility. To me the atmosphere and decor of the side dining room of Zahav is caravanserai-meets-retirement-home-dining-room. I'll take the crowd at Kanella.
                        In the fall and early winter Kanella gets the most amazing wild birds from Scotland. It's that time of year and those birds with those flavors are amazing.

                        1. re: caganer

                          Cagarner do you know what dishes Kanella does with game? My go to game restaurant is always Picholiine in NYC, and I had no idea that Kanella did game birds.

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            The story they tell goes that the chef has managed to keep his game connections from his time as a chef in London, so he's getting top-notch birds. Grouse, wood pigeon, partridge and quail have all been on the menu. Pricey but worth it for a one-a-year opportunity.
                            The rabbit dish on the menu is good also. And it's not game but their goat stew with wheat berries and yogurt is very good.

                          2. re: caganer

                            Small and crowded but not uncomfortable is certainly an individual judgement as those descriptors most frequently do not coexist. Love your interesting description of the side dining room at Zahav. Never been there and thanks to you I will make an effort to avoid it. Game birds from Scotland does add an interesting option to the Kanella highly regarded menu; the quality of which I have never heard questioned.

                            1. re: caganer

                              Does anyone else share my opinion that Kanella is kind of over salted?

                  2. I want to put in another word for Vedge. Describing it as vegetarian doesn't capture the magic of this restaurant. It has a lovely, upscale atmosphere, great drinks, and creative and exciting food, the likes of which is hard to find anywhere. From the little I know of the London dining scene, I don't think there is anything like it.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                      I couldn't see anything on the menu that excited me-- it just seemed a random combination of veg.

                      1. re: curioussheridan

                        Listen to Hungry, go to Vedge, it's one of the best restaurants in the city. I'd also agree with the recs for Kanella and Zahav. I wouldn't recommend Ela though, my meal there was disappointing and ridiculously expensive for what it was. The other three are easily walkable from South St. (though it would be helpful to know the cross street you're going to be near).

                      2. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                        Agree on the upscale atmosphere and drinks at Vedge and it certainly has won high praise for its veggie cuisine. On our visit I found the food uninteresting with plates so small that sharing was only a bite or two. It has had very good reviews, however it could be a bit of a disappointment depending upon expectations.

                        1. re: Bacchus101

                          A few comments on Vedge. London does have restaurants similar to Vedge.. probably the best known is Vanilla Black. If you are looking for high end vegetarian Vedge would cut it. Folks are very proud and excited for it here as you can see in the response, but I would argue you can get equal type of food over there.

                          With regard to Zahav. There are tons of Middle Eastern restaurants in London that will use similar cooking techniques as Zahav... especially Turkish and Lebanese. What makes Solomonov's food stand above many are his interesting flavor combinations. The lamb there is an outstanding dish as are some of his offal offerings, but again to say you cannot find this style of cooking in London would be a misnomer.

                          I think Ela, and perhaps Pumpkin represent the best innovative food on South Street. Pumpkin is a byo and does a very nice 40 dollar prix fixe menu on Sundays. Locally sourced foods producing dishes like escargot with sweet potato grits and coddled egg, veal sweetbreads with violet mustard, cauliflower and smoked raisins and beef cheeks with black garlic, root vegetables and orange.

                          And no one has really dealt with the chef's table request. Its been around quite a while now, but the omakase chef's menu at Morimoto is a very good experience if you like Asian and Asian fusion food.

                          1. re: cwdonald

                            Enjoyed reading your interesting and informative comments. Good stuff CW.

                      3. Hi!

                        Timeliness - I need to make a reservation for diner tomorrow - sunday -

                        I'm in just about the same boat as curioussheridan, with a few wrinkles. I live/eat in san francisco, and you can read my CH posts going back, well, a long time. I'm jaded. These days, I live for something "new" -

                        I grew up in Delaware, but that was long ago, departed in '85. I've been traveling a _lot_ the last few years, and am here on a weekend pass between london and NYC. I'm not interested in eating something "uniquely phl", but just a very good meal.

                        So - sunday night, take my parents to dinner. My father's a very dedicated eater, we've done a wide variety of the bay area michelin restaurants. For his last birthday, my mother took him to Morimoto for the omakaze. But they don't get up to Phl much, so he can't suggest. I'd like somewhere a bit celebratory, but stuffy.

                        I like Zahav - I ate in Israel for the first time this year, and was instantly smitten - but I don't see a table available. I could call.

                        Vedge - I could try. There was a storied place in Napa that was all veg, one of the best meals of my life, but it's got to be good or I won't hear the last of it. I had a decent veg meal at real food and wine in NYC a few weeks ago, how would it compare?

                        Kanella - "caravanserai-meets-retirement-home-dining-room" - I've been reading Gentlemen of the Road, which starts in a caravanserai - I'm ready to try it just because of this sentence. But my parents have been to Greece and loved it, and the menu looks very hot.

                        Fond - possible no tables when we're looking, would be On The List - but the menu looks quite sparse, but everyone here likes it. Are there enough good options?

                        Ela - The menu looks the most inventive I've seen, and they have a table around when I want, but the main Ela thread is "blah". We like small plates.

                        Stella - no. We have, er, "pretty good" pizza in the bay area right now.

                        Cochon - Maybe!

                        THOUGHTS??? QUICKLY???

                        PS. My favorite area restaurant was 821 in Wilmington until it closed in around 2005. I vividly remember their "breakfast" appetizer that had chicken and waffles, steak and eggs, all in bite size. That place was way ahead of the curve.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: bbulkow

                          Kanella is great but the bit you're quoting there is a reference to the comfy seats, oriental-ish decor (Orient Express oriental, not lo mein oriental) and quiet atmosphere of the side dining room of Zahav - and the main dining room there is pretty lively and, I think, well designed. Both serve terrific eastern Mediterranean-style food (i.e. lots of cumin, cardamom, citrus, olives).

                          1. re: caganer

                            Thanks, but... Should I book kanella, zahav, ela?

                            tick, tock... style.
                            I like a bit of lo mein. Check out li po lounge in sf if you have a taste for that style.

                            Not for this evening.

                          2. re: bbulkow

                            Vedge would be my first choice, Kanella second but the atmosphere may be a little more casual than you want. Fond is closed at the moment, they're moving from one location to another, they'd be tied with Kanella otherwise. Ela, no way, no how, not worth your time or money. Cochon and Stella are fine for locals who have been to our other, better places, but you haven't, so forget them too.

                            Go to Vedge.

                            ETA: Zahav is great too but you've already been there.

                            1. re: Buckethead

                              The great, great veg meal I had was at Ubunbu, at its jeremey fox peak, doing the full tasting. One course was a huge sprig of beetberry, which I had never heard of before, from their back garden. Epic. About 6 months later, the fragile truce of the kitchen was fractured, fox left, and the restaurant closed a year later.

                              I don't think I can talk the locals into Vedge. Meat is what's for dinner, to them. Not without a lot more ammo.

                              I think we're going to Kanella....

                              PS. the "best restaurant" in palo alto these days is Mediterranean (evvia). They have a 10' open mesquite grill and do an out of this world branzino, and whatever they have on the rotisserie (shared space with the grill) is exceptional. I like the retsina, surely an acquired taste, but I eat way to much chinese and indian to eat there more than once a year.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  Kanella and Vedge are only a few blocks away from each other, maybe you can talk them into a pre-dinner snack at the bar at Vedge (mainly so that you yourself can try a few things) followed by dinner at Kanella? And maybe you can make a sneaky reservation at Vedge just in case they are so wowed by the snack at the bar that they want to stay for dinner?