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Visiting Philadelphia after 5+ years away

My husband and I are planning a weekend trip up to Philadelphia in March without our son before our second child is born. I lived there for 7 years about 5 years ago and haven't been back without my son since then. I think I've been to most of the restaurants that have been around for a long time-- most of the older Steven Starr spots (Morimoto, Budakan, Alma de Cuba), Le Bec Fin, good cheese steak places, etc. . . . But I was totally overwhelmed when I saw the latest lists of newer, great restaurants in Philly-- they all look great and I don't know how to start narrowing it down.

I'm looking for restaurants that are newish in the last couple years and special in some way (could be fancy/ expensive or hole in the wall). But interesting food. (we live in DC so have plenty of good restaurants here-- so interesting/ unique is really important).

We'd rather stick to Center City (though south, like Queen Village area is okay too) and will probably base where we stay on where we plan to eat.

Any help is appreciated! Thanks!!

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  1. I'd suggest Vedge, Osteria, Zahav, Kanella for starters.

    4 Replies
    1. re: rsgdmd

      That is a really good list

      Vedge vegetarian restaurant that is getting tons of raves. Its in the old Deux Cheminee.

      Osteria - second restaurant from Marc Vetri. Outstanding pasta wood fired pizzas and anti pasti.

      Zahav - modern israel cooking. Best known for their lamb shoulder in pomegranate. Michael Solomonov also has an interesting restaurant known as a Federal Doughnuts pairing fancy doughnuts with Korean Fried Chicken.

      Kanella - Cyriot food. Lots of great flavors. I personally really enjoy the breakfast on weekends. Small BYO.

      Koo Ze Doo - Portugese cooking. Unless you go up to the Iron Bound District around Neward NJ, you are not going to find as authentic portugese flavors. Highly recommended.

      We also have three tapas restaurants that are worth checking out.. Jamonera on 13th Street is the newest and has a great selection of sherry and ports. Amada and Tinto from Jose Garces are quite good.

      Stateside, Will, Vernick and Farm and Fisherman all opened in the last year and are producing new american style food with a flair.

      Lastly one of the hardest tables to get in the city is Bibou, a french BYO from a husband and wife team that used to work at Le Bec Fin.

      1. re: cwdonald

        Fantastic! Thanks so much, these lists give us a great place to jump off from.

        We definitely plan on going to Zahav (trying to decide if we want to try to get a spot at the special "kitchen counter" or just order off the normal menu).

        I have a feeling I may have some questions as I dig in and start researching these spots. Seems like we're going to have some hard choices-- wish we had a week instead of just a weekend!

        1. re: parnes77

          If you've already settled on Zahav I'd make your other dinner reservation (assuming you're going to be here 2 nights) at Vedge, and have brunch at Kanella, preferably the day you go to Vedge so you don't over-indulge. Kanella is one of the city's best restaurants and is one of the few places that does just as good a job at breakfast/lunch as they do during dinner.

          Osteria, KooZeeDoo, Will, and Vernick are all great too, but really if "interesting/ unique is really important" then Zahav and Vedge are the obvious choices. KZD meets that criteria too but it's kind of inconvenient to Center City, and not the best place for a party of 2.

          I wouldn't bother with Federal Donuts or Bistrot La Minette.

      2. I would also recommend Sunday brunch at Lacroix. It is the best high-end brunch in the city.

        1. The Philly hounds have provided an excellent list of fine, relatively new restaurants. Just in case you may be interested in some liquid refreshment; here are a few places which are probably new to you. One can find excellent cocktails at The Ranstead Room "speakeasy", Franklin Mortgage and the slightly veiled Hop Sing Laundry. I would be remiss should I fail to mention a very important new world class location for food for your mind and soul, The Barnes. Welcome back!

          1. I don't know if it's worth a visit on this trip but last year Le Bec Fin got completely new ownership, management and kitchen. It's run by French Laundry alumni. I haven't been; reviews of the food have been good but most seem to question the value given the influx of great restaurants at lower price points.

            I think the other posters pretty much nailed your request but I like to point people at these lists as another good jumping off point:

            The only place I would add to other posters is Le Virtu down on East Passyunk. It's Italian, but the menu is focuses solely on dishes from the Abruzzi region so it is unique. The East Passyunk restaurant scene has completely blown up over the past few years (also retail and drinking). Worth a visit maybe to see how things have changed outside of CC. Ditto for Fishtown, though the restaurants are in general and more ambitious and better on E Passyunk, and it is a little closer to Center City.

            1. Look no farther.
              Bistrot La Minette. It is a quiet winner and in the Queen Village area.

              1. Another country heard from:
                /Farm & Fisherman
                /Bibou, call for res as Opentable only takes you out a month and
                is generally booked full by the time it hits Opentable.
                /Tacconelli's Pizza, IMVHO Osteria's pizza is not close to Tacco's
                While lovely space and people, l was not blown away by Vedge when l went last week. Food was interesting but not close to interesting enough for me, all in my party agreed.

                9 Replies
                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  Have heard this about Vedge on the board before, along with the great praise. I went for happy hour a few weeks and the food was not especially impressive. Flavors and prep were basic, not unique. Seitan tacos were simple and overly spicy, covering any deft seasoning they may have had; cauliflower with no improvement/twist over an Indian restaurant, etc. Good vegetarian bar food but not better than a good gastropub. Happy hour pricing was fair given the location, atmosphere and service; good drinks. Was wondering if this was by design on the happy hour menu and the regular menu dishes more inspired, but perhaps not.

                  1. re: barryg

                    I've noticed that Vedge suffers slightly when Rich Landau isn't present in the kitchen, I've had the same dish when he's there and when he's not and it's not quite as good. That's only happened to me on one visit out of maybe 6 or 7 now, not enough for me to not recommend it, especially when it's so good when he's there (which is most of the time).

                    1. re: Buckethead

                      I would cast a third vote for Zahav. Make sure you order the mesibah tasting menu so you can get the lamb. I agree with most of the other choices but would say a big "no" to Kanella. We have tried it three times, one for dinner and twice for brunch, most recntly last month. The dips were great, the entrees were so oversalted it was not funny, and the rice pudding tasted like spackle. I know a lot of other people like it but I have yet to get a good meal there.

                      1. re: bluehensfan

                        Don't feel bad, I'm with ya on Kanella, it's just not good.

                        I had a terrible experience there, from the food being ill-prepared to the chef giving us a hard time after we pointed out their mistakes. I won't be going back.

                        I'm also with you on Zahav, that lamb blew me away! AWESOME

                        1. re: lost squirrel

                          We hoped our server would have noticed that we only took two bites of the rice pudding but we had to point it out to him that we were less than enamored with it. Fortunately he was nice enough to have it taken off the bill after checked with the chef (who incidentally has a history of posting some rather odd comments on yelp to those people who complain about his food).

                    2. re: barryg

                      Well I am relieved to learn that other esteemed Philadelphia CHs have been less than impressed with the food at Vedge. My wife has been vegetarian for 20 years, therefore we both have eaten many vegetarian meals. Neither of us liked the food or thought that it was special in anyway with the exception of the very small portions and the relative cost. Love the venue, the bar and the good friendly service which for us is not reason enough to return for bland, uninteresting and quite expensive food. Obviously we feel Vedge is highly over rated, sorry to say.

                      1. re: Bacchus101

                        Who knew l had agreement on Vedge. l had not read a bad word before going, only massive praise.

                      2. re: barryg

                        My wife echoed your sentiments entirely. Thanks for sharing.

                    3. We've been extremely pleased with several of our recent spots: Bistrot La Minette, Nomad Pizza and Amada and would recommend them.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: RC51Mike

                        I think it's safe to say Jose Andres provides DC with better Spanish food than Amada can muster, I'd skip that one.

                        1. re: RC51Mike

                          Mike the few times we have been to Amada we have found the quality and variety of the food to be excellent. Fun busy venue with good but sometimes frantic service and loud depending on the night and your specific seating. +1 for Amada.

                          1. re: peter j

                            Wow, thanks to all for the input. Fantastic.

                            After reading all the suggestions and looking at menus and reviews we are still definitely planning Zahav for one dinner.

                            So, we have one other dinner to decide on. The ones that stick out to me are Osteria (has anyone been to Graffiato, Mike Isabella's restaurant in DC? Menu at Osteria looks similar, is it a similar restaurant?), Barbuzzo, Bibou (if we can get a reservation) and Farm and Fisherman. Thoughts?

                            Considering Kanella for Saturday lunch (though it seems to be pretty controversial) because it is one of the only places mentioned that does Saturday brunch. Anyone have any other suggestions for Saturday brunch/ lunch? We would be open to a really good counter service spot (we are about to get a donut/ chicken spot in DC-- Astro Donuts-- so I'll probably skip Federal Donuts and wait for Astro).

                            We are definitely considering Lacroix for Sunday Brunch. We're suckers for a big brunch buffet and don't have many great ones in DC.

                            Amazed that East Passyunk has become an "it" spot for dining-- I never had much reason to go down there when I lived in Philly. Excited to check it out even on just a quick drive-by if we don't eat down there.

                            Thanks again for all the help!

                            1. re: parnes77

                              a.kitchen and Garces Trading Co are open for Saturday brunch

                              1. re: parnes77

                                Amada does a nice brunch on Saturday. Also open on Saturday for lunch are Zavino (really under-rated if you ask me), Dandelion, Parc, BBQ at Percy Street, Brauhaus Schmitz, Raddichio Cafe, Sabrina's, Honey's.

                                You could also always do something like hit Reading Terminal Market and get some roast pork at DiNic's. You can't get much more uniquely Philly than that.

                                1. re: parnes77

                                  Everyone is entitled to an opinion but I think it's worth considering the fact that every local food writer, a few national food writers and most people who have posted on this board agree that Kanella is a very good restaurant, one of the best and most interesting in town. Most local people wouldn't consider it a controversial pick at all

                                  1. re: parnes77

                                    +1 Kanella and for a counter-service place consider Paesano's for delicious, sloppy sandwiches, or a hoagie place like Sarcone's which is not new but I know if I moved from Philly I would need a hoagie fix every time I visited.

                                    1. re: parnes77

                                      Bibou and Osteria (in that order) are the best two of those places, Barbuzzo is very good too. I wouldn't go to F&F.

                                      1. re: Buckethead

                                        Ate at Farm & Fisherman this past Wednesday and the Wednesday before and both times it was stellar. Currently my fav resto in the area. That's what makes it a ballgame, and glad that everyone does not agree or would be boring.
                                        Also going next Wednesday.

                                      2. re: parnes77

                                        Lacroix, Zahav excellent choices that certainly will not disappoint. Regarding the others being considered: let me suggest a "be aware" on Kanella. We have been there only twice and both times it has been way to crowded and much to loud with some attitude from the hostess and just ok service, the food was fine, obviously that explains the crowd. Whiskey Village for a great burger & Barbuzzo can also be crowded but we are willing to accept it as we love their food. Osteria is a short cab ride to an interesting venue and menu. One not mentioned for a lunch that we enjoy is the Rittenhouse Tavern in the Art Alliance building, as special place with good casual food.

                                    2. My suggestions:

                                      Vernick (great chef!)


                                      Le Bec Fin, if you want a splurge. (You can read my review on this board.)

                                      1. You might want to check top chef winner Sbraga on Broad St. 4 courses for $49.00 and the food is excellent.

                                        1. Thanks for all the advice! Extremely helpful.

                                          I made reservations for Friday night at Zahav (just to clarify-- if we want to do the Mesibah menu, do we have to reserve it ahead of time?). Then Barbuzzo Saturday night (I was won over by the salted carmel budino in the reviews) and couldn't get in at Bibou.

                                          For Sunday morning I waited too long and can't get into Lacroix. They have 9:30 AM reservations but if I understand correctly that wouldn't be for the brunch but just the standard breakfast? Will probably give Kanella a try despite the mixed reviews I got here.

                                          Saturday I think we are going to do Reading Terminal Market for an early lunch. May also try Federal Donuts to compare to some of the new donut/chicken spots in DC.

                                          Any suggestions for a really great bakery or coffee shop with pastries? Either near Rittenhouse Square or somewhere else in Center City (probably going to stay at either the Palomar or the Hotel Monaco). We're used to waking up early with the baby so think we'll probably do some early morning walks and need a bite pre-brunch/early lunch?

                                          Thanks again!

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: parnes77

                                            Nook on 20th St has really great pastries and baked item, all made in house. I'm not a big fan of the coffee but it's ok. That would be close to Palomar.

                                            Elixr coffee just off Walnut St isn't far either and is the best coffee in the area. Haven't tried their pastries, not sure what they stock.

                                            Also make sure to make a res for Kanella and you should tell Zahav ahead of time that you want the Mesibah.

                                            1. re: barryg

                                              elixr i'm not so impressed by (though i only drink espresso, so i can't say for their other coffee drinks). a decent place to sit and work, but they take themselves far too seriously.

                                              i'd take la colombe, which also takes itself a bit more seriously than it shoudl, but has better espresso.

                                              i have liked the donuts i've gotten as federal donuts, as well as the pastries i've gotten on miel, on 17th.

                                              1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                                Interesting, I have had very poor espresso pulls from La Colomebe in the past and haven't tried again in years. It seemed like their baristas were not well trained, maybe they stepped up their game. I also find their coffee to be inferior to the PCs on brew at Elixr. Truthfully I haven't had a straight pull of espresso from Elixr in a while so maybe my memory is off. Was a bit disappointed with a recent pour over, compared to Ultimo. Both take themselves too seriously.

                                            2. re: parnes77

                                              Correct about Lacroix, brunch does not start until 11:00 AM. Did you call to make the reservation or use Open Table? If you used Open Table, I would call the restaurant directly to be sure they don't have any tables available.

                                              1. re: Philly Ray

                                                Native Philadelphian here who comes back often to visit family on Rittenhouse Square.
                                                CHs have the food nailed, but I see you are considering the Palomar, which we LOVE LOVE LOVE. However, if you are coming from DC with a child, I assume you are driving. The parking for ALL the 17th St hotels(Sofitel, Latham, Kimpton Palomar) is a nightmare, and if you are taking the car out again, you need to allow plenty of time for the under-staffed valets and the congested street. We self-park under the Westin/Liberty Square, 17th north of Chestnut, a short block from the Palomar. And we exit onto 16th, even if heading south, when 17th is at a standstill. Great base locations all, but the parking is an ongoing struggle.