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Where should we go for a GREAT dinner to impress someone on their first Philly visit?

Hi! So my boyfriend and I are coming to Philly in a couple weeks. I grew up there, but my family moved away when I was in college so I feel out of the loop on the restaurant scene. I want my bf to understand how awesome and cool and sophisticated the restaurant scene is there--any suggestions for a special, cute, not super fancy/stuffy Philly dinner? We're happy to spend money on a great meal, expensive isn't a problem, but we're probably more interested in a cool funky interesting place than like something old and very stiff. Only thing we don't really eat are steakhouses or seafood.

We love walking and will be in Center City so we'll go anywhere. Thank you in advance for any suggestions! I know this is kind of a common question so I really appreciate it.

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  1. Zahav, Bibou, Vernick, Fork come to mind.

    2 Replies
    1. re: barryg

      That's a good list, I'd add Vedge to it. If you're coming in a couple weeks, Bibou may not be an option, it's very small and books up quick. If you're into cocktails at all, I'd also try to get pre- or post-dinner drinks at Hop Sing Laundromat.

      1. re: Buckethead

        Mesibah at Zahav. Casual, unpretentious, but great food.

    2. I suggest Vernick, but reserve NOW. I think it has the vibe you want, and the food is terrific.

      If you weren't in Center City, I would also suggest Fond, but that's a drive away.

      1. Many really great suggestion from which to choose. I would add a word of caution regarding Vedge, lovely place, friendly service, the food is vegan and relatively pricey for small plates. For cocktails in addition to Hop Sing Laundromat you may also enjoy Franklin Mortgage or the speak easy atmosphere of Ranstead Room. My choices for dinner would be Zahav, Bibou, Vernick in that order or Amada which is quite lively with interesting small plates and a popular bar.

        1. I'd also go with Amada. I know a lot of people love Zahave but I find their food to be uneven. Amada has always been consistently good and the variety also appeals.

          1. Can't go wrong with:

            306 Market St
            Philadelphia, PA 19106
            Neighborhood: Old City
            (215) 625-9425

            The Farm & Fisherman (this is BYOB):
            1120 Pine St
            Philadelphia, PA 19107
            Neighborhood: Washington Square West
            (267) 687-1555

            4 Replies
              1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                While I adore Fork, I must say, F&F was one of the most disappointing meals I've had since moving to Philadelphia a year ago. While the flavour of the food was mediocre to good, the service was quite poor, including cold food, water spilt on my head with a cursory apology, and clearing our half finished wine glasses without apology.

                1. re: sueyee

                  I'm sorry to hear that, but you should really give them a second chance. Everyone I know thinks it is one of the 2 or 3 best restaurants in Philly.

                  Ask for Judy, she's a doll (wife of the sous chef).

                  1. re: sueyee

                    wow! details on the water spill? i've seen spills on people's clothing - but head? how did that happen? i hope it wasn't a whole pitcher of ice water.

                  1. I'm as big a fan of Zahav as anyone, but I think Vernick is a safer choice. We just had an amazing meal there last week, and I think it's "cuter" than Zahav.

                    1. I'm not adding much here, but in addition to my extremely enthusiastic support for Zahav and Vernick, I'll note that given my recent experience you cannot go wrong with the tasting menu at Fork. I was fairly blown away by the parade of dishes--several courses of interesting amuse bouches, terrific breads and butters in several services, terrific pastas and perfectly cooked proteins, and the single best dish I've had all year (the rhubarb consomme). Highly recommended.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: nwinkler

                        I second the recommendation for Fork. And their new bread service adds to the experience.

                      2. Additions to the list: Fitler Dining Room, Farm and Fisherman, and in a different direction Koo-Zee-Doo, Ulivo, Bistro La Minette

                        1 Reply
                        1. Matyson is cute, in Center City, and does great tasting menus during the week as well as a special Sunday supper menu. Its BYOB.

                          1. My dear,

                            Ignore just about all the advice you've heard thus far. Go. To. OSTERIA (North Broad Street, Fairmount section).

                            Osteria is rustic Italian, has been voted the best restaurant in Philadelphia multiple times, and is part of the Vetri Family. Marc Vetri, if you don't know, started the culinary movement in Philadelphia and is the sole reason why the Philly food scene is what it is today. Many here have mentioned Zahav (Israeli food, btw ... no one mentioned that). Food is excellent there, if you like Israeli/Middle Eastern food. But guess what? Michael Solomonov, the chef owner of Zahav, used to be a chef under Marc Vetri. Trust me, go to Osteria if you want the best of what Philly has to offer. Excellent atmosphere, phenomenal, hearty, rustic, authentic Northern Italian, good honest dishes, phenomenal service. Worth every penny. Afterwards, walk around the corner to Alla Spina for beers. Alla Spina (which translates "from the tap"), is Marc Vetri's Italian Spin on a gastropub, with an incredible beer list. Funky, edgy, fun atmosphere.

                            But no question, go to Osteria.

                            19 Replies
                            1. re: Phil_A_Mignon

                              "Marc Vetri, if you don't know, started the culinary movement in Philadelphia and is the sole reason why the Philly food scene is what it is today. "

                              Oh come on now.

                              1. re: Buckethead

                                When Marc opened Vetri in the 90's, there was Lebec Fin and nothing else. It changed everything. Anyone who knows food and knows Philly, understands this.

                                1. re: Phil_A_Mignon

                                  One could argue that Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower significantly changed the food culture in the SF Bay Area (or all of Northern California), but does that mean every visitor should be steered to Chez Panisse?

                                  At least half of your argument seems to rest on Marc Vetri's past achievements as opposed to how delicious his food is compared to the other options the city has to offer. The food I got at Osteria was solid Northern Italian fare, but as I noted above, it was not the most interesting or tasty food I had on my short visit.

                                  1. re: Phil_A_Mignon

                                    Thanks for the laughs! I truly did not know that Marc Vetri is responsible for everything that's happened in the Philly food scene for the past 20 years. Jose Garces, Stephen Starr, Bryan Sikora and Aimee Olexy, Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran, David Ansill, Georges Perrier, Pierre and Charlotte, and countless others, all totally meaningless.

                                    I do love Osteria, it's my favorite of the Vetri family, but for someone on their first-ever visit to Philly would be better off elsewhere.

                                    1. re: Buckethead

                                      I would argue that Vetri's unprecedented elevation of food in his flagship restaurant made the the culinary ground in Philly fertile enough for other chefs to plant their restaurants and be successful. Because I would argue that his adventurous food expanded people's expectation of food in that town, which paved a road to success for the likes of Garces and others. Sikora wasn't even on the radar until Talula's Table. Stephen Starr is a business man whose restaurants are about atmosphere, not food. Perrier's food, while remarkable, was the very sort of food that Vetri's menu departed from ... traditional and predictable.

                                      I'll put it this way. When Rocco Whalen, Michael Symon, Jonathan Sawyer, Barbara Lynch, Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, Daniel Stern, Mario Batali, Jonathan Waxman and countless other giants in the industry visit Philadelphia, you're not going to find them eating anywhere other than Vetri's or Garces' places. Personally, I think Osteria is the best of those choices.

                                      1. re: Phil_A_Mignon

                                        "Sikora wasn't even on the radar until Talula's Table."

                                        Sikora and then-wife Aimee Olexy opened Django in 2001, the only BYOB in Philly to get 4 bells from Laban until Bibou just recently (whatever you think of Laban and the bells). A lot of people credit Django with starting the city's current BYOB scene. Talula's Table came much later.

                                        Starr's first Philly restaurant, Continental, predates Vetri by several years. Since then, his restaurants have employed chefs like Shola Olunloyo, Jose Garces, Douglas Rodriguez, Masaharu Morimoto, Christopher Lee, and Marcus Samuelsson.

                                        "you're not going to find them eating anywhere other than Vetri's or Garces' places."

                                        Come on now, again. All you have to do is follow Bibou on twitter to know that's not true. Did you just grab some names from last night's great chefs event attendee list? Daniel Stern lives here and has had restaurants here for years.

                                        1. re: Buckethead

                                          Perhaps people should remember the real Philadelphia renaissance began with the Frog and Commissary and other restaurants from Steve Poses in the 1980s. Restaurants like Deux Cheminee, followed with a second wave in the 90s with the Four Seasons, Suzanne Foo, Audrey Claire et.

                                          You might enjoy the following thread from four years ago that discussed the restaurants from that time. Vetri is standing on the shoulders of lots of giants, and he himself would acknowledge that. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/677035


                                          1. re: cwdonald

                                            Quite right: thanks for the links.

                                            1. re: Bacchus101

                                              IMO, Osteria is the most over-rated restaurant in Philly. YMMV

                                                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                  I'd agree with that - though I also find Dinic's to be more overrated than I thought a sandwich could possibly be.

                                                  1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                                    Aww, I love DiNiC's roast pork/broccoli rabe/sharp provolone! Best sandwich I've ever had that wasn't a hamburger (yes, hamburgers are sandwiches). YMMV

                                                    1. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                                      Like the pulled pork, not the sliced but both pale next to Nick's Roast Beef at 20th and Jackson.

                                                  2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                    Deluca, just finished the Maroilles yesterday

                                                  3. re: PhillyBestBYOB

                                                    I tend to visit Osteria when I'm in town due to half portions of pasta and the pizza.

                                                    What other restaurants are comparable just in terms of pasta and pizza? Maybe I should give up the goat and find a new spot.

                                                    1. re: cocobinga

                                                      Nomad has some of the best pizza and Philly, no pasta on the menu but they have pasta specials and while not as traditionally Italian as the Osteria, they are very good.

                                                      Zavino does pasta and pizza, worth a visit, but while the pasta is excellent, the pizza is good but not on the same level as Osteria or Nomad.

                                                      1. re: cocobinga

                                                        First of all I do not think you should give up.. I was just there last night and had a very good meal. It was not a transcendental experience, but consistently good flavorful food. And if you are dining alone there are few better places in Philadelphia in my opinion.

                                                        In terms of varying it up, you could consider either Zavino or Barbuzzo (which is my vote for the most overrated uncomfortable restaurant in the city... ), Zavino has limited pasta but what they have is excellent. Barbuzzo has a wider menu but the ambience to me is what turns me off. In both cases you can eat at the bar, receive good service and have choices.

                                                        Amis will give Osteria a run for its money with pasta (no half portions) but no pizza.

                                                        La Viola is making some of the best pasta in the city but is BYO which might be a detraction if you are from out of town visiting on business.

                                    2. I recently had my first Philly dining experience. I tried Fork, Banana Leaf, and Osteria on my visit.

                                      Based on my tastes and everything I had read, I very much expected Osteria to blow away anything else I had on the trip. But in terms of creativity and flavors, my meal at Fork was head and shoulders above all the other food I ate that weekend.

                                      The main caveat I would issue here is that I was a dining solo, and as such, I didn't have a chance to sample widely from the menus. So, there's some chance that my order that night didn't match up with the best that Osteria had to offer.

                                      EDIT: Also, if you and your friends are not teetotalers, I'd recommend you try to squeeze in a stop at Franklin Mortgage and Investment. Unbelievably crazy, complex, and delicious cocktails made by some very talented people.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: hohokam

                                        Actually, even if you are a non-drinker (like I am) they will make you a delicious 'soft cocktail'. I just asked for something non-alcoholic, delicious, and not too sweet and got two very different delicious drinks. One was a spicy ginger-pineapple drink, the other, a jalapeno tinged creamsicle drink.

                                        I like it so much, that I even ask to go there when my friends want to go out!

                                      2. There are great suggestions here from many who know the Philadelphia Food Scene quite well. I would pick from those and ignore the dramatics and hyperbole regarding Osteria. As noted by hohokam; Osteria frequently does not meet expectations. I for one on three visits and many friends have found it just an expensive Italian serving OK food, often coming with an attitude.

                                        1. My choice, hands down, would be Bistrot la Minette

                                          1. alma de cuba, morimoto, han dynasty and zahav are my city favorites!

                                            1. Where do you and bf currently live? Is there a cuisine you do not typically get where you are?

                                              In general, there are quite a few recommendations already give, so I will try to categorize them for you:

                                              French - Bibou, Le Bec (before it closes), Lacroix, Fountain, Bistrot la Minette, 1852 (for Union League members)

                                              "New American" - Sbraga, Fork, Fond, Farm & Fisherman, Talula's Garden

                                              Ethnic - Han Dynasty, Kanella, Koo Zee Doo, Rangoon, Banana Leaf, Penang

                                              If you can get into a private dinner at Studiokitchen, it will change your life.