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Ah, Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love has long been outshined by its neighbor to the north: Manhattan. But trust us when we say there’s more to this place than the Liberty Bell and cheesesteaks gulped down en route to Eagles games. The past two years have seen it emerge as a major mecca of culture—hello, Democratic National Convention—with an accompanying explosion of restaurants, wine bars and breweries. Basically, Philadelphia has secured its place as part of the national zeitgeist.
For this, we can thank chef Michael Solomonov, the James Beard Award-winning Israeli behind hits like Zahav, Dizengoff and Federal Donuts. (Because what city doesn’t need a gourmet fried chicken and donut haunt?) And then there’s Marc Vetri, the restaurateur opening up so many restaurants, it’s tough to keep track of the roster. (Pizzeria Vetri is a Chowhound personal favorite.) Pair these local stars with Philadelphia’s proximity to Pennsylvania farmland—and the fresh ingredients that come with it—and you’ve got the prime environment for a restaurant revolution.
But whatever the reason, Philly's food scene is here to stay—and that’s why we felt it was worth some investigation. From Stargazy, an East London-inspired pie and mash shop in Passyunk, to WM Mulherin’s, a wood-fired Italian restaurant located in a former whiskey bottling factory, there was a lot for us to discover. Here’s what we found, broken down by emerging neighborhoods:
Philadelphia fell in love when this restaurant/bar/brewery (shown below) opened last Winter. Not only does it occupy an industrial chic space that formerly housed a metalworking shop, but it also has a fermentation director on staff to handle all things pickled. Enough said? Not really. Restaurateur Stephen Starr (Morimoto, Buddakan) has also made Martha a slam dunk with by serving beer, wine and cocktails on tap—including the seasonally-inspired pumpkin Old Fashioned—and by locating the newcomer in Kensington, a hot area with more than five distilleries. Don’t miss locally-sourced treats like ham from Kensington Quarters, cave-aged cheddar from Bobolink and hopped cider made with apples from a nearby farm.
2113 E York Street; 215.867.8881
Helmed (no pun intended) by two of Philly’s hottest young chefs, this BYO American restaurant is also housed in a building with a history. (Fittingly, this one a former cheesesteak shop.) The thimble-sized space maintains a cozy, neighborhood feel that has guests are excited as the innovative, seasonally-rotating menu. Even a simple dish like tortellini, with its rotating roster of fillings, puts a twist on traditional preparations.
1303 N Fifth Street; 215.309.2211
Saint Benjamin’s Tap Room
This vintage brewery was recently transformed into a modern tap room boasting American gastropub fare and takeaway growlers of beer (shown below). It’s a part of the Kensington neighborhood’s emerging booze scene, which has been bolstered by recent changes to the state’s liquor laws. Our pro-tip? Don’t miss Saint Benjamin's koffee kolsch, a light beer that tastes just like a delicious cup of joe.
1710 N 5th Street; 215.232.4305
This minuscule, artisan distillery focuses on small-batch spirits produced 100 bottles at a time. Inspired by Pennsylvania’s 2014 law change that allowed breweries and distilleries to ship directly to retail customers within the state, Rowhouse started with their standout gin. Now, two years later, they’ve expanded into whiskey, rum and even akvavit, a Scandinavian spirit often used in place of gin.
2430 Franklin Avenue; 267.825.7332
German beer halls aren’t a new phenomenon in America, what with their communal seating and exceptional beer list. This Stephen Starr creation, however, takes things a step further with outdoor fire pits, ping pong tables and plenty of Jenga sets. The best part? There’s a s’mores pretzel on the menu at Frankford Hall. Enough said.
1210 Frankford Avenue; 215.634.3338
One of the latest additions to Fishtown's bustling Frankford Avenue (shown above), this Stephen Starr restaurant boasts not only wood-fired Italian food, but also a stellar cocktail lounge recalling the building’s 19th-century history as a former whiskey bottling facility. Chef Chris Painter’s open kitchen specializes in shareable eats (pizzas, veal tartare and Gorgonzola-stuffed dates) that showcase seasonal Italian flavors. And if you have too much to eat? Stumble up to one of the four hotel rooms that make up WM Mulherin’s boutique hotel, expected to open this Winter.
1355 N Front Street; 267.753.9478
This upstairs music venue is a longstanding Philly staple, helming the Fishtown neighborhood before it was trendy. Johnny Brenda attracts a constant wave of 20-something hipsters looking to enjoy live bands and a full menu of food, fulfilling its description as an “iconic historical social hall.”
1201 Frankford Avenue; 215.739.9684
While Rittenhouse may be the neighborhood that first springs to mind when thinking about Philly, Passyunk on the city’s south side is quickly becoming a must visit. This upscale resto returns chef Townsend Wentz to his French cooking roots and provides a unique opportunity to enjoy upscale dining in this hip area. Expect killer cocktails and service that’s out of this world, as well as a small menu (sample shown below) of seasonal eats like bay scallops en cocotte with mushrooms, breadcrumbs and calvados cream and a rabbit pot au feu.
1623 E Passyunk Avenue; 267.639.3203
Bing Bing Dim Sum
The dumplings are great—especially the famous pork soup version—but there’s a lot more to this trendy dim sum spot than dough. The menu features elements of both Chinese and Jewish cooking, lending a comfortable feel that has guests coming back multiple times a week. Looking to up your evening's energy? Bing Bing’s killer scorpion bowls are quite popular among younger guests.
1648 E Passyunk Avenue; 215.279.7702
When Stargazy opened in Fall of 2015, this newcomer aimed to bring a little bit of East London to South Philly. And for that we can thank Sam Jacobson, the British-born chef whose creations have attracted not only the vast amount of British, Irish and Scottish expats living in the area, but also locals and tourists alike. The small-ish menu focuses on “pies and mash,” an a la carte masterpiece (shown below) with flavors like beef and onion and braised pork with green chile and peaches. Not in the mood for pie? There are also sausage rolls galore, as well as British sweets like sticky toffee pudding. But whatever you do, don’t miss the odd-sounding parsley liquor drizzled atop the mash. Many guests find themselves licking their plates clean.
1838 E Passyunk Avenue; 215-309-2761
South Philadelphia Tap Room
With its roster of rotating drafts, the quirky menu at this American beer bar serves small plates like wild boar taco and tomato lager soup, which comes with one of Philly's best grilled cheese sandwiches, and mains like spaghetti with blue basil-pumpkin seed pesto and romanesco. A majority hipster crowd flocks to the cozy dining room, and South Philadelphia Tap Room recently started serving brunch.
1509 Mifflin Street; 215.271.7787
Contemporary Filipino food in a BYO row house? We're in. Ultra newcomer Perla, which opened in August, serves an elegant, but still affordable, take on the Southeast Asian cuisine—there's even a three course tasting menu for only $45. Don't miss chef Lou Boquilla's classic take on adobo with a duck breast, romanesco, cippolini onions and kabocha squash.
1535 S 11th Street; 267.273.0008