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At Cheu Fishtown, ramen comes with brisket and a matzo ball
Taylor Chlebina

The 38 Essential Philadelphia Restaurants, Winter 2019

A guide to Philly's defining restaurants

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At Cheu Fishtown, ramen comes with brisket and a matzo ball
| Photo by Taylor Chlebina

The Eater 38 is the answer to any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” This elite group collectively represents what it means to dine out in Philadelphia, spanning cuisines and budgets to satisfy nearly every restaurant need.

Every season, Eater Philly reviews the list, polls friends and colleagues, and adds restaurants that recently stepped up their game or have been around long enough to be eligible (restaurants must be open six months to be considered).

This fall, Italian BYOB L’anima and Northeast Philly dim sum destination China Gourmet join the list of Philly’s essential restaurants, which are presented here in geographical order, not ranked.

Did we miss your favorite Philly restaurant? Share your thoughts in the comments or let us know via the tipline. And if you’re more interested in the hottest new places to eat in Philadelphia, find them here.

For all the latest dining intel, subscribe to Eater Philly’s newsletter.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Suraya

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1528 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(215) 302-1900
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The sprawling Suraya is a restaurant, daytime cafe, and market all rolled into one, with a long bar inside and a spacious garden out back for outdoor dining. Diners head to this attractive Lebanese destination for man’oushe in the morning, kebabs, grilled fish, and arak cocktails at night, and rose-pistachio crullers anytime. 

Heidi’s Bridge

2. Cheu Fishtown

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1416 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(267) 758-2269
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At Cheu Fishtown, set in a former horse stable on Frankford Avenue, diners settle in under a mural of an octopus slurping up noodles and dig into inventive Asian-Jewish fare: brisket ramen with matzo balls, Bubbie Chow’s sliced beef, and, for the vegetarians at the table, a top-notch coconut curry ramen. It’s unlike anything else in Philly (except across town at the original, Cheu Noodle Bar, where the food is just as good but the space and menu are smaller).

Taylor Chlebina

3. Helm

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1303 N 5th St
Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 309-2211
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Don't get too attached to any one dish at this laid-back farm-to-table BYOB in Kensington: The short menu changes all the time. But diners can always expect creative combinations of locally sourced vegetables, meat, and fish.

Helm/Facebook

4. Stock

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308 E Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(302) 559-4872
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Chicken pho is the name of the game here, but don't underestimate the power of the "meaty" vegan mushroom version at Stock. The modern little BYOB in Fishtown specializes in Southeast Asian noodle soups, salads, and sandwiches. With its short menu, know that every single dish chef-owner Tyler Akin puts out is just right.

Stock / Facebook

5. Kensington Quarters

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1310 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(267) 314-5086
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The sleekly industrial Kensington Quarters in Fishtown works directly with local farms to oversee the animal-to-table process from beginning to end. The result is not-to-miss charcuterie, burgers, sausages, and other meaty offerings. But skipping over the non-meat plates — like the mushroom toast— would be a mistake.

Kensington Quarters [official photo]

6. Cadence

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161 W Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 419-7537
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Three stars from restaurateur Ellen Yin’s orbit struck out on their own with Cadence, a tiny, modern BYOB in South Kensington. Chefs Michael Fry and husband-and-wife Jon Nodler and Samantha Kincaid are making inventive new American fare like bison tartare with beet rye bread and delicate cheese-filled dumplings. Order a la carte or select three courses plus dessert for $65. There’s a liquor store across the street for those who want to pick up a bottle of wine before dinner.

Neal Santos

7. Fork

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306 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-9425
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Two decades in, Old City’s Fork, from celebrated restaurateur Ellen Yin, remains a consistent draw with its sophisticated vibe and locally sourced, modern American fare. Order al la carte or go for the prix fixe four-course menu, which, considering the quality of the food and service, is reasonably priced at $78.

Fork / Facebook

8. High Street on Market

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308 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-0988
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High Street on Market in Old City is one of the city's most versatile restaurants. Duck in wearing pajamas for a cup of Rival Bros. coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese on brioche, or bring out-of-towners here for a dinner of seasonal dishes — like a beef carpaccio that’s a playful take on the Philly cheesesteak — that will explain why everyone's talking about Philadelphia’s restaurant scene.

Chaucee Stillman

9. Royal Boucherie

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2810, 52 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(267) 606-6313
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Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi teamed up with the veteran bar owners behind several Philly hotspots for Royal Boucherie, a lively French brasserie in Old City with dark wood, exposed brick walls, and antique touches. To eat: Champagne-braised escargot, outstanding charcuterie, and steak au poivre. But this isn’t just a dinner and drinks spot. Royal Boucherie is open for lunch and brunch, and also serves a late-night menu.

Royal Boucherie [official photo]

10. Zahav

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237 St James Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
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Considered by many to be the city’s very best restaurant, and named one of Eater’s essential 38 nationwide, Israeli restaurant Zahav is worth planning a trip to Philly for. The menu of grilled skewers, mezze, and laffa from James Beard Award winner Michael Solomonov — capped off with desserts from another James Beard winner, Camille Cogswell — is creative and easy to fall in love with. The real showstopper is the pomegranate lamb shoulder, but even something as simple — and now ubiquitous — as hummus is genuinely eye-opening here. Book well in advance.

Alexandra Hawkins

11. Vedge

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1221 Locust St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 320-7500
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Set in a historic brownstone designed by Frank Furness, Vedge isn't just a must-try vegan restaurant — it's one of Philly's best restaurants, period. Eater called it the best meat-free restaurant in America. Tofu and seitan play minor roles here; instead, the focus is on vegetables, treated with reverence and sophistication. If the tables in the dining room are booked up, snag a seat at the front bar and order a natural wine.

Vedge / Facebook

12. Vetri Cucina

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1312 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 732-3478
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Marc Vetri’s original destination spot is 20 years old, and it shows its age like a fine wine. The Washington Square West restaurant is as intimate and tastefully decorated as ever. There’s nothing flashy here to distract from the tasting menu-only meal ($165). Every course — the almond tortellini, the smoked goat, the panna cotta —provides an example of what modern Italian food aspires to be.

Vetri [official photo]

13. Double Knot

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120 S 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 600-0714
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During the day, Michael Schulson's Double Knot is a street-level Center City coffee shop that serves a lunch menu of build-your-own Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches and bowls. But it’s at night when things get interesting. The main floor transforms into a bar, while below ground low-lit rooms beckon with a Japanese menu of expertly prepared sushi, dumplings, and skewers.

Double Knot / Facebook

14. Kanella Grill

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1001 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(267) 928-2085
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The short Cypriot menu at Washington Square West’s small, bright Kanella Grill appears simple, but the flavors of Konstantinos Pitsillides’ grilled pork, chicken, and halloumi kebabs, lamb shawarma, and falafel are addictive. Go for a platter or a pita sandwich and a sage-infused lemonade, or bring along a bottle of wine — adding to the value here, the restaurant is BYOB. 

Kanella Grill [official photo]

15. Abe Fisher

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1623 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 867-0088
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The modern Jewish cuisine chef Yehuda Sichel creates at Abe Fisher will give any diner an entirely new appreciation of the genre, from the potato latkes, to the veal schnitzel tacos, to the Montreal-style smoked short ribs, which take pastrami to a whole new level. The Center City restaurant is worlds away from the typical Jewish deli, with its night-on-the-town vibe and excellent cocktails.

Alexandra Hawkins

16. Oyster House

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1516 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 567-7683
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Many years have gone by, many restaurants have come and gone, and Oyster House is better than ever in its Sansom Street digs. The seafood and raw oyster king has been part of the Philly tradition since 1947 and in its present location since 1969. A revamp in the 2000s gave the space a glossy new look, with white-tile walls, a marble bar, and wooden tables.

Jason Varney

17. Vernick Food & Drink

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2031 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 639-6644
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Vernick Food & Drink is a critical darling from James Beard Award winner Greg Vernick, putting out beautifully prepared and presented new American dishes in a lively, bi-level space in Rittenhouse. Start with one of the toasts, like the scallop with black truffle butter or the cheese and apple chutney.

Clay Williams

18. Friday Saturday Sunday

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261 S 21st St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 546-4232
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Chad and Hanna Williams got rid of everything but the name at Friday Saturday Sunday when they took over the 40-year-old Rittenhouse institution. The revamped fine dining restaurant now serves imaginative new American fare and creative cocktails. Head to the second-floor dining room or settle into a plush seat at the marble-topped bar on street level.

Friday Saturday Sunday/Facebook

19. Serpico

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604 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 925-3001
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Stepping inside Serpico, incongruously set in a former Foot Locker on South Street, feels like stepping out of Philly. Peter Serpico, previously the head of David Chang’s restaurant empire, brings a New York vibe (in a good way) to his eponymous restaurant, which he owns with acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr. Try to get a seat at the chef’s counter circling the open kitchen for a view of the cooks making gorgeous Asian-influenced plates like dry-aged sirloin tataki and Japanese eggplant with pistachio and feta mousse.

Serpico [official photo]

20. The Good King Tavern

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614 S 7th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 625-3700
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Bella Vista's Good King Tavern is appropriate for any occasion with fantastic wines, friendly service, and expertly prepared French bistro fare, all in a relaxed neighborhood spot that's effortlessly cool enough to draw diners in from far and wide. Grab a seat at the bar for an after-work cocktail, or settle into a booth and peruse the chalkboard for the day’s specials.

Good King Tavern/Facebook

21. L’anima

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1001 S 17th St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 595-2500
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Graduate Hospital, barely recognizable from what it was less than a decade ago, has plenty of shiny new townhomes and condos, but a lack of eating options. Enter the lively and loud L’anima from Rose Tran and Roman-born chef Gianluca Demontis, the couple behind Melograno in Center City and Fraschetta in Bryn Mawr. This version of an Italian BYOB — that Philly neighborhood staple — highlights seafood, though diners in the mood for amatriciana sauce made with cured pork belly or a pizza-like “pinsa” will find it here too. 

L’anima / Facebook

22. Royal Sushi & Izakaya

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780 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Jesse Ito’s Queen Village destination is a two-in-one deal. Look for the red lantern outside and walk into a hip Japanese bar with anime projected on the wall, Hitachino and Kirin beers on draft, and plates of sushi and skewers. It feels like enough, but so far you’ve only tried Royal Izakaya. Hidden in the back, behind a thick curtain, is Royal Sushi, where Ito offers three omakase seatings a night, priced at $70 or $130. The fish he chooses and prepares is some of the very best in Philly. The izakaya doesn’t take reservations; book well in advance for the omakase dinners. 

Royal Sushi [official photo]

23. Hungry Pigeon

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743 S 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 278-2736
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Everything at morning-to-night operation Hungry Pigeon is spot on, from the breakfast pastries to the oft-changing, eclectic dinnertime dishes that emphasize seasonal and local ingredients. Big windows at this Queen Village corner let light shine in during the day. At night, the bar switches from coffee to easygoing cocktails, a stacked wine list, and of-the-moment beers.

Eater Philly

24. Bibou

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1009 S 8th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 965-8290
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Bibou, with its white tablecloth service and artfully presented plates, has long been regarded as one of Philly's top French restaurants. Chef Pierre Calmels is peerless when it comes to creating sophisticated versions of classics rooted in French peasant cuisine. And even better, he'll pick out every plate: The BYOB is tasting menu-only, at $115 a head.

John R./Yelp

25. South Philly Barbacoa

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1149 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 746-7658
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After a couple of moves, Cristina Martinez’s nationally praised lamb tacos are safely ensconced in their sunny new Italian Market home. But be warned that the casual, counter-service Mexican eatery is only open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and thanks to Netflix shows Chef’s Table and Ugly Delicious featuring Martinez and her husband/co-owner Ben Miller, a lunch crowd is pretty much guaranteed.

Ted Nghiem

26. Palizzi Social Club

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1408 S 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

The reinvention of a 100-year-old hangout for Italian immigrants, Palizzi Social Club has held on to its vintage decor and soundtrack. Chef-owner Joey Baldino (known for Zeppoli) inherited the club from his uncle and added a menu full of the Italian-American favorites he grew up with, like stuffed artichokes, calamari and peas, and spaghetti with crabs. The 30 seater is tucked inside a South Philly rowhouse, and members-only — due to Palizzi’s popularity, memberships ($20) are hard to come by, but keep checking the website to see when they’re next available.

Jason Varney

27. Fond

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1537 S 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-5000
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Husband-and-wife chefs Lee Styer and Jessie Prawlucki serve new American fare at their small, sophisticated corner spot on East Passyunk Avenue. Sidle up to the bar for a plate of oysters and a glass of bubbly or sit down to a meal of grilled duck hearts with tahini yogurt, chicken with goat cheese risotto, and decadent tiramisu.

Fond [official photo]

28. Laurel

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1617 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-8299
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It can be hard to snag a reservation at Nicholas Elmi's petite East Passyunk eatery, with its plush seats, candlelit glow, and charming service, but make it a mission. Elmi's French-influenced cooking is intricate, refined, and inventive, with each dish a graceful balance of flavors. The tasting menu is the only option: Six courses for $85 or nine for $125.

Laurel [official photo]

29. Noord

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1046 Tasker St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 909-9704
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It's worth going to this simply decorated East Passyunk BYOB just for the novelty of Philly native Joncarl Lachman's Dutch-Scandinavian menu. The house-made breads and smoked and cured seafood — not to mention the hearty brunch dishes — are good enough to keep diners coming back again and again. New to Noord? Bite into a bitterballen (a nutmeg-tinged fried pork croquette) to see what the fuss is about.

Noord [official photo]

30. Perla

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1535 S 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 273-0008
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Chef Lou Boquila cooks the foods he grew up with at Perla, his sleek Filipino restaurant on East Passyunk Avenue. Bring a hungry crowd to the twice-weekly family-style kamayan dinners, where diners eat with their hands — rice, whole fish, chicken, pork belly, and more off a tablecloth of banana leaves. The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol; it’s BYOB. 

Perla/Facebook

31. Townsend

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1623 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 639-3203
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Set in a converted rowhouse on East Passyunk Avenue, chef Tod Wentz’s romantic Townsend serves elegant French fare, excellent cocktails, and always-interesting wines in two cozy dining rooms with white tablecloths and a fine-dining vibe. Start, or end, with a drink at the inviting front bar.

Townsend [official photo]

32. Hardena

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1754 S Hicks St
Philadelphia, PA 19145
(215) 271-9442
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Hardena is that no-frills, family-run restaurant everyone loves to know — including the James Beard Foundation, which put it on its list of semifinalists in 2018. Choose from beef rendang, oseng tempeh, peanut-y gado gado, collard greens cooked in coconut milk, and other Indonesian dishes served on styrofoam plates in this snug eatery, and always say yes to a dollop of sambal — it’s easily one of the best hot sauces in town.

Neal Santos

33. Saté Kampar

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1837 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 324-3860
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A warning: Once you try the saté, grilled over coconut shell charcoal at this Malaysian BYOB, you'll be craving it for days afterward. At $12-$15 for five meaty skewers served with a healthy dose of peanut sauce, there’s no reason not to make it a habit. Round out the meal at Saté Kampar with a side of pickled veggies and nasi lemak bungkus (coconut cream-soaked rice, egg, and spicy sambal snuggled together in a banana leaf), and always try whatever specials chef-owner Ange Branca is offering.

Maria Young

34. Stargazy

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1838 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 309-2761
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This humble little counter-service British pie shop provides one of the tastiest meals in town. Even on restaurant-packed East Passyunk Avenue, chef Sam Jacobson's meat pies at Stargazy — served with a big smack of mashed potatoes and a downpour of parsley liquor — are hard to ignore, especially when followed by a dessert of sticky toffee pudding in heavy cream.

Melissa P./Yelp

35. Will BYOB

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1911 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-7683
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Christopher Kearse’s French-influenced menu at Will, his small East Passyunk BYOB, changes constantly so the chef can make the most of local, seasonal ingredients. A good time to get a feel for Kearse’s cooking is on a Sunday evening at the weekly prix fixe dinner, which is always innovative and impressive, with dishes like red wine-braised short rib and Barnegat Light scallops — and a steal at $45.

36. Le Virtù

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1927 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-5626
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East Passyunk Avenue’s warm, inviting Le Virtu draws from the flavors of southern Italy’s Abruzzo region — and uses ingredients imported from Abruzzo — for pasta, fish, and meat dishes that change with the seasons. The pastas, like the maccheroni alla chitarra with braised lamb ragu, are available in half sizes, so it’s easy to try more than one (and you should). When the weather cooperates, dine on Le Virtu’s roomy outdoor patio. 

Kateri Likoudis

37. Abyssinia

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229 S 45th St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 387-2424
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The chair cushions are worn through, the floor sags, and the service is leisurely, but it all adds to the comfortable charm at Abyssinia, which cooks up some of the best Ethiopian food in Philly. In place of utensils, diners scoop up the stew-like dishes — including several vegetarian and vegan options — with perfectly thin, spongy, slightly sour injera bread. Up a narrow staircase from the dining room is Fiume, a thimble-sized dive bar with a surprisingly thorough whiskey list.

Annie K./Yelp

38. China Gourmet

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2842 St Vincent St
Philadelphia, PA 19149
(215) 941-1898
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Most downtown dwellers likely turn to Chinatown when a craving for dim sum hits, but an even better option awaits in Northeast Philly. Cantonese dim sum destination China Gourmet — from married couple Salina Ko and chef Ming Fung — is huge, with seats for 400, fish tanks in the sprawling dining room, and a multi-page menu. The restaurant is open for dinner, but for a first visit brave the daytime wait for dim sum, which is served on rolling carts. 

Nick D. / Yelp

1. Suraya

1528 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
Heidi’s Bridge

The sprawling Suraya is a restaurant, daytime cafe, and market all rolled into one, with a long bar inside and a spacious garden out back for outdoor dining. Diners head to this attractive Lebanese destination for man’oushe in the morning, kebabs, grilled fish, and arak cocktails at night, and rose-pistachio crullers anytime. 

1528 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125

2. Cheu Fishtown

1416 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
Taylor Chlebina

At Cheu Fishtown, set in a former horse stable on Frankford Avenue, diners settle in under a mural of an octopus slurping up noodles and dig into inventive Asian-Jewish fare: brisket ramen with matzo balls, Bubbie Chow’s sliced beef, and, for the vegetarians at the table, a top-notch coconut curry ramen. It’s unlike anything else in Philly (except across town at the original, Cheu Noodle Bar, where the food is just as good but the space and menu are smaller).

1416 Frankford Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125

3. Helm

1303 N 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122
Helm/Facebook

Don't get too attached to any one dish at this laid-back farm-to-table BYOB in Kensington: The short menu changes all the time. But diners can always expect creative combinations of locally sourced vegetables, meat, and fish.

1303 N 5th St
Philadelphia, PA 19122

4. Stock

308 E Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125
Stock / Facebook

Chicken pho is the name of the game here, but don't underestimate the power of the "meaty" vegan mushroom version at Stock. The modern little BYOB in Fishtown specializes in Southeast Asian noodle soups, salads, and sandwiches. With its short menu, know that every single dish chef-owner Tyler Akin puts out is just right.

308 E Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125

5. Kensington Quarters

1310 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125