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Musi BYOB in South Philadelphia
Rachel Wisniewski

The 38 Essential Philadelphia Restaurants, Summer 2019

A guide to Philly's defining restaurants

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Musi BYOB in South Philadelphia
| Photo by Rachel Wisniewski

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 a few 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 summer, welcome two newcomers and one steady standby to the list, which is presented in geographical order: Fiore in Queen Village, Musi in Pennsport, and Parc on Rittenhouse Square.

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

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Zahav

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237 St James Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
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Zahav, the 2019 James Beard Award winner for best restaurant in the country, first introduced Philly to the delights of Israeli cuisine and its myriad influences more than a decade ago and continues to set the standard with its menu of laffa, mezze, and grilled meats and vegetables. The real showstopper at Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s restaurant is the pomegranate molasses–braised lamb shoulder (only available via tasting menu), but even something as simple and now ubiquitous as hummus is genuinely eye-opening here. Book well in advance.

Alexandra Hawkins

2. 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, and antique touches. To eat: Champagne-braised escargot, house-made 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]

3. 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. Stop by in the morning for a cup of coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese on brioche, or bring out-of-towners for a dinner of seasonal new American dishes that will explain why everyone's talking about Philadelphia’s restaurant scene.

High Street on Market [official photo]

4. Fork

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306 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-9425
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Restaurateur Ellen Yin’s elegant, two-decade-old Fork in Old City was focused on sustainable sourcing before it was all the rage. Make a dinner reservation to dig into dry-aged steak tartare, seared scallops with summer squash, and crispy black bass, or stop in for Sunday brunch.

5. 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. Tofu and seitan play minor roles here; instead, the focus is on vegetables, treated with reverence and sophistication. If tables in the dining room are booked up, snag a seat at the front bar and order something off the list of natural wines.

6. Vetri Cucina

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1312 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 732-3478
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It’s been more than two decades since star chef Marc Vetri debuted Vetri Cucina and the intimate Washington Square West restaurant is still the gold standard for dining in Philly. The tasting menu ($165) is the only choice here, with options adjusted for every table and each course — from the almond tortellini to the smoked goat to the chocolate polenta soufflé — a lesson in what modern Italian food can be.

Vetri [official photo]

7. 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]

8. 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 in Center City is a street-level coffee shop that serves a lunch menu of build-your-own Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches and bowls. But it’s at night when things really get interesting. The main floor transforms into a bar, while below ground low-lit rooms beckon with a Japanese menu of sushi, dumplings, and skewers.

Double Knot Neal Santos

9. 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 remains unfazed 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.

10. 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 that take pastrami to a whole new level. The Center City restaurant — from the same team as Zahav — is worlds away from the typical Jewish deli with its night-on-the-town vibe and excellent cocktails.

Alexandra Hawkins

11. Parc

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227 S 18th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 545-2262
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James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Stephen Starr’s ever-consistent ode to Parisian bistros draws in the crowds with its lively, feel-good atmosphere and morning-to-night menu that starts with ham and gruyére croissants and ends with steak frites and crème brûlée. Parc’s prime location right on Rittenhouse Square and its row of coveted sidewalk tables make it perfect for people-watching. 

12. Vernick Food & Drink

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2031 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(267) 639-6644
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Vernick Food & Drink from James Beard Award winner Greg Vernick serves beautifully prepared and presented new American dishes in an energetic bi-level space in Rittenhouse. Start with a glass of orange wine and one of the thick toasts the restaurant is known for, like scallop with black truffle butter or cheese and pickled cherries.

Clay Williams

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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 Serpico [official photo]

16. 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 in diners 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 [official photo]

17. Little Fish

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746 S 6th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 455-0172
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Philly doesn’t have too many restaurants devoted to seafood. A teeny BYOB with the kitchen in the dining room and a sophisticated all-seafood menu that changes daily? There’s just the one. Chef-owner Alex Yoon took over Little Fish a couple years ago and continues to raise the bar at this Queen Village mainstay with his expertly composed dishes, where fresh seafood is always the star. The best deal is the Sunday-only tasting menu with five courses for $48.

Little Fish [official photo]

18. 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.

19. Fiore Fine Foods

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757 S Front St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 339-0509
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The dilemma at Fiore, an airy Italian restaurant on Front Street, is whether you should go in the morning for a pistachio cornetti and whipped ricotta and rhubarb toast, or wait until dinnertime to fill the table with savory zeppole, delicate pasta, and whole fish. Day or night, don’t skip whichever flavor of house-made gelato is featured.

Fiore [official photo]

20. 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 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 two or three omakase seatings a night, priced at $130. The izakaya doesn’t take reservations; book well in advance for the omakase dinners. 

Royal Sushi [official photo]

21. 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.

Kait Privitera

22. 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 spotlighting South Philly Barbacoa a lunch crowd is pretty much guaranteed.

Ted Nghiem

23. Palizzi Social Club

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1408 S 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

South Philly’s Palizzi Social Club is the reinvention of a century-old hangout for Italian immigrants, complete with vintage decor and a 1950s 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 rowhouse and members-only — due to Palizzi’s popularity, memberships ($20) can be hard to come by.

palizzi Jason Varney

24. 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. 

25. 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, elegant corner spot on East Passyunk Avenue. Sidle up to the bar at Fond for a plate of oysters and a glass of bubbly or sit down to a meal of grilled duck hearts with tahini yogurt, salmon with asparagus-lemon risotto, and a decadent dark chocolate cannoli.

fond Fond [official photo]

26. 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]

27. 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. The French-influenced cooking is intricate, refined, and inventive, with each dish a graceful balance of flavors. A tasting menu is the only option, with six courses for $85 or nine for $125.

Laurel [official photo]

28. 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 classy front bar.

Townsend [official photo]

29. Mike's BBQ

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1703 S 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 831-2040
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It’s best to call ahead to reserve your meat at Mike’s BBQ. Michael Strauss’s casual counter-service barbecue destination in South Philly opens at noon Wednesday to Sunday and stays open until it sells out — which is a daily occurrence. The ribs are known to disappear first, but any smoked meat aficionado will be more than satisfied with the brisket, available on its own, in a sandwich, or as a cheesesteak with onions and Cooper Sharp whiz.

Angela Gervasi

30. 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 Angelina Branca’s 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, roasted peanuts, crispy anchovies, and spicy sambal snuggled together in a banana leaf.

Kerry McKintry

31. 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 Virtù draws from the flavors of 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 Virtù’s roomy outdoor patio. 

Kateri Likoudis

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. 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 South Philly restaurant started by Ena Widjojo and now run by her daughters Diana and Maylia, and always say yes to a dollop of their sambal — it’s easily one of the best hot sauces in town.

Neal Santos

33. Musi BYOB

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100 Morris St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 377-9466
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With its small, noisy dining room tucked next to a petite open kitchen, plants lining the windowsill, and mismatched china, Musi gets the neighborhood BYOB vibe just right. The Pennsport newcomer then kicks it up with an ever-changing menu of in-season fare. Opt for the $65 tasting menu and let chef-owner Ari Miller decide what you should eat, whether that’s seared radicchio with fennel tahini, cucumber and mint gazpacho, or pork and duck sausage with cavatelli. 

Rachel Wisniewski

34. Stock

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308 E Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(302) 559-4872
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Tyler Akin’s modern little BYOB in Fishtown excels at a range of Southeast Asian dishes, from pho and banh mi to Cambodian pork dip and Lao-style coconut curry soup. The chicken pho is always a good place to start, but don’t underestimate the power of the “meaty” mushroom version — both the original Stock and the newer fast-casual location in Rittenhouse offer several not-to-miss items that happen to be vegan.

Alexei Mansour

35. 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, refined BYOB in South Kensington. Chefs Michael Fry and husband-and-wife Jon Nodler and Samantha Kincaid are making creative new American fare like carrot dumplings with shellfish ragu, bison tartare with rye toast, and Plowshare Farms pork with escarole and beans. There’s a liquor store across the street for those who want to pick up a bottle of wine before dinner.

Neal Santos

36. 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]

37. 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, a pastrami jianbing done up like a Reuben sandwich. 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).

Hillary Messman

38. 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 al fresco 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

1. Zahav

237 St James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Alexandra Hawkins

Zahav, the 2019 James Beard Award winner for best restaurant in the country, first introduced Philly to the delights of Israeli cuisine and its myriad influences more than a decade ago and continues to set the standard with its menu of laffa, mezze, and grilled meats and vegetables. The real showstopper at Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s restaurant is the pomegranate molasses–braised lamb shoulder (only available via tasting menu), but even something as simple and now ubiquitous as hummus is genuinely eye-opening here. Book well in advance.

237 St James Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19106

2. Royal Boucherie

2810, 52 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Royal Boucherie [official photo]

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, and antique touches. To eat: Champagne-braised escargot, house-made 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.

2810, 52 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

3. High Street on Market

308 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106
High Street on Market [official photo]

High Street on Market in Old City is one of the city's most versatile restaurants. Stop by in the morning for a cup of coffee and a bacon, egg, and cheese on brioche, or bring out-of-towners for a dinner of seasonal new American dishes that will explain why everyone's talking about Philadelphia’s restaurant scene.

308 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

4. Fork

306 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Restaurateur Ellen Yin’s elegant, two-decade-old Fork in Old City was focused on sustainable sourcing before it was all the rage. Make a dinner reservation to dig into dry-aged steak tartare, seared scallops with summer squash, and crispy black bass, or stop in for Sunday brunch.

306 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106

5. Vedge

1221 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

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. Tofu and seitan play minor roles here; instead, the focus is on vegetables, treated with reverence and sophistication. If tables in the dining room are booked up, snag a seat at the front bar and order something off the list of natural wines.

1221 Locust St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

6. Vetri Cucina

1312 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Vetri [official photo]

It’s been more than two decades since star chef Marc Vetri debuted Vetri Cucina and the intimate Washington Square West restaurant is still the gold standard for dining in Philly. The tasting menu ($165) is the only choice here, with options adjusted for every table and each course — from the almond tortellini to the smoked goat to the chocolate polenta soufflé — a lesson in what modern Italian food can be.

1312 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

7. Kanella Grill

1001 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Kanella Grill [official photo]

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. 

1001 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

8. Double Knot

120 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Double Knot Neal Santos

During the day, Michael Schulson's Double Knot in Center City is a street-level coffee shop that serves a lunch menu of build-your-own Vietnamese-inspired sandwiches and bowls. But it’s at night when things really get interesting. The main floor transforms into a bar, while below ground low-lit rooms beckon with a Japanese menu of sushi, dumplings, and skewers.

120 S 13th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

9. Oyster House

1516 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Many years have gone by, many restaurants have come and gone, and Oyster House remains unfazed 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.

1516 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

10. Abe Fisher

1623 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103