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Roast chicken at Vernick Food & Drink in Rittenhouse
Clay Williams

The 38 Essential Philadelphia Restaurants, Fall 2018

A guide to Philly's defining restaurants

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Roast chicken at Vernick Food & Drink in Rittenhouse
| Photo by Clay Williams

The Eater 38 is the answer to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?” This elite group spans cuisines and budgets to satisfy nearly every restaurant need. Every season, Eater Philly reviews the list, polls friends and colleagues, and adds restaurants that were omitted, recently stepped up their game, or have been around long enough to be eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months to be considered). Looking for the hottest new places to eat in Philadelphia? Find them here.

This fall, intimate BYOB Cadence and all-day restaurant Walnut Street Cafe join the list of Philly’s essential restaurants, which are presented here in geographical order.

Did we miss your favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments or let us know via the tipline. 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. 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

2. 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 snug East Passyunk BYOB, changes constantly so the chef can make the most of local, seasonal ingredients. Get a feel for Kearse’s cooking on a Sunday evening at the weekly prix fixe dinner, which is always innovative and impressive — and a steal at $45.

3. Stargazy

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1838 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 309-2761
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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. This humble British pie shop provides one of the tastiest meals in town.

Melissa P./Yelp

4. 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 East Passyunk BYOB, you'll be craving it for days afterward. But at $12-$15 for five meaty skewers 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. Balance the heat with a glass of sweet, milky coffee or pulled milk tea.

Kerry McKintry

5. 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 Hardena on its list of semifinalists in 2018. Choose from a steam table of collard greens, beef rendang, oseng tempeh, and other Indonesian options, and don't forget to check the chalkboard for additional items, because a round of saté or a plate of peanut-y gado gado will complete the experience. The sambal at this South Philly spot is easily one of the best hot sauces in town, so make sure to say yes to a dollop when it's offered.

Hardena/Facebook

6. Townsend

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1623 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 639-3203
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Chef Tod Wentz's romantic East Passyunk Avenue restaurant impressed immediately, even on a strip packed with major competition. The French fare at Townsend is lovely both to look at and to eat, the cocktails are superb, and the wine list is one of Philly's best. The small dining rooms, both upstairs and down, are elegant without being pretentious; the scene is livelier at the front bar.

Townsend/Facebook

7. Laurel

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1617 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-8299
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It's notably difficult to snag a reservation at Nicholas Elmi's small, tasteful East Passyunk eatery, but make it a mission. Primetime tables at Laurel are booked weeks out, so look for an announcement on social media and be ready to pounce when there's an opening. Elmi's French-influenced cooking is intricate and refined, with each dish a graceful balance of flavors. The tasting menu is the only option: Six courses for $85 or nine for $125.

Laurel/Facebook

8. Noord

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1046 Tasker St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 909-9704
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It's worth going to this relaxed East Passyunk BYOB just for the novelty of Philly native Joncarl Lachman's Dutch and Scandinavian menu. But 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 to see what the fuss is about.

9. 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 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 seared foie gras with grilled stone fruit, chicken with corn risotto, and decadent dark chocolate mousse.

Fond [official photo]

10. 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

11. Palizzi Social Club

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1408 S 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Memberships are even harder to come by since Palizzi Social Club earned national recognition for its perfectly executed retro décor, Italian-American fare, and cocktails. The 30-seat restaurant, tucked away in a South Philly rowhouse, manages to achieve an exclusive speakeasy vibe without any kitsch or cheese. Keep checking the website to see when memberships ($20) next become available, or make friends with someone lucky enough to already have one. Another option: Try chef-owner Joey Baldino’s Italian dishes (this time Sicilian) at his equally impressive Zeppoli, across the bridge in Collingswood, New Jersey.

Jason Varney

12. 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 new Italian Market home. But be warned that the casual 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

13. 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

14. 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 three omakase seatings a night, priced at $70 or $130. The fish he chooses and prepares is some of the very best in Philly. Book well in advance. 

Royal Sushi [official photo]

15. Hungry Pigeon

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743 S 4th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 278-2736
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As a morning-to-night operation, Hungry Pigeon has a lot on its plate. But every element of the restaurant 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

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 expert French bistro fare, all in a relaxed neighborhood spot that's effortlessly cool enough to draw diners in from far and wide.

Good King Tavern/Facebook

17. 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]

18. Zahav

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237 St James Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
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Considered by many to be Philly's very best restaurant (and named by Eater critic Bill Addison as one of the essential 38 nationwide), Zahav also happens to offer incredible value. The Israeli menu from James Beard winner Michael Solomonov is creative, affordable, 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

19. 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]

20. 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 turns 20 this year 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), with every course — the almond tortellini, the smoked goat, the panna cotta — an example of what modern Italian food aspires to be.

Vetri [official photo]

21. Russet

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1521 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 546-1521
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Chef-owners Andrew and Kristin Wood run Russet, an elegant Spruce Street BYOB that's one of Rittenhouse's best options for a memorable meal that makes the most of local and seasonal ingredients. The menu is ever-changing and never boring. Don't skip whichever house-made charcuterie is on offer.

Russet [official photo]

22. Vedge

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1221 Locust St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 320-7500
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This isn't just a great vegan restaurant — it's one of Philly's best restaurants, period. It doesn’t hurt that Eater critic Bill Addison deemed 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 are all booked up, which is likely, snag a seat at the bar and order a veggie-kissed cocktail, like the Beet Sazzy with rye, amaro, beet, fennel, and absinthe. Vedge’s more casual sister spot V Street is another excellent (also vegan) choice.

Vedge/Facebook

23. Royal Boucherie

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2810, 52 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(267) 606-6313
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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]

24. 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 standout cocktails. Head to the second-floor dining room or settle in at the stylish downstairs bar. 

Friday Saturday Sunday/Facebook

25. 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 banh mi, salads, and rice and noodle bowls. By night, the main floor transforms into a bar. Meanwhile, below ground, low-lit rooms beckon with a Japanese menu of expertly prepared sushi, dumplings, and skewers.

Neal Santos

26. Fork

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306 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-9425
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Two decades in, Fork, from James Beard-nominated restaurateur Ellen Yin, remains a consistent draw with its sophisticated — but never stuffy — 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.

Chaucee Stillman

27. 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 still 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

28. 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. Now that it's three generations deep, the restaurant is better than ever. A revamp in the 2000s gave the space a glossy new look, with white-tile walls, a marble bar, and wooden tables.

Jason Varney

29. Abe Fisher

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1623 Sansom St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 867-0088
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It might seem unnecessary to approach Jewish deli foods from a new point of view, but buying into that notion would mean missing out on Abe Fisher, which would be a shame. The chicken liver mousse, served with house-made rye bread, is one of the best diners are likely to encounter, and the Montreal-style smoked short ribs could keep any pastrami lover happy for days. The Center City restaurant is more upscale than “deli” implies, and the cocktails alone are worth a stop in.

Alexandra Hawkins

30. 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

31. Walnut Street Cafe

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2929 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 867-8067
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Sleek and polished with plush seats, University City’s Walnut Street Cafe feels like an upscale dinner destination with well-executed versions of familiar American fare. But head here during an early morning commute and it’s a quick coffee-and-pastry stop offering fantastic baked goods. Later in the day, swing in for a lunchtime sandwich, an afternoon latte, or a happy hour glass of wine.

Walnut Street Cafe [official photo]

32. 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. The stew-like dishes — including several vegetarian and vegan options — are scooped up with perfectly thin, spongy, slightly sour injera bread, used in place of utensils. Up a narrow staircase from the dining room is Fiume, a thimble-sized dive bar with a surprisingly thorough whiskey list.

Annie K./Yelp

33. 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 small, intimate 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 with lamb ragu. Order a la carte or select three courses plus dessert for $65. There’s a liquor store across the street if you want to pick up a bottle of wine before dinner.

Neal Santos

34. 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 very small but stunning BYOB in Fishtown specializes in Southeast Asian noodle soups, salads, and sandwiches. With its short menu, know that every single dish chef Tyler Akin puts out is just right.

Stock/Facebook

35. 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]

36. Helm

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1303 N 5th St
Philadelphia, PA 19122
(215) 309-2211
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It's easy to fall in love with Helm, a comfortable spot where the chef-owners run around dropping off intricate plates to hungry diners. Just don't get too attached to any one dish here: The menu at this farm-to-table BYOB in Kensington changes all the time.

Helm/Facebook

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, 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).

Cheu Fishtown [official photo]

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 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. 

Melissa Alam

1. Le Virtù

1927 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Kateri Likoudis

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. 

1927 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

2. Will BYOB

1911 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148

Christopher Kearse’s French-influenced menu at Will, his snug East Passyunk BYOB, changes constantly so the chef can make the most of local, seasonal ingredients. Get a feel for Kearse’s cooking on a Sunday evening at the weekly prix fixe dinner, which is always innovative and impressive — and a steal at $45.

1911 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

3. Stargazy

1838 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Melissa P./Yelp

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. This humble British pie shop provides one of the tastiest meals in town.

1838 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

4. Saté Kampar

1837 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Kerry McKintry

A warning: Once you try the saté, grilled over coconut shell charcoal at this East Passyunk BYOB, you'll be craving it for days afterward. But at $12-$15 for five meaty skewers 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. Balance the heat with a glass of sweet, milky coffee or pulled milk tea.

1837 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

5. Hardena

1754 S Hicks St, Philadelphia, PA 19145
Hardena/Facebook

Hardena is that no-frills, family-run restaurant everyone loves to know — including the James Beard Foundation, which put Hardena on its list of semifinalists in 2018. Choose from a steam table of collard greens, beef rendang, oseng tempeh, and other Indonesian options, and don't forget to check the chalkboard for additional items, because a round of saté or a plate of peanut-y gado gado will complete the experience. The sambal at this South Philly spot is easily one of the best hot sauces in town, so make sure to say yes to a dollop when it's offered.

1754 S Hicks St
Philadelphia, PA 19145

6. Townsend

1623 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148