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The 38 Essential Philadelphia Restaurants, January '15

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Today we update the Eater 38, your answer and ours to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs, save for those occasions when you absolutely must spend half a paycheck. Every couple of months, we'll add pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have recently stepped up their game, or have newly become eligible.

This time around, welcome to the list the impeccable French food and stellar bar at Townsend, and the undeniably stepped-up Pub & Kitchen, a neighborhood staple you should be frequenting regardless of which neighborhood you actually call home.

Note: Restaurants are ordered geographically, beginning at South Philly's most prominent restaurant row.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Laurel

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1617 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-8299
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Yes, it is notably difficult to snag a reservation at Top Chef winner Nick Elmi's tiny East Passyunk BYOB — but it's not impossible. Reservations are booked a few months out, so look for an announcement on Facebook or Twitter and be ready to pounce when the book opens. But if you're flexible, cancellations happen and last-minute availability is a fairly frequent sight — or you can inquire about private dining in the backyard if you've got a party of four to six. Elmi's cooking is extremely refined, balanced, lovely to look at, and thoughtful — seafood, especially, is a standout here — but neither the plates nor the place ever come across as stuffy or overwrought. (On Fridays and Saturdays, or if you dine in the garden, the tasting menu is your only option, very reasonably priced at $85. Tuesday through Thursday, the menu is a la carte, though you can request the tasting in advance if you prefer.)

2. Le Virtù

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1927 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-5626
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At this East Passyunk Italian gem, chef Joe Cicala and pastry chef Angela Ranalli Cicala showcase classic Abruzzese cuisine with obvious affection and respect. In warmer months, the patio is one of the city's best outdoor dining bets; the bar (with a couple of wines on tap) also makes for a good happy hour stop.

3. Fond

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1537 S 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 551-5000
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Originally opened as a tiny BYOB just steps away (in the spaceLaurel now calls home), Fond moved last year into a new space with a little more room and a gorgeous bar. The menu leans heavily French, with a modern bent. Pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki also runs picture-perfect Belle Cakery nearby.

4. Noord

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1046 Tasker St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(267) 909-9704
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Joncarl Lachman's Northern European BYOB was embraced straightaway upon opening for a few reasons: the Dutch and Scandinavian menu is so unique for the city, Philly native Lachman's love for and understanding of BYOBs is immediately apparent, and oh yeah - the food is really, really good. The handmade breads, smoked and cured seafood, and chef-made desserts are all out of proportion with the tiny kitchen. Sunday brunch is also a must-try.

5. Will

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1911 Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 271-7683
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Christopher Kearse opened Will to tremendous praise from both critics and East Passyunk neighbors alike. The menu is stacked with creative takes on classic dishes and some of the most beautiful plates in the city. Keep an eye out for special tasting dinners and collaborations, which are always innovative and fresh.

6. Los Gallos

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951 Wolf St
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 551-1245
Happily, the argument over South Philly's best taqueria could go on for days. Los Gallos is a great place to start the discussion.

7. John's Roast Pork

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14 Snyder Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 463-1951
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John's Roast Pork is a Beard Award winner for their roast pork sandwiches and their best-in-the-city cheesesteaks. A stop here is a must to impress your out-of-town friends. [Photo: C. McKenna/Visit Philly]

8. Federal Donuts

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1219 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 687-8258
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Federal Donuts sent an early message by selling out all their goods in less than an hour for the first week and a half in business. Since then, Mike Solomonov's fried chicken and doughnuts have become legendary, and now you can also find outposts in Center City, North Philly, U City, and even at Citizens Bank Park. (They sell out far less often now, but you can call or email your order ahead of time to be sure, especially during busy times like Christmas.)

9. Bibou

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1009 S 8th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 965-8290
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Bibou has been regarded as Philly's best French restaurant for several years now, with white tablecloth service in a relaxed atmosphere. Chef Pierre Calmels is peerless when it comes to creating sophisticated versions of classics rooted in French peasant cuisine. BYOB.

10. Paesano's Philly Style

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1017 S 9th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 440-0371
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Paesano's is still the new kid on the block compared to some of its 9th-street peers, but it began nabbing best-of mentions almost immediately. Owned by Peter McAndrew's of Modo Mio fame, the sandwich shop nails excess: order the Paesano, the Arista, or the Bolognese. Take out-of-towners here to blow their minds. (NB: There's another location - the original - in Northern Liberties.)

11. Santucci's Square Pizza

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901 S 10th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 825-5304
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Santucci's in South Philly not only has one of the best pies in the city, but a serious pasta and sandwich program. Sure, it's a little pricey, but you'll love ever penny you spend here. Get the short rib sandwich and the square pie. Brunch rules, too.

12. Pho 75

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1122 Washington Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 271-5866
At this point, pho is as crucial to Philly's dining identity as any cheesesteak — and just as with the city's iconic sandwiches, there's no shortage of opinions on where to get the best bowl. Pho 75 is one of our favorites (and it happens to be located very near several other contenders, meaning you can make a pretty serious study of it without even straying very far).

13. American Sardine Bar

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1800 Federal St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 334-2337
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Chef Scott Schroeder doesn't call himself a sandwich artist for nothing. ASB is a rare destination neighborhood bar, with a menu built on sandwiches (including, yes, a sardine sandwich for a measly two bucks). If you're lucky enough to find the patty melt on the menu when you visit, your choice should be an easy one. (NB: Most people will find the sides huge enough to share.)

14. Fitler Dining Room

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2201 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 732-3331
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Chef Rob Marzinsky has demonstrated impressive versatility in this kitchen, turning out gorgeous, sophisticated plates at dinner, picture-perfect Sunday brunch, and now even a happy hour that completely nails sandwiches, of all things. (Recently, they've also added lunch on Saturdays.) Fitler Dining Room is one of those staples that food writers enthusiastically turn to time and time again when asked for personal recommendations. Don't miss it.

15. 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, and putting out some of the most technically beautiful food in Philly. But, there's plenty of soul in Greg Vernick's food, too, who spent much of his time in Jean-Georges' orbit. One of the best new spots to open up in the past year or two, which is really saying something. [Photo: DSGNTEC]

16. Le Chéri

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251 S 18th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 546-7700
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Pierre and Charlotte Calmels' tiny BYO Bibou quickly become a mainstay in Bella Vista. Now, they've brought their talents to a much larger space, in the gorgeous Wetherill Mansion (just steps off of Rittenhouse Square), with a liquor license. The classic French fare - some of the best the city has to offer - has earned raves, while the wine list was praised by Craig LaBan in his three-bell review for both quality and notably fair pricing. [Photo: Alyssa Maloof]

17. Sbraga

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440 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 735-1913
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Top Chef Kevin Sbraga has made plenty of waves at Sbraga. (He's also beaten the odds having success at an address with bad mojo.) Expect an inventive and remarkably affordable tasting menu, and don't look too surprised if the otherwise-elevated menu includes some fun touches like gummi worms. Make no mistake, this place has a sense of humor.

18. 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. Tofu and seitan, staples of many other vegan restaurants, play minor roles here; rather, the focus is on vegetables, treated with reverence and sophistication. Don't sleep on the desserts, which are more than enough reason to pay a visit on their own.

19. Kanella

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1001 Spruce St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-1773
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Kanella consistently ends up as one of the city's most under-appreciated restaurants. Chef-owner Konstantinos Pitsillides' Greek Cypriot cooking is some of the most honest and compelling you'll find. His flavors and presentation are bold, and his vegetarian dishes are every bit as good as the meatier stuff. (Friday through Sunday, check it out for a killer breakfast, too.)

20. Cheu Noodle Bar

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255 S 10th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(267) 639-4136
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Still a relative newcomer, Cheu cemented its place as a Philly essential through consistently delicious and inventive Asian-influenced cuisine that always employs solid technique but makes no claims to authenticity (see: matzo ball brisket noodles and other fusion-y hits). The place is small, loud, and incredibly lively, with much of the seating surrounding the bar overlooking all the kitchen action.

21. Serpico

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604 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 925-3001
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Once David Chang's right hand, Peter Serpico came to Philly to open up shop in an unlikely spot: a former Foot Locker on South Street. It's since proven to be one of the most inventive and beautiful restaurants around. (Serpico recently instated an early bird tasting menu, which involves 4 courses for just $40, but only from 5 to 6:30 p.m.)

22. Bistrot la Minette

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623 S 6th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 925-8000
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Bistrot La Minette is the best spot in Philly to get bistro fare in a warm and cozy setting. Chef-owner Peter Woolsey's take on classics and family recipes match the charming environment, made complete by a gorgeous backyard patio, to yield a pretty perfect neighborhood restaurant.

23. Zahav

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237 Saint James Pl
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-8800
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Considered by many to be Philly's very best restaurant, Zahav also happens to offer incredible value. Chef Mike Solomonov's modern Israeli menu is creative, affordable, and easy to explore and 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. (For a truly special experience, consider the chef's counter - just know that the extremely limited seats can be tricky to land.)

24. High Street on Market

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308 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-0988
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Serving up chef Eli Kulp's innovative and impeccable food for all three meals and at incredibly fair prices, High Street on Market has positioned itself as one of Philly's most exciting and most versatile restaurants. Duck in still wearing your pajamas for a cup of Rival Bros. coffee, a red eye danish, and a loaf of bread for later — or bring out-of-towners here for a dinner that will impress without a hint of stuffiness.

25. Fork

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306 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-9425
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While Fork's been a neighborhood favorite for ages, the addition of chef Eli Kulp (this year named one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs in the country) kicked the experience up to a whole new level, and the critics and crowd have responded with glowing reviews and word of mouth. The special-occasion sibling to super-versatile High Street, these two together go a good job of covering just about any dining need.

26. Khyber Pass Pub

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56 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 238-5888
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The Khyber is a Philly legend, though it's taken a couple of forms. Its latest iteration is a cozy neighborhood bar putting out a menu full of New Orleans flavors that are consistently tremendous. It's close to all the tourist attractions without being remotely touristy, the beer is no joke, and the menu is just as friendly to vegans as it is to meat-eaters.

27. Tai Lake Restaurant

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134 N 10th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 922-0698
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Tai Lake scares some people off with their giant frog tank in the window, but passing this spot by would be a mistake. They have the best seafood in Chinatown and are open really late night. We've never had a bad meal here, and it's a unique Philly experience.

28. Pizzeria Vetri

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1939 Callowhill St.
Philadelphia, PA
(215) 600-2629
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Vetri-caliber Neapolitan pies in a laid-back setting are an easy sell, but the Vetri family didn't stop there: everything here hits, from the bottled cocktails to the soft serve and cookies for dessert. Better yet, this is the place that introduced Philly to the insta-classic rotolo.

29. Pizzeria Beddia

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115 E Girard Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19125
One man, one oven, amazing pizza. Joe Beddia is the face of Philly's high-end pizza renaissance, and pretty much everyone agrees he's making one of the very best pizzas in town. Be prepared to go grab a drink or two during the nearly inevitable wait, but know that it will be worth it. (Cash-only, and no, there's no phone.)

30. Fette Sau

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1208 Frankford Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19125
(215) 391-4888
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This Brooklyn import was a crucial addition to the Philly scene, where there's just not a whole lot of high-level barbecue. Fette Sau does it right, with top-quality meats available by the pound and an array of simple sides and desserts to fill out your tray. (Don't skip the baked beans.)

31. Zeppoli

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618 Collings Ave
Collingswood, NJ 08107
(856) 854-2670
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If you need something to prod you into checking out Collingswood, NJ, it's hard to think of a more powerful draw than this (mostly) Sicilian knockout. Sincerely felt, expertly prepared food from chef Joey Baldino (an industry lifer with a Vetri pedigree), and it's BYOB.

32. The Fat Ham

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3131 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 735-1913
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Kevin Sbraga's second restaurant is tiny, casual, and fantastically good. Chef Aaron Gottesman (a 2014 Eater Young Guns semi-finalist) hold things down in the kitchen, turning out some of the most perfect fried chicken you'll find anywhere (as long as you can handle a little heat), one of our favorite salads around (the mustard greens - trust), and cult-favorite oyster sliders. The array of bourbon options is far from the only thing to recommend the bar program (the cocktails are all great), but it is impressive.

33. Han Dynasty

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3711 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 222-3711
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Philly's best Chinese restaurant is also the home of every heat-seeker in the city. Owner Han Chiang offers the best Sichuan cuisine around at Han Dynasty, and is open for lunch and dinner. Get the Dan Dan noodles and the Sweet and Spicy Cucumbers. (Note: Han Dynasty has several locations, including one giant one in Old City, a few doors down from the mini-chain's original location. This entry should be understood as a recommendation for all of them, though there has been a lot of love for this U City location in particular in recent years.)

34. Saad's Halal Restaurant

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4500 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19139
(215) 222-7223
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Saad's is an absolute staple in West Philly, famous for its chicken maroush sandwich, schwarma, falafel, and even cheesesteaks — and it's all halal, in addition to being quick, generous, and totally affordable (and no-frills: expect disposable plates).

35. A.Kitchen

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135 S 18th St
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 825-7030
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A.Kitchen's been around for a while, but truth be told, it wasn't really Eater 38-caliber stuff until chef Eli Kulp revamped the place back in spring of this year. Now, the menu (progressive American that makes good use of a cool charcoal grill) is genuinely exciting — it finally lives up to the stylish space and stellar location, just steps from the park. The restaurant is also home to one of the best wine programs in Philly.

36. Petruce et al

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1121 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(267) 225-8232
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This Modern American newcomer opened to almost immediate fanfare for its rustic but innovative approach, largely based around a wood-fired oven and grill. Behind the scenes are a pair of chef brothers who came up in some of Philly's most beloved BYOBS — not to mention one of the city's most knowledgeable and forward-thinking beverage guys, so pay special attention to the wine list and consider dropping by just to hit the bar.

37. Townsend

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1623 East Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA
(267) 639-3203
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Chef Tod Wentz finally has a proper showcase for his talent, and he impressed immediately, even on a strip packed with major competition. The French cooking here is top-flight, and the atmosphere allows both for seriously romantic meals and late-night drinks (the bar is plenty dignified, but not stuffy, and it's favorite stop for post-work drinks for industry people). The wine selections and cocktails at Townsend are some of Philly's best.

38. Pub & Kitchen

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1946 Lombard St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 545-0350
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A longtime staple, Pub & Kitchen has nonetheless been steadily stepping up its game since the arrival of chef Eli Collins. It's a neighborhood place you should frequent even if this isn't your neighborhood. You'll be just as comfortable sulking over a beer and a shot at the bar as you will be bringing your parents in for a multi-course meal, and the menu is wide-ranging enough to appeal to most everyone without being at all dumbed-down.

1. Laurel

1617 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Yes, it is notably difficult to snag a reservation at Top Chef winner Nick Elmi's tiny East Passyunk BYOB — but it's not impossible. Reservations are booked a few months out, so look for an announcement on Facebook or Twitter and be ready to pounce when the book opens. But if you're flexible, cancellations happen and last-minute availability is a fairly frequent sight — or you can inquire about private dining in the backyard if you've got a party of four to six. Elmi's cooking is extremely refined, balanced, lovely to look at, and thoughtful — seafood, especially, is a standout here — but neither the plates nor the place ever come across as stuffy or overwrought. (On Fridays and Saturdays, or if you dine in the garden, the tasting menu is your only option, very reasonably priced at $85. Tuesday through Thursday, the menu is a la carte, though you can request the tasting in advance if you prefer.)
1617 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

2. Le Virtù

1927 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
At this East Passyunk Italian gem, chef Joe Cicala and pastry chef Angela Ranalli Cicala showcase classic Abruzzese cuisine with obvious affection and respect. In warmer months, the patio is one of the city's best outdoor dining bets; the bar (with a couple of wines on tap) also makes for a good happy hour stop.
1927 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

3. Fond

1537 S 11th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Originally opened as a tiny BYOB just steps away (in the spaceLaurel now calls home), Fond moved last year into a new space with a little more room and a gorgeous bar. The menu leans heavily French, with a modern bent. Pastry chef Jessie Prawlucki also runs picture-perfect Belle Cakery nearby.
1537 S 11th St
Philadelphia, PA 19147

4. Noord

1046 Tasker St, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Joncarl Lachman's Northern European BYOB was embraced straightaway upon opening for a few reasons: the Dutch and Scandinavian menu is so unique for the city, Philly native Lachman's love for and understanding of BYOBs is immediately apparent, and oh yeah - the food is really, really good. The handmade breads, smoked and cured seafood, and chef-made desserts are all out of proportion with the tiny kitchen. Sunday brunch is also a must-try.
1046 Tasker St
Philadelphia, PA 19148

5. Will

1911 Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Christopher Kearse opened Will to tremendous praise from both critics and East Passyunk neighbors alike. The menu is stacked with creative takes on classic dishes and some of the most beautiful plates in the city. Keep an eye out for special tasting dinners and collaborations, which are always innovative and fresh.
1911 Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19148

6. Los Gallos

951 Wolf St, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Happily, the argument over South Philly's best taqueria could go on for days. Los Gallos is a great place to start the discussion.
951 Wolf St
Philadelphia, PA 19148

7. John's Roast Pork

14 Snyder Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148
John's Roast Pork is a Beard Award winner for their roast pork sandwiches and their best-in-the-city cheesesteaks. A stop here is a must to impress your out-of-town friends. [Photo: C. McKenna/Visit Philly]
14 Snyder Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19148

8. Federal Donuts

1219 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147