2016 NYC Chef of the Year Angie Mar Will Rekindle Your Love of Meat
The latest taco destination is light, airy, and has plenty of room for you and your friends when you want a group brunch without having to wait an hour. Right above the Oyster House, Mission Taqueria is serving brunch and lunch seven days a week, with an expanded dinner menu with items like the adventurous lengua taco -- that's veal tongue -- along with one of the most authentic steak tacos in the city. Stop by for happy hour and sip on $6 house margaritas with $3 tacos, or head over on the weekend to make a night of it -- Mission’s bar stays open until 2am Fridays and Saturdays (the kitchen closes at 1am).
Chef Craig Wilson has opened yet another restaurant on Main St, just a few months after his tapas restaurant, Maya.J, opened earlier this summer. Gigi, a nod to Wilson's grandmother, is making classic Italian fare in a homey, airy setting. Rearranging its menu to get you to think in terms of its base pastas (fusilli, orecchiette, etc.) or cooking techniques and preparations (simple grill with lemon, fra diavolo, etc.), this tactic somehow makes the selection feel even more impossibly large to choose from. It’s hard to believe any neighborhood in Philly would be lacking an Italian restaurant, but Gigi fills a definite hole in the Manayunk dining scene, offering high quality dishes without any stuffiness.
Ambra takes a restrained approach to Italian food with a small space and small menu. The restaurant holds just 16 seats for a four-course, $65 prix-fixe dining experience, offering two options each for antipasti (like colorful herbs and flowers topping hand pulled burrata with pistachio and heirloom tomato), primi (squid ink spaghetti), secondi (a Sicilian-style lamb breast), and dolce dishes (hello, chocolate budino). You can also add wine and cheese pairings to the night, or order a bottle from Ambra’s wine selection. The tiny space is handsome in wood paneling and marble, yet intimate with its subtle decor touches -- perfect for a romantic evening.
King of Prussia
Paladar’s first location in PA brings gratuitous Latin dishes to the Philly ‘burbs, acting as the latest addition to the ever-growing KOP Town Center (you can also find a new Fogo de Chão out there). Expect locally sourced dishes, as well as plenty of craft-your-own-guacamole options. Drawing inspiration from Central and South America, Cuba, and Latin Caribbean, the menu is anything but brief, ranging from small plates (yucca flour Brazilian cheese bread) to “Latin comfort food” and tacos. Don’t forget the rum bar, though -- Paladar has more than 75 to choose from.
Royal Sushi has been an anticipated restaurant since it was first announced by Stephen Simons and David Frank (the dream team behind Khyber Pass Pub, among others) way back in 2012. After a couple of false starts in search of the right chef, the Japanese pub quietly opened this September, finally giving eager diners the grilled, pan-fried, and raw dishes they've been waiting for alongside a vast menu of sake. The kitchen stays open until 1am, so you have plenty of time to stop in and make your way through the lengthy yakimono options.
Lacroix’s former sous chef Benjamin Moore has filled the vacancy left by short-lived yet beloved 26 North by establishing the very new, hyper-seasonal Wister BYOB. Though the menu may not be expansive, Moore intends to have it constantly updated to take advantage of the best produce and ingredients of the moment. With all entrees under $30, the opening menu included Ōra King salmon and Berkshire pork chop, but by the time you pay Wister a visit, you'll likely be in store for an entirely different menu.
A brand-new offshoot of the perpetually chic Italian restaurant franchise with outposts in New York, Miami, and Las Vegas, Scarpetta's is cooking up a Philly-specific menu altogether different from the others. The food menu offers many elevated takes on classic modern Italian dishes, such as yellowtail crudo and short rib agnolotti. You can also stop in for a drink at the wrap-around bar and lounge on the bottom floor of the space -- located in the Rittenhouse Hotel, it's holding nothing back when it comes to Scarpetta's characteristically lavish surroundings.
Housed in the Ritz-Carlton lobby, Aqimero focuses on Latin American dishes, particularly seafood, offering Maine lobster and ahi tuni from a wood fire grill. The seafood risotto is a chef specialty worth every penny, bathing scallops, calamari, shrimp, mussels, and prawns in Spanish chorizo. If you’re looking to brunch for a particularly special occasion, Aqimero has one of the city’s few “bottomless” options. A $65 brunch will get you three courses and all-you-can-drink mimosas, Champagne, Bloody Marys, or other brunch drinks (you're going to need to try the blood orange Michelada).
1. Mission Taqueria1516 Sansom St, Philadelphia
2. Gigi Italian Bistro4357 Main Street, Philadelphia
3. Ambra Restaurant705 S. 4th St., Philadelphia
4. Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar250 Main St., King of Prussia
5. Royal Sushi & Izakaya780 S 2nd St, Philadelphia
6. Wister26 N 3rd St, Philadelphia
7. Scarpetta Philadelphia210 W Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia
8. Aqimero10 Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia
Mission Taqueria is injecting energy into Philadelphia's Mexican food scene from its expansive Sansom Street space, which was formerly occupied by longtime inhabitant Nodding Head Brewing Co. Gone is the dark wood and American tavern-feel, replaced with stark white paint and pops of bright color. The menu features gourmet takes on traditional tacos (sliced veal tongue and pickled mustard seed mayo), updated vegetarian tlayudas (large corn discs topped with beans, cheese, and instead of meat, pasilla pepper, watercress, roasted tomatoes, and corn labneh) and house-made tortilla chips with intriguing salsas. At the mosaic-backed bar, blue steel stools serve as landing pads for below-the-border cocktails like El Diablo (reposado, cassis, ginger, lime, soda) and pineapple daiquiris, as well as a frozen margarita number with watermelon, cucumber, and serrano chile. The brunch program offers a requisite huevos rancheros, the taco lineup, and chilaquiles.
Italian grandmothers, also known as gigis, know Italian comfort food (at least the good ones), and Chef Craig Wilson honors his mother and wife with a small red and white restaurant covered in family photos. Expect everything saucy, cheesy, and warm. There won't be many surprises on the menu, which delivers on classic, seafood-sprinkled antipasti and expected pizzas and pastas. A bit of customization comes into play when you can choose to top your fish or meat plates with your choice of sauces, both long (heavy gravy or marinara) and short (pan sauces). In true Philly form, the place is BYOB. An economical kid’s menu (penne with butter, little one?) makes bringing along the grandkids easy.
What was once a storage unit is now a stylish and tiny (we're talking just 16 seats) Italian tasting-menu-only hideaway. The idea for Ambra was born when chef Chris D’Ambro of neighboring restaurant Southwark took notice of the unused space and transformed it into a gourmand's gray-walled escape: sheer white cloth is draped over mounted lightboxes on one wall, a crude unfinished wooden palette obscures light from outside on another and rough stone slabs are visible from every vantage point. Four-course meals ($65) consist of an antipasti, primi, second and dolci, with two choices per course (plus, amuse bouche and canapés). Opt for the beverage pairing ($35) and each dish will find it’s flavor soulmate in a glass of wine.
A big mall deserves a big purveyor of Latin food, and King of Prussia got it in the 6,5000-square-foot Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar. The sixth branch of the chain brings a South and Central American taste to an area largely devoid of it with a bright blue and pink dining room with distressed tile accent walls. The food hints at the scope of the Hispanic-speaking world: rum-glazed Cuban pork, Peruvian mussels, Rio-style chicken tacos and Caribbean jerk chicken skewers. Sweet potato doughnuts, cinnamon-sugar churros and coconut-caramel flan make a sweet finish. The true kicker is the bar, some 75-bottles deep in rum (plus other bar staples), birthing rum cocktails like Brazilian caipirinhas, dark & stormys and rummy sangrias.
From Philly restaurateurs Stephen Simons and David Frank, Royal Sushi & Izakaya specializes in yakimono, or grilled and pan-fried dishes found in many a Japanese tavern. Expect small, shareable bites like pork and veggie dumplings, chicken gizzard yakitori, fried octopus balls, plus sushi and sashimi. A Japanese whiskey bar completes the space, where some 30 sake bottles are available.
Chef Benjamin Moore, the former sous chef at Lacroix, planted his own flag in Old City with this seafood-focused BYOB. The changing, seasonal menu features delicate fusion starters like baby squid with tamarind, peanut, and bok choy alongside heavier larger plates like monkfish and tomatoes with bacon hushpuppies. Lovers of turf fare can expect cameos from Berkshire pork chops and chicken-for-two in lavender jus, while vegetarians will find comfort in the few pasta and vegetable dishes. Wister's dining room is simple American rustic, with exposed pipes and brick walls, green wooden floors, and worn leather banquettes that let the food speak for itself.
NYC-import Scarpetta, which received a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant when it opened in 2008, is delivering its brand of upscale Italian to Philadelphia in the landmark Rittenhouse Hotel. Don’t expect a clone though: helmed by chefs Jon Oh and Jorge Espinoza, the LDV Hospitality restaurant serves a modern Italian menu unique to the city. Scarpetta fans afraid of change can expect the classics, like the superbly simple house-made spaghetti with tomato and basil, and braised short ribs, as well as an Italian-centric wine list. Steps away from Rittenhouse park, the contemporary space seats 150 and is outfitted with white oak and marble and leather accents.
Aqimero is bringing Latin-American flavor to the upscale -- if sometimes stiff -- Ritz-Carlton hotel. In the gigantic historic lobby, textured glass partitions and blue accents in the carpet hint at the sea, which is reflected in the seafood-heavy menu. Ocean eats are presented simply in a plate of grilled octopus, enveloped in cheese for shrimp quesadillas, and topped with turf fare in seared scallops with pork belly and snap peas. The so-called “Mexican beach campfire” whole-roasted snapper stands out on the menu, even though Philadelphia is far from any beach, Mexican or not. Guests can watch the staff chuck oysters, crack clams, and whip up ceviches behind the marble bar. Mexican mezcals take center stage at the bar (Narcissistic Noriega: mescal, tequila, rosemary, pineapple shrub, lime, ginger beer), but drinks are not limited to the smoky elixir (sake sangria: vodka, sake, lemon-basil, tequila, ginger ale).