Food & Drink

The 17 Most Important Restaurants in Philly

Published On 07/20/2015 Published On 07/20/2015
Laurel Restaurant BYOB
Ralph's Italian Restaurant
Flickr/Lisa Andres
Kensington Quarters
The Olde Bar
Pod Restaurant
Abe Fisher
Vedge Restaurant
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1. Laurel 1617 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148

This Passyunk restaurant offers only one thing: a seven course tasting menu. The style is French-American fusion at this intimate spot, which is also BYOB -- so at least you'll save some money there, because the tasting menu ain't cheap, but it's damn good.

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2. Pizzeria Beddia 115 E Girard Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125

Joe Beddia's Fishtown shop is a serious pizza destination. The tiny seatless operation makes 40 pizzas a night, and people start lining up an hour before it opens to get their 16-inch pie. Beddia forgoes the wood-fired oven of many a Neapolitan pizzeria for a gas oven, which means the pies take longer to cook, but once you've waited in line for two hours, what's 10 more minutes? Note: Pizzeria Beddia is cash-only.

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3. Ralph's Italian Restaurant 760 S 9th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Family owned and operated since 1900, this historic Italian joint is the oldest one in the country, and serves up classic boot food like chicken cacciatore, meatballs with linguine, and more.

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4. City Tavern 138 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Though now mainly an 18th century-themed tourist spot, City Tavern is technically the oldest bar in Philly, and was even a hang-out for the First Continental Congress.

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5. Kensington Quarters 1310 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125

Meat is taken seriously at this industrial chic butcher/restaurant in Fishtown, where every animal is used head-to-tail, and every diner leaves not only full, but with a primer in butchery and meat-curing. Right when you enter Kensington Quarters, you'll see the on-site butcher counter and retail section. Once seated, order the mixed house-made charcuterie followed by braised pork shoulder, a hulking pork chop, or a ribeye with smoked cheddar. Don’t be a meathead and remember to grab a salami for home on your way out.

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6. Zahav 237 St. James Pl, Philadelphia, PA 19106

The interior of this modern Israeli restaurant is designed to resemble Jerusalem's network of hidden courtyards, with floors and walls built of gold limestone and tables hand-carved in dark wood. Zahav's food is equally reminiscent of the promised land: fresh laffa bread is baked to order in a wood-fired oven and lamb skewers are roasted over hardwood charcoal. The menu's true star is its hummus, a silky spread in which the key ingredients, chickpeas and tahini, share the flavor spotlight equally and aren't overshadowed by garlic, lemon, or olive oil -- though those three ingredients are surely present. The lengthy wine list includes a full section for wines with Israeli or Palestinian origins, and house cocktails incorporate Mediterranean notes like za'atar and pumpernickel-infused whiskey.

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7. The Olde Bar 125 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Jose Garces brought some much-needed life into the old stomping grounds of the locally loved Bookbinder’s, which closed during the not-great-economically year of 2009. Garces' reincarnation of the place is a nice polish to the original, and includes an open banquet room complete with dimly lit red booths, candles, and an oyster saloon serving snapper soup and fried belly clams. In addition to the nouveaux riche aperitif menu, the seafood-centric restaurant serves classics like dungeness crab, Maine lobster, and of course, champagne cocktails to pair.

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8. Sbraga 440 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

Top Chef champ Kevin Sbraga's eponymous joint offers a predominantly prix-fixe global menu in an interior full of repurposed fir-planked walls, low-slung leather & tweed banquettes, and vintage-look Edison-style lighting.

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9. Monk's Cafe 264 S 16th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Monk's Cafe is more of a dank beer pub than any kind of cafe, but it's become a Philadelphia institution thanks to its staggering bottled beer list (there are more than 300 local and global brews to choose from). Yes, the place is dark. Yes, it's cramped. But the draft selection of Belgian suds makes Monk's a national leader in the category: owner Tom Peters was actually knighted in Belgium to honor his dedication. Drinkers can pick up a "beer bible" from the bar, which could pass for a novela under the dim electric candles scattered throughout. Pub fare flows from the kitchen, and while the burger won't disappoint and you can order grilled salmon if that's your thing, the true must-eat dish is the pot of mussels, flavored with sour beer-sautéed jalapeños, peppers, and onions.

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10. American Sardine Bar 1800 Federal St, Philadelphia, PA 19146

Point Breeze's best bar-with-a-fish-in-its-name has awesome beers and comfy seafood jawns like Marinated Shrimp Tortas and Drunken Krab Chowder, made with a crustacean whose claws were even more hammered than usual.

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11. Pod 3636 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

The best thing to come out of Miami since the song "Welcome to Miami", the Winter menu at Pod's the work of the Morimoto vet and Iron Cheffer behind Miami sushi hotspot Makoto, who's now bringing luxe sashimi toppings and a late night happy houring to U City.

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12. John's Roast Pork 14 Snyder Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148

Throwing down in the Philly cheesesteak arena is John's, local purveyor of delicious hot roast pork sandwiches. Arrive before 3pm to indulge in the cheesy, meaty wonders of this popular lunch shack. John's Roast Pork stands out in a city known for its sandwiches, and we are convinced that they serve up some of the best sandwiches of all time.

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13. Abe Fisher 1623 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103

Inspired by the food of the Jewish diaspora, Abe Fisher breathes new life to typical Center City cuisine with small plates incorporating a creative range of goods, from shrimp fried rice to veal schnitzel tacos.

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14. Nick's Old Original Roast Beef 2149 S 20th St, Philadelphia, PA 19145

Old Original Nick's is an institution of Philly roast beef, serving up the sammies with au jus and Provolone, the way nature intended.

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15. Vedge 1221 Locust St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

A laser focus is put on seasonal vegetables at Vedge, and the refined, entirely meat-free menu is creative enough to attract even the most ardent of meat-eaters, if the wait for a table is any indicator. When chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their restaurant in this historic building on Locust St in 2011, the city hadn't seen anything like it: a changing vegetarian menu served in a fine dining setting with a hyper-contemporary sensibility. Anywhere from three to five of the sharing plates can make a meal, from salt-baked beets with cured tofu that's topped with whipped cucumber to seared maitake mushroom with celery root fritters. Desserts like a Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with blood orange gel and bergamot dust are impossibly light while cocktails mixed with housemade syrups make use of healthful juices like grapefruit and lemongrass. In short: skip the veggie burger and make a reservation at Vedge.

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16. Ethio Cafe 225 S 45th St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

If you're looking for Ethiopian food in Philly, Spruce Hill is probably the place to get it -- and Ethio Cafe is some of the best. The BYOB spot serves beef, lamb, chicken, and vegetarian Ethiopian dishes, plus breakfast and pastries.