The Thrillist Awards: Philadelphia's Best Food & Drink of 2015
It's not like we can claim to stand by every new thing we've tried this year, but there are quite a few we can. Waiting in the opening day line for Big Gay Ice Cream's Salty Pimp is one. Pushing Southgate's Korean fried wings on all your friends until they've reached same level of obsession is another. Thanks to the burgeoning Philly food and drink scene, there are lots more memorable moments and new places to call our favorites. With that in mind, we bring you a list of the best things to hit Philly in 2015.
Best beer garden
Summerfest at Blue Cross RiverRink
Thanks in part to some interesting takes on the state's liquor laws, beer gardens were an explosive trend this year. At Summerfest, the warm-weather version of Winterfest, we loved that you could grab a cold one, eat some great food, and bust a move (or your ass) on roller skates all in the same place. Because, as we all know, the hardest thing about roller skating is staying hydrated while you do it.
Best place for a first date
We're big fans of Chef Mike Stollenwerk’s new Old City restaurant, and we think it's the perfect place to impress a first date. The food is great, the atmosphere is lively, and the prices are reasonable. It’s also BYOB, giving you the perfect opportunity to show off those sommelier skills (i.e., the label looked cool).
Located directly below its sister bar Brü, U-Bahn is a subterranean hangar. We still can't pinpoint the theme -- arcade games and bottle service aren't often paired together. When it's packed on the weekends, the place resembles a Tokyo subway station. That said, U-Bahn is a ton of fun with liquid courage in the mix.
What’s not to like about Helm? The newly-opened Kensington BYOB has quickly become one of the city's best restaurants with its bold, refreshingly simple (this is 'real food'), and constantly-changing new American menu. Kensington might be a little out of the way for some, but it’s worth the trip for a meal at Helm.
Best bar food
While there are more than a few items at Southgate that we dream about, there’s one thing at this Korean brewpub that keeps us up at night: their addictive, should-be-classified-as-a-Schedule-II-drug Korean fried chicken wings. Tossed in soy garlic or spicy gochujang sauce, the chicken is crispy, spicy, and one of the best things we’ve eaten all year. Don’t be surprised if you end up ordering a second or third round.
Best happy hour
After Bookbinders historically shuttered in 2009, the building housing the 100-plus-year-old restaurant was empty until this year. James Beard award-winning chef Jose Garces stepped in and opened The Olde Bar with a reimagined throwback to the original space. Of all the things that the new Olde Bar does well, happy hour is at the top of our list: $1 oysters, $5 appetizers, beer and wine specials, and their surprisingly strong $6 Fish House punch (a bunch of rum, brandy and peach cordial will do that).
Best place to grab a glass of wine
It’s only been a few weeks since this Midtown Village wine bar opened, but it quickly became one of the best places to go when you're looking to get a glass of red, white, or bubbly. Tredici Enoteca serves generous half and full pours of more than 20 wines, and food from the team behind Zavino, in case you aren’t coming here solely for a liquid meal.
Best place to eat something spicy
When you’re in the mood for something spicy, Rittenhouse newcomer DanDan is there to hit all the right hot notes. Inspired by the food you’ll get at Philly OG Han Dynasty (the owner, Han Chiang, is DanDan co-owner Cat Huang's brother), the restaurant's obvious staple is its namesake dan dan noodles. The dishes' (unofficial) spice scale ranges from medium to “worry about going to the bathroom the next day” hot, so don't forget the Pepto.
Best sports bar
Given the dearth of decent sports bars in Philly, the opening of Founding Fathers last December was a pleasant surprise. It’s not the cheapest place, but if you want to watch the game in a slightly more adult atmosphere, drink good beer, and eat solid bar food, Founding Fathers is your spot.
Both beer snobs and Bud-drinking folk rejoiced when Tired Hands Fermenteria, the recent expansion from the Ardmore brewing alchemists, opened back in April. While you could always get some crazy good beers from Tired Hands, the extra space expanded the brewery's production significantly and created a perfect space to enjoy the beers. It’s also right next to the train station in Ardmore, making for an easy trip back into the city.
When it comes to getting a good burger in Philly, there are tons of options. And while that list is filled with old favorites, there’s one that you couldn’t get back when “Uptown Funk” was the song of the summer: Dad’s burger at Whetstone Tavern. Available as a single or double, the burger is made with a custom blend of LaFrieda beef and is topped with cheese, lettuce slaw, onion, and pickles on a Martin’s potato roll. It’s a great burger at regular menu price, and a steal if you can grab it during Whetstone’s late night happy hour.
Best cheap eats
This East Passyunk pie shop gets the award for best place to grab a cheap bite. If you haven’t already had one of the British meat pies from Chef Sam Jacobson, run, don't walk, there -- the pies routinely sell out.
For Philly taco fans, 2015 was a high point with the openings of Heffe, Buena Onda, Los Jimenez, and a half-dozen other taquerias serving up handheld deliciousness. Of all the openings, South Philly Barbacoa's new brick-and-mortar location was the highlight of our taco-filled year. At SPB, you can still get the barbacoa or pancita tacos, along with those homemade agua frescas and salsas, that you used to grab streetside. Except now you can sit while you eat. Gamechanger.
Good pizza isn’t exactly hard to come by in Philly, as much as former New Yorkers would like you to believe otherwise. The opening of Spuntino in Northern Libs put in a strong showing for the best wood-fired pizza in the city. To be fair, this is the second pizzeria from the Carollo family (the first is in Doylestown) but this Philly outpost nails it.
Best ice cream
Big Gay Ice Cream opened a Philly outpost this year, and it was a big deal -- like, people lost it. The hype report after being open for a few months? Worth it? Since it's on list list, we think you know the answer to that.
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After all of the eating and drinking in 2015, Dan McKay is done for the year... maybe month... maybe day... actually, forget it, when’s happy hour? You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @dannypageviews.