DISCLAIMER: The below list is NOT current. For the final Philly 15, click here.
Before we proceed, a little warning: this list is shamefully biased toward the Rittenhouse Square area of the city (where I live), as well as restaurants that I’ve visited multiple times. It is neither fair, nor objective.
1. Melograno (BYOB)
I’ve never had a bad meal at Melograno, the best of both the oodles of BYOBs and plethora of Italian restaurants I’ve been to in Philly. The space is small and it can be hell trying to get a seat (especially on a weekend), but you’re in for a treat when the food finally arrives. The open kitchen is foodie heaven, and the food is top-notch. Never overlook the specials.
You can read more about this excellent tapas joint elsewhere on the site, but suffice to say, you can’t go wrong. Bold flavors, inventive dishes and a great wine list make this new Jose Garces restaurant a place to beat in 2008.
3. Matyson (BYOB)
It is virtually unnoticeable on the ugly block where it resides, but if you find it, thank your lucky stars. The nouveau-American cuisine is beyond tasty and, like Melograno, you can’t go wrong with the specials. It may be a little more expensive than it should be, but you can’t complain about the ROI (return on investment).
4. Lolita (BYOT)
Why BYOT? Because this fun nouveau-Mexican joint encourages you to bring your own tequila and combine it with one of their refreshing margarita mixes. The food is just as awe-inspiring, with elegant takes on south of the border cuisine. I’ve had many a great meal here.
5. Caffe Casta Diva (BYOB)
Often overlooked as just another Italian BYOB in a city teeming with them, Caffe Casta Diva has delivered dish after dish of succulent surprises. Granted, it doesn’t look like much inside (or out), but I’m continually impressed by the food that’s put in front of me. Skip the appetizers, and just bask in one of their delicious main courses.
Not a BYOB, but might as well be, judging from the tiny space. There’s nothing fancy in the decor here; in fact, they could do a bit more work in that department (the fluorescent wipe-board menu has got to go). But this restaurant really delivers where it counts. The menu is diverse (if not wholly unique) and I’ve had a few fantastic desserts here. A great neighborhood place.
This tiny bar specializes in the so-called “fermentation three”: beer, cheese and wine. They excel in all three of them and the staff are experts in pairings. While the wine and beer are kept in liquid form, the cheeses are incorporated into all manner of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and even desserts. Unfortunately, the past few visits have been a mixed bag in terms of preparation and taste, which I hope is not a trend.
8. Alma de Cuba
I’ve only been to this Cuban restaurant once. And even though it has some of that Stephen Starr gaudiness on display, the meal was simply fantastic. Presentation is surely a strong suit, with the food arranged in all manner of interesting, geometric shapes. If you can get past the clubby atmosphere, your stomach will thank you.
9. Standard Tap
I’m beginning to hate the term “gastropub” but it’s the best word to describe this Northern Liberties eatery. The emphasis is most definitely on imbibing, but the elegant American dishes elevate the cuisine beyond run-of-the-mill bar food. Forget the fries, and get yourself a piece of perfectly cooked, succulent fish. I promise, it’ll still go with the beer.
10. Fuji Mountain
I’ve written before about this three-floor Japanese place before, but it deserves the kudos. The sushi is consistently tasty and the rest of their menu ain’t too shabby either. Try a few dumplings and maybe some soup before you wolf down the chef’s selection of tuna, salmon and all the uncooked regulars.
Best Burger – Rouge
This place is a little too trendy for me, but their burger is amazing. Gruyere cheese, amazing bun and side of London-style chips (fries) makes the glaring eyes worth it.
Best Breakfast/Brunch – Marathon on the Square
You can’t go wrong with this place; that’s why there are lines around the corner every Sunday. Come for the eggs, stay for the Bloody Mary’s.
Most Inconsistent – Audrie Claire (BYOB)
You’re either going to get an amazing meal… or something else. I’ve had a terrible tuna steak here, but some spectacular pork chops. It’s like the restaurant with two brains.
Best Cheesesteak – Jim’s Steaks
I’m probably one of the most unqualified guys to make this call, but I like Jim’s the best. Gino’s and Pat’s are pretty good, and Tony Luke’s certainly has the best cheese (sharp provolone), but Jim’s really brings it together the best.
Best Restaurants I Can’t Wait to Try