Philadelphia has always been a world class city. For many years it has thrived in the areas of arts and culture, historical significance and architecture. However, until recently, Philly has never been known as a culinary hotbed. Sure, there were a few heavy hitters, but nothing like it’s current offerings. These days, it seems Philadelphia gives cities like Chicago, New York and San Francisco a run for their money in edible excitement. We are a city of neighborhoods filled with BYOB’s, Iron Chefs and Ethnic Delicacies.
The South Philly enclave known as East Passyunk runs from Snyder Ave. to the south to Tasker Street to the North, The area was classically an old Italian family neighborhood through most of the 20th century, but now those families are joined by young urban professionals, artists, musicians and people from multiple ethnicities who bring along with them a host of exciting new restaurants and nightlife. Below we will highlight some of the great eats the neighborhood has to offer!
Cantina Los Caballitos: (Mexican) The kitchen produces a fine repertoire of Mexican fare. Great Cocktail and Beer Selection. Vegetarian and Vegan options are plentiful.
Laurel: (French) Nicholas Elmi’s French-inspired BYOB. Chef Elmi, who taps extensive French training to serve up his refined-yet-approachable style of fare, has been the executive chef of such top kitchens as the now-shuttered Le Bec-Fin and the charming Rittenhouse Tavern in Philadelphia. Reality television-loving diners might also recognize Elmi from his appearance as one of 19 “cheftestants” on the 11th season Top Chef, hosted in the great city of New Orleans. Since the show’s September debut, Elmi has more than held his own against his accomplished opponents, all the while staying true to his French-American culinary roots.
Karina’s: (Spanish) The cozy Karina’s Ristorante has joined the seemingly exploding ranks of South Philadelphia BYOBs. Chef-owner is Pedro Beltano, a veteran of Il Portico, Portofino, Frederick’s, and, most recently, Bistro La Viola. Beltano, a native of Ecuador, lived with an Italian family when he arrived here, so his menu mixes homey Italian specialties (pastas are homemade) with paella and other Spanish dishes that his ancestors brought with them to South America. (Philly.com)
Chiarella’s: (Italian) Most agree Gordon Ramsay’s Restaurant Impossible visit “improved things” at this BYO in East Passyunk, though loyalists insist the “well-cooked” Italian grub “was never the problem”; the setting is “family-friendly”, and in nice weather you can “snag an outdoor seat.” (Zagat)
Da Vinci Ristorante: (Italian) For an “old-style experience”, aficionados head to this BYO near the Singing Fountain on the East Passyunk strip that’s “as Italian as it gets”, with a staff that seems to be “right off the boat” and “freshly made” piatti that are a “terrific value”; a few find the pictures of Leonardo throughout the dining area “kinda cheesy”, but for others they’re a “nice conversation piece.” (Zagat)
El Zarape: (Mexican) Authentic Mexican Fare.
Izumi: (Japanese) “Beautiful presentations of mouthwatering sushi” are a “feast for the eyes and palate” at this “edgy” Japanese BYO from the owner of the nearby Paradiso on East Passyunk; adherents also sing the praises of cooked entrees and “comfortable” indoor and outdoor seating, dubbing it a “date-friendly choice.” (Zagat)
Le Virtu: (Italian) Every dish they prepare is rooted in or inspired by Abruzzese culinary tradition, ingredients or philosophy. They serve the cuisine of the shepherds, farmers and fishermen of Italy’s wildest and most unspoiled region. It’s bold, honest and unpretentious.
Mamma Maria Ristorante: (Italian) “Like Sunday dinner at your Italian grandma’s house”, you’d better “come hungry” to this “legit”, “old-world” Italian on East Passyunk where the $55, seven-course prix fixe will “leave you stuffed” (relax, à la carte is an option); “what more could you ask for – oh, a tray of free drinks at the end? you got it!” (Zagat)
Marra’s: (Italian) The Marra family has been in business for over 80 years. It all began when Salvatore and Chiarina Marra came to America from Naples, Italy, in 1920. Salvatore came with nothing in his pocket but a single coin and a dream to provide a better life to his family. Over 3 generations later, that dream is still alive and that small business he had started is now one the oldest and most famous restaurants in the country. Marra’s is still owned and operated by Salvatore’s grandchildren who not only continue to cook up the original family recipes, but personally greet you with a warm welcome as you walk through the door. When you come to Marra’s, you not only eat some of the finest Italian food and award winning Pizza in the city, but you will be part of the Marra’s legacy. Marra’s has been visited by hundreds of celebrities through out the years, including Frank Sinatra, John Travolta, and Conan O’Brien, who come just to eat the food and visit the “Original Brick Oven” that was designed and built by Salvatore himself with bricks from Mt. Vesuvius. That’s a taste people travel miles to experience, and one you will never forget!
Mr. Martino’s: (Italian) “Delicious homemade everything” explains the menu at this “old-world” husband-and-wife-run BYO housed in a former South Philly hardware store, where it’s “like going to your Italian neighbor’s for dinner” in the “tin-ceilinged” room brimming with “charm” and “contagious” “good cheer”; if it’s “underappreciated”, that’s probably because it’s open only Fridays–Sundays for dinner, and it’s cash-only. (Zagat)
Noord: (Scandinavian) After a decade and two restaurants in Chicago, native Philadelphian Joncarl Lachman makes his homecoming count with an intimate Dutch-influenced bistro off East Passyunk’s Singing Fountain that captures the best of our BYO scene. Lachman’s “eetcafe” eschews trendy “new Nordic” cuisine for a more rustic take on Northern European cooking, from house-baked barley bread to rabbit smothered in zuurkool, and the soulful flavors trump any lack of flash in a simple corner room that exudes clean elegance and personal service.- Craig LaBan
Ristorante Tre Scalini: (Italian) This longtime South Philly favorite has moved a few blocks south to a nicer space on reviving East Passyunk, but chef-owner Franca DiRenzo’s deft and unpretentious cooking hasn’t changed a bit. Eating the homespun flavors at this pleasant Italian BYO is about the closest we get to being fed by an authentic nonna Molisana.
Adobe Café: (Mexican) The array of homemade Southwestern cuisine incorporates the freshest produce, meats, and seafood and is cooked in soy and olive oils. This coupled with extensive vegetarian / vegan fare makes The Adobe Cafe an ideal dining locale for a wide variety of tastes.
Stateside: The menu focuses on locally-sourced products and showcases ingredients and techniques common to the United States. Made up of mostly small plates but with a few large plates for sharing as well as a rotation of dessert offerings. The bar showcase’s a unique mix of strictly domestic craft beers, wines and spirits. With an emphasis on Bourbon and Rye and small-batch American distilleries producing amazing gins, vodkas and rums. 10 craft beer taps and rotating artisanal cans, ranging in styles of strictly American to some domestic takes on classic European styles. Wines are offered both by the glass and bottle, and features regions and varietals from throughout the country, with an emphasis on classic, iconic producers. Cocktails are an emphasis at the bar as well, with several house made specialty cocktails offered and also the old-time classics that Americans have been sipping for years.
Noir: Noir Restaurant & Bar, located at 1909 East Passyunk Avenue, is an alluring 50-seat dining destination along Philadelphia’s new restaurant row. Purveying artisan wines, craft-beers, creative cocktails, and extraordinary fresh Montreal influenced Italian cuisine produced by Chef Marco DeCotiis. Noir purveys seasonally inspired appetizers, entrees, and desserts for dinner only Tuesdays through Sundays. Noir’s friendly and knowledgeable staff are intent on making every guest experience both satisfying and delicious.
Devil’s Den: Devil’s Den opened April 1st of 2008 focused on bringing the best of Craft and Import Beer and high quality pub fare to their South Philly Neighborhood. With 17 Rotating Drafts, 200 bottles and home made comfort food, they strive every day to be the kind of neighborhood place that everyone can enjoy visiting.
South Philly Bar and Grill: Sports bar and grill.
Garage: The bar focuses on beer by the can and offers a liberal BYO cheesesteak policy. There is also skeeball, pinball and billiards inside. Coming soon will be a rotating menu provided by food truck operators.
Lucky 13: The staff serves New American cuisine alongside local draught beers at this tiny, punk rock-themed bar, featuring a jam-packed jukebox, a DJ night and weekend brunch. Nachos, stuffed meatloaf, creative sandwiches and even vegan and vegetarian fare pack the menu.
Stogie Joe’s: Casual Restaurant and Bar with award winning pizza, stromboli and meatball sandwiches. Stogie’s has draft beer and a big bottle collection of your favorite craft beers.
Watkins Drinkery: Watkins Drinkery is a cozy neighborhood bar located at 10th and Watkins Sts. in scenic South Philly. Open from 5pm-2am 7 days a week, they serve a diverse menu at reasonable prices (Kitchen is open till 1am every night) with a beer selection to match. Check out their cask conditioned ales on the beer engine! Upstairs, you will find a game room with pool, darts, and some classic arcade games.
Francoluigi’s: South Philly’s Best Pizza and Sandwiches Since 1982.
Birra: Birra’s mission is to provide delicious, hand-made cuisine complimented by some of the best craft beers in the world to Philadelphia’s discerning diners.
Fond: (Contemporary American) A contemporary American restaurant. Focusing on passionately prepared, refined and flavorful fare with warm and welcoming service.
Will: (French Inspired BYOB) Will is a modern French inspired BYOB, located on East Passyunk Avenue in the heart of South Philadelphia. Chef and Owner Christopher Kearse, and his team, prepare a menu focused on its season, respecting French traditions along with classic and modern techniques to build a dining experience that evokes excitement and emotion.
Belle Cakery: (Pastries) Specialty and custom cakes, either from their menu or designed specially for you. Everything is made on-site, from raw, natural ingredients, by hand. They understand the importance of quality ingredients and proper technique, and refuse to compromise quality by cutting corners.
There are also dozens of coffee shops, sandwich shops and other food options too numerous to list, and many new restaurants pop up almost daily. Bon Appétit!