That’s right, I named it after myself, what about it? Who decided that James Beard got to have an award named after him? Huh? Or that a tire company would be what decided what the “best” restaurants around the world are (looking at you, Michelin Guide). Well I like to consider myself an expert “eater-outer”, and I’m also an award winning chef (Dishmantled, Season 1, Episode 7… have you won $5000 for making brunch food?? I have!) So I’ve decided that I can start my own “guide” or “award” list if I want to. 🙂
I think this list can serve you, Reader, as an excellent collection of ideas for date nights, or when you’re out-of-town friends and family come to Philly and you just can’t remember all the great places you have been but want to take them somewhere that will leave an impression and create a core memory. A list of some of the best restaurants in Philadelphia, or at least some worth checking out if you haven’t yet.
To make the list, here is what I’m looking for:
- INGREDIENTS: High quality ingredients, preferably locally sourced
- EXPERIENCE: An emotional food experience that makes you feel you have learned something or experienced something new, something that feeds your soul as well as your stomach
- FLAVOR: The food must offer incredible, unique, interesting and delicious flavors. You will want to tell someone about the food after eating it!
- ATMOSPHERE: The restaurant must have a noteworthy atmosphere: This could be fine dining and elegance, or a hole in the wall spot you would never notice, as long as it makes an impact.
- SERVICE: I am not incredibly picky about service but nothing will be on my list if the service isn’t great.
The rating system:
- Double Stars: Winners: These restaurants meet all of the criteria offering high quality food, unique and interesting atmospheres and an exciting food experience with great service.
- Single Star: Honorable Mentions: These restaurants have something great to offer and meet most of the criteria. They are worth taking friends and family to for an incredible experience.
Now, here are the restaurants that have made the list (first annual, if I remember to do this again)…
The Dan DuPraw Restaurant Awards: Philadelphia 2022
Double Stars: Winners
Buddakan: Walk in to be greeted by an impressive, giant, gold, Buddha statue, but that’s not what you’ll be thinking about when you leave full of incredibly high quality, flavor packed food, although the Buddha is nice company while you’re enjoying the food experience. The variety of different dishes here is impressive and they have something for everyone looking for an elevated Asian flavor experience. Buddakan is more of a fine dining experience so you
Order: Dumpling Sampler, we couldn’t pick a favorite so the sampler is the way to go. Korean beef fried rice, and for the love of Buddha, get the Dip Sum Doughnuts for dessert. I don’t think you can go wrong on this menu at all so order with reckless abandon (or, as much reckless abandon as your bank account will allow).
Price: $15-$55 per plate.
Dinner House: I want to imagine this is what a diner in Warsaw, Poland is like. The woman behind the counter is the one who will come to your table, take your order, cook your food, serve it to you, and take your payment at the end. You might have to get up from your table to get your own Polish soda from the cooler in the small restaurant seating area but you won’t be mad about it because of the incredible flavors. My grandma is Polish and I was force fed my fair share of sauerkraut at family gatherings as a kid… come to find out as an adult that I love it, and just about everything else Polish food related as well. Everything we ordered was a total winner and felt like as close as you can get to Poland while in Philadelphia.
Order: Get the stuffed cabbage, sauerkraut, polish sausage, and borscht soup. Don’t skip any of these items as they are all incredible!
Price: $4.50-$19 per plate.
El Molino Tortilleria & Restaurant: After touring different regions in Mexico and comparing the flavors, the moment I bit into the tacos and tried the salsa here I knew that I had found the most authentic Mexican I’ve stumbled upon in the entire country of the USA. I probably shouldn’t even be telling anyone about it because this hole in the wall (hole in the townhouse?) is the best kept secret of South Philly and I almost don’t want to share about it for fear of spoiling it. José and Lala own and operate this restaurant and will feed you the most incredible, fresh, flavorful, Mexican food that you will find, north of the border. The corn tortillas are made fresh (as is everything else they serve). I should mention that when you walk in, your immediate thought will be “do they allow dine in?” – Let me assure you that yes, they do. This is a no frills establishment and when those tacos hit your tongue, you will understand everything.
Order: Mole tacos, spicy marinated chicken tacos, empanadas, barbacoa tacos.
Price: $8-$16 per plate.
Hardena: Trending on this list is another restaurant with just a few tables in the dining area and no table service. I’m convinced that these kind of restaurants are where you will find the most incredibly cooked and flavor packed food. Herdena is the Indonesian experience you didn’t know you needed but once you have it you will not be able to live without it.
Order: Honestly, get as much as you can fit in the to go container (and get the to go container, you can fit more food in it than the dine in plate). I just asked for a little bit of everything and it was all incredible!
Price: $10-$20 per plate.
Isgro Italian Pastries: There will always be a line to get in this place so don’t let that deter you. Isgro offers to-go options only, so plan on picking up a box (or six) to take home and share with your friends or family for a great weekend treat. Check their hours before you go because some days they close early. If you’re looking for more of an experience, take your pastry and sit somewhere along the Italian Market just a few blocks away.
Order: Anything that engages your imagination and makes your mouth water. I have tried just about everything here and I think this is one of the best places in Philly to get a traditional Italian Cannoli.
Price: Varies by pastry size or cake style. One cannoli will run around $4-$6.
Kalaya Thai Kitchen: A James Beard award winning restaurant and a Best New Restaurant of the year (2020) from Esquire. This is the most exciting Thai food I have ever tried from the first to the last bite of everything. Watch out for the spice levels here if you are sensitive to it, but on the other hand, trust the chef. Incredible flavor on beautiful dishes in a non-pretentious atmosphere and this is the best authentic Thai food you’ll find in Philadelphia.
Order: Shaw Muang dumplings, Sakoo Hed dumplings, Pad Thai Chaiya, Coconut rice.
Prices: $28-$65 per main dish.
Laser Wolf: Top honors go to Laser Wolf as my favorite restaurant experience in Philadelphia. The flavors, hospitality, wine selection, staff recommendations and knowledge all comes together to provide one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had. Honestly, I was blown away by everything. I’m not sure what is better, constantly being amazed at the flavors, or the fact that they loaded my leftover containers with EXTRA FOOD. I couldn’t believe it. The staff here was so interested in what we were liking the most and hearing about how we were experiencing the food. One last word: Hummus. I actually have many more words, but eat that hummus like your life depends on it, it is the creamiest hummus I have ever had in my life.
Order: Salatim is included with the main dishes and it is a huge tray of about a dozen different dips and sauces or “soft salads” to each with the freshly made, warm, pita bread. Ask for the staff recommendations but I loved the Chicken Shishlik and the Bulgarian Beef Kabob
Price: About $45 per person depending on what you order.
Reading Terminal Market: One of the best food markets in the world (and I’ve been to a lot of food markets around the world). Reading Terminal Market is an award winning market, jam packed with little stands and shops to get any food you could imagine from all over the world. Reading Terminal Market is also one of America’s largest and oldest public markets, founded in 1893.
Shop the whole market! Prices vary by vendor.
Le Virtú: Italian with lovely outdoor seating and there’s no other way to describe the interior other than… deeply European. 🙂
Order: Arancini, Ceppe ai funghi, anything else on the menu.
South Philly Barbacoa: A second Mexican restaurant on the double star list? And they are both worth a visit! You’ve seen chef Cristina Martinez on the Chef’s Table on Netflix, and here you can eat at her table. It’s like you stepped out of South Philly and right into Capulhuac Mexico. The flavors here are explosive and the ingredients are fresh and delicious. Stuff your Barbacoa taco(s) with all the toppings you possible can and enjoy them at a picnic table on the side walk of the busy Italian Market (Yes, I know that is confusing, but there is incredible Mexican food in the Italian Market… Welcome to Philadelphia).
Order: Barbacoa tacos!
Terawaka Ramen: We take almost everyone from out of town here and frequently hear “This is the best ramen I have ever had, and I’ve had ramen in ________” (insert: NYC, LA, Japan, etc).
Order: The Terekawa Ramen is my favorite but I’ve tried them all and loved them all. I highly recommend the pan fried gyoza and the pork buns as well.
Price: Ramen bowls are about $15 each.
Zorba’s Tavern: This is as close as you’re going to get to Santorini on this side of the world, and after visiting Santorini recently, I was butt hurt and ready to have a bad attitude like “this isn’t REAL Greek food”… but let me tell you… THIS is real Greek food. It tasted exactly like the food we ate in Athens and Santorini. Zorba’s had been on my list for over a year and that is one year of my life that I will not be able to go back and eat Zorba’s… I guess I’ll just eat there for the rest of my life moving forward. 🙂
Order: The dips platter with fresh pita, Saganaki flaming cheese (they set it on fire at your table), and everything else!
Price: $7-$32 per plate.
Pizza Brain / Museum: It’s a pizza shop, but also the worlds first Pizza Museum. That is enough to get it on any great restaurant list but the pizza is delicious and they all have fun names (not that that impacts the flavor… but maybe it does), and it’s really fun to see all the old pizza paraphernalia.
Order: The Alana Johnson pie… or really any pie. It’s the best in the city.
Price: Large pies go between $16-$27 with a personal pie averaging about $15.
Single Star: Honorable Mentions
A La Mousse – Another favorite with multiple Philly locations. Great to grab dessert and a speciality coffee drink.
Prices vary: specialty coffee drinks and high end pastry and desserst.
Barcelona Wine Bar – Wine and Tapas. I think everyone should checkout Barcelona Wine Bar. After visiting Madrid a few times and just wanting some good tapas and wine, this great spot scratched the itch. The atmosphere is lovely, the wine list is incredible and the food is delicious. I do think it is a bit overpriced for the portion sizes but it’s good quality and I recommend visiting.
Price: Small plate Tapas: $5-$16 each. Large plates: $21-$108 (giant meat dishes hitting that $108 number).
Cafe Nhan – The best Pho in Philadelphia in a quaint little shop in South Philly.
Price: a bowl of Pho ranges from $10-$15.
Franklin Fountain Ice Cream – I take all my out-of-town friends here to grab an ice cream cone to enjoy then take a stroll over to Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest continuously inhabited street in the USA).
Single scoop: $7. Double: $10.
Marra’s Italian – Walk in and it’s like being transported to the 1950’s Italian Philly world with a hand-built stone oven they cook their famous pizzas in. The perfect location for an evening stroll down East Passyunk after you’re stuffed with Italian.
Prices: Speciality pizzas range from $15-$25. Pasta dishes average about $16 each.
Murph’s Bar – If an Irish pub owner and an Italian chef made a baby, Murph’s Bar would be the baby. Your first look at this place and you might think it’s a classic Irish Pub serving up pints and typical bar food, if that’s what you think, you’d be right about the pints served over a bar made from pennies but the incredible gourmet Italian food will take you on a journey from Northern Europe right down to the southern tip in Italy. You absolutely must go just to try the Pear and Cheese Fiocchi. A nice touch added is a wine recommendation for each menu item.
Price: $12-$15 for an entree.
Shane Confectionary and Chocolate Shop – If it’s too cold for the Franklin Fountain (or if it’s not) I take all my out-of-town friends and family here to browse their incredible chocolate selection in an old-timey confectionary shop atmosphere, and/or a cup of their most decadent hot chocolate (seriously, it’s so thick you can almost chew it, or maybe that’s the giant homemade marshmallow on top). This is also the oldest confectionary in the USA that is still in operation.
Prices vary. Hot chocolate is $7/cup.
Suraya – Wait… what is this doing not at the top of the list? Well I loved the experience I had here, it was incredible food. However, do yourself a favor and go to Lazar Wolf instead. Lazar Wolf is serving up a much more unique dining experience with a very similar cuisine. If you’ve got money to burn and want to spot some celebrities then okay, go to Suraya.
Price: Dinner tasting menu is $70 per person. Lunch: $15-$17 per main dish.
The following restaurants did not earn a star but are worth noting:
Barbuzzo – Mediterranean. Absolutely order the Budino for dessert!
Boricua Retsurant – Puerto Rican delight! Everything I have ordered from this joint has been incredible!
Chatayee Thai – solid Thai food in center city. Get the Pad Thai.
Cira Green Rooftop – This rooftop boasts incredible Philadelphia Skyline views but is not so much of a restaurant as it is a scaled up concession stand that reminds me of being 10 years old and going to get snacks after my soccer game, but it’s elevated (in style, and literally it is physically elevated since it’s a rooftop). It’s a great place to grab some drinks or snacks and enjoy some of the most spectacular views of the city skyline. Food and drinks are only available seasonally but the rooftop is open year round.
The Continental Midtown – A beautiful rooftop and an elegant indoor dining area, in center city. Get the Korean fried chicken.
Dan Dan – Taiwanese cuisine in center city. A fun little spot.
El Vez – Unique flavor combos for the win here (try the guac with basil in it, it’s incredible).
Federal Donuts – Delightfully unique and delicious donut flavors, but also fried chicken. There are multiple locations around Philadelphia.
Metropolitan Bakery – Fresh artisinal baked goods. Fresh bread and the almond croissants are my favorite.
Mom Moms – Polish Takeout. Get the stuffed cabbage.
Puyero Venezuelan Flavor – Serving up authentic Venezuelan cuisine. Everything here is delicious but make sure you order a side of Tequeños!
Rowhome Coffee – Grab a coffee and a breakfast sandwich on a pretzel and hang out in the Skullkill River Park!
Stina Pizzeria – Mediterranean dishes and wood oven baked pizza. The menu here is unique and exciting! I really enjoyed the Turkish Dumplings.
Vibrant Coffee Roasters & Bakery – Some of the most unique speciality coffee drinks in Philadelphia and it’s right across the street from the Rittenhouse Farmers Market (on Saturdays).
Vista Peru – Peruvian cuisine. Try the Chicha Morada drink and ceviche.
That concludes my list of the most recommended restaurants in Philadelphia. I hope that this is of use to folks trying to figure out where they want to eat tonight.
Please leave a comment and tell me where I should visit next, or what your favorite restaurant on this list is. I’d love to hear from you!