Best Place to Sear Your Soft Palate
Slurping the juice out of the Shanghai soup dumplings at Dim Sum Garden is the embodiment of the old phrase “hurts so good.” Sure, the broth from that first one will likely leave you with gently crisped skin at the top of your mouth. And yes, your taste buds may be a bit duller the next day as a result. But none of this matters. The immense pleasure delivered by these deceptively dainty flavor grenades is worth it—a tongue-coating, porky reaffirmation of why great Chinese food is among the best on the planet ... and certainly in Philadelphia.
Dim Sum Garden, 59 N. 11th St. 215.627.0218.
Best Damn Chicken Liver Mousse
Chicken liver mousse is hard for some people to wrap their heads around. They’re the same people who, when told about dishes deftly employing organ meat, crinkle their nose and shake their head in disgust. But for fans of ground up liver terrines and finely pureed entrails making for rich, complex and luxuriant flavors, pates and mousses are where it’s at. Pub & Kitchen, gratefully delivering gourmet product until 1 a.m., offers a handful of cheap bar snacks for the drinker game for whatever’s good, and for under $5. Their chicken liver mousse, delivered smothered over toast, knocks it out of the park. Pub & Kitchen, 1946 Lombard St. thepubandkitchen.com
Best Old School Italian Place for Homemade Gravy and a Ton of Attitude
Marra’s is a bit of time warp, but in a good way: the black-and-white tile, pitchers of birch beer, Louis Prima drowning out the sound of crying children. It’s like going to your grandmother’s house for gravy on Sunday complete with the abrasive attitude, over-sized portions and family legends (the pizza oven is said to have been built with brick from Mt. Vesuvius.) It’s not fancy or fusion or updated in any way, but when you want the basics—gnocchi, eggplant parm, ravioli, “kitchen drawer” pizza—grab a booth, don’t waste your servers’ precious time, and ask for a doggy bag.
Marra’s, 1734 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.463.9249. marrasone.com
Best New Restaurant That’s Easy To Hate on for Being Overpriced and Bougie
They keep popping up despite this aggresively rough economy’s damndest efforts: expensive, gastronomically chic, bougie buzz restaurants that become THE restaurant you simple MUST get to. All it takes is a little Craig LaBan fussing, a Philadelphia magazine hand job and watch the mainliners and Rittenhouse dandies come a runnin’. Once the hollering about how great and progressive it is subsides, the dishes just have to stand up. It seems like Barbuzzo before it has basically passed this test and handed the baton off to a.kitchen (the lower-casing and punctuating, so now). Asshole foodies and bloggers on your mark, get ready, start hating!
a.kitchen, 135 S. 18th St. 215.825.7030. akitchenphilly.posterous.com
Best Place to Eat Falafel in West Philly During Ramadan
Ramadan’s a holy time for some, but hellish for others. It’s brutal for many in West Philly because Saad’s, the dopest falafel spot in town, shuts down for the whole fucking month. But things were different this year thanks to Manakeesh, the Lebanese restaurant right across the street from Saad’s. Unlike their neighbor, they stayed open, serving up mad falafel balls, delicious flatbread sammies and sticky baklava. Sticking to Ramadan fasting schedules, they opened after sunset and tossed dishes until 3 a.m., making the month enjoyable for hungry heathens. So thanks, Manakeesh, but post-Ram, Saad’s is still king.
Manakeesh Café & Bakery, 4420 Chestnut St. 215.921.2135. manakeeshcafe.com
Best Place to Feel Like You’ve Left Philly
Like the old-timers in South Philly will tell you, why waste your money on trips abroad when you have Ninth Street and Passyunk Avenue? OK, that’s completely delusional, but Mr. Joe’s is as close to Rome as you can get without a passport. Owned by Termini’s and located across the street from the infamous bakery, it’s incredibly affordable and because of its odd hours (they close at 5 p.m.). There’s usually only a short wait for a table. Everything from the glass display case, the complimentary glass of house wine, the TV silently playing a soccer game, the simple but delicious pastas and hot sandwiches make this joint the perfect mini-escape.
Mr. Joe’s Cafe, 1514 S. Eighth St. 215.334.1414
Waitstaff You’ll Want to Befriend or Date Immediately
You come for the riblet sandwich but you stay for an inappropriate amount of time because your waitress is just delightful! The wait staff at A Full Plate seems genuinely interested in your order and your life. They possess that NoLibs, cooler-than-you-are quality while still giving you some hope that you’d totally be friends in real life when they aren’t being paid to “hang out” with you. You’ll find yourself using any excuse to keep talking to your server—yes I definitely need a refill, more BBQ sauce please, another order of vegan mac n’ cheese. Why not? Even if you’re a carnivore, the Southern-inspired, vegan-friendly menu is so addictive (and healthy!) you won’t mind sticking around.
We’ve been stuffing ourselves to the gills around here with soul food from every corner of this fair city. And in the Food & Drink Issue you can see where, exactly, we’ve been doing it. Dig in.
Ever think to yourself: Hey, I wonder where I can have a threesome and then promptly forget about it? Well, one of our writers thinks he's found that place. Want Mexican food that doesn't burn on the way out? Of course you do. More of these questions and answers have found their way into this year's Better Than Best issue. And what's better than best, you ask? We have no idea. We just knew we couldn't use Best Of, because another publication in this town has it on lockdown. But that doesn't mean we didn't put an enormous amount of effort into bringing you the most random hidden gems Philly has to offer. Because we did. And we think we've got a pretty good list going on here.
Dinner with Luke Palladino