OK, so it’s not technically within the Philly city limits, and there are fancier Japanese joints in Center City replete with obnoxious clientele, but by God, our heart swells whenever we think of Sagami . And even though it's situated just across the bridge in the dark depths of Collingswood, N.J., we consider it ours. It’s a simple, unassuming gem of a place, that has consistently shone for years, doing the simple things (tempura, sashimi, sushi) with the utmost skill and love. Consequently, it’s frequently packed by loyal punters from across the region (even the hallowed New York Times food section has given it the critical thumbs up), who return time and time again for some of the freshest and most beautifully assembled Nigiri sushi this side of Tokyo Bay. No frills, no fuss—this is a zen-like experience that puts its overpriced competitors to shame. Oh, and did we mention its BYO? What’s not to love?
Sagami, 37 W. Crescent Blvd., Collingswood, N.J .856.854.9773
Carman, the cafe’s namesake, owner and solitary chef, serves up moderately priced and plentifully portioned breakfast platters catering to both the sweet and savory tooth. She’s tucked away in the back (not too far from your table in this 15-seater) flipping flapjacks and putting a delicious sear on the ever-changing offering of local charcuteries. Décor is homey. Coffee mugs and dishware are as mismatched as at any dorm room dinner party, and the walls are bedazzled with family photos and ironic oddities, not the least of which is a sign declaring the cafe’s motto: “Putting the cunt back in country, Carman’s Country Kitchen .” Seating is at a premium so when all the tables, counter stools and picnic table in the pick-up truck bed outside fill up, don’t leisurely sip your coffee. Carmen doesn’t mince words when encouraging diners to move along for the next group. Cozy, delicious, and, yeah, maybe a little bit cunty, Carman’s Country Kitchen is deliciously Philly.
Carman’s Country Kitchen, 1301 S. 11th St. 215.339.9613
Robb Walsh, restaurant reviewer at Houston Press and author of several books about Texas food including Legends of Texas BBQ , was cynical when we told him about the Percy Street Barbecue management team’s sojourn down to Texas hill country in search of the perfect brisket. “The problem with a lot of these trips northern chefs take down here for barbecue is … well, they’re chefs, they don’t get out of bed until noon, and by the time they get to the barbecue spots all the good stuff is gone. They get the wrong impression.” Not so with this crew, who did a dedicated, up-at-the-ass-crack-of-dawn, brisket-for-breakfast trek. It shows in their moist brisket, a perfectly executed, glistening with fat, permeated with smoke take on Texas barbecue. The key, of course, is the fat cap, which melts into the meat and keeps it from drying out while it’s being smoked slow and low for several hours. “There should be as much fat as meat,” Walsh says. He should know. He literally wrote the book on it. And judging by Percy’s tender moist brisket, they’ve read it.
Percy Street Barbecue, 900 South St. 215.625.8510. percystreet.com
Fries versus tots? Is this still even a thing people are debating? Clearly tots take it. Fries: ubiquitous, often too thick or thin, or too greasy. Even when they’re good, they’re still common. Tots, however, are always a rare, fluffy, bite-sized treat. They cannot be improved upon. Except now they have been. The mad geniuses behind the kitchen curtain at Royal Tavern are wrapping them in bacon and frying them up, and each one is a tiny taste of heart-exploding perfection. They’re delivered to your table on two skewers, each with four tots, and a spicy mayo dipping sauce just in case you were worried these things weren’t unhealthy enough already. Available sporadically, they’re an off-the-menu specials item that deserves a permanent roster spot before they're inevitably inducted into the Things That Rule Hall of Fame.
Royal Tavern, 937 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.389.6694. royaltavern.com
For the soda connoisseur there isn’t much that can beat the fountain. There’s something about the sweetness, the effervescing bubbles and the refills that makes fountain soda the ultimate in carbonated corn syrup. Now, let’s talk flavors. Pepsi and Coca-Cola Classic are expected but Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper? Thank you, sweet baby Jesus for allowing these delicious beverages to be invented. At Pita Pit you get a 32-ounce bucket for under $2. This trough of sugar will last at least an hour depending on your ice ratio.
Pita Pit, 1601 Sansom St. 215.564.1080. phillypitapit.com
Twelfth Street between Walnut and Locust rivals 13th Street as the gayest of gay. You can’t beat the duo of 12th Street Gym and Brew-Ha Ha! for cruising. If Eighth Avenue in Chelsea is New York's big gay catwalk, this is ours. You’ve got muscle gays (and straights) pouring out of the gym, and they all magnetically gravitate towards Brew-Ha Ha! A quick glance at the M4M Missed Connections reveals the gritty truth: Hearts swell and are broken every day at this gay haven. Newbies be forewarned, you will get eyes if you’re even remotely attractive. There’s no real type here: Professionals, bartenders and grandpas all flock to Brew-Ha Ha! for eye candy and to see and be seen. BHH is a chain and that means the product is nothing special, the food is limited and everything’s puh-ricey—but it’s not about the menu, it’s about the mens.
Brew-Ha Ha, 212 S. 12th St. 215.893.5680. brewhaha.com
The 2000 block of Chestnut Street is home to a row of cool little Asian restaurants. Thai Chef & Noodle Fusion is relatively frumpy, but it’s got a couple of things going for it: First, it’s got some of the best Pad Thai in Center City, a stick-to-your-ribs portion of noodles that will leave you sleepy and satisfied. Second, the waitstaff loves babies—to a almost frightening extent. It can be culturally awkward when the waitress asks to take your child back into the kitchen, but if you’re a young parent who lives downtown and you just want to have a meal out, goddamnit, a place with great food that welcomes children instead of treating them as inconvenient appendages is welcome.