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Best Philadelphia Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors

Cheesesteaks and soft pretzels have long been the dominant icons of Philadelphia cuisine. And while the city is still proud of them, it’s come a long way in recent years. The crowning of Philly chef Jose Garces as an Iron Chef shone a spotlight on the city’s culinary scene, piquing the interest of those who only think of Philly as a “wit-whiz” (as in a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz topping) city. But the truth is, the city was holding its own as a destination for foodies long before the Food Network ever showed up. Establishments like Vetri and Le Bec-Fin have long been ranked among the best in the country, and the city’s widespread BYOB culture adds a casual and budget-friendly twist to the scene.

Parc

Neighborhood: Rittenhouse Price: Expensive

Tables spill out onto the street in this French-inspired brasserie that feels more Paris than Philadelphia. Settle into one of the rattan outdoor chairs for a perfect vantage point of nearby Rittenhouse Square, or head inside and sidle up to the original zinc bar for a kir. Parc is known as one of the best Philadelphia restaurants, and for good reason. Comfortable, homey French classics—beef bourguignon, steak frites, trout amandine—reign supreme, and the crispy, chewy house-baked baguette will transport you to Paris minus the hassle of the 7-hour plane ride.

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Vetri Ristorante

Neighborhood: Center City Price: Expensive

At this eponymous jewel box, Chef Marc Vetri has been serving up a faultless blend of contemporary and classic Italian cuisine that quickly put him on foodies’ radar after he opened the doors in 1998. On weekends, the intimate trattoria’s 40 seats fill up quickly with diners poised for personalized, multi-course tasting menus culled from a rotation of seasonal ingredients. Call two months in advance for weekend tables, and know upfront that the tasting menus cost upwards of $100. Those without an expense account should head north to Vetri’s casual, yet equally acclaimed Osteria, where lightly charred pizzas and lighter-than-air gnocchi don’t come cheap, but won’t break the bank either.

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Amada

Neighborhood: Old City Price: Expensive

Even before Jose Garces became a Food Network star, he shone brightly on the Philadelphia food stage with his traditional Spanish tapas restaurant, Amada. Its 2005 arrival introduced the small plates concept to the city, and while the idea has caught on, no one does it quite like the original. Come for dishes like the freshly sliced charcuteria and the tortilla Espanola, and stay for inventive cocktails—like lemon rosemary martinis and the Matador cocktail, made with ginger, bourbon and elderflower—and flamenco dancing.

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Distrito

Neighborhood: University City
Price: Moderate

The atmosphere might be gaudy and you can literally swing from the rafters (the lounge chairs on the second floor are swings), but don’t let the Pepto-Bismol pink paint job and floor-to-ceiling wall of glittery wrestling masks fool you. Distrito is one of the best places in Philadelphia to eat some serious Mexican street food. Don’t leave without trying the skirt steak nachos, served with chile de arbol and a sprinkling of cilantro, or the slightly spicy house-made salsa.

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Distrito  

Vietnam Restaurant

Neighborhood: Chinatown Price: Moderate
The crispy spring rolls alone are reason enough to visit this unassuming Chinatown eatery. While the street front of this restaurant may hum with the neighborhood’s energy, the vibe inside is calm and the menu extensive. First timers should order the barbeque platter, which eats like a greatest hits appetizer list—tender meatballs, smoky stuffed grape leaves, moist grilled chicken, and those oh-so-delicious crispy spring rolls. If you’re feeling festive, order the ostentatious “Flaming Volcano,” a fruity cocktail for two, complete with paper umbrella and a center well filled with 151 rum set ablaze—just be prepared to turn some heads.

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Sabrina's Cafe

Neighborhood:

Italian Market/Bella Vista

Price: Moderate

Imaginative brunch creations—cream cheese- and banana-stuffed caramelized challah French toast with vanilla bean maple syrup—have Philadelphians braving the elements, and their hangovers, to stand in line at this always-packed Italian Market eatery. Get there early to score a table inside the quirky restaurant, where wire whisk chandeliers hang from the ceiling and staff artwork adorns the walls. There’s more room outdoors in warm weather, but the sidewalk tables are cramped and awkwardly placed. 

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Capogiro

Neighborhood: Midtown Village Price: Budget

The name of this gelateria, which means to swoon at something wonderful, is completely appropriate. While the menu sports breakfast and lunch items like pastries and paninis, the rainbow rows of locally-sourced, made-that-morning gelatos will have you ordering dessert first. Reliable standbys like vanilla and chocolate grace the case, but the standouts are more inventive flavors, like orange cardamom, rosemary honey goat’s milk and champagne mango. The dense creaminess and intense flavors lend themselves to smaller portions, so if you’re more interested in quantity over quality, you might want to head to the nearest Dairy Queen instead. 

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Capogiro  

Jim's Steaks

Neighborhood: South Street Price: Budget

Forget famous rival cheese steakeries Pat’s and Geno’s—you don’t need to head to the Italian Market to get an authentic taste of Philly. While there are four locations scattered around the city, Jim’s Steaks’ South Street storefront is undoubtedly the go-to spot for visitors and locals alike who are hankering for a hunk of whiz-slathered perfection. Come prepared to queue up, as the line often snakes out the door, and be ready to order when it’s your turn—the steak-slingers can turn surly when confronted with indecision.

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Tiffin

Neighborhood: Northern Liberties Price: Budget

Continuously cited as the best Indian food in the city, Tiffin has garnered countless devotees and inspired a handful of wannabes since its inception in 2007. Inspired by the lunch courier systems in Mumbai, the Northern Liberties location originally began as a delivery service, but has now expanded into a full-on restaurant, complete with an IKEA-inspired dining room. Tiffin is one of the top Philadelphia restaurants for a quick, delicious and wallet-friendly lunch. Come for Indian specialties, like yogurt and thyme-marinated tandoori chicken, and vegetarian favorite malai kofta, or plan a relaxing night in by ordering delivery online instead.

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Tria

Neighborhood: Midtown Village Price: Budget

Beer, wine and cheese make up the trifecta of fermentation that gives this blue-jeans-casual wine bar its name. Here, emphasis is placed on enjoyment and education, so check your wine snobbery at the door. Knowledgeable staff breaks down the menu, and suggests pairings for each item, whether you order the $3 caramelized onion and feta bruschetta, or the $10 smoked duck salad with strawberries and pistachios.  Come for Sunday School, a once-a-week opportunity to educate your palette about an uncommon beer, cheese or wine at half the price.

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