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Philadelphia has an enormous appetite for food - and their restaurant scene certainly reflects that. Here are some favorite restaurants in the City of Brotherly Love (in no particular order):
1. El Vez (121 S 13th St) - Stephen Starr always seems to get it right. This time he does it with Mexican food, making it trendy and sexy. The homemade tableside guacamole for an appetizer is stellar, as are the mahi-mahi tacos. The margaritas are stellar (and strong!) as well - the pomegranate ones are especially tasty on a hot summer evening.
2. Friday Saturday Sunday (261 S 21st St) - This place has been around forever, and with good reason. It is cute, quaint and romantic. The cream of mushroom soup is the best anywhere, hands down. Other standouts include excellent crab cakes, baby rack of lamb and horseradish-crusted tilapia. The wine list boasts some great finds for only $10 over cost. The upstairs Tank Bar (with it's big aquarium and multi-colored fish) is a cozy spot for a pre-dinner/post-dinner drink.
3. Mezza Luna (763 S 8th St) - It was hard to include just ONE South Philly Italian restaurant, but this place is just phenomenal, so it takes top honors in South Philly. The light-as-a-feather gnocchi is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. The baby clams in white sauce burst with flavor. The veal medallions cut like butter. The service is never rushed. They do have a bar, but will also let you BYOB, which is great. The prices are reasonable. The owner treats you like one of the family. An absolute gem.
4. Tangerine (232 Market St) - This "starr" of a restaurant specializes in Moroccan-influnced cuisine. Start out with a signature "Tangerine" cocktail at the chic bar (tastes like a creamsicle with a kick!) and move into the candlelit dining room for a fantastic meal. The chicken tagine is delicious and should not be missed. Finish off your meal with some fantastic banana creme brulee.
5. Standard Tap (901 N 2nd St) - Sure, it's a pub, but it's a pub with great, great food. It's really one of the best food bargains in the city. Apparently the chef here used to be a sous chef at the venerable Striped Bass on Walnut Street and it really shows. The blackboard menu changes daily and anything seafood/fish oriented is always out of this world. The burgers are great as well (try the lamb burger,you won't be disappointed.) It's laid-back and unpretentious. The rooftop deck is a great place to eat and drink in nice weather. The beer selection (lots of local microbrews) are out-of-this-world. It's just a great place.
6. Bistro Romano (120 Lombard St) - Good food and atmosphere. Housed in an 18th century granary, it is romantic and earthy. The food is delicious. The tableside Caesar salad is divine and the liguine posillipo (with baby clams in a white sauce) is perfect - just spicy enough to really be enjoyable. Try to get reservations in the private wine cellar for dinner - very unique dining experience.
7. Le Bec Fin (1523 Walnut St) - It's hard to pick just one really high-end place (and the Fountain Room at the Four Seasons certainly ranks up there), but if pressed, choose the very French Le Bec. The prix-fixe dinner is over-the-top, but something you should do once in your life. Sure, it is silver platters and domes and tuxeoded waiters, but when you're paying $200+/pp, you don't want someone in jeans serving you, do you? The dessert cart is nothing short of amazing. If you want the experience but don't want the big bill, go for the 3 course lunch menu - it includes the dessert cart as well and is actually, a great bargain considering the quality of the food.
8. White Dog Cafe (3420 Sansom St) - Over in University City lies Penn's answer to good food - the White Dog Cafe. Everything on the ever-changing menu is organic, locally-greown, pesticide -free and humanely raised. And it's all really good and sometimes very unusual. It has a great, friendly neighborhood vibe. Don't hesitate to eat at the bar (if you can get a seat, that is) - the menu is more basic but nonetheless good - and you can orer off the dinner menu from there as well.
9. Ariana (134 Chestnut St) - Great Afghan cuisine. Prices are downright cheap - dinner for two with appetizers, entrees, and a shared dessert was under $40. It is BYOB. The lamb and fish kabobs are excellent. Try to secure the window seat with its low table and pillows. The seasonings on the food are subtle and delicious. Service is unobtrusive and friendly. A very different and unique dining experience right in the heart of Old City.
10. Morimoto (723 Chestnut St) - The Iron Chef came to Philly and made a splash with the best Japanese restaurant here without question. The omakese chef menu are expensive, but to die for. If sushi isn't your thing, order from the regular menu - everything is excellent and befitting of Morimoto's stellar reputation. Great sake choices as well.11. Vetri (1312 Spruce Street) - This is extraordinary food, and you will never have Italian like this ever again. The experience is ethereal. You will not find red sauce here. Instead, the food is rustic and traditional with a somewhat avante-garde twist. A good alternative to Le Bec or the Fountain Room, because the caliber of the food is equal, if not better, and the dining room atmosphere is more relaxed than the aforementioned.