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12 Dining and Drinking Secrets in Philadelphia

By Danya Henninger
September 9, 2013

Think you know the Philly food scene inside out? Click through our list of 12 off-menu items, hidden gems, free tastings and under-the-radar events, and see whether we've discovered something new to put on your must-try list.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Off Menu: Tripe at Bibou

    Tripe hasn’t been on the official menu for many years at Pierre Calmels’ Bella Vista dining room, but if you call at least a week in advance to request it, front-of-the-house master (and the chef’s wife) Charlotte will convince the chef to make it for you. If you are a fan of the curly offal, mention it when you make your reservation - since you pretty much need to book far in advance anyway - and you’ll be good to go.

    1009 S. Eighth St.; 215-965-8290

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Killer Deal: Tayim Tasting at Zahav

    When we were chatting recently with Michael Solomonov about the upcoming Restaurant Week menu at Zahav, the chef made a fantastic point: the modern Israeli’s multicourse spread of hummus, meze, salads, grilled meats and dessert that’s available for $35 during the two-week promotion is actually available any time at the Society Hill dining room for $39, just $4 more. So if you want, you can skip the crowds and enjoy your tayim feast whenever you please.

    237 St. James Pl.; 215-625-8800

  • Hidden Gem: Vientiane Cafe

    College students who live in University City are well aware of this family-run Lao-Thai dining room, but the rest of us, probably not so much. That deserves to change, because the BYO has recently expanded into a whole new space next door to its original row home spot, and offers authentic tastes of Laos and Thailand during both lunch and dinner.

    4728 Baltimore Ave.; 215-726-1095

  • Photo by: Shola Olunloyo

    Hot Event: Studiokitchen Omakase

    Shola Olunloyo has been called “Philly’s best chef without a restaurant,” and while he usually keeps busy with catering and private events, occasionally he hosts dinners that are open to the public. Two are on the calendar for this month, omakase tastings that include 12 plates of “luxury Japanese-inspired dishes” for $99 per person on September 18 and 19. Space is limited, so snag your seat now.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Once a Week: Chicken Pho at Cafe Diem

    On Thursdays, this tiny Vietnamese cafe a few doors down from Bibou offers an alternative to the beef-based bún bò huế and beef pho for which the spot has become famous. Chicken pho is just as soulfully rich as its cow-based counterpart, but more delicate - think of grandma’s chicken soup, and multiply the layers of flavor complexity by seven. Midtown Lunch Philadelphia discovered a couple of years ago that the secret is a freshly killed bird - which, well, you don’t have to think about if you don’t want to. Just slurp the soup.

    1031 S. Eighth St.; 215-923-8347

  • Off Menu: Blue Long Islands at Oscar's Tavern

    If you're hitting the Sansom Street dive after a rough day or are just in the mood for a quick buzz, order the Blue Long Island Tea. Though it's not on the menu, it's an Oscar's standard, and for just $8, it will get you happy, fast. Bring a couple friends and order two cheesesteak-and-a-half meals - you'll get a trio of sandwiches to divvy up among the three of you.

    1524 Sansom St.; 215-972-9938

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Behind the Scenes: After Hours at Di Bruno Bros.

    The gourmet purveyors’ inimitable original cheese cave in the Italian Market can get awfully crowded during the day, and anyone who’s squeezed in has probably dreamed of having the place to him or herself. As it turns out, the dream can become a reality. Collect $450 from eight guests (add more people for $55 each), and from 7-9 PM weekdays or 5-7 PM Sunday you’ll have free reign, complete with personal tutorials from cheesemongers, composed plates to nibble on and a trip behind the historical counter.

    930 S. Ninth St.; 215-922-2876

  • Twitterless Truck: Mi Pueblita Tacos

    With all the social-media-savvy food trucks we have now in Philadelphia, it’s easy to overlook a mobile kitchen that relies simply on catching customers as they pass by. If you do happen to be strolling down Washington near Eighth Street, however, this vehicle’s bright orange and blue wrap will definitely catch your eye, and the spicy housemade salsa will make an even better impression on your taste buds.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Dive Find: Robert's Twi-Lite Lounge

    We passed by this dive on the corner of 20th and Bainbridge several times before finally asking locals what the deal was. Turns out, behind a nondescript facade with no sign to speak of hides a serious jazz bar with a live band at least once a week. Only a bit of light ever enters the room - through a few glass bricks - but it’s clean, drinks are cheap, and the music is bumping.

    700 S. 20th St.

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Off Menu: Ice Cream Sandwiches at Capogiro

    You can sometimes find premade ice cream sandwiches (technically gelato sandwiches) at this quad of gelaterias, but we discovered recently you don't have to settle for what's in the cooler. Simply choose a flavor - any flavor - from the overflowing case and pick a couple of cookies from the counter jar, and the server will create a custom hand-held dessert for you, on the spot.

  • Photo by: GPTMC

    Semi-Secret: Karaoke Room at Distrito

    The interior of Jose Garces’ West Philly cantina has plenty to look at, but when you want to dazzle your friends’ ears as well as their eyes, book the private room hidden behind the hostess stand for a private karaoke party. The room fits up to 15 people, and prices vary according to what kind of food spread you want and how many folks you’re bringing along. The big-screen TV music machine comes pre-filled with all your favorite sing-along hits.

    3945 Chestnut St.; 215-222-1657

  • Photo by: Danya Henninger

    Free Beer: Foodery Tastings

    All of the locations of this impressively stocked bottle shop hold frequent samplings of new or unique beers. There’s not necessarily a set schedule for all of them - although The Corner Foodery in Rittenhouse can be counted on to host something most Fridays between 5-7 PM - but if you follow along on Twitter, you’ll get a heads up and be able to head over for some gratis sips of something good.

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Places Mentioned

The Corner Foodery

American • Rittenhouse Square

Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Distrito

Mexican • Spruce Hill

Food25 Decor25 Service23 Cost$43
 
 
 
Zahav

Israeli • Society Hill

Food27 Decor24 Service26 Cost$51
 
 
 
Bibou

French • Bella Vista

Food29 Decor21 Service27 Cost$55
 
 
 
 
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