A “classic” is something of outstanding quality as judged over a period of time. But how much time? Can dishes become iconic within a couple of years, or even just a few months? Absolutely, yes. From the top burger to the best fried chicken and the sexiest steak to the sweetest donut, here are the 15 new classics of the Philly restaurant scene.
Don’t bother asking the kitchen to turn down the heat on this notorious dish — the burn is the price you’ve gotta pay to sink your teeth into Kevin Sbraga’s masterful interpretation of the Tennessee favorite. The crackle of fiery skin plus juicy meat plus cooling ranch dressing equals a bewitching magnet with enough pull to draw the crowds across the river to West Philly (pictured above).
3131 Walnut St.; 215-735-1914
Said it before and we'll say it again: Adan Trinidad is a taco sorcerer. Just about any tortilla-encased snack at his Fishtown cantina could contend for best in the city, but the lobster version is both splendid and unique. Butter-soaked meat, black bean purée, arbol chile sauce, avocado and sweet corn coalesce for a dish that brings all the boys and girls to Girard.
19 W. Girard Ave.; 267-324-3530
Nothing about the burger at this East Passyunk tavern is fancy, and that’s exactly what makes it a favorite of just about anyone who’s ever stepped through the door. A tender patty with a charred exterior cozies up with American cheese, lettuce and tomato in a Martin’s potato roll — it’s the burger you might try to make yourself, done perfectly right. (Plus, hard to beat the price.)
1601 S. 10th St.; 267-324-3910
At the start, a giant cooker wasn’t enough to keep the roll-up garage door open long enough to satisfy all the seekers of this velvety chickpea mixture with various toppings — early closures because of sellout happened often. However, chef de cuisine Emily Seaman has upped her game (especially in the fresh-baked-pita category), and hours at Michael Solomonov’s Center City hummusiya have been extended through 7 PM nightly.
1625 Sansom St.; 215-867-8181
No phone. No slices. Cash only. Wednesday through Saturday hours. Early sellouts. Despite the effort it takes to get hold of one of Joe Beddia’s pies, customers who’ve been transported to pizza paradise after eating one know better than to get angry. In fact, “angry” is the minimalist description Beddia offers for this spicy round, which is sauced with pickled serrano and Thai peppers and showered with three kinds of cheese.
115 E. Girard Ave.; no phone
Greg Vernick’s clever take of “eggs on eggs” is popular both with people who’ve never tried uni and folks who’ve already fallen in love with sea urchin roe. The chilled orange lobes come spread across a crock holding warm eggs scrambled with shrimp butter and topped with whipped yogurt, and each bite is as creamily intense as a great dessert...in opposite land.
2031 Walnut St.; 267-639-6644
Like a trusted lady-in-waiting, a swath of bruléed marshmallow peeks out from below the dazzling orange purée in this soup at Mitch Prensky’s South Street restaurant, but it’s the crunchy dice of apples that really turns the bowl into something special. The main ingredient changes with the seasons, from butternut squash to sweet potatoes to carrots, but all of them are winners.
926 South St.; 215-592-8180
These beauties at the Wash West noodle joint have all the traditional dish’s appeal with none of the punishing heat. Twice-fried after an overnight brine and tossed with shishitos, black garlic soy sauce, sesame seeds and cilantro, these wings have won over scores of Buffalo fans with their intriguing flavor and perfect crunch.
255 S. 10th St.; 267-639-4136
Though this Wash West Vetri spot is mostly under the aegis of Brad Spence, the recipe for this faultless rendition of the Italian dessert comes straight from the Bergamo-native mother-in-law of Jeff Michaud. With meltingly soft espresso-soaked ladyfingers layered between ethereal whipped mascarpone, it’ll make you forget any other tiramisu even exists.
412 S. 13th St.; 215-732-2647
Guests who skip the strip loin at this Wash West dining room are often struck with regret the moment they see the 28-day dry-aged hunk of Niman Ranch beef land on a neighboring table. Topped with a stripe of tangy chimichurri, the already-flavorful meat is made even better by a skillful grilling session on the Petruce brothers’ wood-fired flames.
1121 Walnut St.; 267-225-8232
This shot-and-beer combo at Jose Garces’ revamp of the Old Original Bookbinders is a long way from PBR and Jim Beam, but it’s just as enjoyable. “Just your basic Civil War breakfast,” reads the menu description — order one and you’ll immediately see how the Narragansett Coffee Milk Stout topped with cold-brew coffee plus a shot of La Colombe coffee-infused rum and nib of Side Project jerky could provide extra moxie for any battle.
125 Walnut St.; 215-253-3777
At their Old City cafe (soon expanding to NYC), Eli Kulp and Ellen Yin have managed to achieve an elusive balance — whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, their menus perch on the precarious apex where innovation and comfort cross. One morning result is this sandwich of Lancaster bologna, smoked cheddar, housemade hot sauce, fried red onions and a fried egg, all piled onto a house-baked poppyseed kaiser roll.
308 Market St.; 215-625-0988
Last year, when he was revamping the offerings at this Rittenhouse favorite for spring, Eli Collins tried to take this fresh-baked loaf off the menu. Regular guests (and house staff) began howling, so the chef acquiesced, and it’s been on the list ever since. Instead, he changes the flavors infused into the smear of the bee-pollen-topped butter served on the side.
1946 Lombard St.; 215-545-0350
Even though Luke Palladino has only been cooking in Philadelphia proper for a few months, he’s already won the hearts of pasta lovers with this dish, and it makes sense — they’ve long been a favorite at his Linwood BYO. Candy-wrapper ravioli filled with roasted beets and smoked ricotta sit like savory bonbons beneath melted butter swirled with crushed poppy seeds.
1934 E. Passyunk Ave.; 267-928-4339
It seems like this CookNSolo mini-chain has rolled out zillions of flavors for its daily made “fancies” over its three-plus years of existence (during which time the cake batter has improved immensely), but it was only recently that chefs attempted a version this simple. Coated in nothing but sugary glaze, it’s an icon reborn.