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10 Superheroes of the Philadelphia Dining Scene

Think of them as the League of Just-taste
July 18, 2016
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by Caroline Russock

Think of superheroes, and you imagine tights and capes — but there are plenty of noteworthy agents disguised in chefs' whites and aprons. Here in Philly, we've got a league of heroes that includes everyone from a bacon baron to a food cart crusader to a British food revival. Read on for what's what.

The hero: Sam Jacobson
His lair: Stargazy
Superpower: Bringing British pies to Philly
Origin story: After a decade of working in Philly’s top kitchens, Jacobson returned to his roots with a pie and mash shop that’s straight out of London’s East End. From gratis tea to Tottenham on the telly, he’s brought real deal British fare to East Passyunk Avenue.

The hero: Becca O’Brien-Rondinelli
Her lair: Garage
Superpower: Food cart caterer extraordinaire
Origin story: Coming from the kitchen at Creperie Beau Monde, O’Brien-Rondinelli supported her food truckin’ friends before becoming Garage’s resident weekend caterer. Working out of a tiny indoor food court, she does serious weekend brunch (with of plenty potatoes O’Brien, of course), as well as pho nights and build your own burrito setups.

The hero: Ari Miller
His lair: 1732 Meats
Superpower: Philly’s baron of bacon
Origin story: Foregoing a career in finance for his true calling, Miller opened up his own large-scale cured meats operation in Lansdowne last year. His signature pepper-crusted bacon and guanciale have transitioned from a Philly chef's fave to a staple in gourmet shops all over the country.

The hero: Lucio Palazzo
His lair: Loco Pez
Superpower: Mastering the art of Mexican cooking
Origin story: Italian-born, French-trained chef Palazzo put his pastry path on hold in favor of his real love: regional Mexican cooking. After taking Taqueria Feliz to the next level, he has transitioned to heading up the kitchen at Loco Pez where he can really flex his taco muscles.

The hero: Kiki Aranita
Her lair: Poi Dog Philly
Superpower: Plate lunch pirate
Origin story: Hong Kong-born, Oahu-raised Aranita might have gone to school for classics — but her mobile food operation introduced Philadelphia to another kind of classic, traditional Hawaiian fare. With mac salad, rice plate lunches, musubis, poke and POG, Poi Dog is as close as you’re going to get to the Big Island in Philly.  

The hero: Michael Millon
His lair: A Mano
Superpower: Italian iconoclast
Origin story: After spending 10 years working with chef Townsend Wentz, Millon was given his own canvas at A Mano. His menu of antipasti, primi and secondi reflect his deep love and knowledge of regional and homey Italian cooking.

The hero: Cristina Martinez
Her lair: South Philly Barbacoa
Superpower: Taco tempest with a heart for human rights
Origin story: Hailing from Capulhuac — i.e. the barbacoa capital of Mexico — Martinez brought her top-notch lamb skills to Philly. Her tacos have expanded from a weekends-only food cart operation to a full-scale taqueria where she uses to the space to host community meetings concerning the rights of undocumented workers.

The hero: Max Gottesfeld
His lair: Fine Wine and Good Spirits
Superpower: State store sommelier  
Origin story: The state-run liquor stores of Pennsylvania can feel like an every man for himself situation when it comes to wine. But if you venture into this Chestnut Street store, the bespectacled Gottesfeld is always happy to assist in choosing the right bottles to BYO or crack open at home.

The hero: Ange Branca
Her lair: Sate Kampar
Superpower: Stoker of the coconut coals
Origin story: Jet-setting corporate life landed Malaysian native Branca in Philly, and that’s where she opted out of the rat race in favor of a sleek BYO where she recreates the char-grilled sate skewers, banana-leaf steamed rice dishes and curries she grew up with.

The hero: Mariel Wega
Her lair: a.kitchen
Superpower: Naturally gifted natural wine whisperer
Origin story: Selling wine at the reputable Moore Brothers just over the bridge in Jersey, Wega was perfectly teed to take over the list of esoteric offerings at this Rittenhouse wine mecca. Now she welcomes small, natural producers for meet-and-greet tastings on the reg.

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