We’ve heard it whispered among chefs, shouted incredulously by returning alumni and chattered to death about on Twitter — Philadelphia is overflowing with fantastic food right now. From an exemplary field, here are our picks for the 10 best things we ate this year (and it’s only half over!).
Sweet Potatoes at Petruce et al.
Why We Love Them: Corn nuts and sweet potato? In Jonathan and Justin Petruce’s wood-fired Walnut Street kitchen, yes, very much so. Roasted hunks of bright-orange flesh tumble Southwestern-style with those crunchy bits, avocado purée, tomatillo salsa and queso fresco, and the unexpected becomes a taste you’ll crave again ($10).
1121 Walnut St.; 267-225-8232
Whiskey & Sage Bread at Pub & Kitchen
Why We Love It: Put aside quibbles about whether restaurants should charge for bread, because this is a dish in its own right — albeit one in the form of a "Pabbit"-stamped loaf. If you don’t want to give credit to chef Eli Collins’ crusty, warm circle of hearty herbed wheat, simply think of it as something to scoop up the housemade butter dotted with bee pollen at the Lombard Street tavern ($6).
1946 Lombard St.; 215-545-0350
Grilled Prawns at a.kitchen
Why We Love It: Of all the exciting plates coming out of the Rittenhouse bistro since Eli Kulp took over, these whole prawns are the ones we wish came in unlimited quantity. As it is, you decide how many to order, but make sure to get one for each in your party, because the spice of chef de cuisine Jon Nodler’s chile-scallion-lime marinade plays happy seesaw with the char from the open kitchen’s charcoal grill ($7 each).
1335 S. 18th St.; 215-825-7030
Tuna Tacos at Sancho Pistola’s
Why We Love Them: The best guacamole chef Adan Trinidad puts out at this Fishtown mariscos-mezcaleria is the one covered with spicy cubes of tuna tartare, and these tacos just improve on that combo. A slight char on the edges of the fish, a sweet and tart mango salsa and a fiery honey-pasilla sauce make this one of the best tortilla toppers in the city ($9).
19 W. Girard Ave.; 267-324-3530
Pork Belly at Society Hill Society
Why We Love It: We’ve had dreams about being as rich as the consommé chef Yun Fuentes pours over the block of apple-braised pork belly that snuggles up to creamy herb dumplings and pea shoots dressed in kale oil. Why not serve more of it with each dish? “Do you know how much ham and how many hours that broth takes?” was the apologetic answer. Still, if you happen to tilt your server’s hand for an extra dash, we’re sure the kitchen will understand ($19).
400 S. Second St.; 267-273-1434
Drums of Heaven at IndeBlue
Why We Love Them: Twice-fried for extra crispiness and frenched for easy eating, the battered drumettes chef-owner Rakesh Ramola’s Midtown Village Indian are drenched in tomato-chile sauce that’s just as spicy as regular Buffalo, but with a deeper flavor. Sprinkled with blue cheese and scallion, these belong in the ranks of the best wings in the city ($8).
205 S. 13th St.; 215-545-4633
BBQ Brisket at Rex 1516
Why We Love It: It’s unfair to get mad when BBQ is too easy to eat, but we were almost angry at chef Justin Swain after half the plate of brisket at this South Street West dining room disappeared before we gained control of our fork. His trick of packing fatty/lean-burnt/end portions immediately after a 10-hour smoke and water-bath-warming them to order creates meltingly soft, juicy strands that retain a crunchy bark holding a cache of smoky flavor ($26).
1516 South St.; 267-319-1366
Soup Dumplings at Dim Sum Garden
Why We Love Them: It caused some confusion when this fluorescent-lit soup-dumpling haven reopened with the same name after the previous operators moved the brand around the corner and relaunched it in fancier digs. (Apparently, it’s a matter of landlord vs. tenant and teacher vs. disciple — we’re still not sure how it all went down, but for now, there are two.) Happily, the steaming, broth-filled sacks of spicy pork at the original beside the Chinatown bus stop are just as satisfying to suck dry and gobble up as ever ($6.75).
59 N. 11th St.; 215-627-0218
Wyebrook Farm Rib-Eye at Tela’s Market
Why We Love It: You have to reserve several weeks in advance to get into one of chef Chad Williams’ Friday night prix fixe dinners, but the quality of the food matches the rustic-fancy glow of the table set in the midst of the market. Case in point, this smoked local rib rack, which delivered the most pleasingly “beefy” meat we’ve tasted. As popular sandwiches prove, sautéed broccoli rabe is its perfect match ($75 for three-plus courses).
1833 Fairmount Ave.; 215-235-0170
Duck-Fat Tamal at Lolita
Why We Love It: Until tasting the braised chicken and peanut mole-soaked masa cake at Marcie Turney’s revamped modern Mexican in Midtown Village, we’d never understood the frenzy over tamales. Topped with rajas, Chihuahua cheese and corn-jicama slaw, this open-ended corn husk turned us into zealous fans ($10).
106 S. 13th St.; 215-546-7100