The 20 New Restaurants That Mattered Most This Year

By Danya Henninger  |  December 17, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

After the past 12 months, there is no doubt Philadelphia deserves a mention in any conversation about great restaurant cities of the U.S. New openings continued at a pace that matched - if not surpassed - the previous year, and the launches included more notable figures than ever before.

2013 wasn’t just about big names, though. It was also about spreading the wealth of good food throughout the city, and even beyond its borders. From a fertile crop of newcomers, here are our picks for the ones that had the most impact on the Philly food scene as we know and love it.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    A New Home for Big-Name Chefs: Serpico / Avance

    Though their choice of neighborhood could hardly be more disparate, both Peter Serpico and Justin Bogle brought impressive name recognition to their new Philadelphia ventures.

    Launched in partnership with Stephen Starr this June, Serpico’s venture has been hailed as a culinary success (our take is that he’s cooking food unlike anything else you’ll find in Philly), and the elegant dining room is consistently full despite its location on a somewhat gritty block of South Street.

    Bogle’s Avance has only just opened in the former Le Bec-Fin space on Walnut, but all signs point to a heartfelt, interesting and well-thought-out plan to deliver new acclaim to the storied address.

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    Pioneers of New Flavor: Cheu Noodle Bar / Noord

    Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re missing.

    Though the response to early pop-ups was promising, no one was sure whether chef Ben Puchowitz and partner Shawn Darragh could sustain a whole restaurant with their unorthodox twists on Asian standards. Then Cheu Noodle Bar opened in April, and we fell in love with matzo ball ramen and cheeseburger rice buns, and so did tons of other diners, packing the narrow Wash West room night after night.

    Joncarl Lachman’s teddybearlike persona and easy smile belie his mastery of the nuances of Nordic cuisine, which was nearly impossible to find here before he opened the doors at Noord in May. It’s been a pleasant homecoming for the Philly native, who saw success with several ventures in Chicago before launching this BYO on East Passyunk.

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    The Rise of the Market-Cafe: Talula’s Daily / High Street on Market / Tela’s Market & Kitchen / Farm and Fisherman Tavern & Market

    As contemporary dining moves further and further from the land of white tablecloths, a new breed of storefront has become ascendant: the combination market and cafe, often augmented by a sit-down dinner aspect.

    Aimee Olexy was first to take the concept big, and after convincing partner Stephen Starr that it would work, opened Talula’s Daily on Washington Square in June. From coffee and pastries to gourmet goods and the family-style suppers served six nights a week, the place has been roaring with almost nary a misstep.

    Owner Ellen Yin and chef Eli Kulp breathed new life into the former Fork:etc and transformed it in near record time into High Street on Market, which opened in September. The whirlwind revamp is paying off, as daytime customers flock for Rival Bros. espressos, breakfast sandwiches and take-home loaves of interesting breads. During the evening hours, dinner service provides Kulp with a chance to invent new dishes and play with new ingredients.

    Tela’s Market (on Fairmount Avenue) and Farm and Fisherman Tavern (in Cherry Hill) both opened just last month, but both also come with notable pedigrees. Running the kitchen at the former is Amada alum Chad Williams, who’s putting out appetizing prepared dishes to accompany one of the neighborhood’s only spots for organic produce and great coffee. Josh Lawler of The Farm and Fisherman in Center City is behind the latter, which - thanks to its NJ address - offers both a full bar and all kinds of bottles to-go, along with other goods.

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    New Neighborhood Anchors: Bufad / Kermit’s Bake Shoppe / Jerry’s Bar

    There are still pockets in Philadelphia that could use more restaurants and retail, and there were several launches this year that represented new footholds for the food scene.

    In January, Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello cemented 13th Street just south of Spring Garden as an eating destination in the rough of the Loft District with the opening of Bufad. The wood-oven pizzeria extends the couple’s purview past all-day brunch (at Cafe Lift) and craft beer (at Prohibition Taproom), all while staying on the same block.

    Like he did with Sidecar in Graduate Hospital and Kraftwork in Fishtown, proprietor Adam Ritter chose a currently sleepy spot to launch Kermit’s Bake Shoppe. Though it’s counter-service only, the plethora of pastries and pizza pies are drawing a growing crowd to 23rd and Washington.

    Northern Liberties is plenty buzzy already, but wander off Second Street and there isn’t much to enjoy, at least not traditionally. With his brick-by-brick rebuild of a former shot-and-beer pub into a classy bar that showcases chef Marshall Green’s food, owner Bill Proud is helping the ‘hood extend its footprint.

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    Vetri Gets Busy: Pizzeria Vetri / Osteria Moorestown

    If you graphed the expansion of Marc Vetri’s stable of restaurants, 2013 would mark a notable inflection point. Hot on the heels of Alla Spina’s 2012 launch, he opened two new restaurants this year, each one poised to make a mark.

    Opened in September, Pizzeria Vetri is by far the most casual of any of the chef’s ventures, but that doesn’t make it any less notable. With pies that hang with the region’s best and service that transcends the buzzing bustle, the Callowhill spot is a boon for the new Barnes and Ben Franklin Parkway in general.

    New Jersey is getting its first taste of Philly’s reigning culinary star in a very Jersey way: an outpost of Osteria launched last month in the Moorestown Mall. Think of everything you know about mall culture - mass-market goods, sterile lighting, muted flavors - and turn it inside out with a meal at this city-sexy bar and restaurant.

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    An Influx of NYC Chainlets: Shake Shack / Joe Coffee / Luke’s Lobster

    Not only are big-name chefs making the move 90 miles south, more and more NYC mini-chains are setting up shop in Philadelphia.

    Danny Meyer was one of the first NYC restaurateurs to give Philly a serious look, and this year he opened two more branches of Shake Shack in the region. The University City and King of Prussia outposts opened within weeks of each other this October, joining the burger joint already going strong in Rittenhouse.

    Jonathan Rubinstein picked Philadelphia for the first non-NYC location of his line of gourmet coffee shops. With a prime location just across from the square, the Rittenhouse cafe opened its doors in April, and another shop in University City launched in September.

    Luke’s Lobster is another NYC-based operation that makes sure the quality that made the original famous is replicated in each location. In May, that quality came to Philly in the form of luscious Maine lobster rolls served from a petite subterranean storefront in Rittenhouse.

  • New Life for Neglected Favorites: Boot and Saddle / The Dolphin Tavern / Brittingham’s / Barren Hill Tavern

    A rising tide lifts all boats, and the flourishing scene has allowed for or encouraged revamps of some of the region’s older venues.

    Avram Hornik of Four Corners Management built on his partnership with entertainment group R5 Production (Union Transfer and Morgan’s Pier were previous co-projects) to give two of South Broad’s divey-but-iconic bars new life. In March, the Dolphin Tavern was reborn after being shuttered for over a year, with more craft beer, better musical acts and about the same amount of gritty irreverence. Boot and Saddle had lain vacant for nearly two decades, but as of September it’s swinging again. Live acts play a 150-seat hall, and a George Sabatino-designed menu satiates guests in a separate but equal dining room.

    Out in Lafayette Hill, there was even more history waiting for a second chance. Brittingham’s went from run-down Irish pub to a bright and elegant multiroom space with three bars and the area’s only roof deck. It opened during the same November week as down-the-block neighbor Barren Hill Tavern, the former General Lafayette’s Inn. What once served as barracks for Revolutionary soldiers is now a brewpub with former Dock Street Beer brewmaster Scott Morrison manning the mash tuns.