Under-the-Radar Gems in 10 Philly Neighborhoods

By Danya Henninger  |  October 14, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

To say Philadelphia is brimming with restaurants would be an understatement - it seems like there’s an opportunity to eat on nearly every block. Aside from the well-known hot spots, which of these is worth the stop? We’ve picked a handful of under-the-radar gems in 10 neighborhoods around town, restaurants you might not have heard of, but you’re not likely to forget.

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    South Street

    If you want a dinner option more substantial than Hot Diggity and less elaborate than Serpico, stop in the middle of the same block for a hearty Italian meal at La Fourno, which has been quietly - except for the nonstop Sinatra soundtrack - slinging red sauce for nearly 20 years. Find the same dedication to quality and authenticity at petite Mexican Las Bugambilias, nestled at the very east end of the block and run by a husband-and-wife team. Value-seekers shouldn’t miss South Street Souvlaki, where the savory Greek dinner platters go far beyond the quick falafel or gyro sandwich (though these should not be missed, either).

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    East Passyunk

    Holding strong betwixt hot newcomers is Marra’s, a South Philly institution that’s been pleasing couples and families looking for pizza and Italian-American classics for three generations. On the quieter side of Italian eats is August, Maria Vanni and chef Maryann Brancaccio’s just-off-the-strip BYO that combines creative food with a small but friendly dining room. For brunch, don’t overlook Chhaya - your French toast radar will tell you it's worth finding a seat in the packed room on weekend mornings.

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    West Philly

    Ask students where the best kebabs are found, and they’re likely to point you to Kabobeesh, where you can just as easily explore Pakistani cuisine as be thrilled with your marinated skewer off the grill. Find more refined values and Mediterranean fare at Aksum, a quietly graceful dining room worth the trip out on Baltimore Avenue. If it’s Asian cuisine you’re searching for, duck into Grill Fish Cafe, Benny Lai’s much more intimate sister to the sprawling Vietnam Cafe around the block.

  • Rittenhouse

    Just around the corner from the city’s glitziest steakhouses is Asian BYO Giwa, where the atmosphere is relaxed, but the bona fide Korean fare will have your taste buds waltzing. Another flavor adventure is waiting at Almaz Cafe, a restaurant serving one of the few Ethiopian menus in the city (scoop your stew by hand using housemade injera bread). At the very western edge of the neighborhood is Sotto, a low-key BYO trattoria beloved by those who’ve discovered it tucked beneath the 24th and Walnut Street bridge.

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    Loft District

    While Mike Pasquarello’s wood-pizza star, Bufad, is a must-visit, his original neighborhood venture, Cafe Lift, down the block should not be overlooked, especially if you love breakfast specialties at all times of day. On the craft beer circuit, Llama Tooth on Spring Garden is worth a look, especially if you’re headed to a show at Union Transfer across the street. For truly cheap eats that won’t do you wrong, duck into Jose’s Tacos at 10th and Buttonwood for one of the best burritos in the city.

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    Italian Market

    If you’re a pizza fan, you’re likely familiar with the name Santucci’s, but the 10th and Christian location is different from the other spin-offs of this Northeast family business in that chef Bobby Saritsoglou also serves a slate of creative Italian platters and killer brunch plates. Anastasi Seafood is more than just a place to scoop up crabs to go - take an evening to start with buck-a-shuck happy hour at the bar and continue through pan-seared fish or shrimp scampi.

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    Queen Village

    We’re surprised we don’t hear more about Kennett, where proprietor Johnny Della Polla and chef Brian Ricci are putting out one of Philly’s most refined slates of modern American cocktails and cuisine. For honest pub fare backed by a well-curated craft beer list, hit up New Wave Cafe, which has served on Third and Catherine for nearly 30 years. Much newer is Ulivo, where you’ll want to bring your nicer bottles to pair with chef Joe Scarpone’s piquant Tuscan specialties.

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    Northern Liberties

    The food at One Shot Coffee has always been as much of a draw at this bi-level spot as the expertly pulled espresso, and the cafe will soon be even more worthy of a sit-down meal now that former Koo Zee Doo chef David Gilberg has joined co-owner Rebecca Baruno in the kitchen. To really enjoy the trustworthy Mexican classics at Las Cazuelas on Girard Avenue, ask for a table in the more lively back room of the BYO, or get a Peruvian twist when you tote your wine to Cafe Chismosa, where Jugo Stevcic’s housemade hot sauces beckon.

  • Credit: Mark Henninger

    Washington Square West

    Dig into a plate of moussaka in the tree-filled, secluded garden behind Greek BYO Effie’s, and you’ll wonder if you've left the city for the Mediterranean coast. Skip over to Italy by way of America and dig into some of the tenderest meatballs in town at Marabella Meatball Co., which offers a surprisingly pleasant atmosphere if you decide to eat in instead of carry out. That’s even more the case at Spice 28, where a to-go order off the new-meets-traditional Chinese food menu would deprive you of the eye-catching decor of the well-appointed Chestnut Street dining room.

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    Art Museum

    With much more space and the same commitment to beer variety (not to mention the same unforgettable garlic aioli for the fries) as sister bar Monk’s Cafe, The Belgian Cafe is only saved from being constantly mobbed by its location on mostly residential Green Street. Though the peeling-paint exterior might have you thinking it closed long ago, 24-year veteran Rose Tattoo Cafe on Callowhill still attracts diners nightly for enjoyable American fare in a comfortable and attractive setting.