Philadelphia: An eater’s guide
Philly is famous for its soft pretzels and cheesesteaks, and infamous for its unholy combination of both (this, we regret to inform you, is not a joke). But hiding behind the greasy piles of carbs is a food scene in its prime with destination-worthy restaurants. Here are three worth the trip alone, but conveniently located near other stuff you’ll probably want to do.
Tashan is serious, very serious about its food. The upscale spin-off of a beloved Indian takeout restaurant, the menu’s a sophisticated take on authentic dishes with plenty of playful winks to local influences (paneer pizza, anyone?). That said, the dining room doesn’t quite let the food steal the show. With touches of Bollywood and just plain old swagger, Tashan’s the perfect place to settle in for a multicourse meal or lounge it up and sip cocktails.
While you’re there: Tashan is on the Avenue of the Arts, making it one of the only restaurants on the strip that isn’t a pre-theater tourist trap. The Kimmel Center, Merriam Theater and Academy of Music are all steps away.
10 Arts Bistro and Lounge
If the Ritz-Carlton breaks your budget, you can still get a taste of the swank life at 10 Arts, which casts a soft pink glow over the hotel’s first floor. Dinner in an Eric Ripert dining room still out of your league? Hit up the just-as-pretty lounge for cocktails and a generous bar menu — which includes, yes, soft pretzels.
While you’re there: Less than a block away is Philly’s City Hall, an intensely, infamously strange structure that looks like it was plucked out of post-Apocalyptic Paris. Go ahead and stare — everyone does.
“Iron Chef” Jose Garces has a mini empire of restaurants to choose from in Philadelphia, but if you only have time for one, make it Amada. Since 2005, his posh but understated flagship has been serving up Spanish tapas that are interested in little else but being delicious. No trends, no gimmicks, no reason to leave hungry: Just tasty little plates of crab-stuffed peppers, salt cod croquettes and pork roasted every which way by people who clearly think about pork too much.
While you’re there: Amada is in Old City, a nook that wavers between historic district (afternoon), can’t-miss art and restaurant destination (Sunday-Thursday nights) and insufferable frat party (Friday-Saturday, from 8 p.m.). Schedule accordingly.
Earning a rep as one of the country’s best vegan restaurants, Vedge does things, strange and wonderful things, to cauliflower that probably shouldn’t be legal. Almost as impressive as its food is its atmosphere: As polished as any restaurant on its level, there are not even trace amounts of grungy tree-huggers in the date-worthy dining rooms. Shake off a day of being a tourist at its happy hour, one of the best in the city, where Korean seitan tacos, smoked mushroom tartare and pomegranate sangria go for around $5.
While you’re there: Vedge is snuggled into a converted rowhome in Center City, right near Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. You’ll want to spend some time here. The shopping, the bars, the people walking down the street — it’s all a little more stylish than you’ve been led to believe Philly can pull off.