Philadelphia is historically known for its foods. All of the city’s staples — cheesesteaks, water ice, and soft pretzels— are quintessentially Philadelphian. While it would be sacrilegious to not discuss them when talking about the Philadelphia food scene, the northeastern city has blossomed into an epicenter for urban food culture.
A food column is in the works here at The Triangle but not without a formal introduction into the Philadelphia food scene. That’s what purpose this article serves: a breakdown of what is necessary food when it comes to the City of Brotherly Love.
There is a very simple metric to guage quality restaurants of any city — who’s won awards. When it comes to restaurants, there isn’t an Emmys or an Oscars to proudly display, but there is something close. If you’ve won a James Beard Award, odds are you serve top-tier quizine.
On March 27, 2019, the James Beard Foundation Award Nominees were released. The pinnacle achievements of countless restaurants, chefs and writers are seen as simply being nominated. Out of the entire country, six nominees came from Philadelphia.
The first nominee, for Outstanding Chef, was Marc Vetri of Vetri Cucina in the heart of Center City. Vetri is well known and loved for his pizzas at Pizzeria Vetri, as well as his critically-acclaimed and dynamic restaurants: Amis, Osteria, Alla Spina, and Lo Spiedo.
The next was Ellen Yin, who was nominated for Outstanding Restauranteur, a nod to her successful company, High Street Hospitality Group. Yin and her team are in charge of the restaurants High Street on Market, Fork, and High Street on Hudson.
Jesse Ito, the 30-year-old chef and owner of Royal Sushi & Izakaya in Queen Village, was nominated for Rising Star Chef of the Year. This comes just a year after being included in Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list. After spending his childhood inside his family’s restaurant in South Jersey, Ito worked full time while going to Rutgers. After graduating, he opened his restaurant in 2016 with the same Izakaya staff that worked at his family restaurant — his father included.
Two Philadelphia chefs were given the nod for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic Region, which included Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington D.C. The first was Christina Martinez, the head chef of South Philly Barbacoa. Martinez is not only a tireless worker who supports her family in the United States and in Mexico, but she also serves as a leader in the South Philadelphia community. She is a steward for undocumented immigrants while serving up authentic Mexican cuisine.
The other chef to get the nomination was Rich Landau. The head chef at the acclaimed vegetarian haven, Vedge, has been serving up seasonal vegetables since 2011 and is consistently praised for being a trailblazer for vegetarian cuisine throughout the country.
The final Philadelphia nomination was for Outstanding Restaurant. The nod went to Zahav, the flagship restaurant of historic Israeli chef Michael Solomonov. He has won three James Beard Foundation Awards already — Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic in 2011, Cookbook of the Year in 2016 and Best Chef in 2017.
To top things off, Solomonov can now call his own restaurant the best in the country. On May 6, 2019, the winners were released, and Zahav took home the crown. Since then, the already extremely popular restaurant has only skyrocketed, making it even more of a challenge to eat at.
Thankfully, Solomonov has been in the Philly food scene long enough to have numerous restaurants, and is slowly amassing a Philly restaurant dynasty.
You can head over to Goldie for falafel, tehina shakes and shawarma fries, or go to Dizengoff for authentic hummus dishes. If something sweet or fried is calling your name, then Federal Donuts — yes, he owns that too! — is your destination for delicious donuts and unreasonably good fried chicken. If you’re in the mood for an elevated Jewish style dinner, then Abe Fisher is your spot.
You may think Solomonov is content with what he has, but he is still on a tear of new things. In May of 2019, K’Far opened in Rittenhouse. Camille Goswell, who was the pastry chef at Zahav for the last four years, left to open up this all-day bakery and cafe. The 2018 James Beard Foundation Award winner for Rising Star Chef, Goswell was primed for this opportunity. Goswell is in charge of operations at K’Far, while Solomonov and his partner Steve Cook oversee it like they do every Solomonov restaurant.
However, there are still two more restaurants to come. Laser Wolf, an Israeli grill in Kensington, and Merkaz, a sandwich shop in the Gayborhood, are still in the works, and Philadelphia can expect them to open very soon.
These are a few chefs that are held to the highest standard in Philadelphia, but there wasn’t even a mention of other greats such as Greg Vernick, owner of Vernick Food & Drink, Vernick Coffee Bar and Vernick Seafood. The 2017 James Beard Foundation Award winner of Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic has won the hearts of many Philadelphia food critics, being considered an innovator for American cuisine in the 21st century.
While the list could go on, these are accepted as the best of the best Philadelphia food icons. They represent the city on a national and global scale, warranting the local buzz.
This was a formal introduction into the Philadelphia food scene, but like every article following this, there will be a focus on each one. This just serves as an introduction to the biggest names in the city.
Pick up next week’s issue of The Triangle for our food column, and be prepared to learn about the Philly food scene, one week at a time.