TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Craig LaBan’s Best of the ’burbs

Chester County’s Top Restaurants​

Kennett Square
West Chester
Country Rustic
The Dosa Belt
Mapping where to eat and drink in Chester County
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Rare, sets regional dining standards.
Special, excels in most every category of the dining experience.
Very Good
Interesting, with above-average food.
Too inconsistent for a strong recommendation.
Country Rustic
Picturesque Chester County is a destination for charming French BYOBs and bucolic farm table views.
FAVORITE PICK Birchrunville Store Café
1403 Hollow Rd., Birchrunville, 610-827-9002, visit website
Price: $$
At first glance, little has changed in the decade since I last drove deep into the heart of Chester County to visit this cafe.

Ringed by misty cornfields and steepled churches, this old general store turned idyllic French BYOB remains one of the single most charming dining experiences in the region. No wonder weekends are booked months ahead for the cash-only dinners. There’s almost always stuffed roast pheasant, fresh fish with wild mushrooms, rack of lamb with minted risotto, and warm butterscotch cake for dessert.

But so much here has, in fact, continued to evolve in the very best way. The chef changed his name to Francis Pascal (from Trzeciak) when the Aix-en-Provence native became an American citizen four years ago. He’s finally hired some help on the kitchen line, and begun expanding the menu, and even opened a pastry shop and café, ButterScotch (1406 Hollow Rd.), across the street to feature Jane Urban’s croissants and desserts. Most significant, though, he has happily married another restaurateur, Nui Kullana of Phoenixville’s Thai L’Elephant, and the cross-cultural influences have begun to appear in his cooking. The excellent duck comes with a Sichuan crust. Fish sauce and rice vinegar lighten the sauces. And then there are the gorgeous summer rolls whose supple rice paper wrappers are stuffed with delicately poached lobster marinated in Korean chilies and honey, and then posed over a creamy lobster bisque enriched with port and saffron. It’s a decidedly Gallic flourish for an Asian inspiration, but in this sweet bucolic corner, it’s the genuine taste of a talented chef embracing the latest chapter in his life.
La Maison
1470 Old Ridge Rd., Pottstown, 484-680-2631, visit website
Price: $$$$
This 18th-century stone house in historic Coventryville is both the residence of Martin and Janet Gagné and their 24-seat restaurant, where three nights a week they serve rustic, French-tasting meals. The multicourse $90 menus (and smaller $42 Thursday suppers) are conceived spontaneously by the chef each week, so while diners must plan well in advance, they also need to be flexible. (And bring cash!) Highlights from my visits included big tureens of braised chicken with morels and black trumpet mushrooms, platters of snowy halibut baked in a crust of fines-herbs, a flaky leek-and-goat-cheese tart, big fresh salads studded with chunks of house-cured lardons, a warm apricot tart for dessert, and all the gougères I could get my hands on. Some dishes are better than others. But the warm, family-style hospitality and quirky setup make for one of the most personal dinners — well worth the adventure to this bucolic locale.
The Whip Tavern
1383 N. Chatham Rd., Coatesville, 610-383-0600, visit website
Price: $$-$$$
Talented chef Anne Coll (Meritage, Susanna Foo) has upgraded the pub fare at this evocative British-themed tavern frequented by the horsey crowd. You’ll often find jockeys at the bar with a pint of Smithwick’s and a deep-fried Scotch egg viewing the local steeplechase races on TV. And the Whip has always been a great destination for pub classics like shepherd’s pie, Welsh rarebit, a knockout double burger (the Black Mack), and “bubble and squeak.” Coll has brought more finesse and seasonality to the kitchen, with excellent takes on curry (made with local lamb), sublime short ribs, foie gras ravioli that harken back to her Asian fusion days, and her own twist on the Whip’s “luxury pie” (a special the second weekend of each month) filled with seafood in a rich lobster lemongrass sauce beneath a lid of mashed potatoes. For dessert, there’s always the stellar sticky toffee pudding. But why not indulge in a cheese platter instead? It’s culled from the world-class cheese cellar of the Farm at Doe Run, located just a short gallop away.
Wyebrook Farm
150 Wyebrook Rd., Honey Brook, 610-942-7481, visit website
Price: $$$
The table-to-farm movement has no more picturesque setting than this ambitious indoor-outdoor restaurant experience at Dean Carlson’s idyllic grass-fed animal farm. It’s a special destination, with a butcher shop market and inspiring views of the Brandywine Creek from the covered pavilion, plus an Italian-accented menu overseen by Russet chef Andrew Wood. The cooking at a recent visit, however, was concerningly uneven. The homemade charcuterie and seasonal pastas were solid, as was the chicken. But the grass-fed meats that are the centerpiece of this project — beef and pork — were either too tough or too fatty to enjoy. Outgoing service and a surprisingly rousing series of desserts — a honey pie, a baked Alaska s’mores, and a blueberry upsidedown cake — saved the evening. But for Wyebrook to remain on my go-list and reach its tremendous potential, much more improvement, beginning with a more focused kitchen, will be necessary.
Va La Family Farmed Wines
8820 Gap Newport Pike, Avondale, 610-268-2702, visit website
My vote for Southeast Pennsylvania's best winery is unlike the rest. Anthony Vietri focuses on "field blends" of unlikely grapes, including Italian varietals, for exceptional hard-to-classify 'tweener wines like the orange Prima Donna and Silk rosato, plus deep and spicy reds like Mahogany and Cedar. One of the most charming tasting room experiences around.
The Dosa Belt
Tech jobs have drawn foreign workers to the far western suburbs – and the heat of authentic South Indian restaurants to serve them.
889 E. Lancster Ave., Downingtown, 610-269-9600, visit website
Price: $$
Bangles aims to serve an Indian audience, but also attract mainstream American diners, with a little upscale polish, plus some fusion touches. That doesn’t mean it tempers the heat. A recent visit set our mouths aflicker with classic takes on Chettinad curries, Hyderabadi biryani, luscious prawns in coconut masala gravy, lamb pepper fry and an outstanding curry leaf fried chicken. We also loved modern takes like the curry leaf corn soup, lotus root scallops, and a dahi vada starter whose yogurt-glazed lentil fritters are striped with a web of chutneys. But my favorite dish here is still the lacy crunch of the onion rava dosa crepe bundled over masala potatoes.
Indian Hut Curry & Cakes
260 N. Pottstown Pike, Exton Plaza, Exton, 610-363-9500, visit website
Price: $
There’s more to this far-flung suburban strip-mall find than just the curious pairing of samosas and dosas with a retail bakery selling Western-style sheet cakes. This mini-chain (with a second location in Bensalem) has a casual, counter-service setup that makes some the most vividly authentic Indian around, blazing hot with aromatic spice and featuring specialties from Southern India. Try the pani puri puffs and other refreshing chat salads, crispy chicken 65, chole bhatura, cracker-y paper dosas, heaping biryanis stuffed with tender goat or bone-in chicken, and what may be my definitive rendition of the sweet, sour, and wickedly spicy Indo-Chinese cauliflower classic called gobi Manchurian.
Devi Vegetarian Indian Cuisine
151 W. Lincoln Hwy., Exton, 610-594-9250, visit website
Price: $
Dosa lovers absolutely should make the trek to this obscure suburban strip-mall spot, where South Indian food is served strictly vegetarian. It doesn’t get much more modest than the steam-table buffet format here, but the flavors transcend the ambience. Try the sour sambar dip with steamy “gunpowder” idli cakes dusted with chile powder, rare Tamil Nadu specialties like the puli kuzhambu with gravy tanged by tamarind pulp and ginger, or the myriad variations of flavored rices tanged with sour lemon or fluffy with coconut. But the looping rolls of papery dosas are the best reason to come, including spicy Mysore crepes that come folded into points. If you come with a group, they’ll make a “family dosa” as long as your table.
Kennett Square
The mushroom capital is also home to genuine Mexican flavors – and a magical farm table dinner.
FAVORITE PICK Talula’s Table
102 W. State St., Kennett Square, 610-444-8255, visit website
Price: $$$$
Hard to believe it’s already been a decade since the trendsetting debut of this locavore paradise for prepared foods, artisan cheeses, and evening tasting menu feasts put Kennett Square on every gourmand’s hot list. And amazingly, you still need to plan a year in advance to book dinner at the 12-seat country table in the charming market dining room, and a few months out for the smaller butcher block square in the fluorescent-lit kitchen (my preferred choice.) But there’s good reason for the fuss. The 10-course seasonal tasting dinners orchestrated by Aimee Olexy and her chefs are delivered with such seamless BYOB grace by her service staff that dinner here remains one of the region’s magical four-bell dining experiences.

One could make a memorable meal simply of the inventive hors d’oeuvres at my stellar meal this summer, from the mini-lobster rolls to the smoked foie gras biscuits with huckleberry jam, and individual forkfuls of toothy tonnarelli pasta coated in mushroom butter. But current chef Ryan McQuillan (ex-Mercato, Le Bec-Fin) showed his finesse for the multicourse format in the subsequent dishes that perfectly captured the spirit of local flavors in the moment. Lightly cured scallop crudo paired with sweet-tart strawberry sauce and charred rosemary oil. Cappelletti pasta dumplings stuffed with house-smoked ricotta glazed in carrot butter. An extraordinary bouillabaisse stew poured tableside from a teapot over clams and nuggets of tile fish beside croutons of Castle Valley grits. Onion dashi with an Avondale Hills Farm poached egg. Cherry meringues. Ice pops made from yerba mate tea. By the end, it was impossible to even think of another bite. But knowing Talula’s has yet to repeat a dish on any of the 80-or-so menus it has produced, I knew I’d be back for the adventure of another season to try again.
FAVORITE PICK La Peña Mexicana
609 W Cypress St., Kennett Square, 610-925-2651, visit website
Price: $
The immigrant-rich agricultural community around mushroom country has a long tradition of great Mexican food, but La Peña Mexicana is my absolute favorite. This modest, no-frills taqueria has a paint job that’s impossible to miss, its shedlike buildings striped like a bumblebee in a Mexican flag. But it’s the vibrant food, rooted in the flavors of the northern coastal state of Guerrero, that really can’t be missed. Try the soft masa ovals of hand-pressed huaraches topped with creamy frijoles and tender chicken stewed in soulful guajillo salsa. The tacos are also top-notch, whether you go for the pineapple-spiked al pastor or what may be the most tender tongue around. The dish I really crave, though, is the chimichanga — a border food specialty long ago corrupted by American chains whose fried burrito heartiness has been restored to greaseless glory in a flaky tortilla shell wrapped around meticulously layered rice, beans and meats — all topped with a half-moon scoop of creamy avocado. Try the boneless smoked pork chop filling for something completely unique, then wash it down with a big gulp of one of the tropical fruit aguas frescas.
Hearth Kitchen
847 E Baltimore Pike, Kennett Square, 484-732-8320, visit website
Price: $$-$$$
After several years away opening successful restaurants in Wilmington, chef Bryan Sikora has returned to an updated strip-mall space in Kennett Square (where he helped create Talula’s Table) and opened an intriguing Italian-centric concept with a wood-fired oven turning out pizzas, plus pastas, and cocktails. The service has at times been problematic, ranging from confused to adequate. But the food is at times outstanding, with bold Mediterranean flavors and effortless seasonality that provides a fine reminder why Sikora has long been one of my favorite chefs. The handmade pastas are particularly great, from the duck ragu over mafalde to the pork cheek ravioli, but so are several of the pizzas (try the prosciutto and peach pie), as well as rustic Euro entrées like the stuffed veal loin, wood-grilled swordfish, and pork tenderloin over sweet corn succotash.
Nomadic Pies
132 W. State St.,, Kennett Square, 610-857-7600, visit website
This charming storefront is suburban pie ground zero for the artisan baking, trend thanks to former food trucker and farm market star Molly Johnston, whose flaky crusts wrap dreamy dark chocolate fluffs dusted with lavender flowers, seasonal fruit blends (like raspberry-peach) ooze through sugar-dusted pastry vents, alongside satisfying savory takes on quiche and American classics, like chicken pot pie, that get an occasional Asian twist with Thai red curry.
Kennett Brewing Co.
109 S. Broad St. #2, Kennett Square, 610-444-0440, visit website
Price: $
It's marked by a skull-shape hop flower and hidden down a ramp just off Kennett Square's downtown drag. But indie-minded drinkers have found their way to this darkly lit passion project from a former metalsmith and hang-glider designer, Mark Osborne, and his wife, Jossy. The menu is in flux under new chef Jesus Rodriguez, who plans to add both new Italian and Mexican accents to the pub fare. But Osborne's love of slow-boiled Brit-style brews is the biggest lure. I loved the Wee Wobbly Scottish 100 Schilling, the chocolaty Bollocks Baird Black IPA, and crisply honeyed The Kidd pale ale, all poured from taps topped with antique farm tools, and served on a copper bar Osborne fitted himself.
Victory Brewing Co. Brewpub
650 W. Cypress St. (also 3127 Lower Valley Rd., Parkesburg (opens soon); original location at 420 Acorn Lane, Downingtown), Kennett Square, 484-730-1870, visit website
Price: $
One of pillars of this region's craft-brewing scene - and now the nation's 13th-largest craft brewer, since merging in 2016 with Southern Tier - Victory has three large brewpubs with seating for hundreds in Chester County. The stock brewpub menu of burgers, wings, and hand-tossed fresh pretzels is solid. But at its best, the cavernous K-Square branch pushes the edges of what a large-format brewpub can be, sourcing quality local ingredients and strutting chef creativity on specials with international inspirations. The massive 30-tap system, meanwhile, will remind why Victory is not just big, but also one of America's best, from the crispy Braumeister Pils and classic Golden Monkey to a completely addicting seasonal gose kissed with kirsch.
La Michoacana Ice Cream
231 State St., Kennett Square, 610-444-2996, visit website
Chile powder on ice cream? Don’t knock it until you’ve taken a lick of a waffle cone piled high with super-creamy scoops of corn and avocado ice creams made to the owners’ authentic Michoacan recipes. Trust me: It’s a sweet-and-spicy sensation. But so are the refreshing tropical “paleta” popsicles flavored with exotic fruits like guanabana, mango, and mamey.
111 W. State St., Kennett Square, 610-444-7687, visit website
Price: $
Coffee nerds can caffeinate in style at this serious Third Wave café, where beans from Ceremony Roasters are served in pour-overs, single-origin espressos are pulverized on the special EK 43 grinder, and the teas are “curated” by nearby Mrs. Robinson’s tea shop. There are breakfasts and pastries, too, plus extensive selection of high-end chocolate bars.
Galer Winery
700 Folly Hill Rd., Kennett Square, 484-899-8013, visit website
Tucked behind Longwood Gardens, Lele and Brad Galer's winery has an excellent track record with rosés and a juicy Red Lion Vineyard chardonnay.
Craft beer and booze are prime draws to an industrial town transformed into a nightlife hub.
258 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-917-0962, visit website
Price: $$$
Before the new, hip version of Phoenixville took root, Majolica was the pioneer. This ambitious 44-seat BYOB, launched a decade ago by Savona alum Andrew Deery, was the first project that really brought wider attention to the possibilities of Bridge Street as a nightlife district. With a French-inspired menu devoted to seasonal local ingredients, including many sourced from the borough’s standout farmer’s market, warm bistro dining rooms and polished service, Majolica remains not only Phoenixville’s most sophisticated dining experience, but one of the top restaurants in the western suburbs, period.

A fresh potato chip cradling tuna tartare got our meal off to snappy start, followed by the summer sweetness of milky white corn soup poured over tender morsels of lobster. A deconstructed take on rumaki brought luscious grilled scallops layered with chunks of house-cured bacon. Pan-crisped sweetbreads came glazed with earthy-sweet molasses butter. Seasonal softshells anchored a sea-flavored BLT. Perfect roast duck with grilled mushrooms took on the nuttiness of hazelnut oil-dressed beluga lentils. I loved the refined austerity and subtle contrasts of a crisped dorade over a bowl of honey-braised cippolini onions. A hearty crock of cassoulet, meanwhile, was a soulful invitation to rustic comfort, its richly flavored cannellini beans studded with tender nuggets of lamb shoulder and merguez sausage.

To finish, there was flourless chocolate cake with salted caramel ice cream, and sugar-dusted beignets with coffee-cardamom pot de crème, a whimsical ode to coffee and doughnuts. Not a bad feast for a kitchen that numbers just two cooks and a dishwasher. But Majolica’s continued success proves not only that an energetic BYOB can spark a downtown revival, but that a great one can age gracefully and remain relevant even while the landscape around it rapidly changes.
FAVORITE PICK Vecchia Pizzeria
249 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-933-1355, visit website
Price: $
In a world that rewards multitasking, Frank Nattle is single-minded. And his quest — for the perfect Neapolitan pizza — has long been one of the best reasons to visit Phoenixville. Don’t get overly complicated with toppings. The pizza you need to know (and, lately, a steal at $10 for lunch) is just one: the Regina, a Margherita made with buffalo mozzarella, a sunburst of San Marzano sauce, and aromatic basil. True to the Neapolitan style, the crust puffs quickly and blisters from the 1,000-degree heat burst of a fresh log tossed in the oven, and the center remains soft and soupy (“almost rare, like a marshmallow,” says Nattle.) So try it with a knife and fork, Italian-style, and savor the roasty chew of the crust, the creamy cheese and bright fresh sauce in one bite. The added bonus: Nattle recently expanded the minimalist menu to include some more homey salads and classic pastas, like the excellent spaghetti with cockle clams and cherry tomatoes we devoured in between bites of that stellar Regina.
Guatemalan Kitchen
6 Main St., Phoenixville, 484-302-6059, visit website
Price: $
The flavor-to-square-foot value doesn’t get much better than this tiny storefront space with an open kitchen and a couple tables. But I just can’t stop thinking about the authentic Guatemalan flavors turned out by husband-wife team Hugo and Fany Salazar. The food is similar to Mexican cooking, but far milder and more straightforward, with an earthiness from fresh-made masa shells that rises to the fore. Don’t miss the garnachas enrolladas special of mini-tostadas topped with oniony minced beef. The plancha-charred pupusas are also fantastic, as are the crisply fried half-moon dobladas turnovers stuffed with pulled chicken. One other surprise: Guatemalan Kitchen makes some of the best straight-up fried chicken in the region.
Uncle B’s BBQ Shack
413 Schuylkill Rd., Phoenixville, 610-935-1363, visit website
Price: $$
Alabama native Brian Howell has transitioned from a smoker pop-up in the parking lot of someone else’s restaurant to a permanent pit in a former pizza shop next to a Rita’s Water Ice stand. It’s a limited-seating space with just a few booths and picnic tables outside. But Uncle B’s is serving some of the most legit BBQ in the area, from meltingly soft pulled pork to 20-hour smoked brisket and juicy chickens with a hint of sage in the rub. The baby backs were my favorite, smoked over cherry wood until the cuminy meat was tender with a smoky pink ring, but still just clinging to the bone. Side it with pulled-pork collards and excellent mac and cheese made with local Kolb’s Dairy cream and bits of Foresta’s kielbasa. Howell also makes all his own sauces, including a citrusy mayo-based Alabama “white” I’m still acquiring a taste for. I prefer his variation on the classic sweet-and-tangy Kansas City-style that gets amped up with spicy pepper relish made from habaneros, serranos, ghost, and scorpion peppers. He calls it Firebird. And, thankfully, the bird has landed.
Downtown Bangkok Café
705 Pothouse Rd., Phoenixville, 610-933-4800, visit website
Price: $
Phoenixville is fortunate to have more than one better-than-average Thai restaurant (including Thai L’Elephant on Bridge Street), but there’s a surprise factor in discovering that Downtown Bangkok Café’s unlikely house of a building unfolds into room after room of colorful dining areas decked out in exotic Thai fixtures. The traditional menu brought good renditions of familiar classics, but don’t miss two standouts:the appetizer curry puffs wrapped in flaky pastry, and an unusual Southern Thai curry called kaeng kua — a variation on red curry that’s coconut creamy, spicy, sour and sweet with pineapple — that’s hard to find.
Root Down Brewery
1 N. Main St., Phoenixville, 484-393-2337, visit website
Price: $
A new brewpub opens seemingly every month in this town, and Root Down is one of the newest. Set inside a deceptively large warehouse space of a converted Hires Root Beer plant, owner and ex-Marine Mike Hamara has paired with head brewer and Sly Fox alum Steve Bischoff to create a solid opening portfolio covering a broad range of styles, from a crisp pilsner to an ever-evolving IPA (Bine), and a “Cosmic” series of Imperial stouts like the barrel-aged Woodie that impressed me. A smoker turns out a BBQ picnic from the kitchen.
Stable 12 Brewing Co.
368 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-715-2665, visit website
Price: $
With a sprawling beer garden of picnic tables, competitive cornhole tossers, and occasional live music anchoring the western bend of Bridge Street, Stable 12 is one of Phoenixville’s most visible new breweries. Brewer Mike Deger, another Sly Fox alum, has been focusing on IPAs and darker beers and has landed some early hits with

Crowd Pleaser, a cloudy East Coast-style Double IPA full of juicy hops aroma without too much bitterness, and a hefty Russian Imperial stout called Rodeo Clown. There’s a menu of pub food and multiple burgers for ballast.
Baba’s Bucha, A Culture Factory
333 Morgan St., Phoenixville, 267-738-1973, visit website
Beer isn’t the only thing brewing in Phoenixville. One of the region’s best kombuchas, Baba’s Bucha, is made in a warehouse atelier here by Olga Sorzano, the Siberian-born chef-turned-fermentation dynamo who was inspired by her great-grandmother Dora’s “mushroom tea” recipe to create a brand of exceptional carbonated brews with probiotic power that blend seasonal fruits and herbs with freshness and balance, from blueberry-thyme to gingery Asian pear, refreshing hibiscus and floral “Flower Power.” Visit the attached tasting room, A Culture Factory, on Saturdays and first Fridays, and taste a range of brews on draft in the creepy-cool glow of her wall of SCOBY lanterns. If you’re lucky, there may also be homemade kraut pierogi dusted with kielbasa bread crumbs.
Bluebird Distilling
100 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-933-7827, visit website
Jared Adkins’ two-year-old distillery makes some of the best whiskey in Pennsylvania, including a deep amber Four Grain Bourbon whose sweet corn mash bill is balanced with deeply charred chocolate notes, dark rye spice, and both wheat and barley for smoothness. With an impressive barrel room, front patio lined with picnic swings, and a rocking bar making cocktails, Bluebird is a destination in its own right.
The Foodery Phoenixville
325 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-933-1150, visit website
As if there wasn’t already enough beer in Phoenixville, this mega-branch of Center City’s famed by-the-bottle beer shop chain has opened what may be the single largest collection of craft brews for sale by the bottle in the entire region. Yes, there’s a sandwich deli, too. But it’s the 28-yard bank of fridges holding as many as 1,400 choices, including many rarities from around the country and world, that give this town of local microbrews plenty of global beer choices, too.
Sly Fox
520 Kimberton Rd. (Rt. 113), Phoenixville, 610-935-4540, visit website
Wings, burgers, and fried stuff in buckets at this predictable sports-bar-style venue in Phoenixville don't really do justice to the excellence and character of the beers from one of the region's finest breweries. Best to keep it simple with pizzas and pork sliders at the "Tastin' Room" at the Pottstown brewery, where the Pikeland Pils, Royal Weisse, Saison VOS and O'Reilly's Stout are as fresh as they get.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
130 Bridge St, Phoenixville, , visit website
Price: $$-$$$
With 13 locations in three states (including one in the works for Center City), America's seventh-largest brewpub chain has earned national kudos for its polished dark wood decor and ability to balance well-crafted core beers with creative specials from talented individual brewers. They're comfortable and accessible, with food that's generally better than at most chains, even if the huge menu sometimes panders to trends (pumpkin sriracha wings; dandan noodles) and falls back on too much sweetness (ahi tuna salad) for my taste. I've enjoyed the fish tacos and jaegerschnitzel. And service is reliably informative about the beers, which always offer edgier offerings to balance reliable classics like Pig Iron Porter.
West Chester
This college town crafts artisan ingredients, from torillas and French bread to the best chocolates in America.
Éclat Chocolate
24 S High St., West Chester, 610-692-5206, visit website
If it smells like cocoa paradise when you step into this sweet little jewel box of a boutique, that’s because it is. Chocolatier extraordinaire Christopher Curtin is a wizard with truffles that have been called “Best in America” by Bon Appétit, — and I agree. The bean-to-bar creations are simply exceptional, whether featuring single-origin harvests from Peru, Tanzania, or Madagascar, destination-themed bars (like the PHL, studded with salty pretzels), or the gorgeously patterned “méndiant” wafers studded with savory spices and fruits. But oh, those truffles! The little rounds filled with Calvados caramel are the single best reason to visit West Chester.
La Baguette Magique
202 Market St., West Chester, 610-620-4729, visit website
Price: $$
A toasty feeling of France comes to mind at this impressive bakery and café created two years ago by Catherine Seisson, a French-born Ph.D. who left a corporate career in pharma to channel the boulangeries of her native Lyon. The crusty breads are very good (I actually preferred the more rustic country loaves to the baguettes), but so are the myriad choices of flaky fruit tarts, croissants, soups, quiches, daily tartines, and composed salads that can be eaten on site in the pleasant dining room. Baking classes on sourdough, French conversation nights and regional themed dinners are an added draw.
Roots Café
133 E. Gay St., West Chester, 610-455-0100, visit website
Price: $$
Farm-to-table bistro cooking in a relaxed and funky little room and light-strung back patio feels like the right speed of casual-but-ambitious dining for this college town successor to the more formal Gilmore’s. Dinner brought a series of well-wrought ingredients in some unusual poses: a crispy-skinned duck breast beneath raspberry butter over a deep bowl of grits; crispy croquettes filled with a moist stuffing of fish and chorizo; a solid lobster roll (though on the wrong kind of bun); and a signature swordfish steak “burger” sandwiched on a bun beneath melted cheese and a fried egg that was better than it sounds. But brunch is probably Roots’ strongest moment, when the sun fills this warm yellow room, the omelets are outstanding, the Bloody Marys come with a skewered chunk of beef jerky, and savory-minded diners can spoon through bison chile and a Reuben made with house-cured corned beef.
346-348 W Gay St., West Chester, 484-266-0590, visit website
Price: $
“Tlaxkalli” is the Nahuatl language word for tortilla, and the hand-cranked and fire-roasted tortillas made fresh daily at this corner gem boost this no-frills taqueria take-out specialist a notch above most others. In particular, the owner brings a genuine Mexico City flavor to the tacos and sopes, best served with carne asada or al pastor pork.
High Street Caffe
322 S High St., West Chester, 610-696-7435, visit website
Price: $$
The bordello purple walls and spotlights draped in hanging beads definitely give this West Chester standby a Bourbon Street “vudu lounge” kind of vibe. But what makes owner Donny Syracuse and chef Jay Wenner’s place still relevant after two decades in business is the fact they can still make a gumbo, jambalaya, or fried seafood po-boy that comes reasonably close to the real thing. The signature Voodoo crawfish in a sauce that tastes like XXX-spicy motor oil is something of a lip-numbing (and admittedly addictive) gimmick. But the Caffe has upped its craft beer and cocktail game in a big way to put out the fire.
The West Chester Coffee Bar & Ice Cream Bar
6 E. Gay St., West Chester, 484-983-3937, visit website
Price: $
Grab a cone and caffeinate like a Philly hipster with cameos from some of the best artisan flavors Fishtown and Kensington have to offer, including beans from ReAnimator pulled off a La Marzocco espresso machine, and funky scoops from Little Baby’s and Weckerly’s Ice Cream sandwiches. But also, don’t miss the exceptional ice creams from Scooped in Chester Springs (the peanut butter … wow!) or Graeter’s from Ohio, whose black cherry chocolate chip may be my favorite new flavor.
Carlino’s Market
128 W. Market St., West Chester, 610-696-3788, visit website
As an admittedly Philly-centric person, I think of Carlino's markets as the Di Bruno Bros. of the 'burbs, but with better prepared foods. Carlino's has one of the best imported cheese sections anywhere (with knowledgeable and helpful service), house-baked breads and classic Italian groceries like olive oils in bulk and an array of pastas. But it is those prepared food counters where Carlino's really excels, with great tomato pie, homey soups, myriad variations on labor-itensive lasagnas, tender chicken scallopine and fresh-baked sweets, including cannolis and an olive oil cake my friend Dan swears by.
Levante Brewing Co.
208 Carter Dr Suite 2, West Chester, 484-999-8761, visit website
Levante is yet another testament to the power of great beer to bring a huge crowd of evening revelers to the back of a random industrial park edged by Dumpsters. It's not the food trucks that do it. It's one of the better-crafted broad line-ups of any suburban brewery, including Cloudy and Cumbersome NE IPA, malty Drachenstadt festbier, several refreshing sours, solid Split Rail Saison, and a roasty Clocktower porter.
Levante Brewing Co.
The Stables, 160 Park Rd., Chester Springs, 484-999-8761, visit website
Boxcar Brewing Co.
142 E. Market St., West Chester, 484-947-2503, visit website
Boxcar, which opened in 2010, added this lively brewpub in downtown West Chester as a smart alternative to the crowded distribution market. The space hosts frequent performances, but it's mostly been a showcase for the improved consistency of Boxcar's beers. Among its well-balanced takes on common styles, I liked the citrusy 1492 American Pale and the malty Passenger English mild. The locally driven menu, meanwhile, delivered a delicate salad with Chester County Asian pears and goat cheese to counter the hearty comfort of a tender chicken schnitzel over a sweet potato waffle and tasty Boxtoberfest-infused brats with house-fermented kraut and whole-grain spaetzle.
Opa! Opa!
122 E Gay St., West Chester, 610-455-0100, visit website
Price: $
Every college town needs a good gyro place, and this blue-and-white grill counter and dining room delivers, from classic Greek salads to fresh fries topped with feta and oregano, and - most importantly - a trio of turning vertical spits. Don't pass up the traditional pork gyro of layered whole (not pre-ground) meats that roast into a savory crisp before being shaved into ribbons and wrapped up in soft pitas.
Pica’s Restaurant
1233 West Chester Pike, West Chester, 484-983-3704, visit website
Price: $-$$
People often are divided over whether the pan pizza at 76-year-old Pica’s is either pricelessly old-school or hopelessly anachronistic. But Upper Darby native Tina Fey’s a devoted fan (as is star chef Greg Vernick) — and I’m with them. There’s a unique character to the crusty-edges of this pan-baked dough, which is pleasantly chewy without being heavy like a deeper dish pie, and is ideal beneath the sauce-topped cheese and heat-charred crumbles of sausage with fresh mushrooms. Locals of a certain age order it by “the shirt box.” There’s a full Italian diner menu, too, which is in fact hopelessly anachronistic. Even so, I was pleasantly surprised by the toothy snap of the house-extruded spaghetti. A snazzy new branch opened in West Chester earlier this year.
El Limon
1371 Wilmington Pike, West Chester, 610-567-0120, visit website
Price: $
This fast-growing chain with roots in the Mexican state of Michoacan has appeared at the perfect moment in our region's Mexican education. The local taqueria scene has grown rapidly in Philly over the past 15 years, and enough mainstream audiences now crave the authentic flavors of an al pastor taco wrapped in the earthy softness of fresh corn tortillas, that the Americanized polish of, say, a Chipotle, is no longer required to win a devoted following. And that's exactly what El Limon delivers, a collection of pleasant but utilitarian dining rooms paired with consistent taqueria fare built on fresh ingredients, bold flavors and traditional ideas. These kitchens do an excellent job with all the classic meats-al pastor, carnitas and smoky chicken tinga. I've been especially impressed with the hand-pressed sopes, the simple freshness of the marinated shrimp tacos, the crackly crisp tostada rounds, and pretty much anything in the excellent tomatillo-tanged salsa verde.
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
3 W Gay St, West Chester, , visit website
Price: $$-$$$
With 13 locations in three states (including one in the works for Center City), America's seventh-largest brewpub chain has earned national kudos for its polished dark wood decor and ability to balance well-crafted core beers with creative specials from talented individual brewers. They're comfortable and accessible, with food that's generally better than at most chains, even if the huge menu sometimes panders to trends (pumpkin sriracha wings; dandan noodles) and falls back on too much sweetness (ahi tuna salad) for my taste. I've enjoyed the fish tacos and jaegerschnitzel. And service is reliably informative about the beers, which always offer edgier offerings to balance reliable classics like Pig Iron Porter.
Han Dynasty
260 Pottstown Pike, Exton, 610-524-4002, visit website
Price: $-$$
Han Chiang gave Center City Philly a thrilling wake-up to true Sichuan spice at his original Old City spot-and helped spark the trend towards more authentic regional Chinese cooking in the region. Now that he's expanded to eight locations, including two in New York, it's easy to forget it all began in the Philly suburbs, in particular in Exton, where Han's mom still runs the show (and the Lions Head meatballs are always on the menu. The overall experiences vary a bit too much to universally maintain the original 3-bell rating. But with a menu that allows patrons to customize the proteins and spice levels for 14 classic styles, Han Dynasty remains the region's standard for exciting Sichuan flavors, from the ultimate dandan noodles to fiery wings and cumin lamb dialed up to a "10.