We feasted on an omakase wave of rare sushi. Then we turned that luxury tasting art to a considerably more blue-collar subject — an omakase of hoagies — an absurd-yet-wonderfully Philadelphian blowout in pursuit of the ultimate sandwich.
We dined in soaring new skyscrapers and spaces designed by world-renowned architects. But some of 2019’s hottest restaurants were also hidden behind unmarked doors and the graffiti-tagged bones of repurposed old schools, or down obscure alleys most couldn’t have named a year ago.
Is tiny Lee Street in Fishtown Philly’s unlikely new Restaurant Row? It’s home to Pizzeria Beddia, my pick for Best New Restaurant, where that reimagined hoagie on a fresh-baked roll is also my Dish of the Year. Lee Street is also where you’ll find sushi master Hiroki Fujiyama, who left Morimoto’s shadow to become this year’s Rising Star Chef at his self-named hideaway. Good luck finding them without Google.
Philadelphia’s ever-maturing dining scene this year saw big-ticket projects from famous names and a return to the retro indulgences of tableside service, with rolling carts delivering everything from beef Wellington to Dover sole for two. We obsessed over single-minded upgrades to ramen, pizza, pasta, and wine, now flourishing in its “natural” moment.
The DIY spirit of our BYOBs remained a vital engine for emerging talents. Nowhere was this more true than at boisterous Kalaya in the Italian Market, where Chutatip “Nok” Suntaranon’s uncompromisingly spiced homage to Southern Thai flavors is so thrilling that she is my Chef of the Year. But it was also true for Adam Diltz’s fascinating Pennsylvania revival cooking at Elwood, Ari Miller’s hyper-seasonality at Musi, the Tibetan momos of White Yak in Roxborough, and the suburban ambitions of Keep in Jenkintown and Verbena in Kennett Square.
This was Queen Village’s comeback year, with six exciting new restaurants, including Cry Baby Pasta, Sakana, and Fiore, among my three-bell favorites. But Comcast’s massive new tower also loomed as large over our dining landscape as it did our skyline, with two hits from Greg Vernick and one surprising disappointment 60 floors up from world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
I was just as intrigued by the collateral benefits of relocating all those Comcast tech workers downtown, which helped spur a boom of South Indian restaurants like Thanal Bistro (and a branch of Amma’s that earned a spot in my Top 25). Similarly, at Mama Wong in Exton, a pharma tycoon created an authentic Szechuan — one of the suburbs’ best new restaurants — to remind his Chinese employees of home.
As always, there are second chances, and I revisited four places, with two — Giuseppe & Sons and Stir — improving enough to earn their second bell. Do not mistake all these rosy ratings for a loosening of standards (I’ll be talking about my culling process in the New Year). No restaurants earned new four bell ratings this year (so none are noted in this list), but the Class of 2019 was evidence that Philly’s dining scene continues to improve. And it was a feast to remember.