A year and a half into the pandemic, with the restaurant industry showing signs of recovery, the New York Times food desk set out to find what it considers “the 50 most vibrant and delicious restaurants in 2021.”
And would you believe only five are in New York City?
It’s a diverse bunch — small-town spots such as Roots Southern Table in Farmers Branch, Texas, as well as slicker entries such as Thip Khao in Washington, D.C. — together reflecting “the rich mosaic of American dining.”
Down North (2804 W. Lehigh Ave., North Philadelphia), now run by owner/cofounder Muhammad Abdul-Hadi and chef Michael Carter, was applauded for its mission of providing employment for previously incarcerated people. The Detroit-style pizza is “well worth the trip beyond Philadelphia’s Center City. Menu is mostly takeout pizza/wings/fries/shakes; there’s a rail for eating.”
Korshak Bagels (10th and Morris Streets, South Philadelphia) is the home of former pizza baker and poet Philip Korshak, who had built a loyal following for what the Times called “pillowy-soft, sourdough bagels.” (Full stop here. A New York publication praising a bagel baked in the 215 area code?) Korshak’s atelier, which opened in May 2021, routinely draws lines. If you’re indecisive about your choices, just spin the carnival-style double wheel of fortune on a wall across from the counter. That’s part Coney Island shtick and part utilitarian. One wheel has the various schmears, and the other, spun the opposite way, denotes the variety of bagels. An egg bagel with blueberry compote? A garlic bagel with mango ginger chutney?
Laser Wolf (Howard and Thompson Streets, Kensington) is the only true dine-in restaurant in the Philly bunch, and one of Inquirer critic Craig LaBan’s recent picks for the top 10 Philadelphia restaurants. It’s Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s Middle Eastern “shipudiya,” a sort of younger, hipper sibling of their much-honored Zahav. The Times grooved on LW’s “fantastic array of meze-like salatim … and hearty grilled skewers … Few restaurants give as much flavorful bang for the buck, and what’s more exciting than that?”