It’s old news by now that East Passyunk Avenue is South Philly’s go-to dinner drag, but last year marked some notable departures on the diagonal: Paradiso, Izumi, Will, Tre Scalini, Brigantessa. That means there’s a fresh crop of eateries to test out, and that’s what Restaurant Week is for.
Between Feb. 24 and March 6, 25 restaurants — some new, some old — will offer three-course lunch and dinner menus for $15, $25, and $35. We asked 11 chefs, owners, and staffers what they’d order off their Restaurant Week menu.
Texas chef Randy Rucker has turned critics’ heads for clever dishes that are artfully composed yet unpretentious. During RW, Rucker would start with the Menemsha, Mass.-sourced oysters seasoned with ramp vinegar, then move to the shio koji-slicked bread dumplings inspired by his mom, Bootsie (“she’s my hero”). Raw milk panna cotta would be dessert. “It showcases the amazing dairy we’re getting from Lancaster,” the chef says.
1601 E. Passyunk Ave., 267-457-3698, rivertwicerestaurant.com
Chef Richard Cusack has doubled down on classic French cuisine in this successor — in space, if not style — to Will BYOB, sparing no butter, cream, or fat in the process. He’d choose the flaky scallop vol-au-vent (“beurre blanc is really good with sweet potato,” Cusack says); the fish quenelle in lobster saffron sauce; and the chocolaty, 22-layers-high gâteau de crêpes.
1911 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-515-3242, junebyob.com
Last fall, Philly restaurant vet Marc Grika brought this Southern-twanged all-day cafe to the Avenue, with vegan-friendly small plates, meat-centric big plates, and breakfast anytime. His picks off the RW menu: the mac daddy, thick slices of five-cheese mac and cheese (“It might be a little filling," he says, "but you don’t have to eat the whole thing”); the catfish and Dogfish, thin fillets of cornmeal- and beer-battered catfish; and the fried marble pound cake with bourbon syrup. “A marbled pound cake is an intense production,” Grika says. Deep-frying makes it all the more intense, so that it kind of melts in your mouth.
1819 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-465-1000, eatflannel.com
Just a couple months old, Big Catch aims to become Passyunk’s poke provider. Its $15 RW menu includes a build-your-own bowl as well as bubble tea or another beverage, including fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice. That would be partner Christine Lee’s choice, and she’d build a bowl similar to Big Catch’s signature Passyunk Double Passion: a mix of salmon, avocado, fresh mango, sweet corn, seaweed, cucumber, and sesame seeds. To top it, she’d pick one of the shop’s special sauces — especially the sesame oil-based Secret Weapon sauce.
1840 E. Passyunk Ave., 267-662-1888, bigcatchonline.com
Just when we thought chef Townsend “Tod” Wentz had decamped to Center City, he announced he’d reopen his former Passyunk bistro as a wine bar with a similar menu, just lightened up a bit. The bar officially boots up at the start of RW. His choices from the menu include the broiled oysters, Southern France-inspired lamb loin en crepinette, and pavlova with berries — his pick over orange-cardamon crème brûlée and chocolate cake. “It’s not often seen,” the chef says of the meringue dessert. But, he cedes, “chocolate sells itself!”
1623 E. Passyunk Ave., eastpassyunkrestaurantweek.com
Surely all of Philly has enjoyed a margarita-fueled evening at this colorful corner at some point in its nearly 14-year run. It was recently spruced up with some floor repairs, fresh paint, and appliance upgrades. It’s back after a short break — a perfect opportunity to have more than chips and guac here. General manager Amy Chalmers would pick the chicharron gordita, the malanga flautas, and the short rib mole negro. “Short ribs never fail!” she says.
1651 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-755-3550, cantinaloscaballitos.com
Chef Lou Boquila’s Kamayan feasts — marinated chicken, Berkshire pork belly, and fried whole fish served family-style over garlicky jasmine rice, plus dessert — will be $5 off its regular $40 during RW, and available on Tuesdays as well as its usual Wednesday and Sunday. On the other nights, when the restaurant’s modernized Filipino menu is à la carte, the $35 deal is even sweeter. Boquila would start with the Spanish octopus (normally $18), a childhood favorite of his made upscale with pickled papaya and escabeche. He’s torn between the confited pork belly (bagnet) and the prawn-strewn pancit noodles — $27 and $28 entrées. But dessert’s winner is clear: the ube cheesecake, a new item. Roasted purple yam is layered with cream cheese and condensed milk over a graham cracker crust.
1535 S. 11th St., 267-273-0008, perlaphilly.com
This two-year-old takeout shop is run by owner Adam Volk, a Philly native with New York City credentials. Volk would choose the Greencrest, a special chicken sandwich slathered with a green-curry mayo and topped with smoky eggplant, lettuce, tomato and red onion. (It can be made vegetarian, too.) Collard greens are his side of choice. “They’re nice and spicy because we finish them with our homemade hot sauce.” For dessert: rice pudding.
1525 S. 11th St., 215-454-6951, redcrestfriedchicken.com
“Definitely not the classic,” owner Marlo Dilks says when asked what she’d order off her burger joint’s RW menu. The other options — patties with Southwestern, Italian, and Greek inflections — all have special off-menu toppings. “I’m so Italian, it would probably be the Little Louie burger," says Dilks, citing its aged sharp provolone cheese. She’d choose the pickle chips (a $2 upgrade to the $15 menu) to go with it, with house-made horseradish mayo for dipping. And “absolutely get the black-and-white [shake]. It is hands-down the best.”
1823 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-468-7865, punkburger.com
This Abbruzo ambassador has long anchored the last block of the Avenue before it crosses over Broad Street. Were owner Francis Cratil-Cretarola to order off the RW menu, he’d make it traditional. Begin with the “amazingly flavorful” beef-and-veal polpette all’ Abruzzese. (If you’re vegetarian, go for its meatless equivalent, the palotte cac’ e ova, made with egg and cheese.) Move on to the taccozzelle, a little-known shape of pasta from a well-to-do village, which is thus served with sausage, mushroom, truffle, and saffron. Order the biscotti to stick with tradition — but "if you want to blow the doors off,” he says, go with the chocolate tiramisu.
1927 E. Passyunk Ave., 215-271-5626, levirtu.com
Since 2013, Joncarl Lachman has introduced Philadelphians to Northern European food they only otherwise may have heard of from the IKEA catalog: smørrebrød, lekkerbekjes, broodjes, and more. If the chef were to choose from his RW menu, he’d pick the meaty bitterballen, a classic Dutch bar snack; the pork loin choucroute (“really very delicious,” he says); and the spiced lingonberry bread pudding. “I think we make the best bread pudding in the city.”