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Our official guide to the best food in Philly | Let’s Eat

Also: Kava comes to Philly, how's the bar scene going, and restaurant news.

The fig cappellacci with speck, goat cheese and vin cotto at Fiorella.
The fig cappellacci with speck, goat cheese and vin cotto at Fiorella.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

The next best thing to enjoying food just might be reading about food, and you are in luck. We’re about to drop a new Let’s Eat, Philly! Dining Guide, and I’ll share a preview. Also this week, we have an update on the Philly bar scene, offer a roundup of places to get your pumpkin spice on, tell you about a move to make Philly’s streeteries a permanent feature, share first word of a rich, new sandwich in King of Prussia, and finish with restaurant news.

If you need food news, incidentally, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this newsletter and you like what you’re reading, sign up here to get it free every week.

Mike Klein

Where to eat and what to eat in the Philly area

Get set for Thursday’s unveiling of the 2021 Let’s Eat, Philly! Dining Guide, which showcases the best places to eat and drink in and around Philadelphia from The Inquirer’s Food team.

Critic Craig LaBan dives into his Top 10 Restaurants, and showcases the new restaurants you won’t want to miss. Deputy food editor Joseph Hernandez takes you to our favorite spots to drink wine, reporter Jenn Ladd introduces you to the bars that restaurant pros like to visit, and I offer a snapshot of the landscape as well as a preview of the fall/winter restaurant debuts. (Read down the page, and I’ll tell you about Philly’s first kava bar, which just opened.)

The 44-page Dining Guide will be included with Thursday’s home-delivered copies and will be available to digital subscribers. Want to get in on it? We’re running a special subscription deal: Sign up to get a copy between Oct. 7 and Oct. 18.

A look at Philly’s new restaurants, starting with a kava bar

Fall is yielding a bumper crop of new restaurants, as you’ll see from the Dining Guide. Let me tell you about Lightbox Cafe, a new, hippie-chic juice/smoothie shop in Queen Village that is billing itself as Philadelphia’s first kava bar. Kava is the relaxation drink made from the ground roots of a plant harvested in the South Pacific, and Lightbox’s Jennifer Hombach sources hers from a farmer in Vanuatu. Lightbox, whose all-vegan menu includes grain bowls and plant-based toasts (plus nighttime Sri Lankan curries from Sri’s Company and Puerto Rican pastelillos from Amy’s Pastelillo’s Amy Rivera-Nassar), also happens to be next door to Famous 4th Street Deli, creating a special culinary yin-yang.

Only in Philly, I’m guessing, can you get a corned beef special just steps away from a superfood smoothie.

Is Philly’s bar scene back to normal?

Philadelphia’s bars have had a tumultuous pandemic, marked by shutdowns and silver linings like takeout cocktails, elaborate outdoor dining structures, and a flurry of new in-bar bottle shops. They also adapted to (sometimes seemingly arbitrary) rules that came and went. Now that the plastic barriers have come down and the liquor can flow freely again, is Philly’s bar scene back to normal? Staff writer Jenn Ladd hit the streets to find out from bar workers.

Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about

It’s pumpkin season, and staff writer Grace Dickinson had a gourd ol’ time checking out the food establishments putting pumpkin spice and actual pureed pumpkin into action. Here’s her dessert dis-patch.

It’s also Oktoberfest, and we’re keeping a list of beer festivals within a two-hour drive of Philadelphia.

Will Philadelphia’s streeteries become permanent?

Philadelphia’s rules on expanded outdoor dining, including the structures known as streeteries, are set to expire at the end of the year. City Councilmember Allan Domb has introduced legislation to keep the streeteries in place permanently — a move cheered by restaurant owners and many patrons. He also has support from at least six councilmembers, but not the council president who thinks it’s overstepping.

What’s up in Queen Village

Back to Queen Village, and across from Lightbox Cafe, Chris D’Ambro and Marina De Oliveira have revived indoor dining at Southwark, their handsome bistro, after a pandemic reboot that included a kitchen redo. Ordinarily, kitchen work is not a big deal, but they’ve installed a lovely four-top chef’s table at the end of the line, bookable for $300 a person, including tax and tip. It’s billed as part of Ambra, their posh Italian restaurant next door, which will reopen soon with a single table for eight to 12 ppl; reservations will go live on Resy next week for bookings starting Nov. 18.

Meanwhile: A water-main break on July 25 inundated the intersection of Sixth and Bainbridge Streets, flooding basements and making life miserable. Most of the restaurants, such as Emmy Squared, reopened quickly, followed by Bistrot La Minette. The rebuilding process was painfully slow for the seafooder Little Fish (which returned two weeks ago, now with a fixed-price menu) and the Turkish BYOB Isot (back only last week). D’Ambro and De Oliveira’s Olly and Gigi Pizza, side by side at Fifth and Bainbridge, are still down. The previously shuttered Bainbridge Street Barrel House, in front of the cracked water main, was flooded; it’s being renovated into Redcrest Kitchen for a 2022 debut. And Beau Monde and L’etage, the creperie and lounge across from Bainbridge Street Barrel House that closed in 2020, has been offered for sale.

Briefly noted

Sad to report that Adan Trinidad, the chef-partner of the Pistola’s restaurants in Center City, Fishtown, and South Philadelphia, died Tuesday at age 39 of injuries related to an apparent fall .

Curiosity Doughnuts will start a Friday morning popup at White Horse Coffee Roasters (700 West Ave., Jenkintown) at 8 a.m. Oct. 8. Right now, Curiosity has local stands at the Whole Foods Markets in Spring House (Thursday-Sunday) and Princeton (weekends). City slickers got a taste of Curiosity last winter by way of a pop-up at Laurel, on East Passyunk Avenue.

“I’m headed to The Jim, dear...” But why has only your elbow been getting stronger? That’s my lead-up to the news that bar owners Fergus Carey and Jim McNamara (Fergie’s Pub, The Goat) are joining a project this fall with restaurateur Tony Rim (1225 Raw, The Foodery) at Eighth and Morris Streets in South Philadelphia. They’re calling it The Jim, and it will replace the long-running JC Chinese Restaurant. Carey and McNamara will run the bar, while Rim will operate two delivery/takeout eateries — one serving a Chinese menu, and the other sushi.

Khoran Horn and Matthew Gansert’s La Marzocco espresso machine is pumping shots at Guardhouse, which opened this week right by the entrance of Bridesburg’s Arsenal Business Center and just a scone’s throw from I-95. Horn, a grad of Virginia’s Johnson & Wales University and founder of Stripp’d Juice, and Gansert, previously at Old City’s Forsythia, are starting out with house-made* baked goods and La Colombe coffee (7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays), and plan to add breakfast and lunch in coming weeks. Cool setting is a total redo of the former guardhouse of the old Frankford Arsenal.

* Sign of the times: Some local wholesale bakeries are so overwhelmed with staffing issues, they’re begging off new business.

Barbecue brisket instead of ribeye in a Philly cheesesteak? Heck, yes. It’s one of the calling cards of Mike’s BBQ at 11th and Morris Streets in South Philadelphia, where Mike Strauss ladles his own Cooper Sharp “Whiz” over brisket and onions in a Carangi roll ($13.75). How about a suburban contender. The newcomer Morgan’s Brooklyn BBQ, which landed over the summer at King of Prussia Mall, just debuted one, inspired by a successful charity collaboration with Pat’s King of Steaks. Morgan’s chef Cenobio Canalizo tucks his brisket, caramelized onions, and a Southwest queso “Whiz” inside a Morabito roll ($18). You’ll need many napkins and a nap.

Hey, cheesesteak fans in South Jersey. Donkey’s Place, the Camden bar that served Anthony Bourdain’s favorite cheesesteak, has opened its Mount Holly location, called Donkey’s Place Downtown. The grand opening is Oct. 11 at 37 Washington St., behind the municipal building. There’s a third location, in Medford.

From the street

One of the best parts of my work is learning from the people I interview. Thu Pham at the new Càphê Roasters was making me a cup of pour-over coffee the other day. She added ground coffee to the phin (the metal basket that fits over the cup) and dribbled about a tablespoon of boiling water into the center. After 30 seconds, she gradually added more water. I’ve seen this technique before and asked Pham about it. Introducing that first bit of water causes the grounds to bloom and release the carbon dioxide created by roasting. I tried this at home and noticed that my coffee is now a lot smoother. Keep an eye out later this week for my article, in which I will explain this magical, non-coffee creation you see below. Avocado is involved.