Still in day-trip mode? Let’s jump off the Atlantic City Expressway for a stop in Hammonton, N.J., home of a thriving Mexican cuisine scene.
Also this week: Word of a Chinatown sleeper whose egg rolls can bring back memories as well as a brand-spanking-new eatery on the Main Line specializing in beer and “live fire” cooking (opposed to dead-fire cooking, I suppose). And furthermore, I catch you up on a fresh list of openings and closings. To everything, churn churn churn.
Though Labor Day is in the rear-view, you very well may still be hitting the Jersey Shore via the Atlantic City Expressway. Here’s an idea: Hop off at Exit 28 and hang a left. A few minutes on New Jersey Route 54, and you’re in the farm country of Hammonton, home to a thriving Mexican population and tasty food from sit-down restaurants to trucks.
Inquirer critic Craig LaBan ran down some of his favorites in 2012, and it heartening to say that the scene has grown. El Mariachi Loco, for example, LaBan’s favorite sit-downer, has since moved into lovely, spacious corner digs with outdoor tables. The chicken enchiladas generously topped with mole poblano are still first-rate.
Fruta-Mex, a bright and bold newcomer across from El Mariachi Loco, specializes in antojitos (street food), dishing elotes (corn on the cob dipped into cheese, mayo, lime, spices, and crushed tortilla chips) as well as chicharrones and dorilocos (the so-called “walking taco” that starts with a bag of chips, sliced open and filled with such toppings as tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, cheese, avocado, and pickled pork skins).
You’ll want to visit Tacos al Carbon, a food truck on the outskirts of town that operates almost year-round in a small parking lot with picnic table seating, to spare your upholstery. Taqueria fare (sublime al pastor), along with such bites as tortas and empanadas. Tuesdays bring a special of three tacos for five bucks.
N.B. La Rosa de Oro, mentioned in the 2012 article, has given up its storefront in favor of a catering truck.
Ateethi | Rittenhouse
The popular Northeast Philadelphia Indian BYOB opens a branch at 2046 Sansom St. (There’s an Indian boomlet in Rittenhouse, what with the recent opening of The Royal Indian at 272 S. 20th St. from Riaz Morshed of the Palace of Indian at 11th and East Passyunk.)
Bad Brother | Fairmount
Two brothers and their friend open a bar at 726 N. 24th St., the longtime home of Bridgid’s.
Bryn & Dane’s | Washington Square West
The good-for-you cafe, rooted in the Philly suburbs, has made its debut at the Franklin (834 Chestnut St., but closer to Eighth Street).
Cafe Bustelo | Northern Liberties
The Latin coffee brand has a pop-up going at Piazza Pod Park (1075 Germantown Ave., across from the Piazza) through fall; it’s open from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
Hello Donuts + Coffee | Kensington
Handmade vegan and conventional doughnuts and ReAnimator Coffee from a shop at 2557 Amber St. (effectively Frankford Avenue).
HipCityVeg | Radnor
Popular plant-based mini-chain opens at 4 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9. at 232 N. Radnor Chester Rd.
Jasper’s WestSide | West Conshohocken
The crew from Jasper’s Backyard in Conshohocken has taken over the spot at Ford and Front Streets in West Conshy across from Borough Hall with a handsome bar-restaurant appointed in wood.
Paris Baguette | South Philadelphia
Bakery/snack shop is new at 600 Washington Ave.
Zagafen | Bala Cynwyd
Stylish kosher pizzeria/wine bar fills the old Citron & Rose space at 370 Montgomery Ave.
Belgian Cafe | Fairmount
The 12-year run of this bar at 21st and Green Streets is Sunday, Sept. 8. New occupant will be known as The Ambassador.
Mama’s Vegetarian | Center City (temporary)
The popular vegetarian takeout/delivery option is closed till early 2020 for renovations.
Oh! Shea’s | Rittenhouse
Longtime bar at 1907 Sansom St. closed Aug. 28 after 29 years, following the death of founder David Shea. New owners Fergus Carey and Jim McNamara of Fergie’s Pub are planning a new bar.
The Pop Shop | Collingswood (temporary)
The family friendly South Jersey mainstay is changing owners and is closed through Sept. 11 for renovations. Sept. 12 is the projected reopening under Gary and Joanne Gardner, who own the Pop Shop in Medford.
Ralph’s of South Philly | King of Prussia
The KoP branch of the South Philly landmark, at the Sheraton Valley Forge, ended its seven-year run last weekend.
South Philly Smokhaus | South Philadelphia
Critically praised barbecue eatery at the Bok Building didn’t last a year.
Townsend | East Passyunk
Tod Wentz’s French-ish bistro buttoned up over the weekend after six years. It is expected to resurface Sept. 15 at 2121 Walnut St. The original location, 1623 E. Passyunk Ave., will be used for private events in the short term.
Trolley Car Diner | Mount Airy
This is an early warning: The diner on the Mount Airy-Chestnut Hill border’s last day is Oct. 15.
Rosy’s Taco Bar, 23rd and Walnut Streets, 4-6 p.m. Monday to Friday
Decidedly more mainstream than the Hammonton eateries, this corner bar with the fling-out windows and ample group seating is popular among not only among Center Citizens but the University City crowd that simply walks across the Walnut Street Bridge into its front door. It was Roosevelt’s for decades before Four Corners Management gutted the space last year.
Happy hour brings $4 drafts, $6 city wides (here it’s a Tecate and tequila shot), $6 house margs, and $25 marg pitchers. The $5 nacho plate (discounted from $8) is generously full of chips and Monterey Jack and Chihuahua cheeses and beans, pickled onions, and peppers.
Nom Wah, 218 N. 13th St.
It’s a dim-sum specialist, but no carts roll around the Philly branch of the New York City landmark, on the edge of Chinatown and off the beaten path.
There’s a full bar. You order by way of a tear-off notepad menu, checking what you want and handing it to a waiter. Signature dishes include dumplings, buns, sui mai, and an egg roll that harks back to an earlier time, before greasier spring rolls ruled Chinese menus.
Nom Wah’s “OG” rolls ($7) are light, rolled crepes filled loosely with chicken, celery, baby corn, and matchstick-cut carrots. Crack one open and steam pours out. Along with the leather chairs and lacquered tables, I was having a mild flashback to the old China Castle on Race Street, our family’s go-to back in the ’60s.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Tuesday.
Bodega by La Cabra, 810 Glenbrook Rd., Bryn Mawr
Dan Popernack and his crew from Berwyn’s La Cabra Brewing have set up a taproom offshoot in the former Biga space across from Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Bodega is casual and family friendly, with kiosk ordering and bar and table seating. Specialty is what they’re calling “live fire” cooking. Basically, chef Luke Loomis cooks over wood and his menu is not entirely limited to barbecue. Everything is meant to be paired with La Cabra’s beers as well as Pennsylvania wine and cider.
Menu includes a brisket sandwich with fried onions and pit sauce on a Conshohocken Bakery potato roll; salads (including one with mixed greens, peaches, gooseberries, smoked Asiago, pecans, and keiffer pear dressing); a turkey BLT with house-smoked turkey and bacon, Bibb lettuce, heirloom tomato, and garlic aioli on sourdough; and a seasonal watermelon salad.
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday.
We’re going honey crazy in this week’s food section: We’ve got 5 honey-forward foods in Philly, from glazed fried chicken to spicy soppressata pizza; 6 honeys to buy and how to use them; and a primer on how Philly chefs and beekeepers use raw honey in unexpected ways, from bread to chicken to hamburgers.
Did you know last year Di Bruno Bros. almost had a black lava cashew crisis? The manufacturer that made their snack fave announced they were closing. So Di Bruno’s bought them and started making their own sweet-salty treats.