The folks behind P.J. Whelihan’s have opened their fourth bar-restaurant in a half-mile stretch of Haddon Avenue in Westmont, and this time they’ve themed it to Mexican. Also this week, I’m charmed by a Vietnamese spot in Kensington as well as a solid bar-restaurant in Wayne (with a location also in Manayunk).

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Tacos and tequilas in Westmont

Beer, beer and wings, steak, pizza. South Jersey-based PJW Restaurant Group (P.J. Whelihan's, The Pour House, ChopHouse, Treno Pizza Bar) stepped outside its comfort zone for its 23rd restaurant, which opened Monday.

Central Taco & Tequila, a top-to-bottom redo of Westmont pub The Irish Mile, brings a list of more than 100 agave-based spirits, including 90 or so tequilas, along with a taqueria menu that presents the burrito/taco canon in a rustic setting. By "top-to-bottom redo," note Stokes Architecture's idea to raise the ceiling and install skylights. Exposed wooden beams and rafters are festooned with string lights over the roomy 150-plus seats, including 20 or so at the bar.

It’s open from 11 a.m.-1 a.m. daily.


This Week’s Openings

Central Taco & Tequila | Westmont

See above.

Ground Up | South Philadelphia

East Passyunk's newest coffee shop is at 1926 E Passyunk Ave., by Le Virtu and Pistola's Del Sur.

Mix | Rittenhouse

Renovations are complete at Victor Fellus' Italian spot at 2101 Chestnut St., which has become more of a bar.

Poe's Sandwich Joint | Fishtown

Marijuana activist N.A. Poe is behind this drop-in at 1429 Marlborough St.


This Week’s Closings

The Dairy Cafe | Bala Cynwyd

With the kosher eatery at 321 Montgomery Ave. closed, owner David Magerman and Zavino's Greg Dodge plan to open Zagafen, a kosher pizzeria in the spirit of Zavino, in April across the street at 370 Montgomery Ave.

Rose Petals Cafe | Germantown location

Desmin and Jania Daniels, who recently opened a location in Elkins Park, will close their five-year location at 322 W. Chelten Ave. in Germantown on Dec. 24. The last day will be a pay-as-you-wish breakfast buffet from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They’re scouting for a new location.


Where we’re enjoying happy hour

Zucca chips at North Italia, King of Prussia Mall.
Michael Klein
Zucca chips at North Italia, King of Prussia Mall.

North Italia, 350 Mall Blvd. (King of Prussia Mall), 3-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday

You say potato, I say zucca. I’m referring to the flash-fried zucchini chips served at this mod, smart-looking Italian restaurant from Arizona-based James Beard nominee Sam Fox, in the newer section of KoP Mall that once was the corridor between Neiman Marcus and Macy’s. (Follow signs for “orange” parking.) At $8, the zucca chips are a star starter on the lunch and dinner menus. but at happy hour, when a heaping bowl is four bucks, they’re a must. I’d also recommend the prosciutto bruschetta ($11 regularly, $5 at happy hour), which brings a generous pile of prosciutto atop creamy crescenza cheese, grilled asparagus, more than a little truffle flavor. Wine selection (only a red, a white, and a sangria) are limited, but just $5 a glass (or $16 for a bottle or pitcher), while beers are $4. The 3 p.m. happy-hour start, by the way, makes it perfect for a snack when your other options are mainly fast food.


Where we’re eating

TGB Nuggets -- chicken, sriracha, lime, and blue cheese crumbles -- at The Goat's Beard in Wayne and Manayunk.
Michael Klein
TGB Nuggets -- chicken, sriracha, lime, and blue cheese crumbles -- at The Goat's Beard in Wayne and Manayunk.

The Goat’s Beard, 103 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne, and 4201 Main St​., Manayunk

First, some trivia: These cozy bar-restaurants (Manayunk opened in 2013, Wayne in 2016) are named not after a barnyard animal but the native Pennsylvania plant (Aruncus dioicus), and managing partner Sean Coyle grew up in the biz, as parents Richard and Irene Coyle owned Binni & Flynn’s, which had a multidecade run in Wayne’s Gateway Shopping Center.

Particularly in Wayne, where it helps anchor North Wayne Avenue’s restaurant row, The Goat’s Beard hits multiple constituencies, such as happy hour, families (kids eat free over the early dinnertime Sunday-Tuesday), whiskey-seekers, locavores, gluten-freers, and the late-night crowd that doesn’t mind live music. Joel Romano’s menus are built for all, as well — burger, steak mac and cheese, vegetable paella, fish and chips, meat loaf, big salads,

Two particular shareables: the Carlos fries, which have a sweet chili sauce tamed by a drizzle of sour cream (served late night), and the addictive TGB nuggets, which are lightly battered bites of Lancaster County chicken splashed with lime and sriracha and topped with blue cheese.

Manayunk is open for lunch Thursday and Friday, brunch on weekends, and dinner daily. Wayne runs from 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. daily.

Bun bo Hue, a spicy beef soup at Cafe Mi Quang, 3324 Kensington Ave.
Michael Klein
Bun bo Hue, a spicy beef soup at Cafe Mi Quang, 3324 Kensington Ave.

Cafe Mi Quang, 3324 Kensington Ave., 215-239-0739

It's wise to be leery of restaurants whose menus weigh in with page after page of "specials." Which is assuredly why I dig Phuong Dang's humble, tile-walled Vietnamese storefront under the El on an otherwise sad block of Kensington Avenue.

Here's all she's got: 10 noodle/soups, three rice dishes, four banh mi, and a side of tightly packed pork-and-shrimp spring rolls, plus a few desserts. All homestyle cooking here, and photos will help you decide — though the kindly Dang or an assistant will recommend.

Banh mi rolls are perfectly crispy, and for $4.50, the charbroiled pork (thit nuong on the menu) is among my favorites in the city. Beef soups predominate, and I'd suggest that the spicy bun bo Hue with vermicelli has medicinal qualities for colds, allergies, and/or hangovers. Get a pennywort drink, too.

Plenty of meter parking out front, VietTV on the tube over the front window.

Hours are 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Wednesday-Monday (as in, closed Tuesday).


Dining Notes

IPAs on tap and porn in the bathroom: Find manufactured nostalgia at Sergeant York’s, a brand-new, vintage, corner dive bar fashioned with an instant 50-year patina.

Still shopping? Craig LaBan tasted more than two dozen whiskeys and recommends the best to give as gifts. (Or to buy for yourself!) If you're buying for a cook, our staff recommended our favorite cookbooks of the year.

Spice Finch’s Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle both grew up with big family Christmases. They drew inspiration from those memories to create a vibrant holiday feast.