Whether they're new on the block or long-established stalwarts, sometimes the best dinners are those you have to work to find. Here are a dozen restaurants that might not be easy to locate, but are definitely worth seeking out.
Sotto Ristorante Italiano
151 S. 24th St., 215-496-9222
Let your eye follow the bright, rust-orange facade down the side of the Walnut Street bridge as it passes over 24th Street and you'll alight on the striped awning welcoming diners to Luigi Basile's 3-year-old BYOB. Menu is similar to Basile's other restaurant (Old City's Radicchio Cafe), offering inexpensive Italian fare like pizza, pasta, chops and fish for lunch (Tues. through Sat.) and dinner (closed Mondays).
Spring Mill Cafe
164 Barren Hill Rd, Conshohocken, 610-828-2550
In the midst of the back roads that weave between downtown Conshohocken and Lafayette Hill is this gem of a French BYOB. In 1978, chef Michele Haines began serving lunches in the back room of the former general store, and over the next 37 years expanded her range. The restaurant now comprises several dining rooms plus a patio, where patrons can enjoy lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch (closed Mondays).
3572 Indian Queen Ln., 215-843-1500
Drive carefully along ultra-narrow Indian Queen Lane (or better yet, take the Manayunk/Norristown line or bike up Kelly Drive) to arrive at this cozy BYOB tucked into an East Falls street corner. Chef Franco Faggi crafts memorable Northern Italian specialties like pasta e fagiole, tagliatelle bolognese and veal saltimboca, available daily for lunch and on weekends for dinner.
2025 Washington Ave., 215-278-7579
Amid the garage- and warehouse-dominated west end of Washington Avenue, it's easy to overlook the dusty blue facade of this year-old BYOB run by the owners of Rex 1516 and Jet Wine Bar. Once you step inside, though, you can't miss the bright colors of Mexico City, nor forget the lively flavors of chef JC Piña's tacos, burritos and rotisserie chicken, offered from 8 or 9 a.m. through 8 or 9 p.m. daily (on Sunday doors close at 4 p.m.).
Valley Green Inn
Valley Green Rd. at Wissahickon, 215-247-1730
If you've done any bicyling along Forbidden Drive in Wissahickon Valley Park, you've likely caught a glimpse of the colonnade-lined veranda of this 19th century inn. Restored in the 1930s by Friends of the Wissahickon and the Park Commission, the historic building is now a privately-run restaurant that's also accessible via car. New American fare (salmon, crab cakes, pork chops) is served daily for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
Baba Olga's Cafe
4700 Wissahickon Ave., 215-849-1007
Influential chef and author Aliza Green runs this cafe nested inside international furniture and art auction house Material Culture. Set in an industrial area next to the Roosevelt Expressway and just southeast of Philadelphia University, the restaurant features decor as interesting and eclectic as the space around it. Food is fresh, seasonal and easy, with sandwiches and salads offered daily for lunch. Keep watch on the calendar for special holiday "supper club" events.
1754 S. Hicks St., 215-271-9442
Even with its turquoise, yellow and green accents, this restaurant is hard to notice among the mostly residential side streets of Point Breeze. Make the effort to find it and you'll be rewarded with a meal of authentic Indonesian cuisine, served by a family in what still looks a bit like their living room. It makes for a fantastically inexpensive lunch or dinner, available every day but Tuesday.
501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699
Though it's been run by an assortment of different chefs over the last few decades, each incarnation of this BYOB has been worth stepping off Baltimore Avenue in West Philly to seek out the leaf-shrouded Victorian house. Three young guns now oversee the dining room, where they serve a 14-course tasting menu of inventive but accessible food. At $95 per person, it's an upscale deal good on any Tues. through Sat. night.
517 S. Leithgow St., 215-925-5929
It's only half a block off busy South Street, but if you didn't know where to look, you might never find this North African oasis run by a pair of brothers from Morocco. Each evening, they serve the cuisine of their homeland in dimly-lit, incense-scented rooms - diners are invited to enjoy their $25 three-course meal in authentic style: without utensils. On weekends, belly dancers add to the exotic experience.
McGillin's Olde Ale House
1310 Drury St., 215-735-5562
It's hard to call any location in buzzy Midtown Village "hidden," but this 155-year-old tavern's outsize fame and popularity are belied by its tucked away location. Turn off 13th Street and make your way down Drury to marvel at the intricate facade, before ducking into the low-light interior for Shepherd's pie, German sausages and plenty of great beer. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
447 Poplar St., 267-639-4761
Philly has plenty of great beer bars. What if you took the prowess behind one of the most beloved - the POPE on Passyunk Avenue - and applied the cool sensibility to a cocktail lounge with great food? That's what Dennis Hewlett has done, and by waiting for the perfect location and enlisting chef Rhett Vellner in his French cinema-themed venture, he's won out with a Northern Liberties lounge worthy of a hunt. Dinner is served daily, accompanied by Saturday and Sunday brunch.
Bistro St. Tropez
2400 Market St., 215-569-9269
A forthcoming redesign for the Marketplace Design Center may leave you with limited time to check out the fine French fare hiding behind the giant Wyland humpback whale mural that rises from the Schuylkill's east bank. For 28 years, chef Patrice Rames has been holding court in his fourth-floor restaurant that looks out on the river, offering bar snacks and haute cuisine for weekday lunch and Wed. through Sat. dinner.