Customizable food bowls are the hottest thing going at lunchtime, and seemingly nowhere in the city are bowls more prevalent than Rittenhouse Square.
The variety is vast. Count on the usual fare such as salads and stir-fries, but even "cheesesteaks" and mac and cheese.
Here are nine ideas:
Brennan Foxman, now all of 25, has started his fourth year at Wokworks, his Asian-inspired, fast-casual drop-in near 20th and Chestnut Streets. All manner of stir-fries are the way to go here - bam bam steak, a deep-fried (yet organic) riff on General Tso's chicken called General Cheng's chicken, and chicken teriyaki are big sellers. When you're skipping meat, the Queen Bee is the way to go. So simple: stir-fried carrot noodles, kale, broccoli, bok choy, and sesame glaze. At $9.50, it's not exactly a sterling value, but it's an explosion of flavor.
Snap Custom Pizza
Snap Custom Pizza, a growing, local mini-chain that allows control freaks and their friends to choose dozens of pizza toppings for one price, has a salad menu, as well. When a salad isn't quite what you're after but a pizza is too much, go for the middle ground: one of two grain bowls ($8.99). The Garden Bowl is all-veggie and built on farro, while the Veracruz starts with kale and protein-packed quinoa and adds chicken, queso blanco, grape tomatoes, chickpeas, corn, avocado, tortilla strips, and a sweet-and-zingy cilantro lime jalapeno dressing whose amount you can control (ask for "half," and you'll be happy). Filling, too.
Cleavers is one of Center City's better cheesesteak shops, and it's not just because of the beer case and spiked milkshakes. Beef, chicken, and other ingredients are top-of-the-line, and the choices are vast. Management eliminates the roll on request, effectively turning the insides of the sandwiches into a bowl. This can set up a true dilemma, because Cleavers' dense rolls - from Conshohocken Bakery - are outstanding. Of course, everything is customizable. The one photographed ($10) has roasted red peppers, sauteed spinach, hot banana peppers, and char-grilled white meat chicken beneath mozzarella cheese.
Young entrepreneur Marti Lieberman got her start with Mac Mart, a food truck at Drexel University, in 2013. She came in from the cold over the summer, setting up a cheery storefront on 18th Street off Chestnut to sell her topped elbows, whose usual base is a seven-cheese mac and cheese. Among the menu favorites is the Rittenhouse ($8.75), whose topping is garlic-sautéed spinach and artichoke dip and a potato chip panko crunch. Like the others, it should come with a gym membership.
Hai Street Kitchen
Hai Street Kitchen's signature food product is the oversized sushi burrito, a nori-wrapped rice roll that fuses at least two cuisines. You can get the ingredients - chicken katsu, shrimp tempura, tataki salmon - in a bowl, too, of course. Lately, HSK has joined the poké craze, topping spring mix with cubes of marinated fish (ahi tuna and two preparations of salmon). It's a lighter option ($10.95).
Revolution Taco, also run by food truckers seeking the brick-and-mortar life, thinks outside the shell and wrap. Not only are the varieties on the "cheffy" side (chipotle BBQ brisket, smoked mushroom, fried curried cauliflower), Carolyn Nguyen and Michael Sultan offer the proteins served as burrito bowls ($8 for vegetarian, $10 for meat varieties).
Chix & Bowls
The rising stir-fry/salad chain Honeygrow's first location is on 16th Street, just north of Sansom, and the long lines attest to the tasty, customizable combos. Since acquiring the chef services of culinary director David Katz, the offerings have become more sophisticated. One of the newer salads is the "Make It Grain," which has wheat berries, red quinoa, organic arugula, grapes, roasted carrots, feta, and roasted cashews topped with orange sherry vinaigrette.