It's no secret that West Market is an area on the rise.

In her column last Friday, colleague Inga Saffron recapped a retail influx that could enliven what she calls "Philadelphia's most boring street."

From the restaurant side, 2016 and 2017 are shaping up nicely.

There's Ruth's Chris steak house, under construction at the Sonesta Hotel (18th and Market Streets), taking the former Elephant & Castle space late spring 2016.

At 17th and Market, that narrow plaza next to 1700 Market St. will become a new building housing three new restaurants - III Forks (a steakhouse/seafood restaurant with nine locations nationwide), Cantina Laredo (Mexican restaurant with a branch in King of Prussia), and a player to be named later. (That setup, which I described last spring, has made its way through zoning and is expected to be under construction soon, for a 2017 opening.)

Here's another: Just signed to occupy ground-floor space in the mixed-use building at 1919 Market St. is Naf Naf Grill, a Middle Eastern quick-serve out of the Chicago suburbs. Opening is penciled in for May 2016.

Naf Naf - whose name is Hebrew slang for "let's start up the fire," according to cofounder Sahar Sander - specializes in customizable shawarma and falafel dishes, served in salads or on bread baked all day long on premises. Ergo, a Middle Eastern version of Chipotle.
Sander and his friend Elan Burger started up about six years ago in Naperville, Ill. "It was a big hit," he said in a phone chat last week. "We outgrew it pretty quickly."
Helping the growth were two customers, Justin Halpenny and David Sloan, who own a money-management business nearby, who decided to invest. The openings just kept coming: Aurora (excellent!), then Niles, then the Chicago Loop.
Now, after hitting the Minneapolis metro and Madison, Wis., they're up to 17 stores. The roster will be up to 22 when they open next year at the King of Prussia Town Center - the sole East Coast locations so far. 

"We were looking at different markets up and down the East Coast," Sloan said. "We fell in love with Philly. .. We like the fact that Philly has our core customer: highly educated, in an area of high daytime population, similar to the Loop."

Another deal is on the boards in South Jersey. Sloan said the area can accommodate 15 to 20 Naf Nafs.