One of Fishtown's great Italian dining experiences — believe it — is tucked into an Irish bar on Girard Avenue. Also this week, I find breakfast tacos in King of Prussia, vegan pizza (as well as Italian dishes for omnivores) in Center City, and solid, all-American eats in Upper Bucks. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
The Italian gem tucked into an Irish bar
The tube blares the game over the jukebox, the taps flow behind a penny-topped bar, and the regulars hold forth at Murph's Bar, up two steps on Girard just east of Frankford in Fishtown. It's "a comfortable place to be," as the sign outside says. It's also the home of top-flight Italian cooking, as cognoscenti have discovered. Francesco Bellastelli, a low-key Puglia native and friend of a friend of owners Greg and Theresa Walton, holds forth every day but Tuesday, dishing out a dozen or so drool-worthy, pasta-forward dishes (beef braciola with orecchiette; lobster ravioli; pear and cheese fiocchi in a cream sauce drizzled with honey); a salumi board; and plump, crunchy-on-the-outside/creamy-on-the-inside arancini (see the rice balls' cheese-and-beef-filled center here). It's a copacetic relationship: Bellastelli rents the bar's kitchen and keeps the food receipts, so be advised that food is cash only, befitting the sub-$20 prices. Bar staff delivers sweet, cheery service. Also note that seating is snug, so long waits are the norm, especially at dinnertime and weekends.
What we’re drinking
Sangria at Lolita
Lolita — Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran's Mexican mainstay on 13th Street near Sansom — turns out two easy-to-drink sangrias, a red and a white. The red, based on tempranillo, has stone fruits, apple brandy, and a kick of rosemary syrup, while the white gets its punch from citrus and other fruits and ginger syrup. It's $9 — but only $5 at happy hour, 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday.
Where we’re eating: District Taco, Porta, Hawkeye’s Country Tavern
"Breakfast all day" should be a thing everywhere, and District Taco — a nascent fast-casual Mex chain whose Philly-area debut is at King of Prussia Town Center — offers breakfast tacos in flour or corn with your choice of fillings (bacon, cheese, and eggs here). You can even get egg whites or a veggie filling, and ranchos huevos. Opens at 8 a.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. weekends. Note: District Taco is coming later this year to the East Market development near 12th and Market Streets.
With Fratelli's and Olive Garden gone from Chestnut Street near Broad, it's perfect timing for Porta, an energetic North Jersey-based Italian behemoth that just opened at 1216 Chestnut. Much farther up the food chain, Porta offers wood-fired Neapolitan pizza (like this vegan "Snawzeech") and assorted dishes featuring house-made mozz and ricotta. Dine in the low-lit, high-ceilinged main room (inexplicably, incongruously graffitoed), or in the rustic, light-stringed beer-garden setting next door. Check schedule for DJ and live music.
Ye olde country inns may dot the landscape in Upper Bucks, but how about a family restaurant with peppy service, decent prices, and tasty comfort food? That's Hawkeye's Country Tavern in Perkasie, which offers not only brick-oven pizza and the basics but also grass-fed burgers from Tussock Sedge Farm a mile up the road. Local pork also goes into the jaeger schnitzel, topped with a sauce of mushroom, lemon butter, and capers, and served with steamed broccoli.
Center City District Restaurant Week runs Jan. 14 to Jan. 26, with 100-plus restaurants offering discounted lunches and dinners. The lineup is here.
Ambler's restaurant week runs Jan. 29 to Feb. 6. Details are here.
Fond at 11th and Tasker Streets is serving brunch on Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., for the first time since its opening in 2009. Menu is here.
The Tria location at 12th and Spruce Streets now serves brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Menu is here.
Peter Woolsey, chef-owner of La Peg at FringeArts (under the Ben Franklin Bridge at Race Street and Columbus Boulevard), will start carving an outdoor ice bar on Monday, Jan. 15, beginning at noon. It'll be open starting that evening. Go ahead. Talk about the carving. It's a great way to break the ice.
No restaurant openings this week. As the fisherman might say, it’s a fluke.
This week’s closings
Louie's Old Mill Inn | Hatboro
The restaurant, heavily renovated by new owners, struggled over its 16 months.
Southern Belle and Southern Belle 2.0 | Jenkintown and Erdenheim
Restaurateur Jose Vargas has shuttered both locations of the Southern-focused bistro as he reorganizes his holdings.
Stella Blu | West Conshohocken
Scheduled to close Jan. 27, it fell victim to a plumbing disaster last week and simply shut down.
Ugly Duckling | Washington Square West
The sibling of Blue Duck and Blue Duck on Broad has gone duck. Er, dark.
Your dining questions, answered
Reader: What's going on with your live online chat every Tuesday on Philly.com? Please tell me they aren't kaput? I still want to become a Crumb Tracker King.
Craig LaBan: It's true some big changes are happening with the chat, but they aren't ending completely. We're going to hold them now once a month (on the first Tuesday) instead of every week. They've been a blast since we started them over a decade ago. Back in 2007, it seemed like the perfect forum to open a direct dialogue with readers to explore the dining scene through a spontaneous conversation in more casual ways than formally written articles allow. It's been both fun and instructive to hear your views, and also share my behind-the-scenes thoughts on various reviews and projects, or whatever food thing we all happen to be obsessing over now. Over time, though, the chat's limitations have often frustrated me. It can often feel like slow-motion radio — and I'm not sure the technology has aged well enough in the era of constant social-media distractions to hold its own. As a result, we've seen attendance slip in the past couple years. So I'm switching things up. Don't get me wrong — I value my chat-room regulars. But I'm also hoping we'll be able to broaden the audience once again by holding these conversations less frequently. I'll also be answering one great reader question each week in this Q&A, which will also be published in the Inquirer Food section. In addition, all you devoted Crumb Tracker Quiz-meisters will still be able to test your Philly food savvy regularly against photos of my favorite recent bites. We're planning to maintain the popular quiz every week in a new feature on Philly.com, where readers will try to guess where I ate three mystery dishes. Prizes will be given to a winner, as always. So stay tuned! And don't be a stranger to the chat room, either. I'll be back at the beginning of next month, and I'm sure I'll be eager for some good Philly food conversation.