Last year was a busy one for restaurant openings in Philadelphia, and this year is showing no signs of letup.
Take May, for example, when a dozen restaurants from a mix of new and seasoned operators are hoping to unlock their doors.
This surge — also noted in Washington, New York, and Boston — is not necessarily a good thing. "They're all competing for the same dining dollar," said Larry Steinberg, who brokers real estate for Fameco.
The National Restaurant Association sees sales rising to a record high of $632 billion this year, a 3.5 percent increase over last year. The trade group also expects the restaurant industry to add jobs at a 2.3 percent rate, nearly twice the projected 1.3 percent gain in total U.S. employment.
A look at the immediate horizon does not see a big, splashy Jose Garces, Stephen Starr, or Marc Vetri restaurant in the city. Garces is tied up with his four eateries at Revel Atlantic City, Vetri is kicking back with his new Alla Spina, and Starr is at the exploration stage of two new concepts that he does not care to divulge.
Rents are creeping upward, particularly in the hotter neighborhoods such as Fairmount, East Passyunk Avenue, and Fishtown. Entrepreneurs seem to find a ready supply of investors, whether it is a chef's relatives or a wealthy "angel" kicking in money that might have been parked elsewhere.
Here is a sampling of what's new or about to open.
Opened last week
Nicholas Elmi, Georges Perrier's final chef at Le Bec-Fin, landed solidly on his feet (and at the stove) at the cozy, refined Rittenhouse Tavern, at the Art Alliance on Rittenhouse Square (251 S. 18th St., 215-732-2412). Well-traveled New York-based chef Ed Brown oversees the place for Restaurant Associates.
Jalsa (246 Market St., 267-273-1648) is a mod-looking Old City Indian restaurant-lounge occupying the former Lena, Bluezette, and Prive. Owner Kayur Popat, the Ugandan-born Indian owner of the Bonte waffle shops, has returned to his roots, importing Goa-born chef Diego Rodrigues to do soulful scratch cooking.
HipCityVeg (127 S. 18th St., 215-278-7605), a vegan fast-food shop off Rittenhouse Square, has a sandwich/wrap/salad menu developed by Vedge's Rich Landau.
Forest & Main (61 N. Main St., Ambler, 215-542-1269) is a quaint brewpub carved out of a rambling 19th-century house in Ambler.
Opened this week
SoWe (918 S. 22d St., 215-545-5790) is a stylish American restaurant-bar occupying the former Divan Turkish Kitchen in Southwest Center City (hence the name).
Due in May
Vernick Food & Drink (2031 Walnut St.), possibly opening next week, will be a Euro-influenced bistro from Cherry Hill-bred Greg Vernick, who spent five years under Jean-Georges Vongerichten. (More on this spot next week.)
Giuseppe Sena, Brian Wilson, Anthony Masapollo, and Skip Di Massa, behind Le Castagne near Rittenhouse Square, are launching Spiga, a casual Italian bar at 1305 Locust St. (267-273-1690), joining one of the hottest restaurant areas in the city. Wilson, the chef, has revived the brick oven once used by long-ago occupant Girasole.
Honeygrow, a high-tech quick-serve specializing in made-to-order stir-fry bowls and salads from a 50-ingredient list, plus shakes, is looking at midmonth at 16th and Sansom Streets.
La Terrazza, an Italian BYOB, is aiming to replace the suddenly shuttered Joe Palombo's Mirabella Cafe at Barclay Farms Shopping Center in Cherry Hill.
A fifth Han Dynasty is being hammered out at 3711 Market St., the former Midatlantic. Han Chiang intends to go to Washington, D.C., next after taking cooking lessons in China this summer.
Morgan's Pier, a seasonal beer garden with a family friendly vibe, will replace Rock Lobster at 211 N. Columbus Blvd.
Brodo, a soup/salad/sandwich specialist with second-floor seating, is being readied in the United Plaza building at 31 S. 18th St.
La Petite Delphine (2029 Walnut St.) will be a French-influenced coffeehouse/BYO cafe, next to Vernick; owner David Smith managed at Le Bec-Fin for five years. (Le Bec-Fin's second act, with owner Nicholas Fanucci and chef Walter Abrams, is taking shape for a June opening at 1523 Walnut St.)
The end of May may see the debut of Jane G's (1930 Chestnut St.), a high-style pan-Asian bistro from the owner of the former Broad Street spot Noodle Heaven. This will enliven the corner of 20th and Chestnut Streets, a half-block from the planned Shake Shack that is being prepped for a summertime launch.
Blue (606 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell), an Italian restaurant, is replacing Chef Salvatore's; it's operated by the team from Buona Via in Horsham.
If you own one restaurant, the thinking goes, why not own two? Alex Boonphaya is opening a sibling to Circles, his South Philadelphia Thai BYOB, at 812 N. Second St. in the next month or so. Yong Chi, who owns Center City's Giwa, expects to open his second spot, a Korean quick-serve called Rice & Mix, this week at 1207 Walnut St.