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Best Philly-area Indian restaurants recommended by Craig LaBan

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat: Reader: What are some of your favorite Indian restaurants in the area?

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:

Reader: What are some of your favorite Indian restaurants in the area?

C.L.: Well, the fact is very few of my favorite Indian restaurants are within the city limits. Dana Mandi is definitely one exception, though its lack of ambiance (some serious Bollywood movies blasting on the big-screen TV) may be a turnoff for some. The best Indian restaurants in the area can generally be found in the far western 'burbs. I love the Indian Hut in Exton, but also Bangles in Downingtown, the Dosa Hut in Trooper, and Devi, vegetarian south Indian in Exton. In the city, I'd generally choose IndeBlue or Ekta over Tiffin, based on my most recent meals. But I also had a surprisingly good meal last year at the new location of Tandoor India in Fishtown, which makes very good tandoor-roasted skewers.

Reader: Have you tried the Pub in Pennsauken? Are there any good bourgeoisie steak houses in the region, like Arthurs in Hoboken/New Brunswick, N.J., which I love.

C.L.: Yes, I have been to the Pub within the last year, and I'm sorry to say it has really faded, despite our strong desire to love it for nostalgia's sake. I mean, what's not to like about a place that has a line of charcoal-fired pits built into the wall? Or still serves a twice-baked potato? I love that stuff. Except when it's not well-cooked and the ingredients aren't great, you realize why such places have been bypassed. It's still popular, for sure; just look at the parking lot! And it's also really festive for the holidays. But would I go back and spend my own money there? No, definitely not. As for other old-school indie steak houses? I don't think we have many left. I think Barclay Prime and Butcher & Singer are still the city's best chop houses, though I'd hardly classify them along the lines of a "bourgeoisie" steak house (funny to think of the Pub in French socioeconomic terminology!) Try Malbec, the quirky Argentine steak house in Head House Square. I really liked it - very good meat, cooked properly, but with a Latin swagger. Along those adventure steak lines, try Picanha, the Brazilian place in the Northeast, which has none of the fancy frills of the chains like Fogo de Chao or Chima, but in my opinion cooks better food - and definitely for the Brazilian "bourgeoisie."

Reader: I've been searching for "South Philly" Italian as good as Villa di Roma in other parts of the city but can't find it. Any suggestions for chicken sicilian/chicken parm/ziti francis that comes close?

C.L.: My family has spent a lot of time searching for another classic red gravy place to visit when we're looking for something different from Villa, and we really haven't found one we like better for ambiance and food. That includes visits to Ralph's, Dante & Luigi's, and, most recently, Criniti's. Check out Mr. Joe's Cafe, the luncheonette (lunch only) run by Vince Termini across from the Eightth Street bakery. It feels and tastes like the real deal. Love braciole and gnocchi and all the soups. Two other modern red gravy updates worth a visit: Little Nonna's and the new version of the Triangle Tavern. One I've not been to in many years but would like to get back to is Macaroni's in Northeast Philadelphia.