Great beer has been the fuel that's driven our dining scene forward in so many exciting ways.
It's been the primary draw for gastropubs that have helped reimagine the casual neighborhood restaurant - and in turn pioneer some emerging neighborhoods to begin with. A more recent wave of craft breweries has brought a new focus on the creativity and distinctive styles that are defining a Philadelphia way of brewing, too.
Here are seven outstanding examples of recommended gastropubs and breweries, excerpted from Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining guide recently delivered to subscribers, that show the range of the movement. From a legendary Belgian ale destination to Fishtown's pioneer of indie music and local beer, a pub that blends craft brews with great New Orleans flavors, and a suburban brewer that's garnered national attention for its unconventional and funky approach, our scene has it all. That also includes an innovative entry in Kensington that's expanded upon its beer cred to feature local wines, ciders and spirits, too, which may well be the next big wave.
(Not a subscriber? You can order a copy; info is below.)
(Not yet formally rated)
2113 E. York St., 215-867-8881
This former Kenzo chop shop turned low-lit hipster bar (with bocce on the patio) is a new kind of gastropub. It's an aggregator of all good things local — wines, spirits, beer, cheese, and charcuterie — that pair with pickles and quirky hoagies, like the cravably weird Bologna Jawn.
1201 N. Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684
Just as Standard Tap sparked Northern Liberties, this revamped boxer's bar helped launch Fishtown with craft beers, fun food, and live indie music. Chef Adam Diltz adds ambitious fare (stuffed squash blossom, chicken roulade) to the raw bar and sandwiches.
35 Cricket Terrace, Ardmore, 484-413-2983
No place captures the creative vitality of the region's brewing scene quite like Tired Hands, whose funky, fruity, oak-aged saisons and essentric IPAs have a national following. Its Fermentaria's noisy old trolley works space is a lively place to sip and nibble offbeat tacos, burgers, and shishito-grits.
56 S. Second St., 215-238-5888
Old City's classic rock-and-roll beer bar is my go-to spot for New Orleans cooking, with spot-on roast beef po'boys, soulful gumbo, boudin balls, and Benton's bacon grease popcorn that's irresistible with a craft brew in hand.
1800 Federal St., 215-334-2337
The northern Point Breeze resurgence got its first real traction at this cool corner pub, where the ever-changing array of sardine riffs, creative sandwiches, and Philly's best onion rings pair with a long list of canned brews and a splendid beer garden.
1720 Fairmount Ave., 215-765-2274
The name may be hard to pronounce ("huu-guh"), but this lively brewpub is a smart addition to Fairmount and a great example of Philly's quirky brewing scene, with co-owner Tom Baker's esoteric and well-crafted beers to accompany an eclectic and seasonal menu of build-your-own tasting boards that goes beyond usual pub fare.
264 S. 16th St., 215-545-7005
The mussels and burgers and frites are reliably good, but it's the legendary selection of rare Euro brews that has made co-owner Tom Peters' dark-wood bistro a nationally noted shrine to Belgian ales and an indispensable cornerstone of Philly's craft beer movement.
"Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining," a glossy, 52-page, magazine-style book that wraps up the food critic's 25 favorite restaurants, as well as lists such as favorite BYOBs, Chinatown, and Philadelphia classics, is available by mail, through this link, or in person at the newspaper's offices, 801 Market St. (entrance on Eighth Street), from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays ($5.95, cash only).