The label "New American" has at times been overused as a catch-all to describe any modern restaurant that mixes and matches flavors with freewheeling style.
But the term is appropriately applied to some of the city's best overall restaurants. A few – Vernick Food & Drink, a.Kitchen, Talula's Garden – are good enough to be counted included on our Top 25 favorite restaurant list.
But here are five other exceptional examples of recommended restaurants, excerpted from Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining guide recently delivered to subscribers, that also have roots in distinctive American genres and then redefine them with a distinctively current approach, from the Jewish deli to the Southern pantry, rustic breads and retro comforts. (Not a subscriber? You can order a copy; info is below.)
Bell ratings, where applicable, range from zero to four.
1623 Sansom St., 215-867-0088
Abe Fisher is Zahav's Ashkenazi cousin, a modern ode to the Diaspora from Brooklyn to Montreal where rising star Yehuda Sichel reimagines schmaltzy rugelach and kreplach (with truffles), like a mensch. The order-ahead smoked short rib feast is amazing.
308 Market St., 215-625-0988
Fork's casual next-door concept is a creative all-day cafe that set a new city standard for artisan rustic breads built on local grains (Anadama!), quirky pastries (red eye danish), alt-pastas (duck egg carbonara with rye bucatini) and quirky lunches (duck meatball sub).
1901 Chestnut St., 2d floor, 215-454-6529
George Sabatino's inventive and gorgeous modern plates – shrimp ceviche in blood-orange vinaigrette; oysters with frozen tarragon granità – are the draw to this moody second floor perch. Smart service and cocktails (hot buttered rye) from Jennifer Sabatino complete it.
3131 Walnut St., 215-735-1914
Kevin Sbraga's creative small-plate riffs on Southern flavors like hot chicken, peanut hummus, blackened catfish, and dirty rice have made his rustic chic and whiskey-forward enclave one of West Philly's best. A newly opened branch should bring some Dixie spice to King of Prussia Mall, too.
1234 Locust St., 215-546-2220
From 13th Street's Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran comes this evocative update to American nostalgia, a lively corner space with retro tchotchkes and tiki cocktails where hearty comfort takes on cheese curds and stuffed meat loaf balance a super fresh Cobb and a clever smoked beet Reuben.
"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).