THERE'S ONLY ONE place in Philly where you can travel to Ethiopia, Vietnam, Laos and India, drink fair-trade coffee and local beer and catch a jam session, all in the scope of seven blocks.
That place is Baltimore Avenue in Cedar Park, a neighborhood on the west side of University City in West Philly.
Anchored by leafy, nine-acre Clark Park at 43rd Street, home to a year-round farmer's market, chess games, outdoor movies and plenty of community goings on, Baltimore Avenue was once just farmland outside the city. With the completion of a trolley line in the late 1800s, Cedar Park became the first streetcar suburb connected by rail to City Hall. Known for its mix of Queen Anne, Victorian and Italianate architecture, the neighborhood is an ethnically diverse mix of students and faculty from the University of Pennsylvania, African immigrants, gay and lesbian families and young professionals.
Although interesting dining on the avenue has been going on for several decades, in the past few years an explosion of new spots makes this a mecca of both international and budget cuisine. Bathed in more than $1 million worth of handsome street lighting, with plenty of on-street parking, Baltimore Avenue is attractive for both its residential feel and the sense of community that unites the store and restaurant owners, many of whom live in the neighborhood. Bring your appetite along on a tour of Philly's most compact and diverse dining destination.
GREEN LINE CAFE: Indiana native Daniel Thut opened this chill java joint six years ago, specializing in fair-trade coffee and serving light bites and vegan snacks along with locally made Better Together organic brownies and Le Bus pastries. It's the spot to grab a nosh before boarding the trolley across the street.
4239 Baltimore Ave., 215-222-3431 www.greenlinecafe.com.
BEST HOUSE PIZZERIA: The pizza is tasty, especially the crispy fresh tomato pie, despite the nondescript setting. What makes Best House especially popular is the large selection of craft and imported beer available for take-out. (Sometimes enjoyed in the park, although you didn't read that here).
4301 Baltimore Ave., 215-386-1450.
MILK & HONEY MARKET: Set to open in early September, Milk & Honey is owned by neighborhood resident, foodie and yoga instructor Annie Baum-Stein and will feature locally grown and processed meats, produce, baked goods, prepared foods for gourmet takeaway and in-store dining.
4435 Baltimore Ave., 215-387-6455, www.milkandhoneymarket.com.
ATIYA OLA'S SPIRIT FIRST FOODS: This funky little eatery was recently taken over by Atiya Ola, a Wilmington native who specializes in "live" (raw) food and catering. Cash only, and open every day but Monday, Spirit First Foods features artfully crafted raw fare (kale marinated in tamari and garlic; sea slaw made with seaweed, garlic and olive oil; and pickled beets with ginger), along with egg dishes, salads with chicken and salmon, and vegan desserts. If you're craving a kale, plantain and apple smoothie, this is the place to get it.
4504 Baltimore Ave., 215-939-3298.
QUEEN OF SHEBA ETHIOPIAN BAR & RESTAURANT: There's not one but three Ethiopian eateries on Baltimore Avenue, an outgrowth of the sizable community of Ethiopians and Eritreans who live nearby. Gebre "Manny" Manuel and his wife Genet opened this cozy spot 11 years ago, with Genet doing most of the cooking. No forks necessary, you use spongy injera bread to scoop up spiced beef and chicken stews fragrant with jalapeños and herbs.
4511 Baltimore Ave., 215-382-2099 www.queenofshebaphilly.com
GOJJO BAR & RESTAURANT: Pronounced Go-Joe, this Ethiopian restaurant offers a nice back patio, authentic Ethiopian specialties (try the doro wot chicken stew with collards), as well as some pub items like chicken wings and curly fries. Good beer selection.
4540 Baltimore Ave., 215-386-1444, www.gojjos.com.
DESI VILLAGE: Popular in King of Prussia for its expansive buffets, this newly opened no-frills Baltimore Avenue location offers a more intimate Indian dining experience. Plenty of vegetarian offerings, a kickin' vindaloo and a tasty breadbasket of roti, garlic and onion naan all top shelf.
4527 Baltimore Ave., 215-382-6000, www.desi-village.com.
VIETNAM CAFÉ: Originally conceived as a smaller, BYO version of the popular Vietnam restaurant in Chinatown, Vietnam Café will soon expand into the former Abbraccio Restaurant space next door, quadrupling its dining room and adding rooms for banquets. Try the chef's special barbecue platter, a feast of Viet flavors including grilled meatballs, stuffed grape leaves and, of course, crispy spring rolls.
814 S. 47th St., 215-729-0260, www.eatatvietnam.com.
FU WAH MINI MARKET: Two words - tofu hoagie. That's Fu Wah's claim to fame, a marinated veggie take on Philly's favorite (cold) sandwich that is rave-worthy, and just $3.75. Or try the lemongrass chicken hoagie, brimming with fresh Vietnamese flavors. Regular deli also available. This place is owned by the Lai family, who also own Vietnam in Chinatown and Vietnam Café.
810 S. 47th St. 215-729-2993.
DAHLAK RESTAURANT: The original Eritrean and Ethiopian restaurant on Baltimore Avenue, Dahlak, owned by Neghisti Solomon, is as popular for its lively back room bar as for its excellent chili-spiked stews, tender collards and creamy chickpeas. A friendly destination since 1983.
4708 Baltimore Ave., 215-726-6464, www.dahlakrestaurant.com
VIENTIANE CAFÉ: This charming family-owned BYO restaurant is the best place for Laotian cuisine, thanks to the skills of matriarch chef Daovy Phanthavong and her sous chef/daughter Manny (a Restaurant School grad) in the kitchen. Similar to Thai food, with a few borrowed elements from the Vietnamese table, try the fresh rice paper spring rolls, green papaya salad and homemade pork seasoned with lemongrass, and Kaffir lime leaves, with sticky rice on the side. Everything is a delicious bargain.
4728 Baltimore Ave., 215-726-1095.
THE GOLD STANDARD: The new incarnation of the Gold Standard, a name that graying Penn alumni remember from 1979, is a sunny, art-filled corner spot owned by Roger Harman and Vincent Whittacre, familiar from past restaurants including The Palladium and Abbraccio. Harmon, a longtime neighborhood resident and community supporter, created a comfortable meeting spot with the emphasis on casual American fare, fresh salads and fetching baked goods from chef Richard Dematt, formerly of Marigold Kitchen.
4800 Baltimore Ave., 215-727-8427, www.abbracciorestaurant.com.
ELENA's SOUL SHOWCASE LOUNGE & CAFE: This up and coming hot spot, recently purchased by local Algernong Allen, used to be Leroy's Showcase Lounge, a happening spot in the '70s. Allen spruced up the place and added a budget-priced soul food menu including fried trout, chicken wings, pork chops and sides of mac and cheese, collards, cabbage and the like. Live music and DJs play just about every night, with blues on Tuesdays and jam sessions most Thursdays and Saturdays. The place has a seriously cool vibe.
4912 Baltimore Ave., 215-724-3043, www.elenassoul.com.
DOCK STREET BREWERY AND RESTAURANT: What could be better than drinking locally brewed beer in an old firehouse? That's the scene at Dock Street, where inventive beers rule, the crowd is always eclectic and the menu includes crispy wood-fired pizza and one of the best (grass-fed) burgers in town. Great people watching from the tables out front.
701 S. 50th, 214-726-2337, www.dockstreetbeer.com.
SATELLITE CAFÉ: Adjacent to Dock Street, this crunchy Boho coffee bar and eatery offers vegan specialties (black bean wrap anyone?), salads, smoothies and desserts. Try the Bike Shop bagel (there's a bike store upstairs), made with pesto, cream cheese, spinach and roasted red peppers. Delish.
701 S. 50th St., 215-729-1211.
For more info about Baltimore Avenue dining, visit www.ucityphila.org/baltave.