ABOVE: Le Virtu’s Joe Cicala with a pie.
They’re usually cooking some of the most haute cuisine in Philadelphia. But when they’re craving a cheesesteak, or a slice of pizza, where do Zahav’s Michael Solomonov, Le Virtu’s Joe Cicala or the Cheu Noodle Bar guys (Ben Puchowitz & Shawn Darragh) head?
Billy Penn asked some of the folks behind Philly’s hippest kitchens to dish on their go-to spots. While the diversity of their picks speaks to our city’s abundance of quality options — Philadelphia is nothing if not a great snack town — some consensus did emerge.
On the food truck front, for example, the Hawaiian-Filipino goodie masters at Poi Dog Philly get a big thumbs up from more than half of the experts we polled. Naming the king of the cheesesteak scene is always fraught with conflict, but John’s Roast Pork, Dalessandro’s and Steve’s Prince of Steaks each garnered a double shout. And your best bet for running into a chef during breakfast time appears to be at an Asian noodle joint.
Another fun observation: one chef’s workplace can be another chef’s playground — the answers including some inadvertent back-patting, with restaurateurs shouting out each other’s venues as great places to relax.
Greg Vernick (Vernick Food & Drink)
The chef-owner of this Rittenhouse hot spot branches out of his restaurant’s neighborhood with selections that skew decidedly South Philly. Above: The “al taglio” slice at Pizzeria Vetri.
Best cheesesteak: Dalessandro’s
Favorite pizza: Pizzeria Vetri — go for the “al taglio” square slice of the day
Go-to breakfast place: Ants Pants Cafe — get the dill scramble with smoked salmon and avocado
Top spot for a beer: Khyber Pass Pub
Favorite taqueria: Prima Pizza Taqueria (in the Italian Market) for casual late night, or Lolita on 13th Street for a night out
Most impressive food truck: Street Food Philly — everything is super tasty, loved the lamb sandwich last time I was there
Favorite old-school Italian: Villa di Roma — been going since I was a baby; get anything with the red sauce “gravy”
Peter Serpico (Serpico)
The chef seems more enamored than ever with the neighborhood surrounding his eponymous restaurant; after all, he did convince partner Stephen Starr that South Street was a good place to open. Above: The Spam Musubi from Poi Dog Philly.
Best cheesesteak: Jim’s Steaks
Favorite pizza: Pizzeria Stella
Go-to breakfast place: Fitzwater Cafe
Top spot for a beer: New Wave Cafe
Favorite taqueria: Prima Pizza Taqueria — it sounds weird, but they don’t serve pizza, just really amazing Mexican food
Most impressive food truck: Poi Dog Philly — Kiki serves amazing Hawaiian food
Favorite old-school Italian: Ralph’s Italian Restaurant
Nicholas Elmi (Laurel)
When he won Top Chef New Orleans, the chef-owner of this in-demand East Passyunk BYO talked up his love for his family, and his favorite breakfast spot is definitely a tip of the hat to his beloved kids. Above: Taco from Sancho Pistola’s.
Best cheesesteak: John’s Roast Pork — but I’m not really a cheesesteak guy; I prefer the roast pork
Favorite pizza: Joe’s Pizza [on 16th and Sansom] — one slice is all you need
Go-to breakfast place: Pop Shop in Collingswood — the kids love it
Top spot for a beer: Good Dog Bar — I kinda miss working in Center City
Favorite taqueria: Sancho Pistola’s — great variety!
Most impressive food truck: Poi Dog Philly — really inventive stuff
Favorite old-school Italian: The Saloon — get the veal and the langoustines
Michael Solomonov (Zahav, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Percy Street Barbecue)
In addition to being an accomplished fine-dining chef, he’s a partner in one of the most popular quick-service shops in Philly, so when Mike Solo says you have to go to Manayunk to find the best pizza, it’s probably worth listening. Above: A selection from Pho 75.
Best cheesesteak: Steve’s Prince of Steaks
Favorite pizza: Alex’s Pizzeria — it’s in Manayunk
Go-to breakfast place: Pho 75 — extra meat on top!
Favorite taqueria: Taco Mondo
Most impressive food truck: Street Food Philly
Townsend “Tod” Wentz (Townsend)
Traditional French cuisine and fine wine may be the draw to his well-reviewed East Passyunk dining room, but this chef knows how to grub with the hungriest of us. Above: From High Street on Market.
Best cheesesteak: John’s Roast Pork
Favorite pizza: Brigantessa — the “Zucca” [autumn squash puree, charred radicchio, cipollini]
Go-to breakfast place: High Street on Market
Top spot for a beer: Vernick Food & Drink — tops for drinks, too
Favorite taqueria: Jose’s [at 10th and Spring Garden] — even though I can’t ever remember the name
Most impressive food truck: Street Food Philly — the real deal
Favorite old-school Italian: Porcini — the eggplant lasagna is legit
Joe Cicala (Le Virtù, Brigantessa)
With two Italian restaurants along buzzy East Passyunk Avenue that require his expert oversight, it’s no surprise this chef’s top picks all fall in South Philadelphia. Above: The cheesesteak at Cosmi’s Deli.
Best cheesesteak: Cosmi’s Deli
Favorite pizza: Nomad Pizza
Go-to breakfast place: Pho 75
Top spot for a beer: Taproom on 19th
Favorite taqueria: Los Gallos
Most impressive food truck: Pitruco Pizza
Favorite old-school Italian: Bomb Bomb BBQ
Rich Landau (Vedge, V Street Food)
Are there easy, low-key food options for Philadelphians who don’t eat meat? According to this star vegetable wrangler, the answer is most decidedly yes. Above, a selection from Nomad Pizza.
Best cheesesteak: Blackbird — the seitan filling is so meaty and creamy that it’s hard to eat only half
Favorite pizza: Nomad Pizza — Tom [Grimm] and Stalin [Bedon]’s attention to detail is inspiring; now that they have a vegan pizza on the menu, I go all the time
Go-to breakfast place: H-Mart food court — I actually think breakfast is a waste of time, but a big bowl of noodles or bibimbap is a good way to start the day
Top spot for a beer: Brauhaus Schmitz — favorite beer program in the city and a surprisingly deep selection of vegetarian food
Favorite taqueria: Tres Jalapenos — I can make the guacamole burritos at home or at V Street, but it just doesn’t taste as good
Most impressive food truck: Kung Fu Hoagies — an all-veg food cart, my heroes!
Favorite old-school Italian: Caselli’s — it’s a blast from the past out on Ridge Avenue
BONUS: Best vegan restaurant other than our own: Sprig & Vine — totally worth the ride to New Hope
Ben Puchowitz & Shawn Darragh (Cheu Noodle Bar)
Longtime friends, the partners behind Wash West’s cheeky Asian-inspired noodle joint (and the soon-to-open Bing Bing Dim Sum on East Passyunk) agree on some picks, but definitely not all, especially where beer is concerned — like the PBR choice of Darragh’s.
Best cheesesteak: Steve’s Prince of Steaks [Ben]; Dalessandro’s [Shawn]
Favorite pizza: Pizza Brain — those guys are awesome and their pizza is simple and delicious
Go-to breakfast place: Little Pete’s — so many memories; really sad to hear it’s closing
Top spot for a beer: Khyber Pass Pub — great sour beers [Ben]; Anywhere that serves Pabst [Shawn]
Favorite taqueria: Los Taquitos de Puebla [Ben]; El Jarocho [Shawn]
Most impressive food truck: Poi Dog Philly — everything is delicious and unique, and they do amazing things with mochi flour
Favorite old-school Italian: My house — my girlfriend makes a mean meatball [Ben]; Ralph’s Italian Restaurant [Shawn]