Philadelphia magazine just released the 2015 edition of its 50 Best Restaurants, a feature that’s appeared on Foobooz on and off since 2008. Although the ranking isn’t actually anything more than the consensus of a handful of people’s opinions, it is influential — those people happen to be Philly Mag’s experts, from the food editor to the restaurant critic.
To get a little more insight on the eateries that made this year’s lineup, Billy Penn turned to another group of experts: the chefs and restaurateurs who own and run some of the top-ranked spots on the list. Read on to see which dining rooms these food pros think should be added, what their personal favorites are, and what surprised them when they first saw the results.
Nicholas Elmi (Laurel, No. 1)
Eli Kulp (Fork, No. 2; High Street on Market, No. 20; a.kitchen, No. 30)
Kevin Sbraga (Sbraga, No. 5; The Fat Ham, No. 23)
Rich Landau (Vedge, No. 6)
Townsend Wentz (Townsend, No. 7)
Peter Serpico (Serpico, No. 9)
Andrew Kochan (Marigold Kitchen, No. 10)
Shawn Darragh (Cheu Noodle Bar, No. 12)
The scene at Fountain.
Billy Penn: If you could add one restaurant to the list, what would it be?
Elmi: Sagami — I know there’s already a Collingswood restaurant on the list but this is still my favorite sushi restaurant around
Kulp: John’s Roast Pork
Landau: Lacroix — last of the fancies and still putting out fine food
Wentz: Fountain — a 30-year standard bearer in excellence and one of the most lush, beautiful dining rooms in Philadelphia
Serpico: Han Dynasty (Old City)
Kochan: The Treemont or Blackfish — I’ve had great experiences at both places
Darragh: The Good King Tavern
BP: Aside from your own restaurant, what are your top five picks from this list (in alphabetical order)?
Elmi: Farm and Fisherman, Fork, Lacroix*, Vetri, Volvér
Kulp: Laurel, Vedge, Vernick, Will, Zahav
Sbraga: Fork, Laurel, Le Virtu, Talula’s Garden, Will
Landau: a.kitchen, Cheu Noodle Bar, Kanella, Petruce et al, Serpico
Wentz: Fond, Laurel, Petruce, Vernick, Will
Kochan: Bibou, Farm and Fisherman, The Fat Ham, Vernick, Will
Darragh: The Fat Ham, Noord, Pub & Kitchen, South Philadelphia Tap Room, Vernick
* Elmi must agree with Wentz that Lacroix deserved to place, since it wasn’t actually listed this year
The Cheu Noodle duo.
BP: Best single dish you’ve ever had at any of these restaurants (can include your own)?
Elmi: “Milk & Cereal” at Volvér — my wife agrees with me, it’s also her favorite
Kulp: Hummus at Zahav — the pure simplicity of Solo’s hummus and pita out of that wood fired oven; I crave it
Sbraga: Hot chicken at The Fat Ham
Landau: Carrots with rice grits and hot sauce at Petruce et al
Wentz: Albacore tuna with horseradish snow at Laurel — one of those dishes that makes you smack your head and say, “Of course, why didn’t I think of that…”
Serpico: Fancy radishes at Vedge — best dish I’ve had in Philly
Kochan: Bone marrow at Bibou — you can feel the love that goes into making it; I remember how proud the whole kitchen staff looked when it came to the table
Darragh: Hot chicken at The Fat Ham — amazing!
The hot chicken from the Fat Ham.
BP: Restaurant on the list you’ve eaten at most often?
Elmi: (Ha. I don’t get out as much as I’d like.)
Sbraga: Pizzeria Stella
Landau: (Been to all of them twice.)
Wentz: Fond (at the bar)
Serpico: Vernick or Vedge
Kochan: (I wish I had the time to get to all of these places with regularity but I surely do not. Maybe for 2015 I will try and hit the whole list.)
Darragh: Pub & Kitchen
BP: Restaurant you’re most surprised to see on the list?
Kulp: Pumpkin — not because they don’t deserve it, just they’ve been off my radar. Gotta go.
Sbraga: None, I think the list looks very good.
Landau: I’ll never name names because there is such a great bond between all of us in the Philadelphia restaurant community. But that being said, there were a couple of eyebrow-raisers deep in the list.
Serpico: I’m surprised to see Zeppoli on the list because it’s top 50 restaurants in Philadelphia. Not around or near the Philadelphia area.
Kochan: I guess I’m surprised to see Cheu Noodle, but only because I would expect to see Terakawa or Ramen Bar on the list as well. I love all three so I’m glad that at least one made the list.
Darragh: Monsu — only because I’ve never been there.
Photos by Danya Henninger