Philly is brimming with great casual food that doesn’t necessarily come with a table, much less silverware. Last year, Billy Penn asked eight local chefs to name their favorites, and came up with a list full of insider tips. As a follow-up — and also kind of an experiment into which places industry out-of-towners actually know about — we took advantage of the Vetri Great Chefs Event to ask kitchen stars from around the country for their Philly picks.
Chris Bianco, Phoenix (Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco, Pane Bianco)
Top Pick: Pizzeria Beddia
In the biz since 1988, Bianco is a native New Yorker who escaped to the Southwest and found fame when he introduced Arizona to fantastic pizza. He’s a big fan of Philadelphia — “I’m a sucker for American history” — and our restaurant scene, where he finds the camaraderie among chefs notable. “You do find that now in other cities,” he says, “But you didn’t used to.” In addition to Fishtown’s Pizzeria Beddia, he shouts out the breakfast sandwich at High Street on Market.
Andy Ticer & Michael Hudman, Memphis (Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen, Hog & Hominy)
Top Pick: Paesano’s
Lifelong friends, Ticer and Hudman were both raised by Italian families that had settled in Memphis, and their restaurants serve a melding of the two cultures. Although they were offering ribs at Great Chefs, they were quick to warn it wasn’t classic Memphis BBQ — the ribs were marinated in ginger and soy and served with a tomato conserva. Paesano’s got their top nod, but they also claim to have enjoyed eating a cheesesteak at Pat’s. “With onions. Always with onions, right?”
Jonathon Sawyer, Cleveland (Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat, Trentina)
Top Pick: Federal Donuts — “Shabazi chicken is my favorite, but I also like the za’atar, because not a lot of people do it right or get it fresh in the U.S.”
A native Clevelander, Sawyer got his food schooling in at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh, but he knows our city well enough to refer to the CookNSolo chicken and donut shop simply as “Federal,” and to make this statement: “I think [Marc Vetri’s] Osteria is the Philly-est of all Philly restaurants. They tread the line between formal and fun like nobody else.”
Ken Oringer, Boston (Clio, Toro, Coppa, Uni, Earth)
Top Pick: Cafe Diem — “Simply awesome spot.”
He runs five restaurants in Boston and one in NYC, but Oringer has an in when it comes to secret Philly food spots — pastry chef Monica Glass spent two years working for him in Boston before she made a return to Philadelphia last month (she’s now with Sbraga Dining). On Glass’s recommendation, Oringer discovered Diem, a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese in Bella Vista, and continues to rave about it.
Rocco Whalen, Cleveland (Fahrenheit, Rosie & Rocco’s)
Top Pick: Paesano’s — “Get anything on the menu. It’s all flavorful and fresh.”
A dining pioneer, with one of the first modern American restaurants in the Rust Belt and one of the country’s first and most popular food trucks, Whalen is all about sandwiches. He says Marc Vetri first took him to Paesano’s, and he’s loved it ever since. He also gives props to Tony Luke’s roast pork and Jim’s steaks. “I’m not a Geno’s guy or a Pat’s guy.”
Alon Shaya, New Orleans (Shaya, Domenica, Pizza Domenica)
Top Pick: Dalessandro’s — “A hundred percent. There’s no comparison.”
Though he now cooks both Israeli and Italian food (and Israeli-Italian food) in a Southern setting, Shaya actually grew up in Narberth, so he has a leg up on other visiting chefs. His go-to spot is Dalessandro’s in Roxborough, which he first went to with his mom. Definitely get your cheesesteak with onions, he says, and also recommends spicy peppers — “they make them right there” — and lots of ketchup.
Jon Shook & Vinny Dotolo, Los Angeles (Animal, Son of a Gun, Trois Mec, Petit Trois, Jon and Vinny’s)
Top Pick: Federal Donuts
It’s been five years now that prolific Southern California restaurateurs Shook and Dotolo have been coming to Philadelphia for Vetri’s event. Their top casual picks are decidedly new school — Dizengoff was mentioned (“What’s that new hummus place?”) — but they also give love to Tony Luke’s: “That’s a serious cheesesteak.”
Jenn Louis, Portland (Lincoln, Sunshine Tavern)
Top Pick: Dizengoff — “Super awesome.”
With two quintessentially Portland spots that meld the city’s granola-esque culture with its cutting-edge food sensibility, Louis is a woman who is sure of her likes and dislikes. Even though it’s quite new, the name Dizengoff rolled off her tongue like an old friend. Like many others on this list, she also tipped her hat to her host: “I also love love love Pizzeria Vetri.”
Douglas Quint & Bryan Petroff, New York (Big Gay Ice Cream)
Top Pick: Dizengoff — “Amazing hummus.”
As of this spring’s launch of BGIC on South Street, these irreverent dessert specialists with a fondness for the Golden Girls aren’t really out-of-towners anymore, but they’re new enough to count. They also noted that their Philly shop is nowhere near finished, decor-wise. “The lobby, right now it looks like a mausoleum, it’s not even close to done. It’s around three months from complete.”
Top Pick: “No idea.”
Though he’s now got several restaurants around the world, Morimoto’s first was right here in Philadelphia. That doesn’t seem to be of help, though, because when asked what casual spot he’d recommend to someone visiting Philly, he answered with a shrug.