September is a weird month. There are heat waves at the same time as pumpkin spice lattes. But in Center City Philadelphia, as long as there’s no pope, September means Restaurant Week.
This year’s promotion runs Sept. 11-16 and 18-23. (Quick explainer: Yes, it skips over that Saturday night in between, and yes, “Restaurant Week” should probably be plural.)
During those dates, you can score a three-course dinner at any of 100+ restaurants for just $35 per person.
Is that a good deal? It depends. First thing is that people rarely eat three-course, app-entree-dessert meals anymore (it’s all small plates/sharing plates), so it’s hard to compare it to a regular night out. Second is the fact that the prix-fixe menus are sometimes small and boring. And third is that if you want a drink, alcohol is still charged at full price.
Which brings us to a suggestion: If you really want to get the best bang for your buck, do your Restaurant Week-ing at a BYOB. Here’s a list of all the places you can do that this year, and why.
Important tip: Reserve in advance. This ish gets busy.
276 S. 20th St., 215.731.1222
A semi-open kitchen surrounded by clean, elegant tables. Large, plate-glass windows flanked by a line of sidewalk seating. A melting-pot menu with global flavors. Audrey Claire Taichman’s Rittenhouse spot is the quintessential New American BYOB, and it’s been leading the way for 20 years. The RW options offer a good survey of the regular menu, with plenty of choice for both course one and two.
7 N. 3rd St., 215.931.1560
After coasting along for a decade in Old City, chef Michael O’Halloran decided to go for a revamp, and it was met with great success. The Inquirer’s Craig LaBan recently bestowed a sought-after three-bell rating on the Asian-Mediterranean kitchen, and several of the dishes he loved are on the RW list: Roasted beet salad, ‘nduja-braised squid, duck liver mousse with cherries and roasted peaches for dessert.
1700 Lombard St., 215.546.0496
Quietly serving on a Center City corner since 1998, this family-owned Italian restaurant flies mostly under the radar. All the more reason to check it out, especially since the RW menu is one of those that throws in an extra course. You’ll get to choose a salad AND an appetizer here, before getting down with your entree and dessert.
1608 South St., 215.790.0330
Whatever points this petite South Street West dining room loses for submitting an ALL CAPS menu to the Restaurant Week folks, it gains back for having fried oreos as a dessert option. Before you get to that, there are choices like prosciutto-wrapped dates, calamari with Sriracha aioli, seared tuna with lemon butter and duck breast with port sauce.
1701 Spruce St., 215.875.9990
Run by an Albanian family of chefs trained in Italy, this Rittenhouse corner standby is mostly overlooked. But if you miss white tablecloths and attentive service, it’s worth checking out. There’s an extra course thrown in for good measure, a “pasta mista” that includes gnocchi, penne and cheese ravioli. (Do note: Gluten-free pasta is also available.)
253 S. 16th St., 215.735.8630
252 S. 16th St., 215.735.8631
This Italian BYOB was so popular that it expanded to a second location directly across 16th Street. RW options at both are exactly the same, with four courses included. There’s housemade buffalo mozzarella, grilled calamari and a huge selection of entrees with everything from lobster ravioli to veal marsala. And then dessert.
2012 Sansom St., 215.875.8116
This Rittenhouse classic is one of the best overall BYOBs in the city. All RW meals start with an extra course of “pinsa” — a popular Italian street food that’s like pizza but on a crust that’s both fluffier and crispier. Save room for the entrees, which include expert dishes like slow-roasted lamb, wild mushroom pappardelle or fennel risotto.
1216 Spruce St., 215.985.2962
Hope for cool weather and book a table at this tiny Wash West favorite, because the windows open wide and the outdoor seating doubles the space. Housemade pasta is among the best in town, if you’re feeling that vibe, and dessert choices include a salted caramel panna cotta that’s hard to resist.
2048 Sansom St., 215.751.1175
Four courses await at this cute Rittenhouse boite, all of them Italian like it’s done in the Old Country. Start with polenta done Northern Italian style, with sweet sausage ragu, or the risotto with butternut squash. After a salad, try delicate crab agnolotti or hazelnut-crusted pork loin in a brandy cream. What’s available for dessert? Up to the chef, who’ll probably make it in house.
1713 South St., 215.545.4448
Only problem with the food at Ian Moroney and Hillary Bor’s South Street West pioneer is it’s sometimes too gorgeous to eat. Be willing to mar the beautiful plating and you’ll find great tastes, like in the poussin (aka small chicken) with bacon vinaigrette or sticky toffee pudding with coffee ice cream.
1521 Spruce St., 215.546.1521
Chefs Andrew and Kristin Wood not only walk the farm-to-table walk, they strut it, big time. Just about everything on the menu of this Spruce Street gem is ultra seasonal and comes from a farmer the Woods personally know. Importantly, it’s also delicious. Examples: Pork rillette from Green Meadow Farms, Lamb from Happy Valley and gnocchi made from the namesake russet potatoes.
1807 JFK Blvd., 215.977.9999
If you want sushi and you want to BYOB, this is the spot. Venture into the Financial District at night (it’s ok, the office towers won’t tell on you) to score four courses full of fish. There’s ginger salad and shumai and the option to go maki or sashimi for your main. Mochi ice cream awaits for dessert.