Potentially the best octopus in the city at Mulherin's

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There are a lot of great restaurants in Philly, but many of them can get rather pricey for a night out. So we’re starting a new series to provide tips on the best ways to eat at some of the city’s hottest spots by answering this question: What’s the best way to eat and drink for only 50 bucks? Let’s Hack the Menu.

Why should you go for a splurge at Wm. Mulherin’s Sons? Simple: The Fishtown restaurant has great food and cocktails. Stellar, even. Don’t take our word for it, just check the accolades it’s already racked up. Bon Appetit called it one of the country’s 10 best new restaurants of 2016, Craig LaBan gave it a three-bell review, and Yelpers give it a 4.5.

So if you’re looking for a nice night out on a budget, here’s how to make the best use of 50 bucks (plus tip):

Our strategy

As Bon Appetit rightly noted, the pizza and the pasta are the main gig here. But getting both of them is really too much, so it makes sense to pick one, then build the rest of the meal around it. The various seafood plates have also gotten a lot of notice, so one of those should be included.

On the drinks side, neither the wine nor beer ($7 for an Oskar Blues IPA?) is a very good deal. But the cocktails are. They’re priced from $12 to $14, which is on the low end of things, especially since they’re not stingy on the booze.

What we ordered

Battle of Magenta ($12)

The cocktails in general hit that happy medium of being interesting without being fussy. The combo of rye whiskey and Averna amaro plus beet and Amarena cherry juice hovers between sweet, bitter, strong and gentle. It’s a masterpiece in a glass that goes perfectly with the complimentary slices of house-baked bread with sea-salted butter.

Battle of Magenta at Mulherin’s Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Roasted cauliflower ($7)

Listed under “snacks,” this vegetable dish is probably the best value on the menu. Very few things on the menu are actually small (although the servers will repeatedly tell you they are, which — when all that food lands on your table — ends up seeming like it was just a way to get you to shell out more cash). But the cauliflower is actually pretty huge — yet also easy to eat. The salty roasted florets are tamed by the smooth olive and almond puree, and the occasional pop of a sugary raisin makes a great contrast.

Roasted cauliflower at Mulherin’s Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

Octopus ($16)

It’s not much of a stretch to suggest this plate could take the title of best octopus in Philly. It’s not a traditional Greek or Italian preparation, so there’s still room for others to compete in that genre. But bite into one of the crisped tentacles served atop soft cannellini beans and you’ll get a mouthful of tender meat that’s so satisfyingly flavorful it doesn’t even need sauce. Don’t miss out on the two that color the bottom of the plate, though — a drag through the green and red coulis makes the bite even better.

Octopus at Mulherin’s Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

‘Leslie Chow’ pizza ($15)

The second-least expensive pie on the menu has some of the most intriguing ingredients. Radicchio on a pizza? Yes. Shredded into slivers, the purple leaves lose most of their bitter tang, and what’s left is complemented by the mounds of melting taleggio cheese and earthy mushrooms beneath them. A drizzle of saba — a balsamic-like syrup made from cooking down grape must — ties the whole deal together. You might not finish the whole thing, which is actually why we chose this over pasta: A couple of crunchy-crusted slices make for a damn good late-night snack or breakfast the next day.

Leslie Chow pizza at Mulherin’s Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

What we didn’t order

Brussels sprouts ($10)

Just as ubiquitous as roasted cauliflower, but harder to pick out of your teeth. And in this case, $3 more expensive. However, if you’re into burrata, this could be your veg starting option.

Crudo ($17-$21)

Mulherin’s has a few raw seafood plates available, including hamachi and scallop on the menu, plus often a special of another kind (recently, wild salmon with almonds and chervil). If you’re in the mood — or don’t eat octopus — this is a good substitution.

Pasta ($16-$18)

If you’re not into pizza (or just not in the mood), this is the other way to go for your main plate. The cappelletti with potato, fontina cheese and caramelized onion is a Mulherin’s staff favorite, and the bucatini all’Amatriciana probably offers the best value of the listed dishes.

What people are saying

Taken separately, online reviews can’t always be trusted. But in aggregate, they give a good picture of what a place is like. Here’s how Mulherin’s is ranked at some of the more popular review sites:

Yelp: 4.5 stars from 266 reviews
TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars from 81 reviews (63% of which are 5-star)
Zagat/Google: 4.6 stars from 176 reviews
Facebook: 4.8 stars from 246 reviews (89% of which are 5-star)

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...