This year has been one of maturation for the Philly restaurant scene. Philadelphians walked away with the two most prestigious national honors at the James Beard Awards, known as the “Oscars of the food world.” Out-of-towners are no longer shocked at the depth and quality of our non-cheesesteak eating options. And the landscape keeps evolving.
Here are the 10 biggest takeaways from 2017 in Philly food.
Vegan fast food goes mainstream
Philly was in on the vegan quick-service trend early, thanks to Nicole Marquis and HipCityVeg, but this year saw the launch of other fast-and-fun food spots for those who avoid meat. Of a trio of prominent examples — Wiz Kid from the Vedge team, Goldie from CookNSolo and Dottie’s Donuts — all three are either currently open in multiple locations, or have plans to expand. Plant-based cooking FTW.
Fried chicken gets more love
Not like fried chicken ever went out of style, but even as one of the top destinations for it vanished from view (RIP Fat Ham), additional spots to cop crispy bird have continued to pop up. This year saw the openings of Love & Honey in No Libs, a new outpost of Andy’s Chicken on South Street West and Hatch & Coop in UCity. Next year should bring the addition of Redcrest Fried Chicken to East Passyunk Avenue.
The term ‘Asian food’ gets dismantled
“Asian food is supposed to be cheap.” Two things about that refrain rub Kiki Aranita of Poi Dog the wrong way. One, the ingredients she uses are of the highest quality. Two, it lumps her food in with cultures and cuisines that are totally different. Aranita’s Hawaiian fast-casual and the well-received opening of Baology (Taiwanese) helped advance the movement sparked last year by Sate Kampar (Malaysian) and Perla (Filipino) — the education of the dining public that there is no such thing as “Asian food.”
Chinatown gets refreshed
Semi-related to the above, for the past few years, Philly’s Chinatown has been maturing into a restaurant boom unlike any in recent history. Most of the new shops are bright and modern, and quite a few don’t serve Chinese cuisine. This year’s most noticeable development was the Chinatown Square food hall, which is home to stalls offering a huge variety of bites (from falafel to samosas) plus sit-down Korean Dae Bak on the second level. Also added were places to get Mongolian hot pots, Japanese ramen, Vietnamese pho, bubble tea and char-grilled skewers.
Taglio pizza swoops in
Neapolitan pizza? So yesterday. Philly’s newest player in the savory crust game is pizza al taglio. This rectangular Roman staple — baked in a deck oven and often eaten at room temp — is kind of like a lighter version of tomato pie, but with more varied toppings. It splashed down in Center City with Rione early this year, then continued with the launch of Alice last month. Pizzeria Vetri even brought its version back to the menu after a year hiatus. Another taglio chain, Bonci, is on the way soon.
Brewpubs continue to boom
Does Philly have too many brewpubs and tasting rooms? Not if you compare us to other beer-loving cities around the country — and not if you judge by the success 2017’s arrivals. Brewery ARS made West Passyunk a food truck and beer destination, Evil Genius set up shop in Fishtown, Roy-Pitz enlivened the Spring Arts District (guess we’re calling it that…), Wissahickon Brewing brought suds to East Falls and Yards is busy creating a new hotspot on Spring Garden. And there are still more to come.
All-day cafes extend dominance
The “coffee shop by day, full restaurant at night” trend started picking up steam in Philly back in 2015, but this year’s newcomers prove it’s here to stay. Walnut Street Cafe in the FMC Tower is the standout example, with points from patrons for pastries and coffee and bells from the critics for dinner and drinks. See also Suraya, new on Frankford Avenue; Res Ipsa, which entered the fray at the end of 2016; and Ants Pants Cafe, which expanded with a second location.
South America comes to the fore
There’s been good food from South American countries in Philly for decades, but mostly in outlying neighborhoods, not the center of the city (Sazon on Spring Garden was an exception). Thanks to 2017, we’ve now got places like South Street’s Puyero (Venezuelan), Kensington’s Usaquén (Colombian), Fishtown’s TartAreperia (Venezuelan) and a second Jezabel’s (Argentinian). On tap for next year are spots like an Old City outpost of Peruvian-Portuguese El Balconcito and Peruvian Chalaco’s in Northern Liberties.
Dinner gets company
This year has been a godsend for people who find the idea of going out for food or drink a bit too boring. Activities to complement your meal are the new hotness, from ping-pong (Spin) to golf (Golf & Social) to virtual reality escapades (Mad Rex). A side of bowling with your booze and bites — which has been a thing forever — also got an upgrade with the launch of the below-ground lanes at Harp & Crown.
Charitable dining comes into focus
The hospitality industry has always been good at giving back, with chefs and restaurateurs participating in benefit galas and tasting fundraisers, but more and more restaurants are forging direct relationships with charity. Rooster Soup Co., which finally launched in January after years of planning, is the poster child — 100 percent of profits go to feed hungry Philadelphians via the Broad Street Hospitality Collective. Rosa’s Fresh Pizza, the pay-it-forward slice shop, launched a second location in West Philly. Also on that side of the Schuylkill is pay-what-you-wish EAT Cafe, launched in 2016 but this year really hitting its culinary stride with Valerie Erwin as GM. Even Pat’s King of Steaks launched a healthy eating foundation.