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Stephen Starr has his first new Philly restaurant since 2017 with the Wednesday night opening of LMNO, a Mexican-themed, multi-discipline venue in a onetime auto dealership under the El.
When rumors of the mega-restaurateur’s project first begam percolating three years ago, that section of Front Street was in flux. New retail and residential development were encroaching, but revitalization hadn’t yet taken hold on the long-neglected border of Fishtown and Olde Kensington. Construction was underway on the formerly industrial North American Street corridor. Evil Genius had just opened its beer garden, and the team behind Johnny Brenda’s was about to launch The International Bar.
The area can now solidly be described as one of the city’s hottest gentrifying neighborhoods — and there’s no better indicator than a Starr restaurant, one of 17 he currently runs in Philly, out of 36 overall.
LMNO is a collection of lots of different concepts that only really work together thanks to Starr and his team’s decades of experience in hospitality. The menu is inspired by Baja, Mexico. Decor is full vintage and pastels. There’s a bookshop. And an art gallery. And a recording studio-style music venue.
With this pedigree and lots of open air seating, there’s little doubt it’ll be popular. Will it be great, a mainstay for the city, on the level with Parc and El Vez? That remains to be seen.
Here’s a look at what to expect if you go.
Food: Live-fire grill and housemade tortillas
LMNO executive chef Francisco Ramirez is a Mexico City native worked as a dishwasher for Starr back when he was 16, according to The Inquirer, and then rose to cook in some of Philly’s best-known restaurants. In his return to the Starr fold, he’s overseeing a semi-open kitchen that showcases a live fire grill.
The grill will turn out lots of kinds of meat for tacos, served classic style or “dirty” crispy-style on housemade blue corn or masa tortillas (flour tortillas are billed as coming from Arizona). There’s a couple of seafood tacos, too, and one veg option.
Other small plates include loaded waffle fries, guac and chips, aguachiles (like shrimp ceviche) and tostadas. The menu rounds out with larger dishes — “to share,” because that’s what people do these days — like whole grilled sea bass or cauliflower, lamb shank, and pan-fried lobster.
Drinks: Margs, Micheladas, and DIY cocktails
A giant, four-sided bar sits beneath a skylight at the center of the space, abutting multiple dining rooms and the outdoor seating area.
It has four beers on tap, two from Mexico and two from the Philly region (including one from Evil Genius next door). There’s also several in bottles and cans, plus a local Two Robbers hard seltzer, and half a dozen wines by the glass.
The mixed drink list is choose-your-own-booze, broken into sections by style. Pick a beer to pair with a set of spices for the unexpected synergy of a Michelada, pick a hard liquor to go with ingredient combos that include espresso, green tea, or the juice of a jackfruit. Margaritas come classic or mango, and there’s a frozen red sangria with brandy.
Design: ’70s and ’80s, with art all around
Interior design came from Serge Becker, who’s apparently well-known in New York City. He carved up the 6,000-sq.-ft. space into multiple rooms, spreading 200 seats across several pastel-walled dining rooms decked out with vintage 70’s and 80’s furniture. A rollup garage door opens to the outdoor seating.
To enter the restaurant, you walk through the veranda, past a set of booths next to a pink patterned concrete wall along Palmer Street. The outdoor seating stretches forward Front Street with a few tiers of platforms that culminate in a raised table surrounded by plants almost directly under the El. The noise of passing trains is like a forced conversation reset.
Extras: Bookstore, art openings, music
Named for that part of the alphabet everyone says as one word, LMNO is built to showcase “creatives from around the world,” Starr said in a release.
The bookshop is curated by NYC’s Dashwood Books, with several hand-selected rare and out-of-print art and photography tomes. Goods are available to browse or buy, and the area also converts into a private dining space.
Another wall showcases a rotating art gallery, where the inaugural show is photographer Bill Bernstein’s image from the disco era. You can buy a custom zine featuring these works at the bookshop.
A mixing booth can be set up in the main space, and there’s a plan to bring in DJs for weekend dinner and brunch. Sets will also happen in the “listening room,” a separate space outfitted with a retro, 2-channel analog stereo system.
Details: Dinner only to start, reservations via Resy
Address: 1749 N. Front St., entrance on Palmer
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday, Saturday
Reservations available online. Scroll down for more photos.