Article Index

 

Best of the Best 2017

Our 13th Annual Best of the Best Selections

We hope you enjoy 13th Annual Roundup of the best local dining. From new dining hot spots—that’s you, King of Prussia Town Center—to surprises in places like Swarthmore and Toughkenamon, plus old favorites—like West Chester anytime and Media’s ethnic bonanza—there’s so much quality and variety to enjoy.

Check out the pop-ups and brewpubs, places to dine with a purpose, the latest in fast-casual dining, and six kinds of pizza for every mood. We offer you the best cortado, serious cocktails and martinis, a new PA wine to try, and the latest local distillery. There’s food with art, food and music, meals and movies, plus dining with pets.

So, whether you want something very vegan, a savory pie, some Latin cooking or an extreme cooking class, take a look through these pages.

Our best advice: dine local and often in 2017.

Find a complete list of winners here!

 

FOR 2017 WINNERS: Below is a digital logo for sharing in .jpg and .png format. Simply drag the image onto your desktop and use as you wish.

 

 


 NEW EATERIES


Rising Star
Restaurant Cerise
Restaurant Cerise

1011 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr
610-527-4400 / RestaurantCerise.com
When a chef takes on Bobby Flay, you know he's doing something special in the kitchen. You can sample Chef Ben Thomas's work for yourself in the charming BYOB on Lancaster Ave. with a changing prix fixe menu (four courses on weekends; three on weekdays) that's short enough to show serious concentration, yet diverse enough to dazzle. Variety in the first course (kale salad to potato croquettes), heavenly house-made pasta for the second, with beef, fish and vegs for the third, and desserts as a fitting finale. Roast duck breast and wild mushroom tarte shows the range, along with Duroc pork loin, Bali barramundi, and bistro filet, too. Cozy ambiance evokes a Paris bistro, as befits the theme of contemporary European cuisine. Catch this star.

Buzzworthy

Autograph Brasserie
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
610-964-2588 / AutographBrasserie.com
Sign up for the Main Line's new-ish swanky, upmarket signature place to go for a special occasion or good time. Marty Grims, of White Dog and Moshulu, totally transformed the former Peppercorn space (also formerly georges') in Eagle Village Shops to create separate venues bedecked with framed record album covers and signed photos: a lively bar with brass instrument chandelier, sunny Sycamore dining room with private booths, and the dark and clubby Club Room. Chef Ralph Fernandez cooks up French/Spanish/Italian at this American brasserie for brunch, lunch, happy hour, dinner and late night (with music until midnight). Sip signature drinks (Pom & Circumstances for toasting the graduate), wines and beer. Pastas, duck, tuna crudo and charred octopus are hits. Will it become a new mainstay?

Firepoint Grill
3739 West Chester Pk., Newtown Square
484-428-3093 / FirepointGrill.com
Newtown Square's aptly named new hot spot, Firepoint Grill, foreshadows more exciting developments at Ellis Preserve. This major investment by Lehigh Valley's Paxos Restaurant group (Melt, Blue, Top Cut, Torre) is a much-needed addition, adding a chic American grill with 250 seats inside and 150 more outside on the all-weather patio. A lively vibe emanates from the central bar and draws you to the open kitchen with wood-fired grill. Starr restaurant alum, Chef Hugh Moran, ticks off trends starting with "vittles"—cast iron cheddar cornbread, fire oven baked rosemary focaccia, sea salt potato chips, fried olives. Salads, sandwiches, burgers and pizzas lead up to main plates—rotisserie chicken, steaks and seafood. Plus cocktails, craft beer and wine list. A flash of fun.

Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse
King of Prussia Town Center
610-337-4810 / Davios.com/KOP
No need to drive to Center City (or Boston, Atlanta, New York) and pay for parking to enjoy the upscale northern Italian steakhouse's handmade pasta, prime-aged Brandt steaks (8-oz. filet to 24-oz. ribeye) and fresh seafood (lobster risotto's a fave). Davio's, now at the KOP Town Center, serves lunch, brunch and dinner in the elegant, high-ceiling, 9,000-square-foot space, with a casual Galleria nearby. Sample trademarked spring rolls—Philly cheese steak, chicken parm, Buffalo chicken and more—or American Kobe beef meatballs as you sip one of 200 wines from Italy, France and the U.S., 12 by the glass, seasonal cocktails or craft beer. The Center City spot for power breakfasts and lunches has garnered accolades for 16 years. Now close by.

Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse
Kind of Prussia Town Center
484-965-9655 / FogoDeChao.com
When you're hungry and you know it, go to Fogo! Open since last summer, this churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) is part of a popular chain known for all-you-can-eat, high-quality grilled meats sliced tableside by friendly gaucho chefs. Picanha—the restaurant's garlicky signature steak—is a crowd favorite. Carnivores and vegetarians alike adore the warm, cheesy rolls, garlic mashed potatoes and caramelized bananas that are magically replenished throughout the meal. The Market Table—an uber salad bar featuring traditional Brazilian and international salads, cheeses and charcuterie—is an experience unto itself. For dessert: papaya cream or South American flan. Dine inside for a view of the open kitchen or al fresco on the expansive patio.

The Goat's Beard
103 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne
484-584-4979 / TheGoatsBeardWayne.com
Main Liners also rejoiced when this popular Manayunk gastropub opened a second location last summer in the heart of Wayne. Local and sustainable are on tap and on table with diners loving Chef Joel Romano's inventive takes on American cuisine. Steak mac and cheese, burgers and pork and kimchi fries top the list. The "whiskey bible" pays homage to the USA with 70 varieties. Craft beer menu includes many PA brews. With Pint and Pound (of wings) Mondays, "1 burger, 1 bourbon, 1 beer" Wednesdays and live music Thursday through Sunday, the week never looked better.
Places to Watch

Al Pastor & Bella Vista
Eagleview Town Center – Wellington Sq., Exton 610-458-1900 / EagleviewTownCenter.com
Restaurant row in Eagleview Town Center? Two new restaurants join Brickside Grill and Nudy's Café, with plans for two more dining options later in 2017. The newest additions are joint efforts by Steven Starr alums, Justin Weathers and Chef Joe Monnich, and share more than the duo's vision—they also share a kitchen. Al Pastor, a mod Mexican, serves specialties like tuna ceviche, squash blossom quesadillas, and pork belly tacos, plus great tequillas. Trattoria-style Bella Vista offers a changing menu with charcuterie and cheese boards, panini, handmade pasta and signature pizzas paired with regional Italian wines. Look next for Chef Eric Yost, of Wyebrook Farm fame, at the helm of Suburban, a farm-to-table beer garden. And later in 2017, a sushi place.

Broad Table Tavern
10 S. Chester Rd., Swarthmore
610-543-7500 / TheInnAtSwat.com
Seasonally inspired, locally sourced, showcasing regional and artisanal products—what you'd expect at an eatery in the midst of the Swarthmore campus and part of the new-ish inn there. To the surprise and delight of locals and Swatties (alums), the place has a liquor license, finally allowing signature cocktails, wine and a strong beer list. The modern, airy space gets raves, as do the outdoor deck and indoor fireplace. The food side has an ambitious mission of serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner from a well-received menu of salads, sandwiches, scratch pastas and specialties—from hanger steak to cauliflower steak—plus plenty of fun apps, like grilled octopus and burrata.

Brown Derby
1470 Baltimore Pk., Toughkenamon
610-268-8252 / FireHillPub.com
Return of the Brown Derby name raised spirits among those who remembered at least part of its 80-year history of serving steak, lobster and Italian dishes. Current owners, including Chef Ray Maxwell (Kennett's Chef-a-topia), went old school. The retro menu—crab cakes, lobster tail, lots of steaks, plus Derby Classics—is back, plus modern touches not on the 1934 menu, like small plates, charcuterie and local artisan cheese. There are still Italian faves—crab ravioli, chicken marsala—along with enough mushroom dishes for mushroom country. Chef Maxwell says: "This will bring you back to a time when you went with your parents ...[for] prime rib and a baked potato bigger than your eyes could see, with great service." Here's hoping!

Bryn and Dane's
Bryn Mawr Village, 915–925 W. Lancaster Ave.Bryn Mawr, BrynAndDanes.com
Word on the street is this fast-casual will open its Bryn Mawr location in early January. Its mission: make healthy eating a breeze. The menu includes fresh smoothies, egg scrambles, salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps. Bowls—your choice of Greek yogurt, oatmeal, açai or chia pudding topped with fresh fruit—start the day right. Fans at other locations praise the Mo Green smoothie and sweet potato fries. Bryn and Dane's in Bryn Mawr? Meant to be. Coming to Malvern soon, too.
On Trend: Latin Cuisine

Paladar Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar
King of Prussia Town Center
484-965-9779 / PaladarLatinKitchen.com
Although Cleveland is no hotbed of Latin cuisine, the new Cleveland-based Paladar (Cuban for family-owned restaurant) at KOP Town Center is a bright spot in the Latin food trend. Drawing inspiration from Cuba, South America and beyond, the menu serves up small plates, Latin comfort food, grilled meats and fresh seafood, plus tacos (braised duck and blackened fish drew raves), sides (surprising chorizo with kale) and an impressive list of 80-some rums (try the tasting flights). Sourcing thoughtfully (wild Alaskan salmon; corvino, not talapia) and with dedication (special quests for best bacon and ice cream), Chef Joe Tif's menu is inventive but not self-conscious. Classics like Ropa Vieja and craft-your-own guac (add bacon, goat cheese, more) get nuanced treatment and creative twists.



BREWPUBS, BREWERIES AND DRINKERIES


Brandywine Branch Distillery & Bistro

Brewpubs & Breweries

See the article, “Happy New Brewpubs & Breweries,” in this issue covering La Cabra Brewing, Brick & Brew, The Bottle Room, Tuned Up Brewing Company and Sterling Pig Brewery.

 

New Spirits

Brandywine Branch Distillery & Bistro
350 Warwick Rd., Elverson, 610-901-3668
BrandywineBranchDistillers.com
Aself-proclaimed destination distillery in a century-old barn in north Chester County offers grain-to-bottle spirits—including seasonal gins (Equinox, Summertide, Harvest, Solstice, from $40–50) plus bourbons with even more promised. Master blender Riannon Walsh’s 30-some years of experience are expressed in small batch Revivalist Botanical gins that are as far from London dry gins as this regional distillery is from the UK. Stop in for tours, tastings, classes (one on nosing) and farm-to-table bistro. Experience the online tour with Senator John Rafferty, Jr., or ask for the gins at local bars and restaurants. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and TV series Innovations (with Ed Begley) have discovered them. You should, too.

 

Award-Winners to Sip

Manatawny Still Works
320 Circle of Progress Dr., Suite 104, Pottstown
484-624-8271 / ManatawnyStillWorks.com
Local distilleries are garnering recognition, with Pottstown-based Manatawny bringing home five individual awards in 2016 from the American Craft Spirits Assn. (a craft spirits trade group). Two silvers for small batch whiskeys (batch #6 and #7), silver for small batch rum (batch #3), and bronze for J. Potts Whiskey and for Odd Fellows No. 214 Gin, plus a handful of golds from The50Best.com. Not bad for their three-year history.

Bluebird Distilling
100 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-933-7827 / BluebirdDistilling.com
Not to be outdone, Phoenixville’s two-year-old Bluebird Distillery also collected five awards from the American Draft Spirits Assn. last year—earning an award in every category they entered. Bluebird brought home silver for their vodka, whiskey and sugarcane rum; with bronze for four-grain bourbon and juniperus gin. Food critic Craig LaBan anointed the Four Grain Bourbon as having the “makings of something special.” Sip for yourself.

 

Serious Cocktails

General Warren
9 Old Lancaster Rd., Malvern
610-296-3637 / GeneralWarren.com
We propose a toast to the General Warren. For fine wines and grownup cocktails, this historic Colonial inn is the winner. Extensive wine menu includes Old and New World vintages, champagnes, sparkling wines and 14 lovely, affordable wines by the glass. Another highlight: their own seasonal cask-aged cocktails. This winter, try Dad’s Hat Rye Manhattan and Bluecoat Gin Negroni. Raise your glass in the elegant main restaurant or take a seat at the casual Warren Tavern’s U-shaped soapstone bar. If a table near the Tavern’s wood-burning fireplace opens up, drink to your good fortune. This spring: Sip away at the new bar in the Spring House Terrace.

 

PA Wine to Try

Penns Woods Winery
124 Beaver Valley Rd., Chadds Ford
610-459-0808 / PennsWoodsEvents.com

Paradocx Vineyard
1833 Flint Hill Rd., Landenberg
610-255-5684 / Paradocx.com
This year we recommend traminette, a relatively new white hybrid varietal (Gerwertztiminer crossed with a French-American varietal), spawned in university labs in the 1960s, released in 1996, and a great success in cooler climes—Michigan, Hudson Valley, Chester County. Its off-dry, aromatic character won Penns Woods Winery a double gold award at the Finger Lakes International wine contest and Paradocx Vineyard a silver from BTI Tastings.com. This straw yellow wine is a crowd-pleaser. Penns Woods’ has sweet smells of honey and lemon zest giving way to a clean, crisp mineral finish, while the Paradocx wine shows aromas of pressed roses, musky peaches and overripe white grapes. It’s easy to drink, yet complex and appeals to both sweet and dry wine lovers. Enjoy it on its own, or with Thai food. Drink local!

 

Cider Pairing

Frecon Farms
501 S. Reading Ave., Boyertown
610-367-6200 / FreconFarms.com

Gracie’s 21st Century Café
1534 Manatawny Rd., Pine Forge
610-323-4004 / Gracies21stCentury.com
When soulmates find each other, it’s a beautiful thing. Last fall, Frecon Farms teamed up with Gracie’s 21st Century Café to host a Table in the Orchard event. After a ramble through the orchard and cidery tour, guests enjoyed four courses paired with Frecon’s cider. Menu included prosciutto-wrapped Frecon peaches, Valley Milkhouse cheeses, chicken and apple schnitz meatballs, pork filet mignon and dessert from Frecon’s bakery. The highlight: the unveiling of Scrumpy, Frecon’s newest cider. Guests had such a good time that plans are afoot for more dinners in 2017. Until then, we’re getting our Frecon on at General Warren and Eagleview, Downingtown and Malvern farmers’ markets.

 

Healthy Drink

Baba’s Brew Kombucha
333 Morgan St., Phoenixville
267-738-1973 / BabasBrew.com
Turns out our great grandmothers were right. At least that’s true for Olga Sorzano, whose Siberian baba always kept homemade kombucha on hand. Long treasured for its health benefits, kombucha combines sweet tea with a yeast-bacteria culture for an effervescent drink low in calories and sugar, but high in probiotics and all the stuff your bubbe said would keep the doctor away. In her Phoenixville nano-brewery, Sorzano creates seasonal flavors like Rosy Apple and Asian Pear Ginger and year-round Flower Power. Baba’s got a shout out from Inquirer food critic Craig LaBan, and it’s popping up in bottles and on tap in over 100 locations. Look for the brewery’s new tasting room and BIY (Brew-It-Yourself) classes.

 

Cortado

La Colombe Bryn Mawr
915 W. Lancaster Ave., Ste. 160, Bryn Mawr
215-398-3091 / LaColombe.com
Not so long ago, we thought we were pretty cute with our cappuccino foam mustaches. These days, we’re all about the cortado—espresso with more steamed milk than a macchiato but less than a latte. At La Colombe Bryn Mawr, it’s perfection with a foamy heart on top. Baristas are happy to answer your coffee Q’s while serving croissants, pastries, salads and sandwiches made fresh at their Fishtown location. Smoked salmon bialy with dill cream is a must-try. And the space itself? It’s bright and welcoming with large windows, gray-washed brick walls, small tables and wood benches. We’re thrilled this Philly gem came west!

 

Community Space

Malvern Buttery
233 E. King St., Malvern
610-296-2534 / MalvernButtery.com
Though John and Silenia Rhoads opened their café-bakery just one and a half years ago, it’s already earned a place in the hearts of Malvernites. Comfy chairs, rustic communal tables and a vibe that’s simultaneously adult and kid-friendly means whether you’ve come for breakfast, lunch or an expertly made cappuccino, you’ll want to linger. The buffet bar holds a changing menu of creative sandwiches, salads, soups as well as pastries, cookies and croissants. Can’t decide? Word on King Street is you can’t go wrong with a brioche sticky bun or all-you-can-eat toast with housemade jams. For DIY foodies, the Buttery hosts classes in granola making and tea blending. In 2017, check out their occasional seasonal suppers.

 


PIZZAS FOR EVERY MOOD


BIGA Pizza + BeerBIGA Pizza + Beer
810 Glenbrook Ave., Bryn Mawr
610-525-4800 / RestaurantBiga.com
When Restaurant Alba’s Sean Weinberg opens a pizza place, you know it’s not your father’s pizzeria. So when Biga Pizza premiered last summer in Bryn Mawr, pie fans applauded. For good reason. The hip, exposed brick space serves up wood-fire crusted gems with inventive combinations of toppings, along with some of the best salads ever (the autumn salad with arugula, fennel, pear, lime vinaigrette). Favorite pizzas include The Kingdom (bacon, beer braised onions, scamorza) and Da Bomb (soppresatta, tomato, mozzarella, Calabrian chilis). Add a curated craft beer menu (Tired Hands on tap) and your next reservation.

Lorenzo and Sons Pizza
27 N. High St., West Chester
484-999-8756 / LorenzoAndSonsPizza.com
It was a long time coming, though not as long as the wait for Pica’s … Happily Lorenzo’s gigantic slices—bigger than your head—satisfy West Chester U students and New York street-pizza lovers equally. The classic thin crust, cheessy goodness appeals anytime, and does a great job soaking up evidence from a night of bar hopping. Want toppings? Come on Tuesdays. Bring the big car if you order a whole pie—it’s 27 inches across!

Nicoletta Pizzeria
King of Prussia Mall, 610-312-0171
NicolettaPizza.com/KingOfPrussia
Mall pizza seldom conjures visions of Michelin stars but the new, very upscale food court, named Savor KOP, offers that heavenly experience. Given the caliber of shops (international designers—think Fendi, Gucci, Hermès), the addition of Manhattan’s Michael White (of Marea fame, with pizzerias in NY and NJ), with his handmade pizzas, pastas and gelato, is a culinary complement. Served in quarter-pie portions rather than slices, with gluten-free crust options and killer sides (awesome arancini), a snack will help you shop ’til you drop. The NYC location has a never-ending happy hour on Mondays, which sadly, can’t happen here without a liquor license.

Pica’s Restaurant
1233 West Chester Pk., West Chester
610-789-7770 / Picas-Restaurant.com
The long wait is finally over! Delco’s legendary pizza comes west as this family Italian opens its new location in late 2016-early 2017. With cheese below, sauce above and toppings galore, Pica’s signature rectangular pie is sure to become a West Chester favorite. Head Chef Emmanuel Rosario (Lori Pica’s husband, FYI) is tweaking the menu for the new location. While there won’t be cheesesteaks, popular dishes like housemade pastas and trinity of parms (chicken, eggplant, veal) aren’t going anywhere. Like the Upper Darby location, this one offers cozy booths. Or savor your slices in the windowed garden room or Frank’s Corner surrounded by Old Blue Eyes’ memorabilia.

Pizzeria Vetri Square Pie
King of Prussia Mall
267-422-4201 / PizzeriaVetri.com
More upscale pizza at the Mall? Though we’d hope to be enjoying this pizza at Devon Yards (see 2016 Best of the Best), Vetri’s location inside Urban Outfitters opened this fall, rolling out a thick-crust, Roman style in square slices, hence the name. There’s counter service, plus seating for 60, with beer, wine and more on the menu. Try a rotolo (rolled pizza dough with fillings) and dessert pizzas. Choose for your slice or half-tray order from five traditional toppings and five seasonal specials—like the Zola (gorgonzola, radicchio, speck and apple) or the Zucca (topped with roasted pumpkin, taleggio, sage and brown butter). And hum “At Last!”

SNAP Custom Pizza
291 Main St., Exton
484-875-5800 / SnapCustomPizza.com
Other Locations: Ardmore, Newark, DE
Despite popular wisdom, instant gratification and unlimited choices can make you happy. The proof: SNAP Pizza where dream pies emerge hot from the oven in five minutes or less and cost just $7.99. Start with traditional or gluten-free crust. Pick a sauce and cheese, say San Marzano tomato and house made mozzarella. Select as many proteins and vegetables as your heart desires. Pepperoni? Yes. Veal meatballs? Yes. Bacon, mushrooms, peppers? Yes, yes, yes! For the choice-averse, there are signature pies. The Kennett Square’s got herb butter sauce, mushrooms, goat cheese and arugula. With nutella dessert pizza and complimentary wine on Wednesdays, no wonder this BYOB made our list in a snap.

Binge House Pizza
Facebook.com/BingeHousePizza
What—free pizza? Yes, you get virtually free pizza (charging to cover costs) at the monthly pop-out. That’s if you respond in time to the Facebook offer, drive to the Downingtown home of the Binger, Jim Oley, and agree to offer feedback. Binge Pizza is an unconventional work-in-progress to perfect a pizza recipe with the plan of opening a pizza shop—it came close in November. The project has been going on for over a year, even had an October tasting at The Bottle Room in Downingtown. From classic toppings, cup-n-char pepperoni, and Brussels sprouts with bacon, the concept is an adventure.


SOME FAVORITES

 

The Fat HamAl Fresco Dining

Outdoor Dining in West Chester
DowntownWestChester.com
There’s Media’s Dining Under the Stars on warm Wednesday nights and Kennett’s Third Thursdays on State Street. Now we celebrate the movable feast that is West Chester dining every night and day. Weather permitting, tables and chairs are pulled to the brick sidewalks along Gay, Market and side streets (that’s you, Limoncello and Station 51). Lunch, brunch, happy hour and dinner hour are made for taking in West Chester’s charm as a sidedish. From breakfast at The Classic Diner to a perfect martini at Pietro’s Prime, there are so many tables waiting for you to enjoy the pleasures of al fresco dining in the borough.

Bento Boxes

Lily Asian Restaurant
104 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-925-3700 / LilySushiAndGrill.com
Fresh, artful and reasonable priced ($9–14) are three reasons we love these “boxed” lunches. Reasons 4 and 5: they’re a godsend for the indecisive and leave us feeling sated, not stuffed. All bentos include miso soup, dumplings filled with pork and chicken, and salad with sesame dressing, a nice change from carrot-ginger. The tempura sweet potato maki is a standout. For an entrée choice, regulars say go for bang bang shrimp, seafood pad Thai, red chicken curry, General Tso’s chicken or sushi/sashimi combo. Vegetarians cast their vote for fried tofu steak or vegan delight (stir-fried veggies in garlic sauce).

Celeb Spotting

La Verona
114 E. State St., Kennett Square
610-444-2244 / LaVeronaPA.com
For dinner with a side of celebrity, we honor La Verona. Last July, Vice President Joe Biden dined al fresco at this traditional Italian in the heart of Kennett Square. The ever-amiable Veep also took time for a photo op with owner, Jack Mavraj. While daughter Ashley tucked into crab cakes, Biden feasted on burrata salad and crowd-favorite chicken parmesan. Polls show veal and eggplant parms and homemade pastas also enjoy high approval ratings. The biggest vote getters are mushroom soup (hometown advantage?) and a roasted artichoke/prosciutto appetizer. For entertainment—other than hosting government dignitaries—La Verona brings in live music on Thursday and Saturday nights.

Charcuterie

Cornerstone BYOB & Artisanal Market
1 West Ave., Wayne
610-688-1888 / CornerstoneWayne.com
Last year, we called it a place to watch. This year, it’s the place to be! Chef-owners Nick and Christine Kondra search the world for the finest cured, smoked and cooked meats and fish for their chic, cozy Wayne BYOB. They craft sausages, patés, terrines and mousses in house. For a chef’s board, you get cheeses, charcuterie like ‘Nduja (not available anywhere else in our region), plus accompaniments and the story behind the bites. Board selections change daily. Have a favorite? The Kondras will accommodate. And Christine’s special talent is designing custom boards to complement your wine and liquor selection. Take the Cornerstone experience home and subscribe to “Taste,” a seasonal curation of hand-selected, artisanal products delivered to your door.

Cinco de Mayo All Year

Más Mexicali Cantina
102 E. Market St., West Chester
610-918-6280 / MasMexicali.com
Some places feel festive, with a celebratory vibe when you walk in. And Más has three levels of fun, each offering the distinctive experience that makes Mexican fiestas so, well, festive. You’ll feel like it’s Cinco de Mayo when you tuck into specialties and ceviches of the day, sizzling fajitas, overloaded burritos, tantalizing tacos, even vegetarian options. That’s your solid basis for fun and food, enjoyed in the first-floor cantina or elsewhere. The second-floor Tequila Bar and Velvet Lounge has a different energy, as does the Rooftop Bar with the best view in West Chester. Great frozen drinks, sangria, long beer list, and good for Taco Tuesdays.

Comfort Food

The Classic Diner
352 Lancaster Ave., Malvern, 610-725-0515
16 E. Gay St., West Chester, 484-947-0809
TheClassicDinerPA.com
Had we but world enough and time, we would wax poetic about every comforting dish at these upscale breakfast and lunch gems. But alas time’s winged chariot—and limited space—hasten us toward the highlights: bacon, sliced thick in house. A thing of beauty. Eggs Benedict, served classic style or with filet mignon, avocado and tomato, or jumbo lump crab. Impossible to pick a favorite. Turkey pepper hash, tuna melt, handmade potato chips. Retro but always in style. Buttermilk pancakes and brioche French toast stuffed with pear and cinnamon cream. What’s not to love? “Stickiest” buns, grilled and slathered with butter. Enough said.

KOP Dining

King of Prussia Mall Dining
Simon.com/Mall/King-of-Prussia
Though we have a favorite (see below) and cover others at the KOP Mall and Town Center, there are even more new options: Melt Shop, boasting artisanal comfort food with gourmet grilled cheese; a second Shake Shack for classic burgers; and healthy sweetgreen, offering locally sourced food, warm bowls and inventive salads. KOP Town Center boasts Naf Naf Grill’s Middle Eastern magic—falafels, shawarmas, pitas; b.good’s naturally good fast food with plenty of kale; plus honeygrow’s fast-casual wholesome, farm-to-table; City Works, one of the largest beer bars/restaurants in the U.S.; Mission BBQ (guess what they serve); and Founding Farmers serving sustainable, quality food and drink. Whew!

The Fat Ham
610-765-4045 / SbragaDining.com/TheFatHam-kop
Some folks beamed at designer stores opening at the KOP Mall, but foodies took notice when Kevin Sbraga, Top Chef winner with a Perrier-Starr-Garces pedigree, opened his second spot paying homage to Southern comfort food. Find The Fat Ham in the connector between the Court and Plaza and check out a menu dripping in Southern classics, like blackened catfish and grits, skillet cornbread, collard greens. There’s a Sunday Supper menu, table service and 30-some whiskeys—not the usual mall fare. Try the famous fried Hot Chicken (8 on a hot scale of 10), a Nashville specialty spiced with cayenne pepper, with a Low Country Punch to dose the fire. You may forget to shop.

Dining With a Purpose

Brandywine in White 2017
Facebook.com/BrandywineInWhite
Marking its fourth year last August, Brandywine in White is an elegant, pop-up summer gathering—or fine dining flashmob fundraiser for a cause—that helped The Land Conservancy preserve Barnard’s Orchard’s land. Inspired by a Paris event attracting 10,000, BIW hosts guests dressed in white who arrive at a secret outdoor location with a picnic dinner, along with white place settings, wine, glasses, flowers, napkins and anything needed to create a chic all-white event. Watch Facebook for 2017 dates. If you can’t wait: Brandywine in Black is sponsored by the Brandywine Conservancy in March.

Soltane Café
138 Bridge St., Phoenixville, 610-933-1819 / CamphillSoltane.org/Soltane-Cafe
Get your coconut cortado, perfect espresso affogato or classic Counter Culture Coffee pour over with a side of bakery magic. This friendly shop in the heart of Phoenixville has a pay-it-forward tip jar and a dedicated staff from Camphill Soltane, a nonprofit in Glenmoore helping those with special needs transition to productive adulthood. Plus it’s filled with artisan, organic breads baked to crusty perfection in the wood-fired oven and treats like pear ginger custard pie, gruyère scones, pecan wow bars, and veggie sausage croissants. There’s local art on the walls and every reason to start your day here.

Ethnic Bonanza

Media
Dining on Media’s State Street was already a United Nation of cuisine choices. From Israeli delights at Desert Rose, to Irish eats at Sligo, French fare at La Belle Epoque, to mainstays like Margaret Kuo’s, plus pizza places along the way. Add Jaco Taco of West Chester fame, exotic Morroccan treats at Tagine, the BYOT pleasures (T for tequilla) of authentic Mexican dishes at Hidalgo, and Tom’s Dim Sum, a special favorite.

Tom’s Dim Sum
13 E. State St., 610-566-6688 / TomsDimSum.com
Expanding from Philly’s Chinatown, Tom’s Dim Sum serves up a full menu but as the name suggests, stick to the dim sum—the original small plate delicacies. Savor or share sublime orders of traditional Shanghia dumplings, soup dumplings (can you fit a whole one in your mouth?), shumai, steamed buns, and our favorite, the light and flaky scallion pancake. You’ll happily end with sweet potato cake or Tom’s moon cake.

Extreme Cooking Class

Wyebrook Farm
150 Wyebrook Rd., Honey Brook
610-942-7481 / WyebrookFarm.com
If you’re really curious how that thick-cut pork chop made its way to your plate, you’re the ideal candidate for Wyebrook Farm classes. In La Tuade class (a French term for cold season pig slaughter), guests witness the humane killing, bleeding and scalding of a pig followed by a butchering demo. Sign up for the Pig Butchering class/demo and you’ll see up close the artistry of nose-to-tail butchering and learn all sorts of interesting facts. Do you know how Boston butt got its name? For less extreme tastes, hands-on sausage making, charcuterie classes and a sustainable nutrition series are also offered. After class, bond with fellow students in Wyebrook’s acclaimed restaurant.


MORE FAVORITES

Chef MacGregor MannFast Casual

Zoës Kitchen
Locations: Bryn Mawr, Glen Mills, Newtown Square, Collegeville, Wayne / ZoesKitchen.com
We’re suckers for a winning combination—especially one involving a hummus trio, grilled pimento cheese sandwich and baked feta. Founder Zoë Cassimus was born in the Mediterranean and grew up in the South, and her eclectic menu at this fast-casual draws from the best of both worlds. Everything from the kabobs (chicken, steak, shrimp, veggie) to Mediterranean tuna pita with olives and capers tastes fresh and light. Quinoa-vegetable salad and Greek salads are favorites. Fair warning: A bottle of zesty Greek dressing sits on each table. You’ll use it with abandon and probably want some to take home. And YaYa’s chocolate cake? Yeah, you’ll want that, too.

Food & Art

Millstone Café
Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art
Millstone Café, 1 Hoffmans Mill Rd.
Chadds Ford, 610-388-8331 / Brandywine.org
Life comes full circle. Brandywine Conservancy preserves local farms. Local farms supply Chef MacGregor Mann with produce for Junto, his acclaimed BYOB. Mann becomes on-site caterer for Brandywine River Museum of Art’s Millstone Café in spring 2016. It’s no surprise the menu is seasonal and local, with native fruits and veggies from the Conservancy’s kitchen garden. But in true Mann style, humble and familiar dishes take off in unexpected directions. Try the (beef) cheek steak melt, breaded skate sandwich or shrimp and grits with crispy Lebanon bologna, and you’ll taste what we mean. Soups, salads, local coffee and pastries from West Chester’s Artisan Exchange are also available. With views of the Brandywine River and Mann at the helm, the Millstone Café is our go-to spot for post-Wyeth lunch and small bites. In early summer, join the foraging hikes.

Thronson Café
Delaware Art Museum,Thronson Café
2301 Kentmere Pkwy.,
Wilmington
302-351-8555 / DelArt.org
When Chef Dan Butler of Wilmington’s popular Toscana Catering started operating DAM’s Thronson Café last summer, visitors found yet another reason to linger at this world-class museum. After a morning immersed in Pre-Raphaelites and Howard Pyle, take in made-to-order paninis, soups, salads, wraps and quiche. With daily salad and pasta specialties and seasonally changing menu, there’s always something new. This winter, we’re savoring panino layered with prosciutto, brie and fig spread, poached saku tuna salad, and spinach-artichoke gratinée—all while gazing at the Copeland sculpture garden. In warm weather, it’s lunch on the café terrace. Want to eat lunch as you talk art? Check out the “Art is Tasty” program on first Fridays.

Food & Music

Roots Café
133 E. Gay St., West Chester
610-455-0100 / RootsCafeWC.com

Sprout Music Collective
130 E. Prescott Alley., West Chester
610-696-6006 / SproutMusic.org
Owner Dan Cellucci bit off a big goal: bridge the gap between culinary and musical entertainment. In creating Roots Café and Sprout Music Collective, he did just that. Roots has a down-to-earth vibe (pun intended) and serves local, seasonal food that’s healthy for people and planet. Cellucci tweaks breakfast and lunch every few months, but both are available most days. Translation: order a Bloody Mary, root vegetable latke-portobello “bennie” or combo lunch duo any time the mood strikes. The dinner menu is constantly evolving but always includes chef’s tasting. After a meal at Roots, walk through the garden patio to Sprout, a member-based club open for live music by local artists. Satisfy midnight cravings with tapas, flatbreads and sandwiches while sipping seasonal handcrafted cocktails and mocktails.

Forager

MacGregor Mann of Junto
100 Ridge Rd., Chadds Ford
484-574-8041 / JuntoBYOB.com
Just when we thought local, seasonal, farm-to-table cooking was the be-all, Chef MacGregor Mann challenges us to think outside neatly planted rows. Before opening Junto BYOB, Mann apprenticed at Denmark’s Michelin-starred Noma where he learned to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between restaurant and place. He brought that ethos back with him. Nowadays, when he’s not in the kitchen, find him in local meadows or woods foraging for chanterelles, wintercress, black walnuts and ramps for pickling. His latest find: pawpaws, which he describes as indigenous tropical fruit that tastes like apples and bananas mixed with bread dough. We admire Mann’s adventurous spirit, applaud him for reviving a lost skill, and adore his “field-and-stream-to-table” cuisine.

Frozen Bar Drinks

Tavola Restaurant + Bar
400 W. Sproul Rd., Springfield
610-543-2100 / Tavolas.com
When we need a vacation minus the suitcase, we head to Tavola, which, come to think of it sounds like an exotic island. Coladas, margaritas and daiquiris are made from scratch with fresh purées and syrups. Even more impressive: select ingredients come from Tavola’s garden. Year-round favorites include strawberry and banana coladas and strawberry-mango daiquiris. There’s also a rotating menu of seasonal offerings. In summer, try a cucumber margarita. For the winter holidays, order frozen chocolate eggnog or cranberry pomegranate daiquiri. No matter the season, no matter where you sit—inside bar, patio overlooking the golf course, comfy sofa in front of the firepit’s glow—Tavola’s frozen creations make for an ideal getaway.

Frozen Treats

Mompops
216 Birch St., Kennett Square
844-666-7677 / Mompops.net
Sandra and Issa Ostrander, the mother-son duo behind Mompops, set out to make a treat everyone could enjoy. And the proof is in the popsicle. Chocolate sea salt and strawberry lemonade take top honors with pineapple basil a close third. Pops are fruit-filled, allergen-free, vegan and low in sugar. For big appetites, there’s a 3-oz. option. For just a little something, try the mini (1 oz., under 19 calories). Find Mompops at food festivals—Vegfest, Chester County Restaurant Festival—and local markets—Whole Foods, Kimberton Whole Foods, Mom’s Organic, Swarthmore Co-op, Natural Foods Harvest. They’re even sold in Unionville School District cafeterias. In 2017, look for the debut of a new chocolate flavor.

Healthy yum!

Fun Beer Pairings
320 Market Café
211 W. State St., Media
610-565-8320 / The320MarketCafe.com
Tired of the usual beer flights and overly serious pairing dinners? Then try 320 Market Café’s flights of fancy. Sample the June Bug Beer flights with 2SP lager paired with sriracha crickets or brown ale with chocolate super worms. July’s Beer and Ice Cream (a chocolate stout real beer float with Young’s Double Chocolate stout). August was Pickles & Pilsners, November hosted Halloween candy (sour patch, candy corn) and beer, and, of course, there were bacon and beer pairings. Their list of over a dozen beers on draft includes more mundane but tempting pairings with cheese from around the world (Neshaminy Creek Tribute Tripel with raclette). Beer folks are fun!

Inviting Patio Dining

The Gables at Chadds Ford
423 Baltimore Pk., Chadds Ford
610-388-7700 / TheGablesAtChaddsFord.com
So many reasons to love this southern Chester County star. Award-winning chef, Dave Wenerd. Caring, creative owners, Ann and Dan Kolenick. Great sangria, solid wine list, exceptional seasonal cocktails. Rooftop garden for food that much fresher. Cooking that’s European, with new American flavors and a touch of Southern flair. Kennett Chocolate Lovers’ 1st place cake award. Adaptive reuse of a historic dairy barn with a perfect outdoor patio set amid the remains of the stone foundation. And it’s that inviting patio, along with the expanded space around a firepit, that we salute this year. Whether you come for a drink, meal or special event, you’ll feel a bit of history surrounding you as you settle back and enjoy the ambiance as a water feature plays in the background. We wish we were there now.

Italian Comfort Food

Tonino’s Pizza and Pasta Co.
235 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
610-240-9566 / ToninosPizzaAndPasta.com
Food is not love, but it sure comes close at this reasonably priced, family-run BYOB Italian. Its strip mall location belies the restaurant’s quality and generous spirit. With 40 years of experience, the Scotto family expertly crafts homemade pizza, pasta and Italian specialties that have many diners searching the kitchen for their own nonnas. Standouts include pizza (Neapolitan, Sicilian, and massive 30-inch pie), clams casino, eggplant parmesan and lasagna. The Sunday ragu—sausage, meatballs, braciole in “gravy” over pasta—is wonderfully old school. Portions are large, but if you save room for dessert, try the nutella turnover. And if you can’t eat in, Tonino’s will come to you in the comfort of your own home via Grubhub or catering.

Keep the Dream Alive

West Chester Food Co-op
West Chester / WCFood.coop
The dream of bringing a food co-op to downtown West Chester lives on. New members continue to join, and the Co-op plans to move into the next phase of development in 2017. Do your part for the dream—and indulge in lots of terrific desserts—at the Co-op’s 2nd Annual West Chester Bake-off on February 12th. With a children’s category and many kids’ activities, the event guarantees a sweet time for all. From May–November, stop by the Co-op booth at West Chester Growers’ Market. Guest chefs and member-owners share recipes, do tastings, and answer questions about this wonderful community venture.


GREAT SPOTS

 

Limoncello Ristorante & CaterersLunch Choices

Limoncello Ristorante & Caterers
499 E. Uwchlan Ave., Chester Springs
610-524-3112 / LimoncelloRestaurant.com
9 N. Walnut St., West Chester
610-436-6230 / LimoncelloRestaurant.com
With two locations and two ways to “do” lunch, this family-run Italian’s got the midday meal covered. Once you decide between downtown West Chester and suburban Chester Springs, the harder question awaits: all-you-can-eat buffet or a la carte menu? Here’s the 411: The lunch buffet is a steal at $11.95 and includes a wide selection of salads, pizzas, fish, pasta, veggies and meat dishes. A la carte gets you favorites such as Maria’s meatballs, braised short rib ravioli, pizzas, chicken Limoncello and antipasto platters with your choice (again!) of three or five meats and cheeses. Either way you go, you won’t go home hungry. A third choice? Have them cater your lunch in your home or office.

Martini

Pietro’s Prime Steakhouse & Martini Bar
125 W. Market St., West Chester
484-760-6100 / PietrosPrime.com
“Bombay martini. Straight up. Olives.” Our favorite standard order—no need to ask for a watery shaken version. But too often, it’s badly executed. Pietro’s Prime gets it right. Always. Maybe because martini is in their name? Pietro’s friendly, no-nonsense bartender, its classic behind-the-bar liquors display and iconic martini glasses, its spacious, understated polished wood bar are just what you need to enjoy a special cocktail. In the back, a small patio is a perfect spot to sample Pietro’s creations—the “Special” (espresso, vanilla vodka, Kahlua), the Frank (brother to the Cosmo), the Chocolate Martini—are popular favorites. Sip and be tempted by the smell of steak wafting through the door. Or pairing with a serious cigar.

Middle East Faves

Desert Rose
305 W. State St., Media
484-442-8012 / DesertRoseMediaPA.com
Heavenly hummus, sensational shawarmas, perfect house-baked pita. Plus sandwiches, salads, appetizers, platters, soups, puff pastries. And, of course, kebabs, falafels and harissa-sauced short ribs. Since it opened a few years back, Desert Rose has been our favorite spot for authentic Mediterranean and Middle East specialties, served table-side or takeout. Take your taste buds on a trip!

Movie & a Meal

Movie Tavern
110 Bartlett Ave., Exton
484-498-2331 / MovieTavern.com
Providence Town Center., 140 Market St.
Collegeville, 610-831-9500 / MovieTavern.com
Dinner, cocktail, movie, recliner—an Oscar-winning combination if ever we saw one. With eight screens at the Collegeville location, nine in Exton, and a varied pub menu, the Movie Tavern has a show and dish for every taste and age. On weekends, theaters host Breakfast and a Flick complete with pancakes or chicken and waffles. Regular menu has burgers, entrées, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads and pizzas. New Light and Fresh menu includes Asian chicken salad and edamame. Popcorn and candy? You can get that, too. From the full bar, enjoy beer, wine, margaritas and signature cocktails. With food and drink delivered right to your seat, you’ll never ask “What did I miss?” again.

New Farmers Market

Westtown Amish Market
1165 Wilmington Pk., West Chester
610-492-5700 / WesttownAmishMarket.net
This 25,000-square-foot indoor farmers market at Routes 926 and 202 is a bigger version of the Lancaster Farmers Market in Wayne, complete with a diverse selection of vendors. There’s the expected produce, meats, baked goods and hand rolled pretzels alongside Sugartown Smoked Specialties, Emma’s Healthy Choices and Paradocx Winery’s outlet, plus some Amish furniture. If you haven’t been yet, you must be the only person not to discover the fun of eating at the H&L Grill before buying award-winning donuts and whoopee pies with mint or peanut butter filling. You’ll find scrapple and lobster mac ’n’ cheese, smoked bacon and bacon ketchup. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Really! Social Amish.

Fun Farmers Market

Eagleview Farmers Market
Wellington Square, Eagleview Town Ctr., Exton
610-836-1391 / GrowingRootsPartners.com
We all know the reasons for supporting farmers markets: getting the freshest, healthiest produce and meats; supporting our local farms and local economies; chatting with neighbors and vendors. And then there’s that it’s just more fun to shop there. Organized by Growing Roots Partners, this market packs food, fun and events into four hours on Thursdays during pleasant weather. Showcasing some of our favorite meats (Canter Hill Farm), produce (Down to Earth Harvest, Frecon Farms), bakeries (Dia Doce, Nomadic Pies), dairy, extras (Vera Pasta, Waffaltopia, wine, tea, honey), crafts and fun like the Falling Leaf Festival. Plus a regular newsletter, active Facebook, Instagram and blog with entries that wax poetic about fennel.

Shout Out from Bon Appétit

Éclat Chocolate Parallel Bars, Truffles
24 S. High St., West Chester
610-692-5206 / EclatChocolate.com
The New York Times’ Florence Fabricant called Master Chocolatier Christopher Curtin’s Parallel Bars “stunning” and “delicious” in 2015. Bon Appétit upped the ante and dubbed Éclat the source for best chocolate (2012) and best truffles (2016) for their Peruvian Nacional tufffles made of the rarest cocoa sourced personally by Curtin in the remote Peruvian canyons. Hand rolled and filled with floral, fruity, nutty flavor, the truffles can be yours to taste and test for yourself with a visit to the West Chester storefront and other local outlets. A world-class experience right here.

Old-Fashioned Sandwich

Westtown Meat Market & Deli
1030 Old Wilmington Pk., West Chester
610-696-5588 / WesttownMeatMarket.com
They call themselves your local, neighborhood, old-school butcher, so that, plus the house-made white and wheat bread, are key ingredients in serving up soul-satisfying, old-fashioned sandwiches. Classic club sandwiches, BLTs, grilled cheese, roast beet, tuna salad, and of course hoagies and beloved cheesesteaks (with quality beef and real cheese, no whiz here). And the best onion rings around. Check specials posted on Facebook. End with a homemade brownie. We’ve been doing it for years.

Pet-Friendly

Appetites on Main
Main Street at Exton, 286 Main St., Exton
610-594-2030 / AppetitesOnMain.com
If you hadn’t already heard about the pet-friendly policy welcoming well-behaved pets on leashes at the patio at Appetites on Main, you might discover this spot through BringFido.com or Trips WithPets.com. We were impressed by the special pet menu—hot dogs, prime rib, chicken, all cut in pet-sized pieces. Others appreciated the complimentary pet water bowls, visits by the management, and Howl-o-ween pet costume contest fundraiser. A great stop for your best four-legged friend. The Nola fries (crabmeat, cheese sauce and more) and beer list are your reward as a good owner.

Place for Good English Food (Really!!)

The Whip Tavern
1383 N. Chatham Rd., West Marlborough
610-383-0600 / TheWhipTavern.com
Yes, we said it. Good. English. Food. Traditional dishes such as bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, Welsh rarebit and shepherd’s pie have transformed many a first-time diner into a Whipster. In fact, fans reckon that pubs in Britain could learn a thing or two from the Whip kitchen. We love Chef Anne Coll’s weekend features: roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, beef Wellington, and luxury pie (lobster, shrimp, scallops in a lemongrass-ginger sauce under garlic mashed potatoes). One of these weekends, we’ll get there for haggis. For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding takes the cake. To drink: the Whip’s private label house cider whimsically named “For Fox Sake,” one of its many UK beers, or a Black Velvet (Guiness layered over cider). Cheers! 


DON'T MISS PLACES

 

The Creamery Pop-UpPlace for the Whole Family

Ron’s Original Bar & Grille
74 E. Uwchlan Ave., Exton
610-594-9900 / RonsOriginal.com
If you’ve ever looked around your dinner table and asked, “Why can’t we all just get along?” we’ve found the solution. For over 25 years, Ron Inverso and his staff at this casual Italian have set a place at the table for everyone from spaghetti and meatball-loving kids to gluten-free grandmas, from Paleo dads to vegetarian cousins. Like choosing a favorite child, diners struggle to name just one favorite dish but mussels, cheesesteaks, butternut squash ravioli consistently make the list. The popular Ovals—oval pizza dough, interesting topping combos—garner praise. So does Ron’s long-standing commitment to scratch cooking with clean ingredients. The school night value menu (lasagna, chicken parm and more) means eating out with family won’t break the bank.

Place to Feel Irish

Kildare’s Irish Pub
18 W. Gay St., West Chester
610-431-0770 / KildaresPubWC.com
The decor is thoroughly Irish, as it should be, given the expense Dave Magrogan went to importing it from the Emerald Isle. Under the new ownership since 2015 of an authentic Irishman, Dane Gray, and wife/chef Stephanie, the place feels true. Kildare’s continues to attract pub fans with Irish specialties on the menu, plenty of beer, and the conviviality that’s made pubs a community institution across the pond. Lots of classics fill the menu—boxty, shepherd’s pie, colcannon, corned beef and cabbage—plus Stephanie adds imaginative specials to please those looking for something different. You’ll find a mix of college students, locals and folks who enjoy a little bit of craic.

Pop-Ups

The Creamery
401 Birch St., Kennett Square
484-732-7040 / KennettCreamery.com
Cross a German biergarten with the best outdoor party and you get the feel of the pop-up community gathering in Kennett Square this past summer, Thursdays through Sundays. A former 1902 creamery and cannery site was transformed with upcycled furniture and fixtures (wood pallets, fan-vent lighting) into a place to enjoy beer (Yards, Sly Fox, Victory’s Summer Love, of course), wine and cocktails, sample the best of local food trucks (Cow and the Curd, Hoods BBQ) and meet neighbors for conversation and lawn games (corn hole, bocce, giant jenga). The Creamery reopened in December to host the Holiday Village Market and will be back Spring 2017. #bringbackthecreamery2017 worked!

Constitution Yards
308 Justison St., Wilmington
302-407-5192 / ConstitutionYards.com
If you build it, they will come … to the pop-up urban waterfront destination on Wilimington’s Riverwalk that ran from late June through October. Called Constitution Yards, with a nod to the former shipping yards, this eat-drink-relax outdoor space mixed food, drink and outdoor games to entertain all ages—sandboxes to whiffle ball. Choose from 10 draft beers, 15 others in cans, plus wine, frozen drinks and spirits, while eating salads, sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, ribs, burgers and more served from repurposed shipping containers under strings of lights. This pop-up was granted extended life for 2017, though it morphs into an ice skating rink in winter.

Pre- & Post-Theater

Merchant Bar
426 N. Market St., Wilmington
302-543-5574 / MerchantBarWilmington.com
The lively theater scene in Wilmington deserves a lively bar, and got one in Merchant Bar—an extension of Bryan Sikora’s La Fia across Market Street. With a hip lower Manhattan vibe and a mix of business suits and neighborhood regulars, the crowd is drawn by upscale cocktails and a chef-driven menu of creative small plates and boards. Tuna poke fills the trendy spot, while Korean BBQ buns fill the belly. We love the antipasto board with its assortment of delights. Whether you sip a Bullit-based old fashioned or a fashionable Negroni, you’ll feel a bit more sophisticated and satisfied as you head to the theater. Come back post-performance for an original cocktail creation.

Pairings Cigar Bar
12 W. State St., Media
610-565-1895 / PairingsCigarBar.com
We’ve seen wine pairing, beer pairing, and now in Media we have Pairings Cigar Bar, a full service spot for all things cigars—boxes or sticks (individual cigars), cutters, cases and humidors, though no Cubans ... yet. Sink into the comfy leather sofas with a view of the passing parade along State Street as you puff on your selection and sip a post-performance drink just a few blocks from The Media Theatre. Choose from creative cocktails, hard liquor, beer, coffee and espresso, too, plus nibbles. Or stop in, get some expert advice, and take your trophy home to enjoy on your deck—weather permitting. Great new addition!

Salad Inspirations

The Couch Tomato
31 W. Gay St., West Chester
484-887-0241 / TheCouchTomato.com
There’s much to love at this source of things healthy and tasty—warming soups of the day (spicy butternut bisque), signature sandwiches (perky turkey), artisan pizzas or design you own. No surprise the salads are sensational. Small salads, large salads (wish they had Seinfeld’s Big Salad), salads in wraps. Choose your green (romaine, iceberg or organic spinach, arugula or kale), add the themed fixings—Southwestern, Food Pyramid (chicken, strawberry, cucumber, candied pecans, mozzarella), La Fiesta, Hail Caesar, Santorini, Fresh Pear-Fection, Where’s Waldorf. Or use the Craft Your Salad option to choose everything—from chicken to vegan cheese, toppings from apple to tortilla chips, and then add dressing. Even self-proclaimed non-saladarians are converts.

Savory Pies

Nomadic Pies
132 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-857-7600 / NomadicPies.com
Call her the Pie Maven or better yet the Pied Piper. Wherever owner Molly Johnston offers her savory pies, we follow, forks in hand. We buy them for dinner at local farmers’ markets. We sign up for pie and beer flight fun at Kennett Brewing Company. And every chance we get, we stop in for a slice at Molly’s cozy Kennett Square storefront. Why? Her chicken potpie and chicken curry pie warm even the coldest heart. Her steak, mushroom and cheese rivals that Philly icon. Her roasted winter veggie and cheesy potato pies … comfort between the crusts. Molly is always experimenting and welcomes suggestions. Ours? More pie, more pie, more pie.

Sips & Snacks

Bistro on Bridge
212 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-935-7141 / BistroOnBridge.com
When the street scene presents an on-going parade, your job is to find the best seat—especially with 60+ degree days in November and December. To join Phoenixville’s lively crowd on Bridge Street, arrive early, select a sofa or table at Bistro on Bridge and order up drinks and great snacks. You’ll be in the middle of the action as you enjoy over 30 draft beers, 130 beers in bottles and a menu designed for sampling—small plates, apps, pizza, quesadillas, sandwiches and café specials. Happy hour, Monday through Friday, makes a great end to the workday.

Small Plates

Black Powder Tavern
1164 Valley Forge Rd., Wayne
610-293-9333 / BlackPowderTavern.com
When we want to snack in the footsteps of our forefathers, we snag a table at this historic tavern. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette rendezvoused here during the American Revolution. Stagecoach travelers stopped on their way west. But the small plate menu is decidedly modern with influences from every part of the great American melting pot. Crowd favorites include goat cheese polenta fries accompanied by a spicy harissa sauce, cheesy devils on horseback (Medjool dates stuffed with gorgonzola, wrapped in bacon); calamari with sriracha aoli and sweet spicy tamarind dip; tavern Irish nachos; PEI mussels. A new addition we’re dying to try: spicy short rib tater tots. At happy hours and game days small plates are a real bargain.

Smoothies

Jaco Juice & Taco Bar
8 W. Gay St., West Chester
610-436-4177 / JacoJuiceAndTaco.com
International House of Smoothies Jamba Juice has nothing on local Jaco Taco, now expanded to Media and Washington, D.C. Their healthy elixirs include smoothies that far surpass what you can whip up at home. Names like Yolo (banana, strawberry, kale, peanut butter, milk, agave), Hipster (banana, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, Nutella, milk, graham) and Brooklyn (pineapple, kale, avocado, cardamom, almond milk, fresh lemon juice, agave) point to the prime demographic. But other options like Island in the Sun (banana, pineapple, mango, fresh OJ, agave), Blueberry Hill juice (blueberry, pineapple, kale, coconut water) and the cure-your-winter-cold C-Baby (coconut water, OJ, lemon juice, turmeric, ginger, cayenne, agave), show they share the love.

Sushi Burrito

Hai Street Kitchen & Co.
KOP Mall, 160 N. Gulph Rd., King of Prussia
610-290-8576 / HaiStreetKitchen.com
Fusion cuisine created the sushi burrito—think portable sushi to eat on the go. Or as Buzzfeed quipped—when a mommy sushi and daddy burrito love each other very much ... Hai Street’s concept lets you watch the assembly of locally sourced ingredients rolled into a ridiculously large roll. Choose white or brown rice, protein (chili citrus pork, chicken, shrimp tempura, Tatami salmon), add sauce (teriyaki, ginger miso, spicy mayo), toppings (fresh veggies, pickled jicama, papaya, cabbage), top with crunch. Deep fry it into a giant egg roll? Zagat anointed Hai Street to the top 10 hottest new restaurants in Philly. We can enjoy this nosh at the KOP Mall and Whole Foods.

Sweet Somethings

La Baguette Magique
202 W. Market St., West Chester
610-620-4729 / MagicBaguette.com
It’s not just crusty loaves of bread that embody the magic conjured up in Catherine Session’s French bakery. In keeping with a tradition of creating jewels of sublime sweetness, Baguette Magique displays behind its glass showcases samples of transporting tastiness, aka the stuff that satisfies the sweet tooth and the soul with delicacy, not butter cream. Though some may consider the heavenly chocolate croissant dessert, we say try the mousse au chocolat for a taste of Paris. Or tarts, tarts, tarts—apple, lemon, pear, chocolate, nuts and caramel. Chou à la crème are better than American cream puffs, while the madeleines make you remember …

Vegetarian Options

sweetgreen
KOP Mall, 350 Mall Blvd., King of Prussia
610-312-0195 / sweetgreen.com
Few are the Venn diagrams where “mall” and “healthy vegetarian food” overlap. But we’ve found one! Open since last summer, this fast-casual offers made-before-your-eyes salads and bowls brimming with local, seasonal ingredients. Year-round salads include Spicy Sabzi (spinach, kale sesame tofu, quinoa in carrot chili vinaigrette) and a kale Caesar that comes with or without chicken. In summer, look for peach-goat cheese and in winter, apple, pear and cheddar salad. Warm bowls start with wild rice or quinoa and build from there. The Shroomami highlights a warm portobello mix, raw beets and kale tossed with miso sesame ginger dressing. Generous portions + healthy ingredients = energy to shop ‘til you drop.

Very Vegan

Gangster Vegan Organics 2
6 Gay St., Phoenixville
610-616-0000 / GangsterVegan.com
Sprouted in Phoenixville during VegFest in September, the second location of Norristown’s Gangster Vegan Organics serves up serious vegan fare—no gluten, soy, dairy, meat, refined sugars. Yet former hip-hop t-shirt designer Vinny DePaul can turn out a mean orange creamsicle cheesecake and zucchini “crab” cakes. Pickup, delivery and eat-in from their selection of juices to cleanse, detox and enjoy (great names like Truth Juice and Flava in Ya Ear); shots, smoothies, raw food (Kalefornia Love Kale salad; do the right thing raw pizza with sunflower cheese, ODB Burger made of raw broccoli), desserts (superfood balls) and snacks (you guessed it, kale chips). Go vegan or go home!