Article Index

BEST CUISINES

 

Best American Continental

The Farmhouse Restaurant at Loch Nairn
514 McCue Rd., Avondale
610-268-2235 / LNGolf.com

It’s fitting that great American fare is served in this charming 18th-century farmhouse setting out in the country. (It’s on a golf course, but the country setting predominates.) Within minutes of talking about The Farmhouse, someone will mention the renowned crab cakes—so memorable some folks won’t order them anywhere else. There’s a prix fixe menu ($39) and the dinner menu covers much-loved classics—fillet mignon, duck, rack of lamb, even surf and turf. In homage to its Avondale location, there are mushrooms—in the soup or a sauté appetizer. Plus classic desserts, like cheesecake, strawberry shortcake and bananas foster. A setting for many celebrations, including weddings.


Best Asian Fusion

Nectar
1091 Lancaster Ave.
610-725-9000 / TasteNectar.com

A towering 18-foot silkscreen Buddah presides over the nexus of many worlds at Nectar, where acclaimed chef Patrick Feury’s cuisine is Asian-inspired with French accents. The ambiance: NYC hip meets Main Line elegance. It’s difficult to choose from the extensive menu (many dishes beg to be shared), but knowledgeable waitstaff provide dead-on recommendations. Edamame dumplings star in Dim Sum bento box for two. Sushi, sashimi and rolls are uber-fresh. Anything with lobster—fried rice, pad Thai and wok lobster (B-52s fans, this one’s for you!)—fetches compliments as does wok chili tenderloin of beef and grilled filet. Two outstanding desserts: mini-donuts with three dipping sauces and Chester County artisan cheese plate. In 2015, Nectar made Philly Mag’s Best Suburban Restaurant list while its wine list, which includes many PA bottles, earned Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. We raise our glasses in agreement!


Sovana BistroBest Bistro

Sovana Bistro
696 Unionville Rd., Kennett Square
610-444-5600 / SovanaBistro.com

There’s bistro in the name, Italian influences throughout, and a clear allegiance to farm-to-table seasonality at this longtime favorite outside Kennett Square. Sovana Bistro has evolved from a local BYOB to a restaurant with a serious rep to lure city folk to this rustic, chic spot with a full bar. The menu hits all the right notes: roasted half chicken with truffle whipped butternut squash purée, toasted quinoa, lemongrass-ginger jus; harrisa skirt steak with pumpkin cous-cous, garlic spinach, sunny side up egg; lamb tacos; date and chorizo pizza; plus sides of crispy Brussels sprouts, hand-stretched burratta, truffled Canestri mac ‘n’ cheese. A perfect capper: the diverse and delicious artisanal cheese plate, in flights of three or five.


Best BBQ

Jimmy’s BBQ
309 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
610-879-8805 / JimmysBBQ.com

You’ll enjoy it most if you pull up in a pickup truck. Since 2009, it’s become a Main Line institution. Bacon, pulled chicken or pork, wings, sausages, brisket, salmon, ribs, all smoked for hours and hours. Juicy, tender, smokey. You’ll swear the brisket is the best thing you’ve ever had, until you eat the fall-off-the-bone ribs, and then you’ll fall in love with another taste. Savor with Jimmy Mog’s own dry rub, plus your choice of sauces: sweet, vinegar and hot. On the side, add mac ‘n’ cheese, smoked beans, cole slaw … about eight authentic, no-nonsense, good-tasting choices. Maybe eight is enough.


Best Burger

Red Star Craft House
146 Exton Square Mall, Exton
610-524-5893 / RedStarCraftHouse.com

Go for the apps—fried pickles, edamame dumpling, crispy Thai calamari. Or for the beer—over 100 on tap, from Oregon’s Rogue Dead Guy Ale to Maryland’s Heavy Seas Peg Leg. Or a wood-fired pizza, some tacos or wings. Our recommendation is go for the burger. Red meat! We like the Smokehouse Burger: the pulled pork and cheddar fried onion topping off the hearty charcoaled beef, juicy in the center. Or the grass-fed bison burger with brie? Veggie burger with quinoa and purple rice? For the hard-core, go for the Red Star Burger, with scrapple, cheese and fried egg. Worry about your cholesterol tomorrow. Choose the gluten-free option for balance?


Best Chinese New Year’s

Margaret Kuo’s
190 Lancaster Ave., Malvern / 610-647-5488
4-6 W. State St., Media / 610-892-0115
175 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne / 610-688-7200
MargaretKuo.com

Mark February 8, 4714 on your calendar to start the year of the monkey (known to be witty, intelligent, with a magnetic personality), but make your reservations now to enjoy the multi-course celebration at Margaret Kuo’s. Long the spirit behind the Chinese New Year’s parade in Media, the Kuos spread the tradition by hosting special feasts, a 40-year tradition! Last year’s gourmet dinners featured seven or eight courses, with optional wine pairing (BYOB in Malvern): a selection of hors d’oevres, special soup, and courses featuring Peking duck, lobster, fish and filet courses, ending with traditional New Year’s sweets. All with special symbolism. Expand your cultural horizons.


Best French Cuisine

Sips Bistro & Bar
400 Bridge St., Phoenixville
484-924-9721 / SipsPhoenixville.com

France meets Phoenixville at this welcoming bistro owned by French native, Fabien Chaigneau, former GM of Brasserie Perrier. Whether seated at the antique wood bar, by the outdoor patio’s fire pit, or in the aptly named Streets of France brick dining room, you feel at home. The classics draw raves: soupe a l’onion gratinee, seared foie gras, charcuterie and fromage plates, steak frites. And adoration is the only word to describe how diners feel about the escargot in garlic butter, crème brûlée and all-you-can-eat mussels on Mondays. With its Euro-centric wine list, happy hours and BYOB on Sunday evenings, Sips guarantees que personne ne laisse soif (that no one leaves thirsty).

La Baguette Magique
202 W. Market St., West Chester
610-620-4729 / MagicBaguette.com

Oh là là! Try out your high school French or wax nostalgic about that boulangerie on the Left Bank as you step inside La Baguette Magique, the answer to local Francophiles’ prayers. Owner/baker Catherine Session is living her childhood dream with the March opening of her authentic French bakery/café specializing in hand-made, traditional breads and old-fashioned tarts and treats. Crusty baguettes and daily bread specials, flaky croissants (love the chocolate), luscious quiches, tasty croque monsieurs, pots of mousse au chocolat—oui! Baked fresh daily, from the best ingredients, treats like the fall tart special (buttery tart crust, orange marmelade, almond cream, meringue almond, candied orange) are displayed in glass cases like the jewels they are.


Best Indian Cuisine

Shere-E-Punjab
208 W. State St., Media / 610-891-0400
301 Byers Dr., Glen Mills / 484-841-6345
5059 State Rd., Drexel Hill / 484-452-8041
ShereEPunjab.com

So good there are three locations—Glen Mills, Drexel Hill and Media, which expanded its space to include a bar. Off Baltimore Pike in a mall, the Glen Mills spot delights when Chef Zail Singh Shergill greets us and we spot the turbans of several diners and the soft undercurrent of conversations in an Indian dialect. We settle in with orders of pashawari naan—light, fluffy, from a traditional clay oven—and lamb samosas—perfectly crisped—before moving to the main dish: chilly chicken, the chef’s specialty, and shrimp vindaloo. The chicken, marinated, cooked as in northwest India, is superb. The vindaloo is wonderfully spiced; the shrimp are plump, succulent. All enough to draw you back again. And again.

Bangles Indian Cuisine
889 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown
610-269-9600 / BanglesIndianCuisine.com

Downingtown is the dining destination for dosas now that Craig LaBan dubbed the onion rava dosa one of 2014’s “15 Best Things I Ate.” Calling it “hauntingly good,” he raved about its semolina-rice batter scented with curry leaves and ginger. That’s just one item on the six-page dinner menu at this upscale BYOB Indian eatery in the Ashbridge Shopping Center. Some say the southern Indian dishes are stronger, but there’s so much to love that fans keep returning and sampling. Lunch buffets, a three-course chef’s tasting menu ($29) and all your favorite versions of paneer, samosas, biriyanis, tandori dishes and more. Options for vegetarians and lamb-lovers alike.


Best Italian Cuisine

Tonino’s Pizza and Pasta
235 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
610-240-9566 / ToninosPizzaAndPasta.com

Hidden gem” gets tossed around with reckless abandon, but for this two-year-old, family-run BYOB, the phrase fits. Yes—the restaurant is in a plain-Jane shopping center, but the pizza, homemade pasta, paninis and traditional Italian-American dishes shine like Sophia Loren. Pizzas come in two styles (thin-crusted, round Napolitana and thick-crusted, square Sicilian) by the slice or pie. Salmon scampi, pappardelle with Bolognese sauce, and special Sunday ragu—meatball, sausage, stuffed braciole in hearty tomato sauce—are why we’re thrilled the Scotto family set up shop in Malvern for dining and catering.

La Verona
114 E. State St., Kennett Square
610-444-2244 / LaVeronaPA.com

After strolling through Longwood Gardens, take your appetite to this northern Italian favorite in downtown Kennett. In winter, we like a fireside table, the ideal setting for tucking into mushroom gratin, house-made burrata salad and fried calamari, all popular starters. For entrées, try bronzino or house-made ravioli (spinach-mushroom or lobster-filled when offered). There’s a full bar or BYO (only 1-2 bottles) for a $7 corkage fee. Live music on Thursdays and Saturdays.


Best Japanese Cuisine

Lily’s Asian Restaurant
104 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-925-3700 / LilySushiandGrill.com

The name spans lots of cooking styles, but the Japanese dishes shine here. By now everyone in Chester County and beyond knows of Lily’s all-you-can-eat sushi Tuesdays, and rightly so. Don’t forget to sample the sashimi, which benefits from the same freshness and care, and the sushi and sashimi bento boxes for lunch get raves. For variety, try the teriyaki, teppanyaki and hibachi portions of the menu with chicken, steak, salmon and scallops as options. And who doesn’t love tempura? Yes, there are Chinese and Thai dishes, too, so you can get that bang, bang shrimp or pad thai. Kids menu and BYOB. What’s not to love?


Best Mexican Restaurant

Más Mexicali
102 E. Market St., West Chester
610-918-6280 / MasMexicali.com

Unless it’s winter, or rainy or worse, we like to head for the roof, order one of about a dozen margaritas, and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of downtown West Chester. On the way to the top, you’ll pass the sounds and scents of Mexico—sizzling fajitas, tacos and burritos, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo tempt us. After sunset, we decend to the Cantina and sway to la musica. The steak a la tampiquena and Baja-style paella are excellent, flavorful and delicious, worth sharing and savouring. After dinner, we head for the Tequila Bar and Velvet Lounge, with the largest tequila selection in the area. Y sera una muy linda noche.


Best Budget Mexican Food

El Comalito Mexican Taqueria
2 N. 5 Points Rd., West Chester
610-701-6456 / ElComalitoTaqueria.com

When we bid good-bye to Billy Bugers on Five Points Road in West Chester, we didn’t know we’d say hola to our new favorite authentic, homestyle Mexican restaurant at that same location. With a menu primarily in Spanish (Facebook, too), El Comalito is run by the folks from the former Don Gabriel’s, also of West Chester. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a la cart or platters—$12 for steak fajitas with beans and rice—plus weekend specials (beef tripe stew), this cash-only spot offers all the classics you crave. In fact, there’s a menu section labeled antojtos (cravings).


Favorite Pizza

Vecchia Pizzeria
249 Bridge St., Phoenixville / 610-933-1355
134 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne / 484-580-6135
Facebook.com/Vecchia-Pizzeria

Do a few things very well. That’s the philosophy behind the short menu and addictive pizzas at Vecchia’s, a place we love so much our car headed there on its own even when fire closed them down most of the summer. Wood-fired Neapolitan pies, thin blistered crust, perfect toppings imported from Italy. Chef Frank Nattle built a devoted following in Phoenixville before opening the North Wayne Ave. BYOB in 2014. Pick the classic regina margherita, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the covaccino, piled with arugula, prosciutto and shaved parmigiano. We never have room for the Nutella dessert pizza and have yet to snag a $5 margherita lunch special, but it’s still our pizza paradise.


Best Prix Fixe Menu

Twelves Grill & Café
10 Exchange Pl., West Grove
610-869-4020 / TwelvesGrill.com

A $12 prix fixe lunch menu on the 12th of each month marks the significance of that number to Tim and Kristin Smith, chef and owners of this BYOB in a converted 1880s bank building in West Grove. (Hint about 12s: birthdays, anniversary, first date.) Both Smiths rose through the best area restaurant before opening this one in 2008. Now their $10 prix fixe menu for kids and $25 prix fixe for adults on Tuesday—Thursday make a visit warranted. The cheese plate, portobello fries, quinoa and butternut squash salad, oysters, monkfish and grass-fed local beef burger get praise. Honoring all local foods, they waive the corkage for local wines.


Best Sandwich

Westtown Meats & Deli
1030 Old Wilmington Pk., West Chester
610-696-5588 / WesttownMeatMarket.com

Maybe it’s the beef sliced right on the premises, maybe it’s the fresh Amoroso rolls. Whatever the reason, fans agree this off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop operation turns out cheesesteaks to rival Philly’s. Three more reasons to visit: hoagies, burgers and anything—roasted turkey, chicken salad, honey ham—on the white sandwich bread baked fresh every day at Westtown. Look for daily specials on Facebook, including inventive combinations like the burger dog (just what it sounds like) and jalapeño cheddar pork burgers. Still hungry? Add a side of cheese fries and homemade brownie for dessert.


Best Shawarma

Desert Rose
305 W. State St., Media
484-442-8012 / DesertRoseMediaPA.com

Jason and Nataii invite you in for a blending of Moroccan, Israeli and Iraqi food. Get the shawarma, even if you’re embarrassed to pronounce the object of your desires—a massive house-made pita filled with hummus, tahini and other fillings—like chicken, tomato, cucumber, eggplants. Worth a special stop in Media. The falafel also has its fans. Ah, if only the nations would get along as well ….


Best Seafood

Harry’s Fish Market & Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington
302-777-1500 / HarrySeafoodGrill.com

What makes us wild about Harry’s? The energetic vibe, views of Wilmington’s Cristina River, and fresh, fresh, fresh seafood. While the menu is updated daily, we always find a variety of East and West Coast oysters, inventive ceviches, sashimi and fish and shellfish entrées with seasonal sides. On Sunday, a.k.a. Lobster Day, enjoy a 1½ lb. Main lobster with New England clam chowder and apple crisp. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, savor half-price oysters. With lunch, dinner and tapas menus, this upscale, casual spot is ideal for dining before a show at nearby Delaware Theater Company, after a brisk walk along the Riverfront—or any time you crave lobster mashed potatoes.


Best Small Plates

Black Powder Tavern
1164 Valley Forge Rd., Wayne
610-293-9333 / BlackPowderTavern.com

This historic tavern boasts it’s been “raising spirits since 1746.” The craft American fare ensures the mission continues. A happy hour menu—served 5 to 7 and 9 to 10—plus small plates on the lunch and dinner menus cover lots of territory. Polenta fries, cheesy devils on horseback (gorgonzola stuffed dates wrapped in bacon), and mussels, both traditional and “revolutionary” (code for spicy) are favorites. A strong craft beer list—featured beers, rotating choices on tap, and a bounty of bottles—specialty cocktails, and a wine list ranging from bright crisp whites to rich velvety reds help you savor the flavors.


Best Steakhouse

Stockyard Inn Steakhouse
1147 Lititz Pk., Lancaster
717-394-7975 / StockyardInn.com

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life you will crave a steak. Red meat done well—and not well done. When that time comes, we recommend a drive to Lancaster County, to one of the country’s oldest continuously operating steakhouses with 60 years under the Fournaris family. In a farmhouse once owned by President Buchanan, the Stockyard Inn is an elegant setting for savoring steak—filet mignon or petite filet with pinot noir reduction, New York strip or Delmonico in demi-glace, filet tips or sirloin, all grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Wine Spectator-approved list, exceptional crab cakes and legendary cheesecake. The real deal.


Best Sushi

Bluefin Sushi & Asian Cuisine
1102 Baltimore Pk., Glen Mills
610-459-2055 / BlueFinGlenMills.com

This small, lovely place in a shopping center continues to serve up excellent, fresh fish artistically presented. Some say such fresh fish, offered in good size pieces, has no need for extra sauces and seasoning. Others enjoy the visual display and tantalizing combinations. Like the Spicy Girl Roll (spicy tuna, salmon, white fish, avocado, cream cheese, deep fried with eel sauce, spicy mayo), Rainbow Roll (crabmeat, cucumber, avocado, tuna, salmon, white fish, with tobiko), or Rich Man’s Roll (spicy crunch salmon, avocado, salmon, special sauce, tobiko). Don’t miss the lunch special of five pieces of sushi and a California roll for $10.


Best Taco

Jaco Juice & Taco Bar
8 W. Gay St., West Chester
610-436-4177 / BacoJuiceAndTaco.com

With taco in its name, a menu with seven regular choices and a shout-out in November by Philly Mag for top 20 area taco places, Jaco Taco (formerly Baco Taco) rings our bell for tacos. Savor specials like buffalo shrimp tacos, favorites like the fresh fish (not fried) and pulled pork, or two veggie options (one even has kale)—all with a variety of tasty accompaniments, including tomatillo salsa and roasted poblano crema. Fresh tasting and satisfying. Add sides of rice and beans. Or match with a fresh juice or smoothie—a Yolo or Hipster? Bueno.


Best Vegetarian Options

Raw Can Roll Café
767 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
484-580-8454 / RawCanRollCafe.com

Taste the flavorful dishes and juices at this teeny-tiny café near Whole Foods Devon, and you’ll drop your assumptions about vegetarian and vegan like a hot, organic potato. Eighty percent of the menu is raw, twenty percent cooked, and all items are vegan—most are almost entirely organic, kosher and gluten-free. Go for fresh juices and smoothies, then stay for Mexican taco salad, mock chicken salad and pad thai with zucchini “noodles.” One regular lavished praise on the Kosmic Kale Salad, while others gushed over the Thai spring rolls with ginger peanut sauce. Many vegan restaurants fail dessert, but Raw Can Roll scores with peanut butter ganache and coconut nutty brownies.


Best Cooking Classes

Kitchen Workshop in Paoli
21 Plank Ave., Ste 204, Paoli
610-993-2665 / Kitchen-Workshop.com

Full bellies and belly laughs mark the hands-on cooking classes at The Kitchen Workshop. Gathered around the kitchen’s island, up to 12 students chop, dice and knead while owner Art Roman peppers easy-to-follow instructions with amusing anecdotes and good-natured ribbing. Classes come in a variety of flavors. Some focus on skills (Knife Skills, the always popular Boot Camp). Others offer international tastes—Mexican and Thai to Croatian and African with Global Street Food for adventurous omnivores. In a dinner-movie rut? Try couples-only classes. Many lessons end with a family-style feast at the large dining table, and everyone goes home with recipes—and maybe a cookbook from Roman’s extensive collection.


Best Local Cookbook

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
237 St. James Pl., Philadelphia
215-625-8800 / ZahavRestaurant.com

Like the best novels, the best cookbooks have memorable characters, a distinctive voice and strong sense of place. Zahav, by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, is that kind of cookbook. Threaded through recipes for mezze (small dishes), borekas (flaky filled pastries), and salatim (vegetables) are stories of Solomonov’s life and family told with a candor we’ll remember long after closing the nearly 400-page book. Whether he’s waxing poetic on Philadelphia restaurants, the Israeli love of barbecue, or tehina (that sesame paste at the heart of hummus and so many Israeli dishes), he reminds us that food—like life—is always evolving.