Alma De Cuba
Against a backdrop of high ceilings, tropical palms and gleaming wood, Alma De Cuba conjures up visions of pre-Castro Cuba in all its scintillating glory. Entrepreneurial executive chef Douglas Rodriguez offers a menu of modern Cuban classics in the making. Red bean soup with pumpkin and chorizo, toasted sweet corn empanada, octopus escabech, and crisp roasted pork with traditional sour orange mojo served with congri and sweet plaintains are just a handful of the house specialties. Head to the atmospheric downstairs lounge for a pre- or post-dinner libation. The mojitos, a creation of rum, sugar, lime juice, seltzer, and fresh mint are outstanding.
Alma de Cuba
1623 Walnut St.
Chef Jose Garces has the magic touch with a host of restaurants from Philadelphia to Chicago to his credit, but his flagship is in the heart of historic Philadelphia. Amada offers more than 60 tapas, small plates that will delight and satisfy. The regional cuisine of Spain is featured in authentic dishes that rival home. Entrees are rich and robust, including the lobster paella served with fava beans and the chicken and chorizo paella served with artichokes and tomato salad. Sides of grilled green onions and parmesan artichoke appeal as do the many hearty dishes direct from the grill—lobster, shrimp, lamb, and chicken. The festive room with its natural wood environment and generous portions all add up to a great time.
217-219 Chestnut St.
You don't have to be hip to fit in at Buddakan, but it helps. Wear black and you'll blend in at this always busy modern Asian fusion eatery, one of the hottest tables in town. Start with a sake martini, and let your server make suggestions. The Pacific prawns with spicy tomato salsa, delicate edamame ravioli, Asian Caesar salad with cashews and broiled Japanese black cod with miso glaze all come highly recommended. Under the watchful eye of a ten-foot high gilded, golden Buddha, a serene presence overlooking the onyx-topped communal table, allow yourself to be enlightened. Be advised: portions are meant for sharing and the food is served family style like at your average Chinatown cafe. But there's nothing average about Buddakan. It's the coolest.
325 Chestnut St.
Downtown Philadelphia's Capital Grille is renowned for its dry aged steaks, oversized portions of fresh seafood and outstanding customer service. The restaurant is decorated ala Ernest Hemingway--lots of dark gleaming woods and animal trophies hanging on the walls. Besides its burgeoning 24-ounce Porterhouse specialty steaks, Capital is also known for its award-winning wine list of more than 400 international offerings. It's not a dining experience designed for the budget-conscious consumer, but it certainly is a satisfying meal of hearty proportions. Don't leave without trying a Stoli-Doli; vodka infused with fresh pineapple is the restaurant's signature cocktail.
1338 Chestnut St.
City Tavern, the city's first fine dining experience, made history as the tavern that fed and watered our founding fathers during the Continental Congress. A modern replication of the original 1773 restaurant right down to the servers' tradtional-style suits, City Tavern serves fine Colonial-era cuisine highlighted by authentic West Indian pepper pot soup, tavern pork pie, stewed rabbit, smoked chicken hash, and pork tenderloin in oatmeal stout. Located in Independence National Historical Park, City Tavern also serves a mean pint of George Washington Ale, an exclusive brew not found anywhere else.
138 South 2nd St.
One of Philly's most nationally acclaimed restaurants, Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons offers a fine and traditionally French dining experience accentuated by gorgeous views of the Swann Fountain in nearby Logan Circle. The restaurant's interior is engulfed in elegance where wainscoting and shades of gold trim accentuate the intimate lighting to bathe each diner in a warming glow. An evening at the Fountain Restaurant has special occasion written all over it, from the arrival of a scallop topped with salty gems of ossetra caviar to the savoring of a creamy Mont Briac cheese paired with a fig tartlet in an aged Balsamic vinegar. Every note of flavor is a pleasant resonance, and the service and surroundings make every single diner feel like a VIP.
One Logan Square
Georges Perrier could have set up shop anywhere, but he opened his world-class French restaurant Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia more than 30 years ago and has stuck with the city ever since. And it's proven the perfect match for the city and the AAA- and Mobil top-rated recipient. Le Bec-Fin is the premier French dining experience from the letter-perfect food to its opulent surroundings of a late 19th century salon setting bathed in marble and silk. A seasonal menu that may include cassolette of snails in a champagne and hazelnut garlic butter sauce, poached salmon in olive oil, veal medallions and sweet bread with celeriac, porcine and white asparagus fricasee natural jus, is served with a European-style attention to detail.
1523 Walnut St.
McCormick & Schmick's
While seafood is always on the menu at McCormick & Schmick's, where more than 30 varieties are featured, your best bet may be to try one of the offbeat seasonal fish featured on the menu, like blue nose bass, wild sturgeon, grey cod, chum salmon, and wild coho salmon, along with tasty cold water shellfish like West coast oysters, Manila clams, Alaskan King and Dungeness crab. A dense, nutty carrot cake is a favorite for dessert and chocolate is ever present--used in cakes, tortes and creamy mousses. Located in the heart of the city directly across from City Hall, M&S serves up a comfy dining experience of comfort foods set within a lofty space and affordably priced menu.
McCormick & Schmick's
1 South Broad St.
Morimoto, Masaharu Morimoto's collaboration with Philly restaurant scene stealer Stephen Starr, delivers East-meets-West cutting edge Japanese fusion cuisine. Morimoto was the executive chef at Nobu in New York as well as a star of the Iron Chef cooking show on the Food Network. Best bet: the omakase, a multi-course chef's tasting menu available for lunch or dinner to experience the many exotic mixtures present in the main dishes. Expect to be surprised by just about everything you find including such stalwarts as Morimoto's tempura and the Kobe shortribs and yuzu poached lobster. Be prepared to be wowed by both presentation and the restaurant's striking design, accented by bamboo ceilings and pale light illumination.
723 Chestnut St.
Morton's of Chicago
Morton's of Chicago is the original; at least it's the oldest continuously operating beefhouse in town. Morton's boasts a large bar with televisions tuned in to sporting events, a clubby dining room that accommodates 100-plus and private dining for up to 100, plus a happening crowd for happy hour. What's not to like when the cart rolls out with your choice of perfectly cut steaks, giant lobsters and chops made to order, then accompanied by sizable side dishes like creamed spinach, one-pound baked potatoes and sauteed wild mushrooms? While the vegetarians and the non-carnivores of the world will be pleased with the non-meat dishes, it's the beef that is the draw here--porterhouse, sirloin, rib-eye, filet mignon. If it's steak, Morton's serves it, all USDA prime and aged at least two weeks.
Morton's of Chicago
1411 Walnut St.
The Jetsons collide with Japanese pop culture at Pod, a tres chic eatery, with its white walls, shiny red foam couches, light-up bar stools, and lizard lounge music. Best of all are the three elevated egg-shaped rooms that let diners change the mood lighting with the push of a button. Then there's the conveyor belt sushi bar where lines of delectable Japanese dishes like miso-glazed sea bass and sesame-crusted scallops slide down and around an oval seating area until they're chosen. The Kaiseki Express menu offers a variety of stir fry and sushi combinations delivered to your table in 15 minutes. The food's good, nouvelle cuisine goes Asian, but the show may be even be better.
3636 Sansom St.
The Prime Rib
If you like your steak with a side of sophistication and glamour, The Prime Rib can oblige. One of the few "jacket required" restaurants in town, this throwback to the '40s is truly where the elite meet to eat meat. A motif of sexy Vargas babes, fresh flowers and ebony paneling, with a jazz trio keeping the beat in the background, all set the stage for a first-class experience that's received top honors in Zagats. The portions are huge and priced in kind. From the garlicky clams casino to the oversized prime rib, perfectly cooked and big enough to feed a family of four, this restaurant is what steakhouse dining for grown-ups is all about.
The Prime Rib
1701 Locust St.
Twenty Manning Grill
The City of Brotherly Love loves to pamper its visitors with unexpected delights, and one of those is the lovely Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. This quiet enclave leads to a number of great restaurant finds, including one of the newer ones, Twenty Manning Grill. This classic bistro exudes charm and sophistication in a comfortable setting that begs diners to stay and relax with its varied menu. Start with a Caprese salad or the raw bar, move on to burgers—all varieties from tuna to bison—or try the daily special entrees. Charbroiled beef sirloin noodles are a house favorite in a restaurant that serves seasonal classic fare. Top it off with a berry cobbler or just relax with the great wine list in the pretty tin-roofed room.
The Prime Rib
261 South 20th St.
There are 35 seats to be had at Vetri, his intimate Italian restaurant located in an historic townhouse that was the original address for Le Bec-Fin. You may wait at least that long in days when calling in a reservation. Vetri's is a charming dining experience that's lent to consistency and courteous service. The seasonal menu features classic and contemporary Italian dishes, Start on spinach gnocci with shaved ricotta or almond torellini with white truffle sauce, then try pappardelle with venison sausage and seckle pears, or pistachio stuffed rack of lamb served with artichoke stew. Continually ranked among the top three or four Philadelphia restaurants, Vetri's offers a surprise around every corner, including the extra virgin olive oil that gives the lavender gelato an extra shimmer.
1312 Spruce St.