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Frommer's best bets for dining in Philadelphia

Frommer's best bets for dining in Philadelphia
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Best Spot for a Romantic Dinner: The appropriately named Pasion!, 211 S. 15th St. (tel. 215/875-9895), recently doubled in size but kept its intimate, glowing ambience, along with its terrific South American fusion cuisine. Warm and exotic.

Best Spot for a Business Lunch: Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 W. Rittenhouse Sq. (tel. 215/546-9000), offers a three-course, $26 prix-fixe lunch that is stunningly good in its ethereal but unstuffy dining room. Your dining partners will be the city's power brokers, and the menu of the day might include ragout of lobster and white asparagus or a delightful spring lamb shank with parsley and lemon.

Best Spot for a Celebration: If you have a special occasion to celebrate -- even if it's just being in Philadelphia -- the newly redecorated Le Bec-Fin, 1523 Walnut St. (tel. 215/567-1000), is the proper choice if you crave a lavish setting. Georges Perrier's prix-fixe menu has an international reputation, and those dessert carts are unforgettable. Advance reservations are a must.

Best Decor: Chic, elegant and modern, there is no more beautiful dining space in Philly than Striped Bass at 1500 Walnut St. (tel. 215/732-4444), the new American restaurant in a turn-of-the-20th-century brokerage house. Its triple-height ceiling, marble columns, velvet banquettes, retro-glittery light fixtures, and intimate bar define good style in Philadelphia.

Best View: Sitting on the deck of the Moshulu, 411 S. Columbus Blvd. (tel. 215/923-2500), a 1904 "tall ship" that's been converted into a roomy, luxe French-Asian restaurant, might sound touristy, but in reality, it's utterly delightful. Even in the winter, the ship's indoor dining rooms offer lovely Delaware River and Society Hill views. And in summer, the breeze is as cooling as one of its 20 wines by the glass.

Best Wine List: Two restaurants owned by the Sena family offer impressive wine selections: La Famiglia, 8 S. Front St. (tel. 215/922-2803), has one of the finest cellars in the world according to Wine Spectator magazine. One block north, the Ristorante Panorama (tel. 215/922-7800),, in the Penn's View Inn at Front and Market streets (tel. 215/922-7800),, is a charming Italian trattoria that has the largest single wine-dispensing and -preserving machine in the world, with 120 different bottles available by the glass, or as a 3-oz. "taste." Order a "flight" -- five glasses grouped around a theme. Flights fall in the $14 to $50 range.

Best Value: Dining at the mod-Deco bar at Brasserie Perrier at 1619 Walnut St. (tel. 215/568-3000), with its $16 steak frites or incomparable roasted chicken (also $16), means you're savoring cuisine overseen by the city's most famous chef, Georges Perrier of Le Bec-Fin. The restaurant behind this colorful lounge offers haute-bistro food at higher prices, with entrees in the $35 range.

Best Value, Fixed-Price Meal: There's nothing like Le Bec-Fin's $45 lunch at 1523 Walnut St. (tel. 215/567-1000), for classic French..

Best for Kids: Kids love the burgers, grilled cheeses, soups, and other classic American fare at Marathon Grill, 1839 Spruce St. (tel. 215/731-0800), a former diner turned into a stylish modern space that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner (plus snacks all afternoon). Parents also love the casual, romping-permitted vibe of the place, plus the full bar and upscale side of the menu, with its grilled fish and savory pastas.

Best Date Restaurant: For a classy bistro with contemporary fare in Old City, reserve a deuce at Fork, 306 Market St. (tel. 215/625-9425). Friday Saturday Sunday, 261 S. 21st St. (tel. 215/546-4232), has been a classic, intimate date spot since the 1970s, and boasts consistent fare, glowing lighting, and great value.

Best American Cuisine: Using local ingredients from Amish and Bucks Country boutique farmers, incorporating elements of new American cuisine without the annoying flourishes, Fork at 306 Market St. (tel. 215/625-9425) is as popular for brunch as it is for a late-night snack. In this warm, sophisticated dining room in a former warehouse, dine on pan-seared salmon or spicy hanger steak.

Best Chinese Cuisine: A reserved former librarian, born in inner Mongolia and raised in northern China and Taiwan, Susanna Foo quietly built up a national reputation with her eponymous Susanna Foo, 1512 Walnut St. (tel. 215/545-2666). Her innovative mix of East and West relies on reductions rather than on dashes of soy sauce and ginger, and skillets and saucepans rather than a wok. The dim sum -- appetizer-size portions -- is a city favorite.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

Best Continental Cuisine: The Fountain Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, 1 Logan Sq., between 18th Street and Franklin Parkway (tel. 215/963-1500), is consistently rated best in town for understated, complex versions of classic Continental dishes. Since the food is so uniformly excellent, my advice is to go with the chef's choices on the fixed-price menu.

Best French Cuisine: Right now, it's the serene Lacroix in the Rittenhouse Hotel, where the exquisite menu is rooted in classical French cooking, but benefits from Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix's modern technique.

Best Italian Cuisine: Philadelphia must have 1,000 Italian restaurants, but the Saloon, 750 S. 7th St. (tel. 215/627-1811), is a dignified, elegant place for fine pasta and steak that draws everyone in town sooner or later.

Best Seafood: The best in town is Striped Bass, 1500 Walnut St. (tel. 215/732-4444), located on the most chic dining block in the city. The dinner scene in The Sixth Sense was filmed here. For those on a budget, Philly's McCormick & Schmick's, 1 S. Broad St. (tel. 215/568-6888), part of a chain of seafood restaurants, serves fresh fish at affordable prices, in a clubby environment.

Best Steakhouse: With a half-dozen great choices, including the Capital Grille and the Palm, the top choice is the Prime Rib, 1701 Locust St. (tel. 215/772-1701), offering great porterhouse served with fresh shredded horseradish. The ambience is a timeless 1940s-style place -- jazz combos and formally clad waiters included.

Best Burgers and Beer: In this case, bigger is better. The Independence Brew Pub, at 1150 Filbert St., right under Reading Terminal Headhouse (tel. 215/922-4292), has hundreds of seats, all happily occupied with diners chowing on delicious thin-crust pizzas and spectacular sundaes. An on-site brewery produces five different ales, porters, and lagers fresh each day. No reservations for parties under six.

Best Pizza: Marra's, 1734 E. Passyunk Ave., between Morris and Moore streets (tel. 215/463-9249), in South Philadelphia, has pies with thin crusts and delicious, spicy traditional toppings, baked in brick ovens; enjoy them in old wooden booths.

Best Cheesesteak: A great cheesesteak achieves a certain balance between cheese, meat, onion, and roll, and Jim's Steaks, 400 South St. (tel. 215/928-1911), cooks up a mighty, meaty combo. Line up with the masses on South Street and be sure to specify "with" or "without" onions.

Best Hoagies: Also known as submarines, grinders, or torpedoes, hoagies are what you want on hand as you cheer on the Eagles' latest Super Bowl bid. South Philly's Primo Hoagies, 2043 Chestnut St. (tel. 215/564-1264), have the perfect ratio of dense, chewy roll, spicy meat, wonderful oregano, and oil.

Best Desserts: Weekends, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 10 Avenue of the Arts (tel. 215/523-8000), offers a dessert buffet in its grand lobby, and this wonderfully excessive spread of 40 desserts has become a popular way to end a Friday or Saturday evening downtown (8pm-midnight). Priced at $19 per person, you may want to skip dinner altogether and save stomach space for tarte Tatin and chocolate gâteau.

Best Breakfast: The Down Home Diner at Reading Terminal Market (tel. 215/627-1955), open from 7am, has wonderful blueberry pancakes, fresh eggs with garlic grits, and a breakfast "pizza" with sausage biscuits, smoked cheddar, and tomato. All ingredients are fanatically organic, from small-scale producers wherever possible. Lunch has its charms, too, with meatloaf, black-eyed pea and ham-hock soup, and pecan pie. The vintage jukebox plays great old American tunes.

Best Brunch: Nearly every restaurant offers Sunday brunch, ranging from standard bagels with spreads to a full brunch menu. The White Dog Café, 3420 Sansom St. (tel. 215/386-9224), in West Philadelphia, swings both ways, offering everything from simple breakfast dishes to elaborate late-morning feasts in a completely comfortable, unpretentious environment.

Best People-Watching: Beautiful types head to Washington Square, 210 W. Washington Sq. (tel. 215/592-7787), the sophisticated American restaurant and bar in an Art Deco landmark building, with an outdoor area of tables and banquettes next to a leafy park. Rouge, at 205 S. 18th St. (tel. 215/732-6622), is a bistro with alfresco cafe tables that become the city's most sought-after real estate from May through September. If you want to spot a celebrity (Cameron Diaz and Mel Gibson both dined here), head for another of the Stephen Starr-owned operations such as Buddakan, 325 Chestnut St. (tel. 215/574-9440), where a huge gilded Buddha presides over a trendy crowd.

Best Afternoon Tea: The advent of true luxury hotels in Philadelphia has brought with it exquisite afternoon teas served all over town. The Cassatt Lounge at the Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 W. Rittenhouse Sq. (tel. 215/546-9000), has muted, lovely decor, a tucked-in garden, and Mary Cassatt's drawings commemorating her brother's house, which once stood on the site.

Best for Pretheater Dinner: At sleek Bliss, 220 S. Broad St. (tel. 215/731-1100), the eclectic menu features pastas, Asian-inspired dishes, and grilled fare; it is next door to the Kimmel Center and the Merriam. Ernesto's 1521 Café, 1521 Spruce St. (tel. 215/546-1521), is an affordable, modern Italian trattoria with handmade pasta.

Best Outdoor Dining: In Center City, head for 18th Street along Rittenhouse Square, between Walnut and Locust streets: Anywhere you park among Devon Seafood Grill, Rouge, or Potcheen and Bleu (both at the Sheraton Rittenhouse Square,) on that block is great, with Bleu serving the best cuisine.

Best Late-Night Dining: When it's after midnight, I head for Chinatown. Shiao Lan Kung, 930 Race St. (tel. 215/928-0282), while not very impressive in its decor, has wonderful hot pot dishes, and you can order fresh sea bass from the tank.

Best Ice Cream: Bassett's Ice Cream (tel. 215/925-4315), an original 1892 tenant of Reading Terminal Market, has long claimed supremacy for its rich, smooth flavors. Plus they make a terrific milkshake. New Capogiro Gelateria at 109 S. 13th St. (tel. 215/351-0900) hand-makes irresistibly rich Italian gelato in exotic flavors such as Mexican chocolate with chipotle peppers.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed restaurants, visit our online dining index.

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