Actually, it's 21 steps up for the new-American charmer Helm, which just opened on a bigger stage in Rittenhouse. This week's other tasty stops include a revamped subterranean luncheonette in Center City, a relocated taqueria in South Philly, and a Thai hole-in-the-wall in central Montgomery County. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here.
What's fun to watch? The career path of Lacroix alums Kevin D'Egidio and Michael Griffiths. The chefs first teamed up as restaurateurs only three years ago with Helm, a spare but cozy new-American BYOB, in a then-unlikely storefront on Fifth Street near Thompson (just north of Girard), before adding the offshoot South Helm in Pennsport and a Fishtown bruncherie, Tierce. Less than a month ago, they shut down South Helm in favor of a more visible downtown stage. At Helm Rittenhouse (1901 Chestnut St.), they not only have a larger dining room overlooking the corner of 19th and Chestnut (a 21-step climb from the street into the former Aldine) but a liquor license and a bar with assorted wines, beers, and signature cocktails. Lighting is on the dim side; the noise level is on the din side. (High ceilings.) Chef Jon Adair oversees this kitchen, whose simple, shareable, seasonal plates can be built into meals. The one labeled "corn, chanterelle, blueberry" was bowl-lickin' deliciousness: The sweet 'n' saltiness of mushrooms, roasted corn, and whole blueberries cooked down with serrano peppers and onions, and then hit with Parmesan. Figure on five plates (mostly $10 to $15 each) for two people; with a drink apiece, tax and tip, you're back down the steps for a C-note. Dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Cleavers | Rittenhouse
The cheesesteak shop at 108 S. 18th St. has broken through a wall to add a full bar.
Eastside Bagel Spot | Cherry Hill
Cherry Hill's popular Bagel Spot has set up shop inside the Katz Jewish Community Center at 1301 Springdale Rd.
Vesper | Northern Liberties
Chef Hee "Chino" Chang has taken over the kitchen at Vesper Dayclub, adding regulation dinner and weekend brunch menus.
The Irish Times | Queen Village
Seems to be gone for good.
TartAreperia 18.64 | Kensington/Fishtown
The Venezuelan arepa shop under the Market-Frankford El's Girard Avenue stop is cleaned out after two years.
Walnut Street Cafe
2929 Walnut St., 4-7 p.m. weekdays
WSC, set up on the ground floor of the FMC Tower on the door of University City, is one of the city's loveliest newcomers. Its snug bar also takes a fun-loving, albeit grown-up, approach to happy hour. To wit, heaping bowls of sweet-and-salty caramel popcorn ($3) alongside peach-glazed BBQ wings ($8), tempura fried fish ($8), and soft pretzel knots with beer cheese ($5). The $5 "citywide" changes daily, e.g. Wednesday and Thursday's value pairing of a Rolling Rock and with a shot of Bulleit rye.
Rooster Soup Co., the subterranean luncheonette at 1526 Sansom St. that donates profits to Broad Street Ministry, has been rebranded as a Jewish deli called, simply, The Rooster. Yehuda Sichel, chef at sister eatery Abe Fisher, offers his signature Montreal smoked rib as a sandwich served with horseradish sauce and onion on a Martin's potato roll. But wait: You'll also want the corned beef sandwich on house-baked rye. Order half of each — the so-called "splitski."
South Philly Barbacoa, Cristina Martinez and Ben Miller's peripatetic taqueria specializing in juicy lamb barbacoa, has a roomier, albeit still humble new home on the corner of Ninth and Ellsworth in the Italian Market. Menu offers barbacoa, pancita, and veggie tacos, quesadillas, sweet tamales, consomme, pastries, and coffee, orange juice, and aquas frescas. Hours start at 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and 7 a.m. Monday; they close when they sell out of food — typically no earlier than 1 p.m.
This one may require patience, but the reward is great: Mama Thai, new at 217 E. Main St. in downtown Lansdale, has all the atmosphere of a former pizzeria. Even if you order dine-in at the counter, food is packaged in takeout containers. But what food: Rich massaman curry, and nongreasy pad Thai, spring rolls, and drunken noodles. Plenty of veggie options, too. The rub: Only two tables. If they're taken, you must do takeout. Since owners call this "Bangkok street food," you could opt for al fresco dining in the borough's nearby Memorial Park.
California Tortilla in Phoenixville is giving away a burrito and drink to all who visit its new location on Wednesday, Aug. 22. The deal runs from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It's at 420 Schuylkill Rd., next to Pet Valu.
Two roommates bet their careers on soft pretzels 20 years ago. They started out sleeping on bags of flour and twisting dough by hand, sweating out long nights over a rickety pretzel machine that had drained their savings accounts. Now Philly Pretzel Factory sells 125 million pretzels each year.
SoBol, the açaí bowl shop, opens at 3736 Spruce St. on Wednesday, Aug. 22, with free bowl and smoothie samples from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. On Aug. 23, the first 50 customers in line beginning at noon will receive a comp regular-sized açaí bowls. On Aug. 24, it will open at 7 a.m. to give away toasted Waffatopia waffles to the first 50 customers with the purchase of any bowl or smoothie. SoBol will also offer waffle square samples to all customers throughout the day.
Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook apparently are planning to open a spinoff of Zahav, their popular, Israeli-inspired restaurant, in Kensington. The location appears to be a former warehouse at 1301 N. Howard St., on the corner of Thompson Street.
If there were a dedicated safe space for people who are not permitted to smoke cigarettes at home, we imagine it would look more or less like Bonnie's Capistrano Bar, the all-day, all-night South Philly staple for the courting-emphysema set.