You have bars with bowling alleys, bars with Ping Pong tables, bars with virtual-reality headsets, and bars with ball pits to frolic in. How about a bar with board games and food. I'll tell you about Thirsty Dice, as well as Philly's latest NYC import (the falafel destination Mamoun's) and a colorful brasserie in University City (Louie Louie). And get this: Critic Craig LaBan is back, with a Q&A based on his latest "Ultimate Dining" guide. (Want a hard copy? Here's where you can order one. Or more than one. They make great gifts.)
For good, clean, low-key fun with friends, there are few things better than breaking out a game.
At Thirsty Dice, Philly's first board-game cafe (they're a thing in plenty of other cities), entrepreneur Matt Hendricks offers a library of 800 games, neatly shelved in an industrial-look room, at the corner of 17th Street and Fairmount Avenue. The $7-per-person "sitting fee" covers such expenses as replacing lost game pieces.
Thirsty Dice not only employs bartenders to mix cocktails but also gametenders to help you pass go.
Want to eat and drink while playing? The menu includes spiked and regular milkshakes and such shareables as mac-and-cheese, corn-dog "lollipops," and French bread pizzas. Punny cocktails include a house-made ginger lemonade called Shandy-land.
Initial hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Brews & Views | Parkway
Pop-up beer garden on the roof of the Free Library (1901 Vine St.) runs through Friday, Oct. 25. Info is here.
Classic Cake | Center City
The Cherry Hill bakery opens an all-day, all-purpose cafe/bake shop at 16th Street and JFK Boulevard (1 Penn Center, above Suburban Station) on Oct. 31.
Insomnia Cookies | Old City
The carb destination is newly baking at 31 S. Second St.
Mamoun's | Old City
Seorobol | Center City
The Olney Korean destination, opening downtown at Center City One (1326 Spruce St.), soft opens Oct. 25 with a limited menu.
Somo SoPHI | South Philadelphia
The Manayunk bistro gets all chichi with its new bar-restaurant location near the sports complex, at 13th Street and Packer Avenue.
DiNardo's | Old City
I'm a few months late to the shutdown of this longtime seafooder at 312 Race St. What's new here is that its liquor license is in play. Developers want to buy it for a still-unsigned restaurant proposed for the corner of Second and Arch Streets.
Ela | Queen Village
Shutdown is Nov. 3 for this seven-year-old bistro at Third and Bainbridge Streets, as chef-owner Jason Cichonski is moving on. Use those gift certificates. (New occupants will open Crybaby Pasta & Wine Bar in early 2019.)
Gran Caffe L'Aquila, 1716 Chestnut St., 4-6:30 p.m. weekdays
My favorite all-purpose Italian restaurant in Rittenhouse (it's casual yet upmarket, with world-class coffee and pastries in the morning and fine gelato at snack time), GCL also delivers a thoroughly Italian happy hour with Aperol spritzes, Negroni, and a bright gin and tonic made with lemony Malfy gin.
Food options (most $5 and under) include bruschetta, arancini, mussels in a garlic/tomato broth, fried artichokes, and addictive potato chips topped with parmigiano and pepper (yes, the pasta fave cacio e pepe as a snack).
Mamoun's, 300 Market St.
For four decades-plus, New Yorkers have sworn by this Syrian-rooted hummus-and-falafel specialist for tasty sandwiches and platters. With franchise deals in place, it's on the Ma-move. Philly's first Mamoun's opened the other day on the corner of Third and Market in Old City, a few doors from Fork and High Street on Market. It's a fast-casual — order at the counter, in front of a busy kitchen jammed with cooks. Take out or eat in. Menu balances vegetarian (including fool mudammas, baba ghannouj, and tabbouleh) and meat (shawarma, chicken kebab, lamb kebab), tossing in fries, soup, and grape leaves, plus pastries for dessert. The shawarma sandwich shown ($7.25) was overstuffed with tender, shaved lamb, cukes, and lettuce and bathed in a mild tehina sauce. Falafel is properly herby and crunchy. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Louie Louie, 3611 Walnut St.
Let's call this newcomer, on the Walnut Street side of the Inn at Penn, a French-ish American bistro, with a chic, Art Nouveau design including reclaimed subway tiles, black and white marble stones as flooring and wainscoting, buttery leathers, fabrics, and patterns, an oversize cocktail bar suitable for cheese plates and snacks, and a roomy, all-weather patio. Owner Sydney Grims, whose father Marty's stable of restaurants includes the nearby White Dog Cafe, has veteran chef Clark Gilbert doing a menu of classic comfort (caramelized onion tart, tuna Nicoise salad, escargots, mussels, French onion soup, plus a $19 burger stuffed with mushrooms and Gruyère fondue). Lunch entrées range from $14 for an omelet to $29 for crab Louie, with dinner prices a few dollars more. Weekend brunch (with Benedicts, omelets, and pancakes) is a happening. It's open for lunch and dinner daily from 11 a.m.; brunch starts at 9:30 a.m.
Diners are almost universally beloved, and their companion cocktail bars too often overlooked. But the Midtown III's bar is worth a visit: It's a place to belong, if you don't have anyplace else.
Second acts can be difficult as Talk, the latest restaurant from the crew behind Marigold BYOB, has proven. Critic Craig LaBan gives it one bell.
Jesse Ito, the city's latest four-bell chef, on the art of sushi: "What I'm doing is traditional sushi. I'm not reinventing the wheel. It's just about execution."
Reader: I loved your new dining guide's focus this year on classic Philly restaurants. But what about the suburbs?
Craig LaBan: Well, of course, last year's dining guide was all about the suburbs! I put more than 4,000 miles on my car scouting more than 180 recommendations from Chester County to South Jersey, so I decided this year to stay a bit closer to home. There were, nonetheless, a number of suburban classics noted in this year's edition, too, in Pennsylvania (Margaret Kuo's, Eve's Lunch, Han Dynasty, Pica's) and in New Jersey, where such veterans as Sagami, Ponzio's, Library II, Donkey's Place, and Corinne's Place were singled out. But there were many I could not find room for, so here are seven more great suburban classics that have been serving consistent excellence across a wide range of styles for at least 10 years. (For more complete capsule reviews of 16 restaurants, click here.)
The Original Clam Tavern (2 bells) is a throwback in the very best sense, an old-school fish house that's stayed true to blue-collar Clifton Heights for 50-plus years. Don't miss the signature baked middleneck clams roasted whole in a distinctive steel tray. 339 E. Broadway Ave., Clifton Heights. 610-623-9537; clamtavern.net. $-$$
Birchrunville Store Cafe (3 bells) is an old general-store-turned-idyllic-French-BYOB that remains one of the most charming dining experiences in the region (even if it's cash-only). There's almost always stuffed roast pheasant on the menu with warm butterscotch cake for dessert. But more recent Asian inflected dishes, like the lobster summer rolls, are also delicious. 1403 Hollow Rd., Birchrunville. 610-827-9002; birchrunvillestorecafe.com. $$$
Persian Grill (2 bells) opened in 1984 and, after more than three decades, it remains one of the region's only reliable destinations for Persian cuisine, from charcoal-grilled kebabs over fluffy basmati pilaf to exotic sweet-and-sour sauces vivid with aromatic spice, and slow-stewed delights like chicken Fesenjan. The Grill now has a second location in Hatboro. 637 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill. 610-825-2705; persiangrillusa.com. $-$$
Hymie's and its cross-street rival, Murray's, have been Main Line deli staples for decades. But I'm firmly in the Hymie's camp. The matzo ball soup has a natural flavor. The pickle bar is abundant. And, most important, the house corned beef is superb. It's better with peppery pastrami for a "Shmoozer" combo with coleslaw on rye. 342 Montgomery Ave., Merion Station. 610-668-3354; hymies.com. $
Creed's Seafood & Steaks is a welcome independent alternative to the chain-saturated landscape of King of Prussia. There's a personal character to this survivor since the early 1980s that remains a worthy example of old-school chophouse class. 499 N. Gulph Rd., King of Prussia. 610-265-2550; creedskop.com. $$$
The Kibitz Room (2 bells) has been South Jersey's best deli since 2000, and it's a good thing the Katz JCC gym is just down the road, because I could eat my weight's worth in creamy blintzes, steamy corned beef, comforting soups and stuffed cabbage. The counter-service-only setup is my biggest complaint. 100 Springdale Rd., Cherry Hill. 856-428-7878; greatpastrami.com/cherryhill. $-$$
Chick's Deli may be hidden on an alley strip just off Route 70, but has remained a worthy cheesesteak destination for cops, high school kids, and locals of all stripes for 60 years. The chicken cheesesteaks are the big draw here, but the simple Italian hoagies aren't bad, either. 906 Township Ln., Cherry Hill. 856-429-2022. $