Wait. Two nonchain restaurants opening in the same week in the western suburbs? Read on! I also point out new dinner service at the hottest restaurant in Fishtown, a solid burger shop in Glenside, and a charming luncheonette in South Philly. Craig LaBan is here with the latest from Chinatown. Need food news? Click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, ideas, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it free every week.
More to love in the Pennsylvania suburbs: The corner spot at Ford and Front Streets in West Conshohocken, which was Stella Blu for 16 years before January, is now Imbibe Food & Drink (101 Ford St., 484-368-3330), a week-old bistro from Sean Weinberg (Biga in Bryn Mawr, Alba in Malvern). Space has been lightened elegantly, with Edison bulbs, silver-blue paint, and a white ceiling.
At the quartz-topped bar, choose from 14 wines by the glass. Chef Steve Fulmer's menu includes such starters as lamb meatballs. Entrées range from $18 for spaghetti and clams with pork belly, lemon, parsley, and bread crumbs and $19 for ravioli filled with sheep's milk ricotta, ramps, peas, and mint oil to $24 for the crispy gnocchi or the roast pork loin and $25 for short rib in a black bean glaze with miso-cauliflower puree and tempura broccoli. It's open, for now, for happy hour and dinner Tuesday to Saturday.
Restaurant vets Jay Stevens and Kim Strengari use "Northern California" to describe the menu at Main & Vine (789 E. Lancaster Ave., Villanova, 484-380-3688), opening May 16. It takes the space that started exactly 10 years ago as the short-lived marketplace Maia and later segued into Mixx and then Avenue Kitchen. Open floor plan includes a dramatic, 26-seat bar with two additional lounge sections where full dining will be available, as well as a 12-person seated pizza bar where the Napa-style sourdough pizzas will be turned out.
Chef Charles Vogt's entrées are mostly in the $20s. Daily specials: cioppino on Monday, fried chicken on Tuesday, smoked barbecue short ribs on Wednesday, branzino "tacos" on Thursday, skate wing Milanese on Friday, herb-roasted prime rib on Saturday, and Sunday gravy on Sunday. Wine list is all Californians, as are all but a few of the draft and bottle/can beers.
For now, it's open from dinner through late evening daily.
4161 Main St.
4-6 p.m. Monday-Friday
Josh Coffman and Khalil Mir have the right idea at their energy-filled Manayunk cantina: two bars, a killer deck, and tasty specials, such as $1.50 Hamms, $3 Miller Lites and $5 mojitos, margs, sangria, and black cherry caipirinhas, plus cheap snacks such as $2 Mexican corn, $3 hot dogs, and $8 adobo-smoked wings.
Fishtown's must-go breakfast and lunch spot since last November is Suraya (1528 Frankford Ave., 215-302-1900), a stylish tribute to Lebanon. Owners Greg Root, chef Nick Kennedy, and Nathalie Richan, seeking a slow, smart growth, only this month added dinner, which brings out Suraya's romantic side and more advanced cookery. The menu includes hot and cold mezza; kebabs and seafood predominate the mains. Don't miss the arak-based cocktails. Next up: Suraya's massive outdoor garden, due later this spring.
For all the toppings that cooks enjoy loading on burgers, you can tell a lot about a burger shop by its house classic. At Glenside's Bullseye Burger House (282 Keswick Ave., in Keswick Village, 215-884-8888), you can get guac, cream cheese-and-bacon, and the like. Its house classic — two 4-ounce Angus patties topped with American cheese and nestled in a brioche bun with lettuce, slices of tomato, and red onion — juicily hits the mark, and at $8.95 including fries, it's a great deal. Also on the menu: salads, grilled chicken, hot dogs, and gyros.
Carman's Country Kitchen was a South Philly charmer — a corner brunch spot with solid chow and the bawdy wit of owner Carman Luntzel. She bowed out six years ago, yielding to a ho-hum luncheonette. A former Carman's cook, Bruce Reckahn, and wife Sara just took over as Comfort & Floyd (1301 S. 11th St., 215-465-2719), restoring the snug joint's retro charm and personality. They're keeping the menu simple and the prices reasonable. It's open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends. Closed Tuesday.
Ardiente | Old City
An over-the-top glitzy Latin-Asian hybrid, with a cocktail bar, opens May 18 at 33 S Second St.
Bridgid's | Fairmount
The tavern at 24th and Meredith Streets reopens May 16 under a new owner.
Imbibe | West Conshohocken
Sean Weinberg of Biga in Bryn Mawr and Alba in Malvern has a new bistro at 101 Ford St.
Main & Vine | Villanova
Restaurant veterans Jay Stevens and Kim Strengari are behind this California-inspired bar-restaurant, opening May 16.
Yiro Yiro | University City
The fast-casual Greek spot from Roxborough opens May 16 at 125-29 S. 40th St.
Le Cheri | Rittenhouse
A reminder that May 27 is the finale for this romantic French bistro in the Art Alliance off Rittenhouse Square.
Monsoon | Cherry Hill
The popular Indian restaurant's Cherry Hill location (Barclay Farm Shopping Center) has closed. Mount Laurel is open.
Sola BYOB | Bryn Mawr
I can't get official word from owner Brian Engler, but all indications point to a closing of this BYOB after 14 years.
Reader: I'm looking for something new and different in Chinatown. Any recent favorites?
Craig LaBan: I'm a huge Chinatown fan — in part because I'm lucky to work nearby, but mostly because it remains one of Philadelphia's most dynamic food neighborhoods and seems to produce at least two or three new restaurants each month, quite often with a different regional specialty previously unseen in the neighborhood.
Long-simmering trends featuring Sichuan spice, Shanghai-style soup dumplings and Lan Zhou-style hand-drawn noodles remain strong. But more recently, Taiwanese influences — especially in the aromatic popcorn-style fried chicken and beef noodle soup — have began to appear in force last year, especially at places like Bubblefish (909 Arch St.), which also does a nice job with sushi and Japanese street foods (like takoyaki and the sushi burger).
Hot pots continue to be a thing for fun communal dining, and I loved the aromatic broths and high quality meats at the new branch of China's popular Little Sheep chain (1017 Arch St.).
One of the newest arrivals to the neighborhood is the area's first destination for Hakka-style cooking at the Hakka Beef House (927 Race St.), where that tradition's emphasis on soft textures is fully on display in a spectacular bowl of beef noodle soup. The noodles themselves are unique, thick as udon, but irregular and delicately chewy. But so are the amazingly tender morsels of braised beef and a bone broth that draws deep umami from an eight-hour boil and the unusual addition of a roasted onion paste thickened with sesame.
Just up the street, Ocean Harmony (937 Race St.) is serving authentic Cantonese seafood dishes in the former Rising Tide, with an intensely herbal soup of head-on shrimp served inside the hollow of a bamboo log and lobsters stir-fried Hong Kong-style with crumbled, soy-tinged pork.
The Chinatown Square food hall (1016 Race St.) is also worth a visit. The upstairs dining room for Dae Bak offers a calming second-floor view over the hubbub while you spoon through your sizzling stone bowl bibimbap, soondubu stew, and jeyuk spicy pork. My favorite things to nosh in the mall, however, are the Cambodian skewers at the Khmer Grill food stand, where lemongrass-marinated Cambodian sausages and other sundry meats (try the crunchy chicken gizzards!) are grilled to order over charcoal flames.
With all those savory flavors, try dessert. Chinatown is big on innovations, too. I assume you've heard of the Thai rolled ice cream craze (unless you've been living under a pint of Bassetts, for which I honestly couldn't blame you.) Well, that is so last year. Now those rolls are being served inside a taco-shaped waffle cone at I-CE-NY (also in Chinatown Square), which essentially mashes up two of the world's hottest trends and certifies that "what's new in Chinatown?" is more global than ever.