De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies, the thin-crust, Trenton-style pizzeria, has set up a branch in Lower Makefield. The lines are long already. This week, I share word of tasty Korean fried chicken near Rittenhouse, creative south-of-the-border comida in Manayunk, and fresh Indian fast-casual grub in King of Prussia. If you need food news, click here and follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Email tips, suggestions, and questions here. If someone forwarded you this free newsletter and you like what you're reading, sign up here to get it every week.
Trentonians call it "tomato pie," but it's not the sauce-no-cheese tomato pie we love in Norristown, Conshohocken, and the Pennsy burbs. So it's pizza. Outstanding brick-oven, chunky-tomato-topped, thin-crust pizza. De Lorenzo's Tomato Pies (the one formerly on Trenton's Hudson Street and now in Robbinsville, N.J.) opened a second location a few weeks ago at 1679 Edgewood Rd., Yardley.
Sam Amico and crew set it up with high-ceilinged roominess. Don't let that fool you: Lunch and dinner lines are long, and if you plan takeout for dinner, call in your order early in the day. I showed up at 3:40 p.m. last Thursday, found myself 12th in line for the 4 p.m. dinner opening, and had a one-hour wait for takeout. Seating was available, so perhaps I should have ordered at a table. At any rate, I got to drool as I watched the pizzaiolo use a knife, not a cutter, to slice the hot pies into triangles after drizzling on olive oil.
Long Dark Night, at Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under, the gastropub across from Washington Square (727 Walnut St.), is not funereal. It's literally 6 feet below the street. Arguably the coziest spot in the city, it's low-lit and lined with brick. We dig the drink list, including this Long Dark Night, a warming blend of Tullamore Dew, Frangelico, and stout topped with cream and nutmeg. It's a collab among bar staffers Rachel Craig, Gentry Thurman, and Ben Hermann.
Where we're eating: SouthGate, La Roca, Choolaah
Most gastropubs seem to share one menu. Not SouthGate, at 18th and Lombard Streets. Peter Hwang set it up in mid-2015 to honor his Korean heritage and feed the Rittenhouse/Fitler Square area something different. This is Seoul food from chef Matt Delatour: Start with side dishes (banchan) and pork mandoo, segue into bibimbap or a bulgogi burger. The righteous Korean fried chicken (spicy or soy) makes for a tasty snack, and it stars at weekend brunch in the chicken-and-waffle dish.
There's seemingly a revolving door at 4161 Main St. in Manayunk, but I think the new taqueria La Roca stands a chance. Owners Josh Coffman (a Starr alum) and Kahlil Mir cleverly converted the dining room on the mezzanine into a second bar. Chef David Long (also a Starr alum) dishes solid comida including shrimp banh mi and an assortment of tacos. Tequila is king here. The Tuco, in honor of Breaking Bad character Tuco Salamanca, is two shots of tequila, orange wedges, and (ahem) "lines" of salt, sugar, and cinnamon, served on a mirrored platter. Nothing to sneeze at.
It's quite possible that Choolaah, which opened in September in King of Prussia Town Center, will change popular impressions of Indian cuisine. Bright, colorful atmosphere, responsibly sourced ingredients, and plenty of customizable options coming out of the four tandoors. Cool feature: personal hand-washers in the dining room, so you can tidy up and dig in quickly.
Halal Guys | Northeast Philadelphia
The chicken-and-rice specialist opens at 2550 Grant Ave. on Saturday, March 24. First 100 in line get a comp lunch. Doors open at 11 a.m.
M2O Burgers & Salads | Queen Village
This customizable shop, with touchscreen ordering, opens March 23 at 701 S. Fifth St.
Mango Mango | Chinatown
Chinese-style dessert shop replaces Fruit Life, 1013 Cherry St., this week.
Saige Cafe | Northern Liberties
A branch of the coffee/light food is new at the Schmidt's Commons, 1001 N. Second St.
Buena Onda | King of Prussia
Jose Garces has pulled the plug on the mall branch of his taqueria, which opened just before Thanksgiving. Get your fix at the original location, 1901 Callowhill St.
Reader: I love paella but didn't order it at Oloroso, because it was one of the few dishes there you had reservations about. So, who does have the best paella?
Craig LaBan: Paella is one of my favorite things to share with a group, but a great one is rare because so many different elements have to come together with perfect timing.
A lot of pro kitchens cheat by assembling pre-cooked ingredients to order, and while that allows the most delicate items to be properly done, you can miss out on the deeper flavors that result from seafood, chicken and chorizo mingling together and infusing the same pan of rice.
A great paella should be cooked from start to finish to order, and preferably over an open grill or stove to get a toasty "soccarat" crust on the bottom.
Oloroso definitely cooks its paella to order, but our rice was still too wet, and the broth had too much tomato overtaking the other flavors. I'm sure the excellent cooks there are working on it. (I was a bigger fan of its squid ink rice.)
Meanwhile, there are other paellas to consider. Amada, of course, has long been the gold standard for Spanish classics, and though it's been a while, I remember my last paella from a Garces kitchen fondly, the nubby Calasparra rice brimming with a smoky base of braised chicken and chorizo that was worth the 40-minute wait.
The still relatively new Barcelona Wine Bar on East Passyunk Avenue does a solid job with classic paella (don't bother with the bland vegetarian version), but the chewy seafood in mine could have been more delicately cooked.
I've also found great paella in the suburbs at Ambler's 555 Lagiola, a tiny Spanish BYOB where house-made chorizo adds richness to the rice, delicately cooked seafood and tender bone-in chicken.
The most memorable paella I've had recently was at Jamonera – a hearty individual portion of pimentón-spiced golden rice jeweled with still-moist mussels, slender Chistorra chorizo, crisp pork belly nuggets, huge shrimp and a garlicky leg of chicken that had been roasted to a crackly crisp. Of course, Jamonera breaks some paella rules. Its six-burner kitchen is just too small to cook every pan entirely to order. So talented chef de cuisine Lindsay McClain, who produced an overall outstanding meal, more than compensated by crisping her flavorful rice on the plancha to a tawny crunch for a soccarat that got stealthily slipped into the bottom of the pan. By the time I'd devoured my way down through every delicious morsel of pig and seafood, the surprise of it was like the diner's ultimate reward, a roasty scoop of singed rice treasure to punctuate an already fabulous dish.