A cold snap hits, and soup is in order. I've scoured Chinatown for a few that very well might bowl you over. This week's tips also include fried chicken in Northern Liberties, an imaginative food hall in New Hope, and an Eagles-theme maki roll (it's green!) in South Street West. Also, Craig LaBan explains how he came up with his 25 favorite restaurants in the city. 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.
With the temperatures down, let's seek warmth in Chinatown in the form of soup. Chinatown's expanding culinary diversity includes not only various regions of China, but Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia. I'm a fan of hot pot – the DIY variety enjoyed at the table. At the energetic Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, which recently joined the nearby Hippot Shabu Shabu and Nine Ting, you get your metal pot on an electric burner, a choice of traditional and spicy broths (best to order the half and half), and myriad meat/vegetable options (lamb is a specialty). It's all set to a Hot 100 soundtrack, and waiters are ever-present to offer help, whether you need a lot or just a soupçon. Unlike the others, Little Sheep does not offer a sauce bar and is not flat-priced all-you-can-eat; you pay $3.50 for the soup base and take off from there, so figure about $25 a person. All are BYOB, wine or beer.
Want someone else to make the soup? These O.G. Chinatown ideas are also worth your slurping skillz: red bean soup at Heung Fa Chun Sweet House, signature ramen at Terakawa, yasai (vegetarian) ramen from Yamitsuki, Shanghai wonton soup at Tom's Dim Sum, Burmese fried-onion-topped pumpkin soup at Rangoon, Malaysian prawn mee at Banana Leaf, hot-and-sour from Lee How Fook, any of the noodle soups at Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House, and chicken lemongrass soup at Vietnam. The bubbling pots of soft-tofu-based soondubu jjigae at Dae Bak, the spare Korean sit-downer on the second floor of the Chinatown Square food hall, are an experience as you crack an egg to enrich it. Jjigae is more "stew" than "soup," but when lows are dipping into the single digits, you want to get jjigae with it. For more ideas, peruse Craig LaBan's Ultimate Guide to Chinatown here.
Original 13 Ciderworks
The six smooth ciders on tap at John Kowchak's chill, industrial-chic cidery on Kensington's American Street strip can create a dilemma: Which to order? The cherry flavor? Strawberry? Cranberry? Blueberry? The original Sir Charles, which started it all? The Atacama Bone Dry? Just get a flight ($15). Cocktails for the cider-shy and a sharp, vegan-friendly menu round out the menu.
Philly's fried-chicken scene is spreading its wings, and Love & Honey, set up on a Northern Liberties corner, has a leg up. Todd and Laura Lyons' crunchy-crusted birds and sides are reason enough for takeout/delivery. Don't sleep on the lunch sandwich, served with spicy slaw on a bun that's toasted with schmaltz. Yes, chicken fat. Pies, such as this month's special of chocolate cream with a chocolate-peppermint crust, are a must.
New Hope day-trippers can't do better than Ferry Market, a food hall amid the Main Street strip. Thirteen vendors include crepes from Bonjour Creperie, macarons from Sciascia Confections, Indian fare from Cross Culture, and bowls from Boku. Of particular note are Lima Fusion's Peruvian stylings (including refreshing cebiches) and the piggy-centric wares of The Pork Shack, whose Slop Tots (shown here) start with tater tots, to which roasted onion, Cheddar sauce, and sriracha are added along with chunks of slow-roasted pork; this is ham, not barbecue.
No shortage of sushi on South Street West, not with newcomer Nori Sushi duking it out with Kei Sushi a half-block apart. Both are snazzy, mod-ish storefronts with vast roll selections. Particularly appropriate nowadays is one of Nori's specialties called Go Eagles; it's a buttery, flavor-packed roll of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, avocado, and masago (roe), tied up in green soy paper. … What? No Foles rolls?
On Dec. 13, servers at all Greene Turtle locations will donate 100 percent of the tips they earn to Toys for Tots.
Metro Diner | Warminster
The chain diner has added a second Bucks County location, going into 35 W. Street Rd. in Warminster, joining a diner fray that includes the nearby Warminster West, the Eagle, the York, and Daddy Pops.
Hamifgash | Washington Square West
The longtime kosher grill on Jeweler's Row is cleared out, and the phone has been disconnected.
West Ave Grill in Dresher | Dresher
The Dreshertown bistro, unrelated to the Jenkintown original, is papered up.
Reader: How did you choose the places for your recent list of Top 25 Philadelphia restaurants? What about Le Virtù? What about Brauhaus Schmitz? What about Fond?
Craig LaBan: You have no idea how many great restaurants there are in Philadelphia until you try to jot down a few favorites – and suddenly get to 50 quickly. Narrowing it to 25 that reflect the range and diversity of our stellar food scene is truly hard. The restaurants noted above are all worthy, but in the case of Le Virtù and Brauhaus Schmitz, recent chef changes put them on hold until further reassessment. Fond is another old three-bell favorite, but, despite my efforts to keep up with everything, I have simply not been back to recently enough to make that call. (I agree with one correspondent who said Fond is one of the most overlooked great restaurants in town.) That said, there were several restaurants that really did, in fact, come close to making my list. Curious for five other contenders that are on my mind right now? Mica in Chestnut Hill has been revived by a talented young chef who's given that neighborhood the sophisticated BYOB it deserves. It would be impossible to leave Vedge off any Top 25 list, but its more casual Rittenhouse sibling, V Street, has an exciting and innovative energy all its own. Ditto for Abe Fisher. The company's flagship Zahav gets all the well-deserved glory. But Abe chef Yehuda Sichel is cooking inspired modern Ashkenazi food that should not be overlooked. Will BYOB is producing what might be some of the city's most beautiful modernist plates on East Passyunk Avenue, but a lack of creature comforts (noise, darkness) was always a minus. Well, Will just completed a renovation – so I need to get back there soon! One more place that I've come to love this year on a personal level for family meals: Tom's Dim Sum, the new and improved space that replaced the original Dim Sum Garden, is now our go-to destination for Chinatown's best soup dumplings. I could go on, really, I could. But there's always next year.
After 4,000 miles and countless calories, Craig LaBan has come up with 150-plus excellent food destinations in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey suburbs.