The Hit List is where you’ll find our favorite new food and drink experiences in Philadelphia. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of every good new spot that’s opened since March 2020, one thing you can always rely on is that we’ll only include places that we have genuinely checked out.
Our goal is for this list to be as diverse as the city itself - inclusive of a wide range of cuisines, price points, neighborhoods, chefs, and owners of all backgrounds, and the multifaceted communities within the industry. Read on to find your new favorites.
If you’re looking for our all-time favorite Philly restaurants, check out our Greatest Hits - a guide to the most essential places in the city.
Like a trip to a haunted house and paddleboats, there are some things you shouldn’t do solo. With so many shareable dishes like tender grilled tuna, Romanian kebabs, hummus and pita plates, lamb merguez, and shawarma-spiced cauliflower, the same rule applies for this Howard Street Israeli grill. Since they’re only open Tuesday through Saturday from 5pm-9:45pm, a reservation at Laser Wolf, which comes from the same people as Zahav, may be harder to come by than a picnic spot on Kelly Drive. And while a trip here with friends can get a little pricey, know with one bite of the 50-day dry-aged ribeye ($136) that it’s also the only group project in history that’s totally worth it.
Philly is known for many things, but great fish tacos typically fall somewhere between an empty Love Park and Cowboys fan sightings in terms of how common they are. However, this Kensington spot, which includes a massive outdoor patio and rows of overhead lighting, has them in droves. The breaded fluke is perfectly cooked and each bite into the chipotle mayo-drenched taco makes us forget about a week of “I hope this email finds you well” and bumper-to-bumper traffic. And with an extremely vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu, everyone in your friend group can enjoy a night out here.
Down North Pizza
With the intention of always opening up a permanent location, Down North Pizza started as a pop-up whose online orders would sell out quicker than a new colorway of Jordan 1s. Today, the Lehigh Ave pizza spot is not only known for its brilliant mission to solely hire formerly incarcerated individuals, but for some amazing pizza as well. And just like how a pair of 1s can go with any outfit, the What We Do pie could be our “eat one dish for the rest of our lives meal,” and not just because of the Freeway reference. The perfect mix of pepperoni, sausage, banana peppers, and topped with a honey chipotle glaze can’t be beaten.
Sequels can be hard to trust, so when El Merkury announced that they were opening a new spot in Reading Terminal Market, we wondered if the arched churro and pupusas magic would transfer. We’re happy to announce that much like The Dark Knight, the second location did not disappoint. Even with a smaller menu than the main hub (they only sell Honduran baleadas and Salvadoran pupusas, sides, and churros here), the warm grab-and-go pouches full of melty cheese, jalapeno black beans, or pork keep us coming back. And even better, we don’t have to pull out Batman’s sonar to find a parking spot near Rittenhouse Square to eat here.
Mei Mei might offer a better show than the nearby Arden Theatre. The stunning space full of vibrant purples, draping flowers overhead, and cool neon backlighting is the kind of place that makes us feel like we’ve been dropped into a scene from one of Diddy’s parties. But even though the Old City restaurant feels like a place where a night out might cost us a month’s rent, everything here is pretty affordable. Entrees like orange-glazed chicken, chicken and broccoli, and a spicy kung pao shrimp all come in under $20. Plus, with a variety of sake flights, cocktails like the flower-topped Lavender Empress, and a long beer and wine list, you can easily have a table party of your own here.
The Landing Kitchen
It can take a lot to get people to jump through the chaos on I-76 just for a meal. But with The Landing Kitchen in Bala cooking up everything from shakshuka to a sausage, egg, and cheese topped with salsa verde, we had to make the trip. With the Schuylkill River within eyeshot, an old steel mill feel, and garden games like cornhole on the patio, there’s no other place in Philly quite like this waterfront cafe and bakery. From a smoked salmon toast sprinkled with everything seasoning and a double cheeseburger with a sweet potato bun to cocktails like hibiscus margaritas and a lavender gin and tonic, the menu makes it much more than a place with a great view and lots of activities, but we like those things just the same too.
As soon as you walk through the door of this Northern Liberties West African spot, you’re met with the scent of steaming jollof rice, plantains fresh out of the pot, buttery cornbread muffins, and the sound of chicken sizzling on the grill. It’s a sensation that we can’t put a price on, but they have, and luckily it’s not an expensive one (the bowls are $13 and under and each comes with a side). Suya Suya is a comfortable counter-service place to grab a quick meal between a night out at the bars nearby or before catching your next train from Spring Garden station, but really, just get here as soon as you can.
Fancy seafood places are often reserved birthdays, retirements, or an anniversary with a person that we like enough to let them control the music in our car. But East Passyunk’s Gabriella’s Vietnam is the kind of place that gets us so excited that we might just make up a random holiday on a Wednesday in order to come back. And apparently, everyone in the city agrees because it’s always packed (make a reservation or prepare for an “It’s been 84 years” level of Titanic wait). Whole fish is the specialty here, and whether you get the branzino (grilled and juicy) or red snapper (crunchy and deep-fried), consider packaging everything on the table with rice paper wraps so you can have something else to dunk into the homemade garlic sauce.
The soft and cloud-like gua buns at this 19th Street spot can (and will) be filled with anything from pastrami and mustard to braised short rib and house truffle wiz cheese, and even falafel topped with tahini. And thankfully for us, all nine options on the menu taste great. They also have rice bowl options and sides like charred brussels sprouts and blistered shishito peppers. Both come with dipping sauces, and like everything else here, they’re made fast so you can quickly get back to picking up too many things at Target across the street.
Surrounded by places that all require a reservation or an hour-plus wait, Huda is definitely something that Rittenhouse needed: somewhere to run in and grab a sandwich between saving the world at the office or window shopping on Walnut Street. But the location isn’t the only reason we keep telling everyone about this place - all eight sandwiches, served on homemade milk buns, have us murmuring “Huda” in our sleep. We typically go for the grilled swordfish topped with a wickedly spicy kimchi tartar sauce, and we always pair it with an order of fries that come with a choice of southwest, dijonaise, kimchi tartar, or sour cream and onion sauce.
Huff & Puff BBQ
Center City’s Huff & Puff BBQ is the type of place that could sell their food out of the back of a truck in the middle of an Eagles tailgate and not a soul would make it into the Linc for kickoff. With a menu full of things like a Texas reuben sandwich (corned beef gets swapped out for smoked brisket), pulled pork, and chicken-fried ribs, we suggest eating Thanksgiving breakfast light before coming to this Midtown Village restaurant. They also have an extensive vegan menu that features things like corn ribs, smoked watermelon, and plant-based mac and cheese. And with most single servings coming in under $20, it’s a much tastier option than spending the same amount on a bottle of water at the game.
Everything that comes out of the kitchen at River Twice looks like it could be served at an Oscars afterparty. From a beautifully cooked piece of amberjack swimming in a mushroom shoyu to oysters served with both celery granita and cucumber kosho, it’s definitely one of those elegant places where we check our outfits twice before going. But unlike the cost of an awards show, most of the dishes at the East Passyunk restaurant are under $20, so we can go there for a decadent meal without having to remember lines in a script to get an invite.
Mi Pueblito Tacos
Good taco trucks are top-secret. Most of the time when we find them, only our close friends (i.e. the ones with our phone passcodes close) are lucky enough to get the location. But when a family-run Jalisco truck popped up in town, selling everything from homemade juices and pozoles to al pastor tacos, and soaking everything in consomme, we knew we had to share. Permanently located at Front and Dickinson in South Philly, this place makes the best birria tacos in Philly (Jalisco happens to be where quesabirria tacos originated). They’re only open from 1-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays so plan accordingly and make sure to bring a bucket to stock up on that flavorful broth for dipping.
What started as a record label and zine distribution spot has turned into this brightly-colored West Philly coffee shop that serves South Asian-inspired treats - like $2 pea and tofu samosas, crispy spinach and onion pakoras, and homemade cardamom syrup. This place is home to ethically sourced coffee, ceramic incense holders and mugs created by local artists, and a community fridge. But the relaxing and inclusive neighborhood cafe isn’t just a place where you can finally read that book you keep forgetting about, they also carry so many snacks (including many vegan options) that you’ll be covered if your energy runs low after a few chapters.