Thanks to chefs and entrepreneurs with serious resumes and commitments to quality sourcing, the fast-casual/fine-casual/, whatever you want to call it-casual, has spread throughout the country. And Philly offers some of the best examples, from fried chicken to poke bowls. Here’s where you’re going for lunch today.
Wife and husband Judy Ni and Andy Tessier have a fine-dining background that ranges from the storied Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York to Philly’s most virtuous farm-to-fork BYOB, the Farm and the Fisherman.
At Baology, they apply that mentality to Taiwanese snacks inspired by Ni’s heritage. As the name suggests, the menu is built on bao, pot stickers and ruen bings, which are like stir-fries swaddled in translucent, wheat-wrapper sleeping bags—all made with a commitment to fresh ingredients and sustainably raised or caught meat and seafood. For example, they source whole Lancaster chickens, portioning off the thighs to be twice-coated in potato starch, twice-fried into peerlessly crunchy nuggets and tucked into plush buns with lemon aioli and Thai basil. The rest of the bird is ground up for a pot sticker filling, gently moistened with housemade stock and perfumed with garlic chives. The dumplings are steamed, seared and then steamed again, producing bottoms so golden brown they look like mini grilled cheeses.
You wouldn’t be wrong to credit Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, award-winning owners of Zahav, for igniting the Israeli/modern Middle Eastern food craze that’s sweeping the country.
They’re also incredibly intuitive businessmen, spinning off three fast-casual restaurants from their Zahav success, their newest being Goldie, a vegan falafel shop perched above their Rooster Soup Co. luncheonette. The menu is straightforward—just pick a condiment—sticky-sweet pickled mango sauce, harissa or schug, the Yemenite hot sauce—which is then loaded into a warm pita with just-fried falafel, cabbage and Israeli salad. There’s also a falafel salad, terrific fries and nutty, cement-thick tahina milkshakes. Get the coconut.
Love & Honey
Fried chicken goes gourmet at this sweet Northern Liberties spot by Todd and Laura Lyons, who are applying their culinary research and marketing resumes—Campbell’s Soup, Aramark, Le Cordon Bleu—to a Southern picnic-style experience.
Sourced from Coleman Natural poultry in Delaware, the golden, crunchy, well-seasoned breasts, legs and thighs are available a la carte or in three- and six-piece platters with honey-buttered corn muffins. Sides include chunky potato salad, buttermilk ranch slaw and mac ‘n’ cheese topped with toasted breadcrumbs. The dessert menu features coconut and sweet potato pies, plus a rotating flavor of the month—think apple crumb or pretzel-crusted chocolate-peanut butter.
Hawaiian food had no foothold in Philly until Kiki Aranita, who hails from Oahu, and her partner, Chris Vacca, launched their roving food truck. Earlier this year, they literally pumped the brakes on mobile vending and settled into a brick-and-mortar space in Rittenhouse.
The menu stars dishes Aranita grew up eating: tuna poke studded with buttery macadamia nuts, glossy lomi lomi salmon, Spam musubi, and juicy kalua pig, Hawaii’s version of slow-roasted pulled pork. The food is best experienced in plate lunch format—your pick of protein served up with macaroni salad and white rice. Don’t miss desserts like flower-shaped butter mochi—springy rice-flour cakes in flavors like Kona coffee—and bibinka—Filipino coconut cake dressed in guava caramel.