Philadelphia is a tinderbox of culinary creativity. If you’re partial to restaurants that take an artisanal approach, a growing number of eco-conscious eateries are stealing the spotlight.
Known as America’s Garden Capital, Philly has been serious about horticulture for over 300 years. The City of Brotherly Love is geographically blessed, located near prolific farmland that has been prudently toiled for generations. This gives enterprising chefs easy access to a bounty of primary ingredients, making it a breeze to eat fresh in Philly.
Allison Tibaldi is a NYC based travel writer who is always scouting for her next culinary adventure.
1 of 5
1. Talula's Garden
Talula's Garden blends carefully sourced ingredients with an eco-aware ethos. While the menu takes pride in local ingredients, it is not limited by locale. Anson Mills Grits come from South Carolina, while the splendid farmhouse cheese offerings come from creameries in the Hudson Valley, France, Italy and England. The cheeses are arranged in perfectly composed groupings adorned with sweet and savory relish, fresh fruits, nuts and decorative floral touches, achieving portrait-like beauty. Main dishes feature substantial portions of beef, fish and fowl, but fresh vegetables take a star turn on even the meatiest plates.
You will be immersed in greenery if you dine in Talula's seasonal outdoor garden, but aspects of the garden are also brought indoors. A green wall brimming with herbs and edible flowers adds a fresh touch and the perfect dose of practical whimsy.
Photo courtesy of J. Fusco/Visit Philadelphia
2 of 5
Vedge uses no animal products in its kitchen. Seasonal vegetables take center stage but even determined carnivores won't miss the meat as they dine on savory delights like robust rutabaga fondue and feathery-light eggplant braciole. Owned by a husband and wife dynamic duo of Philadelphia-born chefs, Vedge has a commitment to translating plant-based cuisine to a broad audience that has been applauded by a loyal clientele. Their newest epicurean venture, V Street, features a globe-trotting vegan street food menu chockfull of bold flavors. Vedge has won numerous accolades, including multiple James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic nominations.
Photo courtesy of N. Santos/Visit Philadelphia
3 of 5
A melting pot of flavors has come to define the Israeli kitchen. These pan-Mediterranean flavors come out to play at Zahav. Small plates combine legumes and vegetables with the zesty flavors of fresh mint, dill and parsley, perfect for spreading on the house-baked Laffa bread, served steaming from the wood-burning oven. With your palate properly limber, you are ready to move on to the lamb, chicken and vegetables grilled over hardwood charcoal and served with ancient grains or delicate rice pilaf sprinkled with colorful pomegranate seeds. The wine list is noteworthy for its boutique Israeli offerings. Tasting menus start at $45.
Photo courtesy of M. Fischetti/Visit Philadelphia
4 of 5
Pennsylvania's draconian liquor laws have spawned a thriving B.Y.O.B. culture. Many eateries don't have a liquor license, inviting guests to bring their own wine. Sans the usual hefty corkage fee, frugal oenophiles may quickly achieve a state of wine-induced nirvana. Mercato is an excellent place to indulge in this local custom. Philly is brimming with Italian restaurants, but the emphasis at Mercato (cash only) is on ingredients that are hyper-fresh, with little need to manipulate. Don't expect a static collection of traditional Little Italy recipes. Mercato is all about reinterpreting classic Italian-American dishes with a creative twist. House cured meats and Italian cheeses are enhanced with potent mostarda and pickled fruits lovingly made in the restaurant's kitchen. Pasta is soul-nourishing and may make you long for an Italian nonna of your very own.
Photo courtesy of G. Widman/Visit Philadelphia
5 of 5
5. Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market is a Garden of Eden for foodies on a budget. You'll find a medley of farm-fresh Pennsylvania Dutch specialties sold by Lancaster County Amish and Mennonites in the heart of downtown. Just-picked produce comes straight from nearby fields and homemade pies are likely to be sold by the bonnet-clad Mennonite who baked them. There is plenty of variety, so even the ultra-finicky can find something to nosh on. Smucker's Quality Meats sells home-cured frankfurters served on soft potato rolls. For dessert, savor an apple fritter or doughnut from Beiler's Bakery. This is the place to experiment with unique regional edibles like sticky shoofly pie, spicy scrapple and Philadelphia cheesesteak.
Photo courtesy of G. Widman/Visit Philadelphia