Best Destination Restaurants
Tired Hands Fermentaria
35 Cricket Terrace, Ardmore
484-413-2983 / TiredHands.com
Ardmore as beer mecca? Craft beer fans—and Craig LaBan—rave about this latest venture of brewmaster Jean Broillet IV, whose nearby Tired Hands Brew Café is still going strong. Twelve beers are on tap: two mainstays—HopHands and SaisonHands—and an ever-changing menu of quirkily named IPAs and saisons: Ardmorian and Reincarnated as a Cloud. The concrete bar, open kitchen, brewing tanks and cavernous dining space make Fermentaria hum with a hip, industrial vibe. From the menu’s innovative snacks, tacos and sandwiches, shout outs go to carnitas tacos, a shisito pepper creamy grits appetizer, and burger. Come for the unveiling of new tacos and $2 off taco plates on Mondays. Or the beer.
Birchrunville Store Café
1403 Hollow Rd., Birchrunville
610-827-9002 / BirchrunvilleStoreCafe.com
A reservation is hard to score, the location defies GPS, it’s BYOB without a nearby state store, and no credit cards. Yet once you settle at your table in the candlelit former country store, prepare to be amazed with a sensory treat.
Chef Francis Trzeciak will delight with French and Mediterranean-inspired delicacies worth it all. For appetizers—escargot, lobster bisque and a “love pillow” with arugula, porcini cream and pecorino. Main dishes feature venison, duck breast and Chilean sea bass. The desserts, by Jane Urban, include warm butterscotch cake, chocolate covered peanut butter cheesecake, and a blackberry cabernet sauvignon sorbet with fresh fruit. In a class by itself. There’s simply nothing more to say.
Best Local, Seasonal
7 W. King St., Malvern
610-644-4009 / RestaurantAlba.com
Earthy and authentic, the dishes at this upscale, unpretentious contemporary Italian gem draw us back season after season. Chef/owner Sean Weinberg insists on cooking with at-their-peak local ingredients, often grown by farmers he calls family. His wood-burning grill, visible from the main dining room, lends deep flavor to dishes that consistently earn kudos, including octopus with tonnato sauce and Pennsylvania trout with hazelnut brown butter. His bruschette come in five varieties—try sheep’s milk ricotta with local honey and sea salt. Late fall pasta dishes like pappardelle with a wild boar ragu boast robust flavors. Or choose the five-course chef tasting menu or special menus for Lazy Afternoon and Hours of Happiness.
133 E. Gay St., West Chester
610-455-0100 / RootsCafeWC.com
Organic, natural, local, but not self-righteous about its sustainable ethos. Take a look at the grape, grains and cocktails menu if you’re in doubt: the home-made Bloody Mary will wake you up. Breakfast and brunch get raves, with eggs everywhere—omelettes, quiches, French toast, Benedicts, frittatas. At lunch, inventive sandwiches—often involving melted cheese and fresh sourdough—and seasonal salads, plucked from their local garden. It can get crowded at dinner, but worth it for the smoked gruyere fondue, black bass or rabbit confit. Even the art on the walls is local.
Best at the Farmer’s Market
319 Westtown Rd., West Chester
610-701-5400 / VeraPasta.com
Birchrun Hills Farm Cheese
2573 Horseshoe Trail, Chester Springs
610-827-1603 / BirchrunHillsFarm.com
Choosing our farmers market’ favorites was like choosing a favorite child, so with a high five to many, we give you our top two. Joe D’Andrea of Vera Pasta uses traditional Italian methods to create dried and fresh pastas—fusilli and rigatoni, ricotta gnocchi and seasonal favorites like harvest ravioli filled with fairytale pumpkin and butternut squash. Along with his homemade sauces, these pastas meet our nonna’s exacting standards.
We also applaud the raw cows’ milk cheeses handcrafted by Sue Miller and family at Birchrun Hills Farm. Always in our market basket: Fat Cat (semi-soft, earthy, tangy) and Birchrun Blue. Look for both artisans at Phoenixville, Bryn Mawr and other markets.
Terrain Garden Café
914 Baltimore Pk., Glen Mills
610-459-6030 / ShopTerrain.com/Glen-Mills-Restaurant
Since we eat with our eyes first, we felt sated immediately upon entering this antique greenhouse café. Worn, grey brick patio underfoot, lush ferns suspended above, rain tapping on the greenhouse roof (or sun but rain’s more atmospheric) make Terrain the ideal place for brunch with BFFs or a cozy dinner for two. We love all the homey touches—Ball jar drinking glasses, terra cotta pots holding warm bread, miniature cast iron skillets filled with berry cobbler. Highlights from the local, seasonal menu include mushroom soup, trout with arugula and the Farm House platter with house-made charcuterie and cheeses from The Farm at Doe Run.
The Gables at Chadds Ford
423 Baltimore Pk., Chadds Ford
610-388-7700 / TheGablesAtChaddsFord.com
Care to match the ambiance to your mood? The Gables, a historic, converted dairy barn whose recent updating retained every bit of charm, offers choices—cozy bar with comfy banquettes; airy, white-walled main dining room with wood beams; or, our favorite, the outdoor patio set amid the remains of the stone foundation of that aforementioned barn. With a greenhouse cover to let in sun and starlight and a water feature providing the soundtrack, this space is a longtime favorite for drinks from the martini menu, a meal or even a wedding or private event. Dishes like shrimp and grits, crawfish beignets, and bourbon pecan pie hint at owners Ann and Dan Kolenick’s past in the Carolinas.
Best Al Fresco Dining
Third Thursdays on State Street
101 E. State St., Kennett Square
610-444-8188 / HistoricKennettSquare.com
Who doesn’t love summer outdoor dining? Especially at tables set along a town’s main street, with live music, and kids entertained by roving magicians. Started in summer 2014 to help Kennett businesses recoup after the tough winter, Third Thursdays grew to four months in 2015, with calls to extend to September and beyond. State Street was closed from Broad to Center Streets for outdoor dining, extended shopping hours and family fun. And a feel-good bonus: the Summer Stock Up program to fight local hunger collected food donations in months without school lunches for hungry kids. Question: why doesn’t every town do this?
Best Rooftop Dining
Up On the Roof Event
Chestnut Street Garage, West Chester
Come June 4th, it will happen atop the Chestnut Street Parking Garage. Listen for the music. If you’re lucky—400 people were last year—the sun will shine across the borough’s rooftops, bathing West Chester’s glitterati in the evening’s glow. (Beware, though, last year, it sold out early.) Catered by Limoncello Ristorante, with appetizers and desserts by Barnaby’s, Cakes and Candies by Maryellen, The Couch Tomato, D’Ascenzo’s Gelato, i-Pasta, Kildare’s Irish Pub, Landmark Americana, Olive Branch and Yori’s Bakery, with drinks by Manatawny Still Works, Box Car Brewery and Tally Ho Coffee. Benefits the West Chester Downtown Foundation, so feel good about all the fun you’ll have!
Best Comfort Food
215 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
484-320-8024 / DixiePicnic.com
Southern hospitality marries scratch cooking at this eat-in or take-to-a-picnic casual breakfast and lunch favorite in Malvern. Tracey Deschaine and her staff make everyone feel like a regular while serving up generous helpings of dishes from Deschaine’s Virginia childhood. French toast a l’orange, southern sticky bun French toast, and the My Oh My! omelet top the list of breakfast bests. For lunch, get a box lunch (sandwich, side, deviled egg and upcake). The Thanksgiving sandwich, nutty chicken salad and Georgia BBQ smoked pork elicit raves and nostalgia. And upcakes—upside down cupcakes iced all over for maximum satisfaction. Well now, there’s a picnic in every bite.
Best Healthy Food
31 W. Gay St., West Chester
484-887-0241 / TheCouchTomato.com
In West Chester for just a year, Couch Tomato has found a legion of fans for its fresh, wholesome, organic fare, with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options galore—all more customizable than a Wawa sandwich. Healthy choices like the Food Pyramid, Holy Chipotle and seasonal salads (roasted butternut squash, pomegranate seeds, chevre, chipotle maple dressing), the Dirty Bird sandwich (chicken, mozzarella, red peppers), and hearty soups get raves. Plus kudos for the pizzas—with fresh, organic white, wheat or gluten-free crust—complete with house-made mozzarella and fresh roasted tomatoes. Pizza as a health food? Maybe. Sip a Peloton cold-brewed coffee on the rooftop and contemplate.
Best Family Restaurant
Ron’s Original Bar & Grille
74 E. Uwchlan Ave., Exton
610-594-9900 / RonsOriginal.com
Whisk a “something for everyone” mission with a commitment to healthy ingredients and scratch cooking. Bake for 25 years. That’s owner Ron Inverso’s secret recipe and the reason folks from knee-high to full-grown love this casual Italian eatery. Friendly waitstaff serve generous portions of pasta from spaghetti and meatballs to crab and sausage amatriciana. Ron’s got pizza with toppings galore—try his signature Ovals. Plus classics like chicken parmigiana along with American favorites, and gluten-free options. With its well-stocked bar (lots of beer options), school night value menu, live music, trivia night, and above all, delicious food, Ron’s draws a crowd, so call ahead to get your name on the waitlist.
Best Neighborhood Spot
1625 Creek Rd., Chadds Ford
610-388-7061 / Hanks-Place.net
The Washington Post says Andrew Wyeth—they called him Andy—ate here every week. Now there are Wyeths on the walls and later-generation Wyeth sightings continue. Settle into a cozy booth, like a local. Eye the ample menu. In the spring, you can sit outdoors, amidst hanging petunias and impatiens. Voula and Peter Skiadas offer homemade food, including sandwiches, Italian and Greek dishes, seafood, steaks, chicken, burgers and hot dogs. It’s like a diner, but much, much better. For breakfast, served all day, they offer pancakes, waffles and eggs. Nothing fancy but everything you want.
Best Pre-Theater Dinner
La Fia Market Bistro
421 N. Market St., Wilmington
302-543-5574 / LaFiaWilmington.com
Across from The Queen and World Café Live, three blocks from The Grand, and a bit farther to The Playhouse on Rodney Square, La Fia is well situated for Wilmington’s pre-theater dinner crowd. Go for small plates (grilled octopus, mushroom tart), rustic entrées and world-class bread on the inventive, seasonal menu from Chef/owner Bryan Sikora, James Beard Foundation semi-finalist and past winner of 4 bells from you-know-who. This market-café-bistro continues to delight with dishes like seafood fra diavolo, duos of pork or lamb and rabbit ragu (recipe available online for the bold). Only 35 seats, so book early.
Spasso Italian Grill
1 W. State St., Media
610-565-7803 / SpassoItalianGrill.com
While there are many choices along Media’s State Street, we’re fans of Spasso, the suburban offshoot of this Philly fave, just steps from the Media Theatre. It can get packed on summer Wednesdays during Dining Under the Stars, but for other weeknight or weekend performances, you can enjoy a solid selection of Italian favorites or sample the specials—a different choice every night. The pasta is house-made and perfectly cooked, so the paccheri gets raves, as does the calamari. Choose the upscale dining rooms for a big night out or sit at the bar and nibble happy hour specials. Either option will fill you with satisfying memories as you head for the show.
Best Place to Celebrate
Duling-Kurtz House & Country Inn
146 S. Whitford Rd., Exton
610-524-1830 / DulingKurtz.com
Long the choice for birthday, anniversary or other special occasion dinners, the consistent excellence of the food, service and ambiance make a meal at the 1830s Duling-Kurtz farmhouse a celebration. With accolades from Open Table, Zagat and more, the menu is heavy on classic dishes, while still venturing a bit—wild boar, seared alligator, python. Most come for the pleasure of popovers with lemon curd, shrimp cocktail, escargot, Caesar salad prepared table-side, and entrées like rack of lamb, pheasant, duck and perfectly cooked steak. There’s a prix fixe menu ($40) and warm strudel to die for. Rooms at the country inn beckon.