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Best of the Best 2016

Our 12th Annual  Best of the Best Selections

Our 12th annual roundup of the best local dining offers a huge helping of great tastes. Local, sustainable, farm-to-table cooking continues to be served up at local restaurants. As does craft brewing, now complemented with local spirits at new area distilleries.

So, see what people are talking about when they talk about food—innovative chefs, best picks at farmers markets, best burgers, tacos and shawarmas.

You’ll find comfort food, healthy food, drive-thru meals, along with best snacks and apps, plus doggie dining. From pre-theater dinners, prix fixe menus and small plates, to neighborhood spots and best bars for meeting friends—they’re all here.

And, keeping it local, we’ve got the best local wines and local cookbooks, too.

Enjoy dining out in 2016!

Check this website for more on restaurants, food news, recipes, beer, wine and more.

 


 RISING STAR

Junto
100 Ridge Rd., Chadds Ford
484-547-8041 / JuntoBYOB.com

Junto BYOBNot even two years old and a 2015 Best Newcomer, this modern farmhouse BYOB has established itself as a foodie destination. In the 40-seat dining room, Chef MacGregor Mann offers dishes at once familiar—lots of Pennsylvania Dutch influences and locally sourced, seasonal ingredients—yet entirely new. Free range chicken with sunchoke succotash, slow cooked beef cheek accompanied by sugarkraut, and charcuterie plate where Lebanon bologna rubs shoulders with chicken liver mousse—all show the depth of Mann’s vision. Other standouts include alder grilled sturgeon, egg yolk ravioli and warm cornbread with apple butter that welcomes guests on arrival. While Junto racks up awards (3 bells from Craig LaBan, Open Table’s Diners’ Choice Winner) and Philly-centric diners make the pilgrimage to Glen Mills, we’re feeling lucky Junto is right here in our own backyard.

 

 


 PLACES TO WATCH


Wyebrook Farm Café & Restaurant

150 Wyebrook Rd., Honey Brook
610-942-7481 / WyebrookFarm.com

When we wrote in 2012 about what Dean Carlson planned for Wyebrook Farm’s 360 acres, we were impressed. Now we’re enthralled. From the original concept of raising grass-fed beef, heritage breed pigs and free-pastured chickens and butchering them onsite, to farm-to-fork chef’s tables, summer concerts, and then on to props from Martha Stewart, Craig LaBan and Open Table’s Top 100 al fresco dining spots, this rustic and refined gem keeps getting better. The seasonal menu changes, so check the website, but prepare for meat-centric options—pan seared pork chop, smoked beef shoulder, grass-fed beef burger—plus pasta perfection with house-made campanelle, pappardelle, conchiglie. All complemented with local produce and capped off with artisanal cheese plates, reflecting Carlson’s book, Field and Feast, Sublime Food from a Brave New Farm.

Malvern Buttery
233 E. King St., Malvern
610-296-2534 / MalvernButtery.com

John and Silenia Rhoads invented it, and the rave reviews are in. Fresh, local, green, organic, welcoming. The rich aromas of coffee and made-on-site breads greet you. You choose your breakfast, lunch or snack from the daily chalkboard and serving table, selecting from soups, sandwiches, salads, quiches, flatbreads, baguettes, croissants, pastries, cookies and more. Modern and bright, filled with long wooden communal tables, as well as comfy couches and chairs, the space and food make you want to linger as you look out on King Street. Pay at the door as you leave. For now, though, relax, chat and watch the world go by.

Cornerstone Cheese & Charcuterie
1 West Ave., Wayne
610-688-1888 / CornerstoneWayne.com

After Wayne’s 2012 dining explosion, new additions are now curated—like the careful selections at Cornerstone, opened in October as the passion project of Christine and Nick Kondra. The shop sells prepared foods, cheese from around the world, as well as house-made pate and sausages, and offers a 14-seat, U-shaped table for BYOB sampling from seasonal lunch and dinner menus. It also hosts bi-monthly chefs tastings and classes: coming soon, David Punch from Boston’s Sycamore, plus Gabriel Frasca and Amanda Lydon from Nantucket’s Straight Wharf. Enjoy to-die-for cheese and charcuterie boards and recommended pairings—from a memorable Spanish blue cow/goat/sheep cheese heavenly paired with honey to a local Doe Run Farm selection soaked in Victory’s Hop Devil Beer. Say cheese, please.

Devon Yards
Former Waterloo Gardens property, Devon
This is just to say we have a plum of a place to anticipate in Devon. Plans are progressing for two restaurants from James Beard winning Chef Marc Vetri at the six-plus-acre, mixed-use (apartments, Terrain, Anthropologie) project from Urban Outfitters. Look for Pizzeria Vetri, named Best Pizza Restaurant in America, and Vetri’s more upscale, yet rustic Amis, a Bon Appetit winner for Top 10 Places for Pasta. No date set yet, but it will be sweet.



NEW VENTURES


LP SteakLP Steak

1160 First Ave., King of Prussia
610-768-5003 / VFCasino.com

Filling the former Pacific Rim space at Valley Forge Casino, is LP Steak, the latest from chef-centric Luke Palladino Hospitality Group. Cooking at the Borgata, in Las Vegas, and around this country and northern Italy, the Culinary Institute grad’s red-meat talent was noticed when Palladino’s on Passayunk earned 3 bells from Craig LaBan, who identified the “sure hand of a chophouse vet who knows the mass-appeal of a great steak.” With five steaks (10-oz. fillet to 32-oz. Porterhouse for eight, I mean, for two), over-the-top apps (chilled seafood tower for $80), chops, seafood and signature sides, including Millionaire’s Maccheroni (black truffle, poached egg, gold leaf), it’s a special event spot worth checking out.

Harvest Seasonal Grill
555 E. Lancaster Ave., Radnor
HarvestSeasonalGrill.com

Main Liners no longer need a road trip to experience restaurateur Dave Magrogan’s take on farm-to–table. In March, a sixth Harvest is scheduled to open in the Radnor space formerly occupied by Susannah Foo Gourmet Kitchen. With a 50-seat bar, large dining area and two patios, plus private dining spaces, seating options abound. As at other locations, Radnor’s Harvest promises a seasonally changing menu that checks off all the healthy boxes—organic, sustainable, local—and most dishes come in at under 500 calories. Diner favorites include scallops with seasonal accompaniments, flatbreads, local cheese plate, spicy shrimp noodle bowl and cedar-roasted salmon. Good craft beer selection, too.

DiFabio’s Market & Tap
1243 N. Providence Rd., Media
484-444-0850 / DiFabiosEvents.com

Last summer Media’s Rose Tree Restaurant became the new location for DiFabio’s Market and Tap, with the usual take-out and catering. Now there are an expanded marketplace and bakery, plus happy hour in the tap room, sit-down lunch or dinner, Rose Tree Room event venue—they’ve got it all. The modern, new interior is a welcome change, too. You can satisfy every craving—a quick meal to take home, classic Italian specialties to stock the freezer, fresh bread or delish cakes, a pizza (new item and a big hit) or being waited on as you enjoy long-time favorites like pistachio chicken tenders, beef braciole and 9th Street chicken. Become a DiFabio’s fan.


PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT...

People Are Talking About – Beer

Levante Brewing
208 Carter Dr. Ste. 2, West Chester
484-999-8761 / LevanteBrewing.com

For beer with a very local, low-key vibe, try Levante (means rising in Italian, hence “Elevate your craft”). You can request an owner-led brewery tour, bring your dog or your own food (BYOF), or nosh from food trucks parked outside. Started by home brewers whose fans demanded more than 5-gallon batches, Levante delights local hopheads with clean, crisp beers, ranging from solid ales to seasonal specials. Shout outs for the Kolsch and ESA. The industrial park location near West Chester University launched in August and is open Thursday through Saturdays. Or ask for it at SideBar, Saloon 151 or Station Taproom. A Tap Takeover at Teresa’s Next Door says it all.

Stable 12Stable 12
368 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-715-2665 / Stable12.com

From barn to barrel, beer with a kick.” Part of that kick was the successful Kickstarter campaign that brought Stable 12 Brewery to Phoenixville last July. Three beer-loving friends started brewing together in a horse barn with 12 stables before moving to their open space with rustic details on Bridge Street. Sample flights from about 10 beers—four flagship brews, seasonals, specialties—plus light fare. Munich Helles and porter get thumbs up from the beernocenti.

Chatty Monks
1 Main St., Phoenixville
ChattyMonks.com

The oxymoronically named Chatty Monks Brewing Co.—which opened its brewpub mid-2014 in West Reading, specializing in Belgium-styled ales—plans a second location for this spring in Phoenixville, as if there weren’t enough places to drink there. The 13,000-square-foot, long-vacant Superior Beverage Co. space on Main Street will have 250 seats where folks can “chew, chat and chill,” plus greater brewing capacity. Chatty Monks’ 40-some beer recipes feature in-house yeasts and home-grown hops—hops that even show up sprinkled on the French Friars (a French fry variation). Named a Top 50 Brewpub Nationwide and Top 10 in the Northeast by CraftBeer.com, it’s worth watching.

Beer Garden at Longwood Gardens
1001 Kennett Rd., Kennett Square
610-388-1000 / LongwoodGardens.org

If last summer’s Nightscape multi-sensory exhibit wasn’t enough to delight eyes and ears, adding a taste treat of a beer garden was a reminder of how lucky we are to have this local treasure. Partnering with Victory Brewing Company, the four-month beer garden offered pub fare and a triplet of beers on tap, including a saison beer getting its citrus kick from Longwood lemons and a wheat ale featuring Longwood honey. There are plans for an encore this summer—both the Beer Garden and Nightscape!


People Are Talking About – Pizza

RapiDough Pizza Pies
30 S. High St., West Chester
484-266-0681 / RapiDoughPizzaPies.com

Rapid means iPad ordering, a credit card swipe, and your personal pizza five minutes later. The Farrell brothers (Sovana Bistro, Classic Diner) promise locally sourced, fresh ingredients—no frozen dough here, though there is gluten-free and charred, thin crust. Sample pizzas, calzones, farm-fresh salads and natural drinks from a menu emphasizing customized dishes, like red, white or green pizza and with your choice of house-made cheeses, meats and vegetables to have it your way … so to speak. Try seasonal options like apple and prosciuotto or Brussels sprouts and bacon. Trust the crust!

Pica’s Restaurant
1231-1233 West Chester Pk., West Chester
Picas-Restaurant.com

2014: Upper Darby native Tina Fey declares her undying love for Pica’s pizza on The Tonight Show. Mid-2016: This third-generation, old-school Italian eatery opens a second location in West Chester, bringing its signature square pizza (cheese on bottom, sauce on top) to our neck of the woods. Whether veggie, meat lovers, white or plain, Pica’s pizza consistently elicits love. Its pasta, sandwiches and classic Italian dishes also have transplanted Philadelphians yearning for home. Look for these dishes and many new ones at the West Chester location. We can’t wait! Cent’anni, Pica’s.

Lorenzo’s
27 N. High St., West Chester
LorenzoAndSonsPizza.com

Excitement built as the South Philly-based pizzeria planned a Thanksgiving opening … in 2014. The High and Gay Streets location (formerly Spazzo) was carefully watched by pizza fans for over a year. Here’s hoping plans come through now for the promised stromboli, calzones, cheesestakes, sandwiches and LARGE pizzas—the 28-inch special! Daily Meal named Lorenzo’s in the 2014 Top 101 Best Pizzas in America, so West Chester should cheer.

 

People Are Talking About – Hard Liquor

Manatawny Still Works
320 Circle of Progress Dr., Ste. 104, Pottstown
484-624-8271 / ManatawnyStillWorks.com

From wine to beer to spirits. That got us to craft spirits and the growth of distilleries in Pennsylvania (think Bluecoat, Dad’s Hat). Named after the local creek and Lenape word for “the place we meet to drink,” Manatawny Still Works’ recent awards got our attention. August 2015 saw triple gold medals at the MicroLiquor Spirits Awards (that’s really a thing) for their small batch whiskey, with Odd Fellows Gin No. 241 snagging Best in Show honors. A rustic tasting room across from Sly Fox Brewery provides the scene for sipping cocktails or American whiskey, rum and gin—unaged and aged—plus wheat vodka as you watch the action at adjacent stills. Take a tour or join a bottling workshop and earn a “Will work for whiskey” t-shirt.

Bluebird Distilling
100 Bridge St., Phoenixville
BluebirdDistilling.com

Not the bluebird of happiness but a snowboarder’s perfect day after a snowfall—that’s what inspired the name of Phoenixville’s house of spirits, opened by Jared Adkins in May. Producing small batch whiskey, bourbon, vodka, gin, rye and rum, they’ll sell you bottles, sips and handcrafted, natural cocktails, including the popular Firebird and the summer hit, blackberry smash, in an industrial-chic space. Small batch (5-to-30-gallon barrels instead of 53-gallon) means faster aging and more flavor. Come now for the un-aged spirits, return for aged elixirs. Also available in local restaurants and PA Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores.

Saloon 151Saloon 151 Whiskey Bar & Grill
151 W. Gay St., West Chester
610-701-8489 / Saloon151.com

Slow-cooked meats, hand-cut fries, mix and match craft beers to go, and of course, an extensive whiskey and craft beer list. That’s the spot-on description of this hopping new spot in the heart of West Chester. The wood interior, banks of TVs and happy hour specials on apps (our fave, Saloon Fries with short rib, Monterey Jack, scallions), sandwiches (like roast pork) and beers had the place packed on a Sunday afternoon. Too many choices to list—pages of whiskeys—with options for sipping local: Levante IPA on tap and Manatawny Small Batch whisky. A cocktail menu for those who prefer something that’s more than neat.

The Whip Tavern
1383 N Chatham Rd., West Marlborough
610-383-0600 / TheWhipTavern.com

Our founding fathers’ go-to drink takes hold in our area once again. For Fox Sake (say it out loud) is a fruit-forward, off-dry English-style cider available exclusively at The Whip Tavern. The brainchild of The Whip’s K.C. Kulp and Big Hill Ciderworks, it pairs beautifully with Whip specialties like Welsh rarebit and roasted pork bangers. And drinking up means doing good: a portion of sales goes to the Brandywine Conservancy to preserve open space. 

Blue Marble Beverages
333 Morgan St., Suite B, Phoenixville
484-393-5345 / Cysery.com

Over in Phoenixville, Blue Marble Cysery joins in the cider game with Easy-Eve Cysers and Hillside Ciders. Find them at local restaurants and bars or drop by Blue Marble’s informal tasting room on Friday evenings.

The Barrel Wine Bar
222 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-933-3399 / Facebook & Twitter

Maybe not hard liquor, but The Barrel does pour from the top shelf … of the barrel room. At this family business—brothers Matt and Mike use wine from their parents’ A’Dello Vineyard and Winery—wine flows from bottles and 10 taps of rotating choices by the glass or in flights. Opened last June, a big draw on Wine Wednesday are the imaginative cocktails, all wine-based with fruits, juices and herbs creating variations on mojitos, margaritas and a seasonal pumpkin pie winetini. The galvanized metal bar’s concrete top is suitable for doodling while enjoying food for pairing—think cheese plates, flatbreads and more. Music and ladies nights up the draw.

 

People Are Talking About – Painting & Drinking

Painting with a TwistResearch shows we speak foreign languages more fluently after drinking a bit. Apparently the same effects of alcohol for lowering inhibitions help novice Picassos. At least that’s one explanation for the surge of new places for pairing painting with sipping. Phoenixville’s BYOB and Paint (BYOBAndPaint.com), Kennett Design with a Splash of Wine (Kennett-Design.com), and West Chester’s Painted Plate (PaintedPlatePottery.com) are a few examples. Painting With a Twist (in Exton, Media, Wayne, West Chester, PaintingWithATwist.com.) sums it up well: A little bit of paint, a little bit of wine, a whole lot of fun. Fun for singles, friends and corporate groups that eschew ropes courses. Most are BYOB, with art supplies, snacks and an instructor provided.

 

People Are Talking About

Yangming Restaurant
1051 Conestoga Rd., Bryn Mawr
610-527-3200 / YangmingRestaurant.com

People have been talking about Yangming since this Main Line institution closed down temporarily last summer. Opened in 1991 in a hundred-year-old building in Bryn Mawr, the restaurant has accumulated armloads of regional and national accolades. After an extensive renovation—reported to total $500,000—Yangming invited the public to a November 1 open house, with a tour of the facilities. Many diners are happy to have an old favorite reopen. Thanksgiving dinner was served for the first time last year and a full calendar of wine tastings, classes and gourmet dinners is posted for 2016.


BEST RESTAURANTS

 

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

Restaurant Alba
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.

Roots Café
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

Vera Pasta
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.

 

Best Ambiance

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.

Gables at Chadds FordThe 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
DowntownWestChester.com

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

Dixie Picnic
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

Couch Tomato
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

Hank’s Place
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 BistroLa 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.


BEST CHEFS

Best Chef’s Table

Talula’s Table
102 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-444-8255 / TalulasTable.com

Both the heady anticipation and the actual experience of dinner at this farm-to-table BYOB make it clear why CNN put Talula’s among “Nine Restaurants that are almost harder to get into than Harvard.” Reservations for the celebrated farm table (for 10 to 12) must be made by phone one year to the day ahead of time. For the chef’s table in the kitchen (for 4 to 8), it’s a mere three months wait and via email. At both, you’re treated to 10 courses highlighting uber-seasonal ingredients and the artistry of owner Aimee Olexy and Executive Chef Josh Behm. Whether it’s the season for maple and sage scented pork loin or honey glazed donuts with buttermilk ice cream and lavender-rhubarb compote, you’ll dream of your Talula’s experience for years.

Most Innovative Chef

Majolica
258 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-917-0962 / MajolicaRestaurant.com

Creative, meticulous, artful—just three accolades diners lavish on Chef Andrew Deery and his New American BYOB. Deery never tires in his quest for new ways to tease out the essence of each ingredient: dipping into his white corn soup with Maine lobster is akin to biting into a just-picked cob. His grilled octopus and short ribs define tender. And in Earl Grey tea ice cream paired with shortbread and lemon curd, Deery plays with classic teatime flavors. We also love that, between courses, he surprises diners by sending out samples from the kitchen. Whether you order a la carte, from the six- or eight-course tasting menu, or attend a Majolica cooking class, Deery’s consistent skill and imagination keep your palate engaged.

Amani's BYOB

Amani's BYOB
105 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown
484-237-8179 / AmanisBYOB.com

The menu at Chef Jonathan Amann’s BYOB reflects his pioneering spirit and farmer’s awareness of the seasons. Diners marvel at his ability to marry ingredients that, in another kitchen, would be destined for bachelorhood. Think porcini dusted grouper in a beet cider broth, salmon with a lime-agave glaze and hazelnut grits, and pumpkin fritters with smoked chicken and cayenne maple glaze. In 2015, Amann put his own spin on BYOB with a creative selection of mixers. No wonder he’s a three-time winner of the Chester County Restaurant Festival’s best chef title.


BEST MEALS

 

Best Fun Brunch

Buckley’s Tavern
5812 Kennett Pk., Wilmington
302-656-9776 / BuckleysTavern.com

Remember when families took leisurely Sunday drives? We’re all for renewing that tradition especially when the drive takes you through Delaware’s chateau country and ends with a pajama brunch at this cozy historic tavern. Tables enjoy a basket of bakery goodies and meat platter with bacon, sausage, ham and scrapple, a local favorite. Entrées for adults include Belgian waffles, cinnamon swirl brioche French toast, sweet potato pancakes with pecan butter and maple syrup. Plus omelets, crab eggs Benedict, shrimp and grits as well as Buckley’s beloved burger. Kids love the smiley face pancakes. Do, do, do wear jammies—and save 50 percent on your food.


Best Lunch

333 Belrose Bar & Grill
333 Belrose La., Radnor
610-293-1000 / 333Belrose.com

Business people as well as ladies and gentlemen who lunch find lots to love at this casual contemporary American favorite. There’s always a good variety of the four S’s (starters, soups, salads, sandwiches) in addition to entrées. No matter the season, diners swear by the calamari (sometimes spicy with a sweet chili glaze) and flavor-packed soups such as creamy corn and crab bisque. Other favorites: chicken salad sandwich and can’t-eat-just-one garlic parsley fries. Regulars check Facebook for daily specials and pray the turkey burger with house-made potato chips is on the list. On sunny days, the patio’s the place to sit and be seen.


Best Lunch Buffet

Limoncello’s
9 N. Walnut St., West Chester
610-436-6230 / LimoncelloWC.com

499 E. Uwchlan Ave., Chester Springs
610-524-3112 / LimoncelloCS.com

The reasonably priced lunch buffet at this family-run Italian favorite is a study in generosity. Midway through lunch, patrons begin planning a return trip, acknowledging it’s not easy to sample all those appealing dishes in one sitting. While the offerings change daily, there are always four hot dishes (two meats, a fish, a pasta), a few pizzas, some strombolis, more salads and about ten veggie dishes. Diners love the baked salmon with caramelized onions, Maria’s meatballs, chicken piccata, tilapia puttanesca and house-made pasta. Look for cheese ravioli, penne alla vodka and lasagna. On the lighter side: Insalata alla Dina (greens, pear, gorgonzola, candied walnuts), grilled eggplant, broccoli rabe. Go back for seconds.


Best Desserts

Sweet Charity Event
28 W. Market St., West Chester
610-696-8211 / ChesCoCF.org

Calories don’t count at a fundraiser, right? That should be true. And another reason to sample the almost 20-some desserts at Chester County Community Foundation’s 12th annual Sweet Charity event. Really, 20-some desserts! What’s not to love? Go to support the Foundation’s outreach programs or to find out what will top last year’s winning treats: John Serock Catering’s Spiced Apple and Rhubarb Taco, General Warren’s S’mores Brownies, and Delightful Desserts & Culinary Creation’s Citrus Triple Play. Or you can say you’re there on March 21 to check out the healthiest dessert winner. There’s a prize for that, too.

Nomadic Pies
132 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-857-7600 / NomadicPies.com

Since 2012, we’ve chased Molly Johnston’s Nomadic Pies truck from farmers market to farmers market for a bite of her sweet and savory creations. Now that she’s found a permanent home on Kennett Square’s State Street, we’re thrilled! Craig LaBan is a fan, too. Johnston makes all pies and quiches from scratch with an emphasis on local ingredients. “Like an orchard in a pie” sums up her fruit creations. While the pie menu changes with the seasons, favorites include caramel apple crumb, sour cherry, and peach raspberry; chicken pot pie; spinach, roasted red pepper and goat cheese quiche.


Best Drive-Thru Dinner

Farmer’s Road Drive Thru
210 A. Painters Crossing Village, Chadds Ford
610-558-2220 / FarmersRoadDriveThru.com

At the intersection of 202 and U.S. 1 in Chadds Ford—you’ve been trained to expect a McDonald’s. But you realize the drive-thru window, and maybe you, have matured when you choose a Green Dog—“all-natural grass-fed beef hot dog, avocado, watercress, rice cakes on whole-wheat bun” (can substitute vegetarian hot dog). Or an Apple Sandwich—local cheddar and American cheese, Granny Smith apple, raw honey, maple sourdough. Chef Ryan Sulikowski
 and Courtney Rozsas (of Media’s Lotus Farm to Table) have masterminded the marriage of fast food and natural, organic and heart-healthy. Beat the traffic. Stop here! 

Overview of dinner tableBest Dinner at the Inn

General Warren
9 Old Lancaster Rd., Malvern
610-296-3637 / GeneralWarren.com

At this elegant Colonial inn, working fireplaces and candlelight transform every dinner—from an ordinary Tuesday to a pop-the-question Saturday—into a special occasion. Time and again, diners return for American-Continental classics: beef Wellington, steak au poivre, snapper soup and crab cakes as well as Caesar salad and bananas foster, both prepared tableside. Lobster flatbread is a classic in the making, and the extensive wine list promises bottles to complement every dish. The full dinner menu is also available in the Warren Tavern, boasting a wood-burning fireplace, cozy tables and U-shaped soapstone bar. Weather permitting, the Spring House Terrace makes dining al fresco a treat.


Best Dinner at a B&B

Faunbrook B&B
699 W. Rosedale Ave., West Chester
610-436-5788 / Faunbrook.com

Atreasure like Faunbrook B&B—the 1860s home of Smedley Darlington, now with seven distinctive guestrooms—needs to be enjoyed by more than those lucky enough to stay there. So, we were delighted to see the series of seasonal Harvest Dinners—Strawberry Moonlight, Twilight Peach, Starlight Pumpkin, Cucumber Dinner—hosted on site. Drawing on her network of local artisans, owner Lori Zytkowicz coordinated local food, drinks and décor for a four-course dinner highlighting the featured ingredient, plus local libations, and an enchanting evening of Faunbrook ambiance. Can’t wait to see plans for this year!

Best Tea Rooms

A Taste of Britain
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne 
610-971-0390 / ATasteOfBritainInWayne.com

Civility never goes out of style at this Wayne charmer, perfect for birthday lunches, Mother’s Day, private parties or a respite from busy schedules. Full afternoon tea includes tea sandwiches, mini pastries, a pot of tea and choice of scone with clotted cream, lemon curd and strawberry preserves. Each month brings a featured scone—coconut chocolate chip is a winner. Rounding out the menu are salads, soups, sandwiches and British comfort foods (chicken pot pie, beef cottage pie, Cornish pasty). Let A Taste of Britain cater your next event. Or pick up teas, biscuits and other British imports from the shoppe. So Granthamesque.

The Lincoln Room
28 W. Market St., West Chester
610-696-2102 / LincolnRoomWestChester.com

Lincoln’s Birthday, Mother’s Day, wedding or bridal shower, little princess birthday—many good reasons to seek out this special spot in West Chester. The Lincoln Room continues to offer cozy lunches, high tea and fondue Fridays in the lower level of the historic Lincoln Building. Who can pass up dainty sandwiches served on multi-tiered stands? Plus quiches galore (asparagus a fave), charming salads, hearty soups (try the butternut squash with heavy cream) and specialty scones with lemon curd and Devonshire clotted cream? And, of course, pots of perfectly brewed tea to warm your soul as you raise a pinkie to this oasis on busy Market Street. 


Best Snacks & Apps

Bistro On Bridge
210 Bridge St., Phoenixville
610-935-7141 / BistroOnBridge.com

The outdoor space along Phoenixville’s Bridge Street, with comfy sofas and lots of tables, has been a magnet for folks looking to sample 130+ craft beers, 21 beers from rotating taps and specialty cocktails at Bistro on Bridge. The drink list is matched by a drool-worthy selection of snacks, apps and light fare. From the signature Bistro buffalo wings, to crispy ribs, duck nachos, risotto balls, bacon cheeseburger pizza, caprese panini and bacon truffle popcorn! Plus the on-trend Cubano egg rolls and Cubano sandwich (marinated pork, black forest ham, Swiss, dill pickle slices, mustard aioli, hot pressed Cuban bread). We want it all. And we want it now.


Best Doggie Dining

Appetites on Main
286 Main St., Exton
610-594-2030 / AppetitesOnMain.com

Take your pooch out for a treat and head for the patio at Appetites on Main where they’ve long been dog-friendly (also kid-friendly, but that’s a different category). For those who don’t want to keep Fido in the car while they enjoy a beer and great bar food, this is a doggie dining destination. A special doggie menu includes hot dogs (of course), burgers, chicken and prime rib and steak (with bacon!), so no more begging by your furry friend for your food. Water bowls provided, too. More spots on BringFido.com.

 


BEER, BARS AND WINE


Best Wine Bar

Domaine Hudson Wine BarDomaine Hudson Wine Bar
1314 N. Washington St., Wilmington
302-655-9463 / DomaineHudson.com

You may know that Domaine Hudson’s wine list has garnered accolades from Open Table (Top 100 Wine Lists in the U.S.), Wine Spectator, Zagat, Delaware’s Reader’s Choice, and County Lines. What you may not know is that they combine a sense of humor with their knowledge of the vines. With 450 selections of rare, boutique and vintage wines, including 40 choices by the glass or in flights (1.5, 3 or 5 oz. pours), they curate tastings with themes like Italian Masterpieces, Que Syrah Syrah, Cabernet Cabaret and Pinot Envy. Plus more serious selections from Burgundy, Piedmont and sparklers, of course. Combine with an artisanal cheese or charcuterie plate for perfection.


Best Local Wine

Galer Winery
700 Folly Hill Rd., Kennett Square
484-899-8013 / GalerEstate.com

The Brandywine Valley boasts a special microclimate giving local vineyards an ideal environment for growing grapes and developing a wine industry. Galer Estate (formerly Folly Hill Winery, near Longwood Gardens) has recently attracted attention by earning key awards to add to the 90-some others. Besting the best of California vino, Galer garnered the 2015 Gold Medal from the International Eastern Wine Competition in Sonoma for their 2014 un-oaked Chardonnay and Silver for their 2014 Pinot Gris. They’ve also won Best of Show, Double Gold and Gold Medals for ice wines, and had Craig LaBan anoint their rosé “as close as we get to a taste of Provence in the Brandywine.”


Best Bar for Meeting Friends

White Dog Café
200 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne / 610-225-3700
379 Lancaster Ave., Haverford / 610-896-4556
WhiteDog.com

Polished wood beams, chandeliers fashioned from wine bottles and a wall of lovable canine portraits make this clubby chic bar the ideal spot to meet friends, reconnect and raise a glass. Libations with a local twist: farm-to-table cocktails, a mostly American wine list, plus Pennsylvania beers on tap. Happy hour runs from 4 to 6 weekdays with a menu that includes half-price wine bottles and favorite comfort foods: mac ‘n’ cheese, tuna tartare, truffle parmesan fries and double cheddar burger. Check out the newish Haverford location, too. Cheers!


Best Happy Hour

Tavola Restaurant + Bar
400 W. Sproul Rd., Springfield
610-543-2100 / Tavolas.com

The patio looks like your dream patio—spacious, with sofas and seating for a crowd, colorful umbrellas, fire pits, heat lamps and glass enclosure when needed, all overlooking a perfectly manicured lawn (in this case a golf course). A top spot for drinks with friends, say from 4 to 6 in the afternoon. Changing Happy Hour specials—from green apple sangria to $3 Shock Tops to $6 Dark Horse Cabernet—mean repeat visits. The menu has all kinds of light fare to make it your happiest hour: tacos, sliders, wings, nachos, panini, wood-fired pizzas. Late fall Tavola had an Uber special. What more can you want?


Best Brew Pubs

Victory Brewing Company
420 Acorn Ln., Downingtown / 610-873-0881
650 W. Cypress St., Kennett Square / 484-730-1870
3127 Lower Valley Rd., Parkesburg
484-718-5080 / VictoryBeer.com

Adjacent to the brewery, available for a tour, it’s one of our favorite places. There are about two dozen ever-changing beers on tap—Golden Monkey, Storm King Imperial Stout—two others on a hand pump—like Hop Devil, Headwaters—and more in bottles—think Helios, Happy Quad. There are always a great seasonal cheeses and charcuterie boards. Small and main plates—buffalo chicken, enchiladas, Polish sausage, roast beef, shrimp and grits—are favorites and more than filling. And don’t miss the Victory Ice Cream. Venture beyond the Downingtown home spot and try Victory’s new brewpubs—in Kennett Square and Parkesburg.

Boxcar Brewpub
142 E. Market St., West Chester
484-947-2503 / BoxcarBrewingCompany.com

On Market Street, east of High in West Chester, you can pull in after work, before dinner, or any other time for that matter. It’s Community Supported Beer at Boxcar Brewpub and at the brewery on Westtown Road. Pull up to the bar, order one of Boxcar’s beers, like 1492 American Pale Ale, Coal Runner Stout or an Imperial Mango Ginger draft. It’s fresh, batch brewed, much as Jamie Robinson and Jason Kohser dreamed it up in Jamie’s kitchen. If you’re hungry, order from the brewpub’s expanding and evolving menu—snacks, salads, small and large plates. The kids will love the giant Jenga, T.V., retro video games and claw machine. On weekends, stop by for live music.

Best Beer Selection To Go

Pinocchio’s Beer Garden To Go
31 E. Baltimore Ave., Media
610-566-7767 / PinBeer.com

How about 1000 specialty beers, 200 craft beers, 25 rotating on tap, plus mix-and-match six packs, growlers and on-site tastings? It’s enough selection to make a Beer Advocate fanboy advocate for the personalized service from Tim Volikas and his knowledgeable yet patient staff. With 60 years in the business, Pinocchio’s—one of the first pizzeria’s around—grew the Beer Garden from a modest start. So, next time you want to try six different pumpkin beers, satisfy finicky friends or learn to distinguish an APA from an IPA, head to the beer mecca in Media. Also a perfect stop before dining in a local BYOB. Pinocchio’s, no lie.

Best Taproom

Station Taproom
207 W. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown
484-593-0560 / StationTaproom.com

From the exterior, it may not attract your attention, but the line outside gives away its popularity. Inside, everybody knows your name! Or should, if you appreciate good food and drink. The truffle fries are legendary. So are the Carolina-style pulled pork and Thai red curry that gets raves from regulars. But a big draw is the well-curated beer lists—over 30 beers in bottles (up to $35 for 22 oz. of Firestone Walker Double DPA) and five to ten on tap, plus more than 30 brands of whiskey and single-malt scotch. And a world-class rating from the Beer Advocate. The Station Taproom is by the R5, so no need to Uber home.

Best Pub

The Whip Tavern
1383 N. Chatham Rd., West Marlborough
610-383-0600 / TheWhipTavern.com

With a new Executive Chef—Anne Coll, from Susannah Foo Gourmet Kitchen and Meritage—and ten years under its belt, this traditional English pub is better than ever. Coll is sourcing many ingredients locally and tweaking dishes to perfection. Try the Doe Run Cheese plate, Welsh rarebit and bubble and squeak. Follow up with fish and chips, bangers and mash or a seafood curry that visiting Brits deem authentic. Dessert: sticky toffee pudding. Sample The Whip’s selection of British and American beers and ciders. Ambiance is pure Chester County horse country with views of Doe Run Creek.


BEST CUISINES

 

Best American Continental

The Farmhouse Restaurant at Loch Nairn
514 McCue Rd., Avondale
610-268-2235 / LNGolf.com

It’s fitting that great American fare is served in this charming 18th-century farmhouse setting out in the country. (It’s on a golf course, but the country setting predominates.) Within minutes of talking about The Farmhouse, someone will mention the renowned crab cakes—so memorable some folks won’t order them anywhere else. There’s a prix fixe menu ($39) and the dinner menu covers much-loved classics—fillet mignon, duck, rack of lamb, even surf and turf. In homage to its Avondale location, there are mushrooms—in the soup or a sauté appetizer. Plus classic desserts, like cheesecake, strawberry shortcake and bananas foster. A setting for many celebrations, including weddings.


Best Asian Fusion

Nectar
1091 Lancaster Ave.
610-725-9000 / TasteNectar.com

A towering 18-foot silkscreen Buddah presides over the nexus of many worlds at Nectar, where acclaimed chef Patrick Feury’s cuisine is Asian-inspired with French accents. The ambiance: NYC hip meets Main Line elegance. It’s difficult to choose from the extensive menu (many dishes beg to be shared), but knowledgeable waitstaff provide dead-on recommendations. Edamame dumplings star in Dim Sum bento box for two. Sushi, sashimi and rolls are uber-fresh. Anything with lobster—fried rice, pad Thai and wok lobster (B-52s fans, this one’s for you!)—fetches compliments as does wok chili tenderloin of beef and grilled filet. Two outstanding desserts: mini-donuts with three dipping sauces and Chester County artisan cheese plate. In 2015, Nectar made Philly Mag’s Best Suburban Restaurant list while its wine list, which includes many PA bottles, earned Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence. We raise our glasses in agreement!


Sovana BistroBest Bistro

Sovana Bistro
696 Unionville Rd., Kennett Square
610-444-5600 / SovanaBistro.com

There’s bistro in the name, Italian influences throughout, and a clear allegiance to farm-to-table seasonality at this longtime favorite outside Kennett Square. Sovana Bistro has evolved from a local BYOB to a restaurant with a serious rep to lure city folk to this rustic, chic spot with a full bar. The menu hits all the right notes: roasted half chicken with truffle whipped butternut squash purée, toasted quinoa, lemongrass-ginger jus; harrisa skirt steak with pumpkin cous-cous, garlic spinach, sunny side up egg; lamb tacos; date and chorizo pizza; plus sides of crispy Brussels sprouts, hand-stretched burratta, truffled Canestri mac ‘n’ cheese. A perfect capper: the diverse and delicious artisanal cheese plate, in flights of three or five.


Best BBQ

Jimmy’s BBQ
309 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
610-879-8805 / JimmysBBQ.com

You’ll enjoy it most if you pull up in a pickup truck. Since 2009, it’s become a Main Line institution. Bacon, pulled chicken or pork, wings, sausages, brisket, salmon, ribs, all smoked for hours and hours. Juicy, tender, smokey. You’ll swear the brisket is the best thing you’ve ever had, until you eat the fall-off-the-bone ribs, and then you’ll fall in love with another taste. Savor with Jimmy Mog’s own dry rub, plus your choice of sauces: sweet, vinegar and hot. On the side, add mac ‘n’ cheese, smoked beans, cole slaw … about eight authentic, no-nonsense, good-tasting choices. Maybe eight is enough.


Best Burger

Red Star Craft House
146 Exton Square Mall, Exton
610-524-5893 / RedStarCraftHouse.com

Go for the apps—fried pickles, edamame dumpling, crispy Thai calamari. Or for the beer—over 100 on tap, from Oregon’s Rogue Dead Guy Ale to Maryland’s Heavy Seas Peg Leg. Or a wood-fired pizza, some tacos or wings. Our recommendation is go for the burger. Red meat! We like the Smokehouse Burger: the pulled pork and cheddar fried onion topping off the hearty charcoaled beef, juicy in the center. Or the grass-fed bison burger with brie? Veggie burger with quinoa and purple rice? For the hard-core, go for the Red Star Burger, with scrapple, cheese and fried egg. Worry about your cholesterol tomorrow. Choose the gluten-free option for balance?


Best Chinese New Year’s

Margaret Kuo’s
190 Lancaster Ave., Malvern / 610-647-5488
4-6 W. State St., Media / 610-892-0115
175 E. Lancaster Ave., Wayne / 610-688-7200
MargaretKuo.com

Mark February 8, 4714 on your calendar to start the year of the monkey (known to be witty, intelligent, with a magnetic personality), but make your reservations now to enjoy the multi-course celebration at Margaret Kuo’s. Long the spirit behind the Chinese New Year’s parade in Media, the Kuos spread the tradition by hosting special feasts, a 40-year tradition! Last year’s gourmet dinners featured seven or eight courses, with optional wine pairing (BYOB in Malvern): a selection of hors d’oevres, special soup, and courses featuring Peking duck, lobster, fish and filet courses, ending with traditional New Year’s sweets. All with special symbolism. Expand your cultural horizons.


Best French Cuisine

Sips Bistro & Bar
400 Bridge St., Phoenixville
484-924-9721 / SipsPhoenixville.com

France meets Phoenixville at this welcoming bistro owned by French native, Fabien Chaigneau, former GM of Brasserie Perrier. Whether seated at the antique wood bar, by the outdoor patio’s fire pit, or in the aptly named Streets of France brick dining room, you feel at home. The classics draw raves: soupe a l’onion gratinee, seared foie gras, charcuterie and fromage plates, steak frites. And adoration is the only word to describe how diners feel about the escargot in garlic butter, crème brûlée and all-you-can-eat mussels on Mondays. With its Euro-centric wine list, happy hours and BYOB on Sunday evenings, Sips guarantees que personne ne laisse soif (that no one leaves thirsty).

La Baguette Magique
202 W. Market St., West Chester
610-620-4729 / MagicBaguette.com

Oh là là! Try out your high school French or wax nostalgic about that boulangerie on the Left Bank as you step inside La Baguette Magique, the answer to local Francophiles’ prayers. Owner/baker Catherine Session is living her childhood dream with the March opening of her authentic French bakery/café specializing in hand-made, traditional breads and old-fashioned tarts and treats. Crusty baguettes and daily bread specials, flaky croissants (love the chocolate), luscious quiches, tasty croque monsieurs, pots of mousse au chocolat—oui! Baked fresh daily, from the best ingredients, treats like the fall tart special (buttery tart crust, orange marmelade, almond cream, meringue almond, candied orange) are displayed in glass cases like the jewels they are.


Best Indian Cuisine

Shere-E-Punjab
208 W. State St., Media / 610-891-0400
301 Byers Dr., Glen Mills / 484-841-6345
5059 State Rd., Drexel Hill / 484-452-8041
ShereEPunjab.com

So good there are three locations—Glen Mills, Drexel Hill and Media, which expanded its space to include a bar. Off Baltimore Pike in a mall, the Glen Mills spot delights when Chef Zail Singh Shergill greets us and we spot the turbans of several diners and the soft undercurrent of conversations in an Indian dialect. We settle in with orders of pashawari naan—light, fluffy, from a traditional clay oven—and lamb samosas—perfectly crisped—before moving to the main dish: chilly chicken, the chef’s specialty, and shrimp vindaloo. The chicken, marinated, cooked as in northwest India, is superb. The vindaloo is wonderfully spiced; the shrimp are plump, succulent. All enough to draw you back again. And again.

Bangles Indian Cuisine
889 E. Lancaster Ave., Downingtown
610-269-9600 / BanglesIndianCuisine.com

Downingtown is the dining destination for dosas now that Craig LaBan dubbed the onion rava dosa one of 2014’s “15 Best Things I Ate.” Calling it “hauntingly good,” he raved about its semolina-rice batter scented with curry leaves and ginger. That’s just one item on the six-page dinner menu at this upscale BYOB Indian eatery in the Ashbridge Shopping Center. Some say the southern Indian dishes are stronger, but there’s so much to love that fans keep returning and sampling. Lunch buffets, a three-course chef’s tasting menu ($29) and all your favorite versions of paneer, samosas, biriyanis, tandori dishes and more. Options for vegetarians and lamb-lovers alike.


Best Italian Cuisine

Tonino’s Pizza and Pasta
235 Lancaster Ave., Malvern
610-240-9566 / ToninosPizzaAndPasta.com

Hidden gem” gets tossed around with reckless abandon, but for this two-year-old, family-run BYOB, the phrase fits. Yes—the restaurant is in a plain-Jane shopping center, but the pizza, homemade pasta, paninis and traditional Italian-American dishes shine like Sophia Loren. Pizzas come in two styles (thin-crusted, round Napolitana and thick-crusted, square Sicilian) by the slice or pie. Salmon scampi, pappardelle with Bolognese sauce, and special Sunday ragu—meatball, sausage, stuffed braciole in hearty tomato sauce—are why we’re thrilled the Scotto family set up shop in Malvern for dining and catering.

La Verona
114 E. State St., Kennett Square
610-444-2244 / LaVeronaPA.com

After strolling through Longwood Gardens, take your appetite to this northern Italian favorite in downtown Kennett. In winter, we like a fireside table, the ideal setting for tucking into mushroom gratin, house-made burrata salad and fried calamari, all popular starters. For entrées, try bronzino or house-made ravioli (spinach-mushroom or lobster-filled when offered). There’s a full bar or BYO (only 1-2 bottles) for a $7 corkage fee. Live music on Thursdays and Saturdays.


Best Japanese Cuisine

Lily’s Asian Restaurant
104 W. State St., Kennett Square
610-925-3700 / LilySushiandGrill.com

The name spans lots of cooking styles, but the Japanese dishes shine here. By now everyone in Chester County and beyond knows of Lily’s all-you-can-eat sushi Tuesdays, and rightly so. Don’t forget to sample the sashimi, which benefits from the same freshness and care, and the sushi and sashimi bento boxes for lunch get raves. For variety, try the teriyaki, teppanyaki and hibachi portions of the menu with chicken, steak, salmon and scallops as options. And who doesn’t love tempura? Yes, there are Chinese and Thai dishes, too, so you can get that bang, bang shrimp or pad thai. Kids menu and BYOB. What’s not to love?


Best Mexican Restaurant

Más Mexicali
102 E. Market St., West Chester
610-918-6280 / MasMexicali.com

Unless it’s winter, or rainy or worse, we like to head for the roof, order one of about a dozen margaritas, and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of downtown West Chester. On the way to the top, you’ll pass the sounds and scents of Mexico—sizzling fajitas, tacos and burritos, fresh guacamole and pico de gallo tempt us. After sunset, we decend to the Cantina and sway to la musica. The steak a la tampiquena and Baja-style paella are excellent, flavorful and delicious, worth sharing and savouring. After dinner, we head for the Tequila Bar and Velvet Lounge, with the largest tequila selection in the area. Y sera una muy linda noche.


Best Budget Mexican Food

El Comalito Mexican Taqueria
2 N. 5 Points Rd., West Chester
610-701-6456 / ElComalitoTaqueria.com

When we bid good-bye to Billy Bugers on Five Points Road in West Chester, we didn’t know we’d say hola to our new favorite authentic, homestyle Mexican restaurant at that same location. With a menu primarily in Spanish (Facebook, too), El Comalito is run by the folks from the former Don Gabriel’s, also of West Chester. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a la cart or platters—$12 for steak fajitas with beans and rice—plus weekend specials (beef tripe stew), this cash-only spot offers all the classics you crave. In fact, there’s a menu section labeled antojtos (cravings).


Favorite Pizza

Vecchia Pizzeria
249 Bridge St., Phoenixville / 610-933-1355
134 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne / 484-580-6135
Facebook.com/Vecchia-Pizzeria

Do a few things very well. That’s the philosophy behind the short menu and addictive pizzas at Vecchia’s, a place we love so much our car headed there on its own even when fire closed them down most of the summer. Wood-fired Neapolitan pies, thin blistered crust, perfect toppings imported from Italy. Chef Frank Nattle built a devoted following in Phoenixville before opening the North Wayne Ave. BYOB in 2014. Pick the classic regina margherita, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and the covaccino, piled with arugula, prosciutto and shaved parmigiano. We never have room for the Nutella dessert pizza and have yet to snag a $5 margherita lunch special, but it’s still our pizza paradise.


Best Prix Fixe Menu

Twelves Grill & Café
10 Exchange Pl., West Grove
610-869-4020 / TwelvesGrill.com

A $12 prix fixe lunch menu on the 12th of each month marks the significance of that number to Tim and Kristin Smith, chef and owners of this BYOB in a converted 1880s bank building in West Grove. (Hint about 12s: birthdays, anniversary, first date.) Both Smiths rose through the best area restaurant before opening this one in 2008. Now their $10 prix fixe menu for kids and $25 prix fixe for adults on Tuesday—Thursday make a visit warranted. The cheese plate, portobello fries, quinoa and butternut squash salad, oysters, monkfish and grass-fed local beef burger get praise. Honoring all local foods, they waive the corkage for local wines.


Best Sandwich

Westtown Meats & Deli
1030 Old Wilmington Pk., West Chester
610-696-5588 / WesttownMeatMarket.com

Maybe it’s the beef sliced right on the premises, maybe it’s the fresh Amoroso rolls. Whatever the reason, fans agree this off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop operation turns out cheesesteaks to rival Philly’s. Three more reasons to visit: hoagies, burgers and anything—roasted turkey, chicken salad, honey ham—on the white sandwich bread baked fresh every day at Westtown. Look for daily specials on Facebook, including inventive combinations like the burger dog (just what it sounds like) and jalapeño cheddar pork burgers. Still hungry? Add a side of cheese fries and homemade brownie for dessert.


Best Shawarma

Desert Rose
305 W. State St., Media
484-442-8012 / DesertRoseMediaPA.com

Jason and Nataii invite you in for a blending of Moroccan, Israeli and Iraqi food. Get the shawarma, even if you’re embarrassed to pronounce the object of your desires—a massive house-made pita filled with hummus, tahini and other fillings—like chicken, tomato, cucumber, eggplants. Worth a special stop in Media. The falafel also has its fans. Ah, if only the nations would get along as well ….


Best Seafood

Harry’s Fish Market & Grill
101 S. Market St., Wilmington
302-777-1500 / HarrySeafoodGrill.com

What makes us wild about Harry’s? The energetic vibe, views of Wilmington’s Cristina River, and fresh, fresh, fresh seafood. While the menu is updated daily, we always find a variety of East and West Coast oysters, inventive ceviches, sashimi and fish and shellfish entrées with seasonal sides. On Sunday, a.k.a. Lobster Day, enjoy a 1½ lb. Main lobster with New England clam chowder and apple crisp. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, savor half-price oysters. With lunch, dinner and tapas menus, this upscale, casual spot is ideal for dining before a show at nearby Delaware Theater Company, after a brisk walk along the Riverfront—or any time you crave lobster mashed potatoes.


Best Small Plates

Black Powder Tavern
1164 Valley Forge Rd., Wayne
610-293-9333 / BlackPowderTavern.com

This historic tavern boasts it’s been “raising spirits since 1746.” The craft American fare ensures the mission continues. A happy hour menu—served 5 to 7 and 9 to 10—plus small plates on the lunch and dinner menus cover lots of territory. Polenta fries, cheesy devils on horseback (gorgonzola stuffed dates wrapped in bacon), and mussels, both traditional and “revolutionary” (code for spicy) are favorites. A strong craft beer list—featured beers, rotating choices on tap, and a bounty of bottles—specialty cocktails, and a wine list ranging from bright crisp whites to rich velvety reds help you savor the flavors.


Best Steakhouse

Stockyard Inn Steakhouse
1147 Lititz Pk., Lancaster
717-394-7975 / StockyardInn.com

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life you will crave a steak. Red meat done well—and not well done. When that time comes, we recommend a drive to Lancaster County, to one of the country’s oldest continuously operating steakhouses with 60 years under the Fournaris family. In a farmhouse once owned by President Buchanan, the Stockyard Inn is an elegant setting for savoring steak—filet mignon or petite filet with pinot noir reduction, New York strip or Delmonico in demi-glace, filet tips or sirloin, all grilled to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Wine Spectator-approved list, exceptional crab cakes and legendary cheesecake. The real deal.


Best Sushi

Bluefin Sushi & Asian Cuisine
1102 Baltimore Pk., Glen Mills
610-459-2055 / BlueFinGlenMills.com

This small, lovely place in a shopping center continues to serve up excellent, fresh fish artistically presented. Some say such fresh fish, offered in good size pieces, has no need for extra sauces and seasoning. Others enjoy the visual display and tantalizing combinations. Like the Spicy Girl Roll (spicy tuna, salmon, white fish, avocado, cream cheese, deep fried with eel sauce, spicy mayo), Rainbow Roll (crabmeat, cucumber, avocado, tuna, salmon, white fish, with tobiko), or Rich Man’s Roll (spicy crunch salmon, avocado, salmon, special sauce, tobiko). Don’t miss the lunch special of five pieces of sushi and a California roll for $10.


Best Taco

Jaco Juice & Taco Bar
8 W. Gay St., West Chester
610-436-4177 / BacoJuiceAndTaco.com

With taco in its name, a menu with seven regular choices and a shout-out in November by Philly Mag for top 20 area taco places, Jaco Taco (formerly Baco Taco) rings our bell for tacos. Savor specials like buffalo shrimp tacos, favorites like the fresh fish (not fried) and pulled pork, or two veggie options (one even has kale)—all with a variety of tasty accompaniments, including tomatillo salsa and roasted poblano crema. Fresh tasting and satisfying. Add sides of rice and beans. Or match with a fresh juice or smoothie—a Yolo or Hipster? Bueno.


Best Vegetarian Options

Raw Can Roll Café
767 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne
484-580-8454 / RawCanRollCafe.com

Taste the flavorful dishes and juices at this teeny-tiny café near Whole Foods Devon, and you’ll drop your assumptions about vegetarian and vegan like a hot, organic potato. Eighty percent of the menu is raw, twenty percent cooked, and all items are vegan—most are almost entirely organic, kosher and gluten-free. Go for fresh juices and smoothies, then stay for Mexican taco salad, mock chicken salad and pad thai with zucchini “noodles.” One regular lavished praise on the Kosmic Kale Salad, while others gushed over the Thai spring rolls with ginger peanut sauce. Many vegan restaurants fail dessert, but Raw Can Roll scores with peanut butter ganache and coconut nutty brownies.


Best Cooking Classes

Kitchen Workshop in Paoli
21 Plank Ave., Ste 204, Paoli
610-993-2665 / Kitchen-Workshop.com

Full bellies and belly laughs mark the hands-on cooking classes at The Kitchen Workshop. Gathered around the kitchen’s island, up to 12 students chop, dice and knead while owner Art Roman peppers easy-to-follow instructions with amusing anecdotes and good-natured ribbing. Classes come in a variety of flavors. Some focus on skills (Knife Skills, the always popular Boot Camp). Others offer international tastes—Mexican and Thai to Croatian and African with Global Street Food for adventurous omnivores. In a dinner-movie rut? Try couples-only classes. Many lessons end with a family-style feast at the large dining table, and everyone goes home with recipes—and maybe a cookbook from Roman’s extensive collection.


Best Local Cookbook

Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
237 St. James Pl., Philadelphia
215-625-8800 / ZahavRestaurant.com

Like the best novels, the best cookbooks have memorable characters, a distinctive voice and strong sense of place. Zahav, by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, is that kind of cookbook. Threaded through recipes for mezze (small dishes), borekas (flaky filled pastries), and salatim (vegetables) are stories of Solomonov’s life and family told with a candor we’ll remember long after closing the nearly 400-page book. Whether he’s waxing poetic on Philadelphia restaurants, the Israeli love of barbecue, or tehina (that sesame paste at the heart of hummus and so many Israeli dishes), he reminds us that food—like life—is always evolving.