Ultimate BYOB Guide


Django

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended one month in advance.

Buy a Bottle At: 724 South St., Philadelphia.

Django started it all, and when it first opened, Philadelphia had never seen anything quite like it. Its steaming ceramic-pot bread and surprising haute touches to the bistro fare made it one of the most lusted-after reservations in town. Recently, however, Django has fallen under new ownership, and Philly’s foodies have been all abuzz over what would happen to their beloved restaurant. It turns out they need not have worried: It’s as creative, and as tasty, as ever. Tuna Crudo with watermelon and basil, sesame crisps and a deliciously rich feta-red onion vinaigrette is not only every bit as creative as we all came to expect of the original Django, but the preparation is just as adept. And the warm pineapple upside-down cake, with its accoutrements of vanilla ice cream, vanilla-ginger sauce and dulce de leche, takes an ordinarily homely dessert to another level entirely. The ownership may have changed, but the excitement is still there.

526 S. 4th St., Philadelphia, 215.922.7151.


Trattoria Primadonna

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended, outside seating available.

Buy a Bottle At: 29 S. 11th St., Philadelphia.

I know Billy Joel is from New York, but every time I have dinner at Trattoria Primadonna, I feel as if I’m walking into a verse from “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.” The dimly lit space is both unexpectedly romantic and decidedly comfortable, and by the time you make your second visit (and you will make a second visit), the staff will treat you like an old regular. The linguine Bolognese is rich and hearty, and the salads are universally satisfying and well composed. And the nightly specials, from seared scallops with balsamic vinegar to grilled whole fish, are always delicious. But the dish that will ruin your ability to enjoy all other pastas is the cannelloni, a rolled-up sheet of homemade pasta filled with ground veal that’s been cooked with onions, celery and carrots, intensified by the addition of béchamel, and topped with a delicious blush sauce. Old Billy once asked, “A bottle of red? A bottle of white? It all depends upon your appetite.” At Primadonna, it doesn’t matter what kind of wine you bring: You’ll have no problem finding something fabulous on the menu to pair with it. Of all the Italian restaurants in this neighborhood, Primadonna is by far the best.

1506 Spruce St., Philadelphia, 215.790.0171.


Matyson

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 1913 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

One of the happiest recent developments in the Philadelphia dining scene has been the ever-increasing number of waiters and waitresses who are knowledgeable about the food they’re serving. At Matyson, this phenomenon seems to have reached its peak, which makes for a blissfully relaxing way to spend a few hours over dinner. The menu, too, reflects this quietly sophisticated ethos: The chilled asparagus salad with goat cheese, spicy greens and a lovely raspberry vinaigrette is understated yet delicious. And the pan-seared scallops with fava beans and creamy corn are ingeniously paired with a black pepper honey muffin. The combination of textures and flavors is one of the most intriguing I’ve come across in a long time. Matyson is on the west side of Rittenhouse Square, and unfortunately, most people tend to dine on the other side of it. This restaurant, however, should be reason enough to explore that relatively uncharted territory. It’s more than worth it.

37 S. 19th St., Philadelphia, 215.564.2926; www.matyson.com


Sabrina’s Café

What to Know Before You Go: Credit cards accepted, reservations recommended, outside seating available.

Buy a Bottle At: 724 South St., Philadelphia.

The morning after is never exactly pleasant, but once you’ve been able to drag yourself out of bed, clean the sleep-crusties from your eyes, and Febreeze whatever it is you wore the previous night before you get dressed in it all over again, your first stop should be Sabrina’s Café. It’s the destination for Old City-zens on lazy weekend mornings. The space itself is homey and relaxed, everyone’s unexpectedly friendly, and the food could cure even the worst hangover. Too much tequila Saturday night? Perhaps a little (literal) hair of the dog is the answer: The Barking Chihuahua is the breakfast burrito par excellence, stuffed to the point of bursting with scrambled eggs, red peppers, black beans, sour cream, pepper jack cheese, and a spicy tomato sauce. If you need something a bit heartier, or if you happen to be at Sabrina’s for lunch or dinner, you can’t go wrong with the burger. It’s a 10-ounce monster that comes with toppings ranging from standards like bacon and onions to deliciously unexpected ones like marinated sun-dried tomatoes and roasted peppers.

910/12 Christian St., Philadelphia, 215.574.1599.


La Viola

What to Know Before You Go: Cash only, reservations recommended.

Buy a Bottle At: 1318 Walnut St., Philadelphia.

La Viola is probably the most consistently crowded Italian restaurant in the Rittenhouse neighborhood. And while some of its dishes are certainly good, the food is not quite as consistent as it should be. Pastas are occasionally overcooked and a bit too soft, and the seasoning can be fairly inconsistent. But when everything comes together, La Viola’s kitchen is capable of sending out dishes of great flavor and interest. The fettuccine al salmone, for example, is deliciously salty from the pieces of smoked salmon, yet the edge is taken off with the addition of a lovely pink cognac sauce. And the Caesar salad is the Platonic ideal: the dressing is creamy, flavorful and in perfect proportion to the romaine. La Viola is a small restaurant, and it can get cramped in the pre-theater hours. So for a better shot at a solid meal, you’d do well to go after 7:45pm. Or simply research the Kimmel Center’s schedule and visit La Viola on a night when there’s nothing going on.

253 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, 215.735.8630.

*Disclaimer
At AroundPhilly.com, we only post reviews of the restaurants at which I have a positive experience. I visit many of them, and the sub-par ones don’t make the cut. This way, you don’t waste your time reading about not-so-good restaurants when you visit the site.

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