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In recent years, Philadelphia has become home to some of the most well-reviewed and well-regarded restaurants in the country, and that’s thanks entirely to its chefs and restaurateurs, who took this city from cheesesteaks to high cuisine. Here are 7 chefs and restaurateurs in Philadelphia you should know.
One of the pioneers of Philadelphia’s modern dining scene, Stephen Starr worked in the local music industry before opening Continental Restaurant & Martini Bar in 1995. Since then, this restaurateur has expanded greatly, with 20 restaurants in Philadelphia alone (including popular stalwarts like El Vez and Parc) alongside spots in New York, Miami, Atlantic City, Washington D.C., and even Paris. In 2017, Starr was honored with the “Outstanding Restaurateur” James Beard award, with one of his New York spots, Le Coucou, taking home “Best New Restaurant.”
A chef and restaurateur, Michael Schulson trained at Stephen Starr’s Buddakan New York and Pod in Philadelphia before traveling to Japan to complete his culinary education. Upon his return to the States, he started off with Izakaya in Atlantic City before opening Sampan in Philadelphia’s Midtown Village in 2009. Since then he has expanded into concepts like Harp & Crown, a modern American bar with a bowling alley, and Double Knot, a sushi and izakaya spot that has earned accolades across the city.
Not so long ago, the stretch of 13th Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets was an unpopulated and desolate part of Midtown Village, even with a few bars dotting the landscape, but these few blocks have been revitalized by restaurateur and chef team Marcie Turney & Valerie Safran’s 13th Street Collective. Between Verde (which sells local goods and Marcie Blaine Chocolates), Barbuzzo (with its Mediterranean cuisine and wood fired pizza oven), and Bud & Marilyn’s (a kitschy diner-style spot named after Turney’s grandparents), and more, these two have created a tiny empire in just a few blocks.
One of the most famous chefs in Philadelphia, Marc Vetri opened his eponymous fixed-price spot, Vetri Cucina, in a small townhouse on Spruce Street in September 1998. Since then, he has been a huge presence in Philadelphia’s culinary and social scene, has won national acclaim, and has opened several other popular spots, including Pizzeria Vetri, Amis, and Osteria. After a brief involvement with Urban Outfitters, Vetri is back in the kitchen at Vetri Cucina full time, and has recently done pasta pop-ups for those who might not want to indulge in the full, indulgent prixe-fix menu (which typically runs for $165 a person!).
After making a splash by winning Season 11 of Top Chef in 2014, Nicholas Elmi returned to Philadelphia, where he had previously trained under classic French chef Georges Perrier at Le Bec Fin, one of the city’s original fine dining establishments. His first restaurant, Laurel, is a small prixe-fix BYOB on East Passyunk that’s typically all booked up two to three months in advance — and for good reason, since it’s frequently ranked as one of the top restaurants in the city. If you can’t get into Laurel, you can still enjoy Chef Elmi’s menus at his bar next door, ITV, or Royal Boucherie, his new brasserie in Old City.
This incredibly creative chef burst onto the scene after training at Vetri, and his flagship restaurant, Zahav, is one of the most decorated restaurants in the country, with several James Beard nominations under its belt. Michael Solomonov isn’t just well-known in Philadelphia — thanks to his signature hummus recipe, his popular cookbook, and his multiple James Beard Awards (Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic, Cookbook of the Year, and Outstanding Chef), he’s a superstar throughout the country. In Philadelphia alone, he’s delved into everything from traditional Israeli hummusiyas (Dizengoff) to fried chicken and doughnut joints (Federal Donuts), and shows no signs of stopping.
Last but not least, Iron Chef Jose Garces may have been born in Chicago, but he has made Philadelphia his own. His first restaurant, Amada, is as busy as ever, and with plenty of other spots under his belt, including Tinto, Village Whiskey, Distrito, and 24, Garces isn’t slowing down now, especially thanks to his outposts in Chicago, Scottsdale, Atlantic City, and more. He also runs the charitable Garces Foundation, Garces Catering Company, and has a James Beard Award of his own for Best Chef: Mid Atlantic Region.