I took a half-hearted stab at a local dining guide years ago, and at some point many of the restaurants listed below received a shout out in one way or another from The Spin or on my Twitter…but I decided it would be fun to traverse the eastern part of North America and crown a best restaurant in each favorite stomping ground. Our journey begins way down yonder in my former homeland of Nor’ Cackalacky. We’ll revisit some of my local favorites in Philly and the Jersey Burbs. We’ll travel far north through New York (and slighty west) all the way up into the land of expense accounts and Canucks. Prepare your taste buds, your credit cards, your hybrid vehicles (only if you have a designated driver) and/or your frequent flier miles….here is The Spin on My Favorite Eats in My Favorite Haunts.
Raleigh, North Carolina – Babylon (309 N. Dawson St.) – I have no idea why a restaurant serving Moroccan food is called Babylon. Would Casablanca have been somehow un-PC or Marrakesh too obvious? But weird geographical naming faux-pas aside, this uber-trendy mecca of Raleigh’s liberal elite located fashionably downtown serves up organic, locally raised Moroccan and Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine that rivals any of your bigger city Northeast rivals. The ambiance is casual urban chic, the service impeccable, and the food fresh, hip and flavorful. Really, Raleigh, whodathunk? You go, with your emerging multicultural self!
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Amada (217 Chestnut Street) – Old City. Chef Jose Garcas. Spanish Tapas. Drinks named after Almodovar films. And a dish so epically simple and flavorful called Madre y Hijo (which consists of a fried egg atop a perfect slice of chicken breast atop a bed of roasted fingerling potatoes and all drizzled in truffle oil) that I would request if I were to ever find myself on death row waiting for a last meal. This is a Philly Restaurant Week staple and one of the most popular (and hard to get into) restaurants in the city even after all of these years. What more is there to say? (Reservations required!)
* Philly Runner Up – Zorba’s Tavern (2230 Fairmount Ave.) – The best Greek food in the city. Period. BYOB. P.S. The Bishop’s Collar just a few blocks down makes for a great place to stop afterwards for drinks and if you want to take in more of this great neighborhood.
South Jersey, The Jerz – Caffe Aldo Lamberti (2011 Marlton Pike West, Cherry Hill) – Yes, it’s located on a vulgar stretch of Route 70. Yes, it offers unnecessary amenities that only uptight suburbanites too lazy to go into Philly insist upon. Valet parking off a major highway? Not needed, thanks. And yes, the retro-posh ambiance engenders an older, uppity clientele and usually stiff service. But who the heck cares when THE. FOOD. IS. THAT. DAMN. GOOD. Simple, fresh, Italian cuisine made right never goes out of style…and neither does a world-class wine selection. This place is so great during South Jersey’s Hot Chefs Farm to Fork Week, and you’ll be so satiated by the food and wine, that you won’t care about the dirty looks from the snooty wait-staff.
* South Jersey Runner Up – Ariana (700 Haddonfield Berlin Road, Voorhees) – This homey hole-in-the-wall family run Afghan restaurant is one I try to go to at least once a month. Serving up comfort-food reminiscent of Greek and Indian cuisine but wholly unique in flavor, you’re guaranteed a great meal every time. The kabobs are killer – and they’ll spice it up or spice it down to your liking. Complete with cardamon infused iced tea, Afghan pudding or baklava and Turkish coffee. BYOB.
Central Jersey, The Jerz – The Lambertville Station (11 Bridge St, Lambertville) – Rustic American cuisine served in a historic building at the foot of the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge overlooking the Delaware River on one side and the quaint shops of Bridge Street on the other, this is a no-brainer for ambiance, service and quality. They serve the best roasted chicken I’ve ever had. And did I mention the whiskey flights? Oh, and the exotic game specials? They served python earlier this month. Yup.
New York, New York – Harry’s (1 Hanover Square) – At the crux of Stone Street and Wall Street this steakhouse and bar is a Manhattan institution that I try to get to every time I’m in the ‘hood. Great for hanging out just for drinks, great for dinner, great for Saturday brunch with endless free mimosas. Walk it off along Battery Park’s esplanade just a few blocks away.
Cooperstown, Upstate New York – Nicoletta’s Italian Cafe (96 Main Street) – Okay, so this tiny hamlet isn’t necessarily known for its restaurant scene but this Italian joint on Main Street is up to snuff and offers a nice respite from the local bars and diners that are the usual fodder for baseball, fall foliage and novel-writing pilgrims.
Toronto, Canuckland – The Keg (165 York St) – Yeah, so what that it’s a chain? Outside of New York, it serves the best steak I’ve ever had. The location downtown is always hoppin’ and always great for gluttonous amounts of food and spirits.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Restaurant Photos courtesy of the world wide web or the restaurant’s own website.
So what are some of your favorite restaurants in some of your favorite places?
Everyone who spends their summers in Cape May and the Wildwoods of Cape May County, NJ knows the best place to go for seafood is the Lobster House on fisherman’s wharf in Cape May. A casual seashore atmosphere, right on the water, with a pleasant and attentive waitstaff and the best, always fresh seafood, to be had at the Jersey Shore. My favorite — their plank grilled salmon. Not only is it delicious but the presentation is picture perfect! Not a seafood fan — they also serve a variety of delicious chicken and beef dishes as well.
I am a salmon lover ‘BooksellerNJ” and my family has visited Wildwood, New Jersey every single year since 1996, when my oldest daughter was born. Now we are a family of seven, and everybody loves eating there. I live in northern New Jersey in Bergen County minutes from the George Washington Bridge, so it’s close to a three hour drive. In any case for me the highlight of our 5 or 6 day stay are the two nights we eat at the Lobster House. You are right that it is terrific eating right there on the water, so you have to keep watch on the seagulls who at any time will swoop down and make off with your meal. I usually throw a few fries at them from my kids’ plates, but it never a good idea to attract them. Anyway as I say I do love the salmon you delectably describe, and I am also a big fan of the sea scallops, and both soups, the New England clam chowder and the Manhattan clam chowder. The downside as you well know however is the difficulty in finding a parking space in those lots across the way (especially on the weekend) and in finding an outdoor table. We long gave up eating inside for a variety of reasons.
The Ravioli House back in Wildwood proper is a nice Italian fix, and there’s a great Chinese place right across the inlet. But heck, I’m a Manhattan guy too and I better not get started. Ha!
David’s post is terrific, though a real strike against dieters. Ha!
Sam … I definately have to try the Ravioli House this year. I’ve been a Wildwood Girl since my “very young” years in the late 50’s. I witnessed the “birth” of Wildwood Crest and then Diamond Beach. Each year we moved a bit further South. I can also recommend two old-time family favorite restaurants, Duffy’s on Sunset Lake and Neil’s on Schellenger Avenue. The Crest Tavern (very end of Wildwood Crest just before you go “on the road to Cape May”) has delicious sandwiches and chicken pot pie. Very crowded unless you get there before 4pm; great for take out. And the BIG question – MACK’S or SAM’S for Boardwalk Pizza. I like SAM’S.
I recall that being a close call between Mack’s and Sam’s my friend! My wife seems to agree with you~ I will definitely keep the Crest Tavern in mind!
POSTSCRIPT – I must’ve jinxed myself as just after raving about Caffe Aldo Lamberti, I had a sub par experience there during the most recent SJ Farm to Fork Restaurant Week. Yes, it’s always extremely “stuffy” in this joint, but after the waiter tried to slip our table the regular menu, he seemed annoyed that we wished to dine off the Prix Fix menu. Hello! – why would anyone go to a restaurant during Restaurant Week and not want to order off the special menu which smart chefs use to showcase their best to entice patrons to come back again and again? The food we were eventually served wasn’t bad – it was just okay – which is sad, because the food was what really made this place. Now it’s just another unnecessarily uppity and over-priced suburban Italian place where the food is mediocre and the wait staff treats you like shit. P.P.S. I will say that the hostesses were very nice…which I imagine they must have to be to make up for the waiters. P.P.P.S The desserts and wine were still top notch.
This post is a little dated now (I would NEVER go to Cafe Aldo Lamberti again, though it was THAT good at one time)….here’s an updated foodie post: https://theschleicherspin.com/2016/07/14/my-most-memorable-dining-experiences/