Emerging Philadelphia Restaurant Empires, Large and Small
Some of Philly’s big name restauranteurs, led by the ubiquitous Stephen Starr and Iron Chef Jose Garces, have already have expanded their culinary reach beyond Philadelphia. For example, New Yorkers have made hits of the NYC incarnations of Morimoto and Buddakan and Garces has a foothold in his hometown of Chicago. But neither is stopping there, with Chef Garces setting up shop out on the West Coast and in Atlantic City and Starr heading into the nation’s capital. Meanwhile, other Philly food luminaries are getting into the mix: maestro Marc Vetri is heading to Jersey, Hiroyuki Tanaka of Zama is going to Miami, and high-end Philly java purveyor La Colombe is hitting the Windy City.
On the other end of the food snobbery spectrum (although Garces has managed to straddle it with Guapo’s Tacos) are another source of Philly gastronomic pride—food trucks. Although a few other cities birthed gourmet food truck scenes first, Philly’s has gotten really good, really fast. That trend was on proud display earlier this year at the first annual Philadelphia Vendy awards, an extravaganza imported from NYC that recognizes the best of the best among truck food. The blossoming of the scene has led to expansion beyond the traditional University City and Temple clusters, to include Clark Park, LOVE Park, the NoLibs/Fishtown borderlands around the Piazza, and beyond. Honest Tom’s Tacos has been successful enough to go brick-and-mortar (and will open imminently if its health inspection goes well today). Of course, growing pains are to be expected, including problems with Licenses and Inspections, including draconian measures like truck confiscation, and squabbles with the Health Department, including some nonsensical ones. Fortunately, a food truck association is forming to help address these and other common issues. Now, do food truck proprietors and yourself a favor. Gather a few bucks, get on twitter, and find a few of the truck scenes brighter lights next time you need a nosh. My current favorites are the eclectic and scrumptious Vernalicious and locavore burger-and-shake aces Lucky Old Souls.
For more suggestions, see Craig LaBan’s picks for the best up-and-coming food trucks or search on Yelp.