I know as soon as I publish this I'll remember something I left out. But I thought I'd take a crack at it anyhow. Here are my top ten favorite places to eat in Philadelphia, in ascending order. There is not necessarily a distinction between highbrow and lowbrow, just taste.
11. Adobe Cafe-I can't legitimately put Adobe in my top ten, but this 11th spot is a shout out to my favorite hole in the wall watering hole. In a building that used to be an Italian night club in it's heyday, Adobe offers low key Tex Mex. The wings are great, the bartenders are friendly. There's always a place for you at Adobe. http://www.adobecafephilly.com/
10. Los Gallos Tacos-This hole in the wall South Philly gem that serves double duty as a Mexican grocer is authentic mexican for cheap. The tacos pastor (pork with pineapple) are awesome, as is the squash blossom quesadilla. This food blows away Xochitl, Cantina, Distrito, El Rey, and El Vez, in my opinion. None of those are bad options, but none come close to cracking my top ten. http://losgallosphilly.com/
9. Han Dynasty-"What do you call a restaurant with American waiters and Mexican chefs? PF Changs!"-Chef Han. Han serves up authentic Schezuan cuisine. It's hot. Chili oil and black pepper, so overpowering, yet if you've eaten the Mapo Tofu or Kung Pao chicken with peanuts, you know that it's oh so addictive. For a fun night, make a reservation for one of his 2x a month tastings, and try 20 menu items for about $25 bucks and byo, and be entertained by Han's humor. But the takeout is just as good any other night. http://handynasty.net/
8. Stateside-Just got the number one spot on the Philly mag list. It doesn't hit my top spot, even though it's within walking distance of my house, but Stateside is killer. The cocktails are expertly prepared and under 10 bucks (try the clover club if you aren't afraid of raw egg), all the food and drinks are U.S. sourced (that means great bourbon list), and the steak tartare is phenomenol. The menu changes seasonally of course. The bar features giant open windows which overlook the fountain on East Passyunk. http://statesidephilly.com/
7. Tinto-This is the only Jose Garces entry on my list. I am partial to Northern Spanish cuisine simply because I've been to the Basque country, where the bar snacks are called pintxos instead of tapas (okay I really don't know all that much about it but it tastes damn good). I mimicked Garces's serrano ham wrapped duck confit with la peral blue cheese and a cherry for my father in law's 60th birthday feast. Good food, good beer and wine, great atmosphere. Right next to Garces's Village Whisky. http://www.tintorestaurant.com/
6. Osteria-This Marc Vetri spot on North Broad St. makes the best pizza in the whole city, I had the one with octopus. The brick oven crisps the pizza so nicely. Great Italian from one of the U.S.'s best Italian chefs. http://www.osteriaphilly.com/
5. Penang-My wife grew up in Southeast Asia, and this Malaysian spot in Chinatown is the closest thing to comfort food she can get. The roti canai is a fried pancake that you dip in curry sauce, a must have. Beef rendang, coconut rice, beef chow fun, mee siam. Cheap prices, great service, open kitchen with flames dancing around. Drink a Tiger beer from Singapore to wash it all down. http://penangusa.com/backup/archive082205/location_philly.html
4. Le Virtu-This Abruzze Italian restaurant is literally around the corner from my house. It's fantastic. The housemade charcuterie plate is a great place to start. Wine on tap is fun. Nice little beer list with Ommegang Hennepin Saison as a staple. The pastas are out of this world, try the one with rabbit. I had some dish that was basically a bowl of assorted pig meat that was incredible. During Beer Week they do a cool grilling event in their lawn area that's pay as you go. http://www.levirtu.com/
3. Zahav-Michael Solomonov's Israeli restaurant features a great atmosphere, good cocktails, great hummus, and fun tasting menu. If Zahav is the jewel of Old City, then the pomegranate braised lamb shoulder is the jewel of Zahav. To me this restaurant represents why the Philly dining scene can match up with anyone. It's unique, special, and delicious. http://www.zahavrestaurant.com/
If you have a half day to kill try Solomonov's Federal Donuts--you have to get there early to reserve some fried chicken.
2. South Philadelphia Taproom-Scott Schroeder's bar menu has a way of making the simplest foods excellent. The North Carolina BBQ chicken sandwich is my favorite item, when available, and I'd rarely choose chicken over beef or seafood. Grilled Pocono trout is a great special, as is the fried chicken. I like the burger even though it's grass fed beef. The eggplant parm is amazing. I could go on and on. There special events are so much fun, none more fun than the Wheaties/Wheat Beer fest each spring. (It's tomorrow!) For Beer week 2011 they had a pig roast, a plate of pig and a beer for 9 bucks, with asian inspired cole slaw on the side. Can't beat it. The beer list is always solid, both draft and bottles. They have the largest Founders account outside of Michigan, so count on some Kentucky Breakfast Stout and other rare brews popping up now and then. And if nothing jumps out at you, you could do worse than a $3 Kenzinger, always available. This is the quintessential neighborhood bar, elevated. If Schroeder wanted to do fine dining I feel he could do any cuisine he wanted and succeed. Thankfully for us he seems content to make pig head cheese tacos for a buck and a half a pop (as seen on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives). http://www.southphiladelphiataproom.com/
1. Fond-Fond means "pan scrapings." Fond is my favorite restaurant in any city. The food is incredible. The chef was trained at Le Bec Fin, as was his wife, the pastry chef, who has her own storefront, Belle Cakery, just down the street. Pan seared skate wing over brown butter risotto, pork belly with Okinawan sweet potatoes, house made sambuca. They just moved to a new location and now have a bar, but you can still byo for free in the week or pay a corkage fee on weekends. This is a special occasion restaurant. It is one of a ton of BYOBs in Philly (Little Fish, Farm and Fisherman, Will, Cochon) but what sets it apart from these, as well as the Garces and Starr places, is the service. Attentive, helpful, and out of their way to make you feel comfortable. One time a server made a minor mistake at our table and the person running the front of the house practically ran over to correct it. http://fondphilly.com/
Runners Up: Royal Tavern, Tiffin, Brauhaus Schmitz, Green Eggs Cafe, Talula's Garden, Pho Saigon, John's Roast Pork, Farm and Fisherman, Slice, Mazza, Bibou