From inventive pub grub to fancy fine dining, the cobblestone stretch of Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill has it all. Here are eight can’t-miss restaurants that are just a short drive from Center City. – Chelsea Karnash
Brunch & sweets
This elegant and cheery eatery originally opened as a bakery in 2000 before moving to the former Robertson’s Nursery conservatory back in ’07, where it became a full-fledged restaurant. Pastries and brunch are the major draws—and the super-gorgeous greenhouse setting, of course! Try the quiche du jour or the Eggs Madame for brunch, or the Curry Vegetable Pot Pie for dinner. But whatever you order, save room for mouthwatering desserts like pumpkin-cheesecake bars, strawberry shortcake and oversized cookies. Yum!
American with a twist
At first glance, this might appear to be just another hole in the wall. It’s not, and there are three key words you must remember about Campbell’s: fried brussels sprouts. Order them, and prepare to be in cheese heaven…followed by a cheese coma. Seriously.
Even aside from those glorious sprouts, Campbell’s has a lot going for it. The beer list is extensive and contains concise but thorough descriptions of each brew (including alcohol content) for those who need some help making a drink decision. Servers are friendly, and there’s an adorable (but small) outdoor balcony upstairs for warm-weather dining. And of course, the food is dependably good—check the chalkboard for tasty specials like lobster rolls, crab quesadillas and mussels with various sauces
Pan-Asian with French flair
Cin Cin is always packed, which isn’t surprising, given that it’s owned by the same people as Nectar, Mandarin Garden and the famed Yangming. This classy eatery serves up equally classy (albeit somewhat Americanized) Chinese food that’s at least a few steps up from your typical (greasy) takeout fare. Starving? Order the Chef’s Special. Looking for something light? The spring rolls are standout. In fact, everything’s consistently good, which is why this Cin Cin has so many regulars. And on that note, definitely make a reservation—but be prepared to wait even so. Or save yourself some time, avoid the crowds and get delivery. Yes, Cin Cin delivers, too.
Inventive American cuisine
You’ll never find this restaurant on your own—it’s tucked all the way up in the Top of the Hill Plaza (the one with the cool fountain out front), next to a Thai place and the Wine & Spirits shop—but you must, because the food is pretty spectacular. The comfy 50-seat BYOB knocks it out of the park with colorful, innovative cuisine and a rotating seasonal menu. The prix-fixe brunch is three courses of perfectly proportioned deliciousness, no matter what you order. French toast and an oyster omelet were standouts, and it’s practically impossible not to scrape your plate clean of the dessert course. As for dinner, expect items like Short Rib of Beef with Orchard Peach Glaze and Crab Cake over Sweet Shrimp Gumbo. The only negative? You won’t have time to try everything before the menu is switched up again.
Upscale pub grub
Okay, so it’s technically a local chain, but Iron Hill’s newest outpost has all the hallmarks of the other nine and possibly the best location. With a sleek-yet-rustic façade, this new brewery hotspot fits right into the historic Chestnut Hill ‘hood, and so does the food. And there’s a lot of food—pages and pages of menu that might not be as overwhelming if everything wasn’t so freakin’ good.
For starters and apps, you can’t go wrong with the Signature Egg Rolls, especially the cheesesteak version. And the Braised Beef Brisket and Frites…well, when I dream of the diner disco fries of my North Jersey youth, thoughts of these amazingly scrumptious potatoes often sneak in; they’re like the classic gravy fries on steroids.
And if you can make it past the apps, Iron Hill has some standout entrees, too. All of the burgers are droolworthy, and the pizzas—particularly the shrimp, bacon, green onion and horseradish concoction that is the Lejon—will have you coming back to try ‘em all. Oh, and don’t forget the massive beer selection—this is a brewery first and foremost.
Bar food & The Schmitter
Let’s be real: Every Philadelphian worth their salt has heard of McNally’s famous sando creation, The Schmitter® (yes, it’s so good it’s copyrighted). But this 89-year-old landmark dive has other things on the menu, too—if you can believe it. The Dickens, another fan-fav sandwich, is a Thanksgiving feast crammed into a bun, and—lucky you!—it’s served all year long. And then there’s the chicken cheesesteak, a classic you can never go wrong with at McNally’s. This may be a sandwich and hoagie joint, but it hasn’t been open for 91 years for nothing.
Fine-dining from a famous Philly chef
From Chef Chip Roman (of Conshy’s much-lauded Blackfish and Philly’s Ela) comes Mica, an upscale but comfy eatery that debuted a little over a year ago to tons of praise, and rightly so. Here, you’ll find creative dishes like Cape May Black Bass with fava beans, madras curry and parsnip; or Blue Crab Tortellini paired with peas, saffron and nasturtium. Settle into the spare but elegant dining room or make your way to the pretty deck out back for al fresco noshing in the summertime. Consistently stellar five- and seven-course Chef’s tasting menus are offered daily, as is a rotating a la carte menu that will leave you wondering just what Chef Roman will mix-and-match next. A word of warning, though: Be prepared to drop some major coin at Mica—this is fine-dining for sure. Luckily, it’s sans the attitude.
Unique, constantly changing bar food
This tiny pub conjures images of my grandmother’s basement. It’s crowded, loud and full of rickety furniture. Not normally good stuff in a restaurant, but here, it’s not only strangely charming, but also comforting. Wiggle by the narrow (and perpetually crowded) bar and give your name to the elderly gent at the host stand, then head back to said bar and enjoy a cold beer ever so slooowly; you might be waiting awhile.
Once you’re seated (crammed) into the dining room at the back, make sure to check out the blackboard specials—they never disappoint. On a recent visit, I had a cup of the roasted pepper soup with goat cheese that was pretty amazing, and the Turkey, Brie and Cranberry Melt on Pumpernickel, which I would definitely go back again for. The pork sandwich with roasted peppers and cheese and the wings also get rave reviews, and rumor has it that the portabella fries with aioli are to-die-for.
My recommendation? Go after 9 p.m. for the “Nine after Nine” menu, when nine select entrees are just $9 a pop, and the live music.