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Some argue that Philadelphia sucks.  I strenuously object.  I love its outdoor murals, funky South Street shops, art in the park, liberal BYOB policy and people who go out of their way to be kind (raging Eagles fans excluded). More thrillingly, I love that Philly’s quickly become a gastronomic destination.  When I first ate at Buddakan years ago, I knew Philly had arrived.

There are exciting Steven Starr and Jose Garces restaurants sprinkled everywhere, and speakeasies that fit comfortably in this rich, historic city. I spent a weekend eating and sipping my way through the City of Brotherly Love. High on the list is Franklin.  Blocked by a formidable man in a three-piece suit, Franklin was a front for bootlegging in the 1920′s, and is still a closely-guarded secret today. This cozy den of iniquity serves no beer, wine or vodka—only finely-crafted cocktails like The Magnificent Basterd ($12) with bourbon, gin, orange, ginger, and a buttery macadamia finish.  112 S. 18th Street, Philadelphia. 267.467.3277.

At Jose Garces’ Cantonese-Peruvian Chifa, duck confit tacos ($9) with house-made kimchi, sliced radish, and cracklins’ on flour tortillas are tiny yet a full array of flavors and textures. Shots of Ecuadorian oyster ceviche ($13) with spicy yellow tomato, jalapeno, chives and avocado make for gazpacho-like seafood sippers.  The night’s special of sous vide pork belly ($9) cut like buttah while the pickled watermelon burst with sweet summer nectar.

Who’s got the best cheesesteaks in Philly?  There’s no need to throw chairs.  It all boils down to personal preference.  Do you like your bread chewy or firm?  Steak thick or thin?  Wiz, American or provolone? With or without onions? Prepare to stand in an hour-long line at Jim’s Cheesesteaks, where customers are guided through a Soup-Nazi-like assembly line.  The bread is fresh and firmer, while coarsely chopped steak rests on a bed of semi-melted cheese of your choice ($8.48, including tax).

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Do what I did and get a pre-cheesesteak cheesesteak at Steaks on South across the street.  This sandwich ($8.58, including tax) takes chewier bread and folds melted cheese into the razor-thin steak for a juicy amalgam. The Mariah Carey of cheesesteaks, the $100 Wagyu Cheesesteak at Barclay Prime layers Mishima Wagyu ribeye, Valdosta fontina cheese and house-made foie gras terrine.  If that weren’t enough, it’s topped with shaved black truffle and truffle butter on ciabatta. Naturally it comes with a half bottle of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut.

Step back to 1920 at The Farmers Cabinet, where an old-timey band plays Cole Porter tunes and the bar stocks 100 bottles of rare European craft beer.  Not to be missed are farm-fresh cocktails like the frothy, cool Kiss of the Earth ($12) with vodka, almond milk, lemongrass syrup, fresh lime juice and basil.

Walk down (sideways) through a very narrow alleyway to Graffiti Bar, around the corner from Sampan. Sheltered from rain, sun and prying eyes, this watering hole is decorated with…graffiti, of course.  Order a small plate of “Philly Cheese Steak” ($6) with shallots, shaved cheese and Sriracha on bao buns.

I wonder if cheesesteaks travel or freeze well…

Address Book

Buddakan, 325 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. 215.574.9440.
Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company
, 112 S. 18th Street, Philadelphia. 267.467.3277
Chifa, 707 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. 215.925.5555
The Farmers Cabinet, 1113 Walnut Street, Philadelphia. 215.923.1113
Steaks on South, 308 South Street, Philadelphia. 215.922.7880
Jim’s Cheesesteaks, 400 South Street, Philadelphia. 215.928.1911
Barclay Prime, 237 South 18th Street, Philadelphia.  215.732.7560
Graffiti Bar, 124 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia. 215.732.3501