15 of Philadelphia’s outstanding spots for celebrating special occasions

Freshly renovated interiors at Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti in Old City. | Credit: Adriano Martino

Maybe you got engaged on the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or just picked up the keys to your first rowhouse. It could be that your kid is (finally) toilet trained, or that your noisy neighbor moved away. Sometimes, simply surviving another Tuesday can be an occasion to celebrate over a restaurant meal. 

It doesn’t have to be fancy. What makes an occasion special isn’t an arbitrary date on the calendar—it’s the decision to celebrate. Luckily, Philadelphia bursts with places where the food and atmosphere lend themselves to living it up. Grab dinner and a jazz show at a swinging North Broad Street faithful. Opt for a quieter night at a critically acclaimed, plant-based gem in Midtown Village. Or splurge on a swanky steakhouse that presides over a corner of Rittenhouse Park. 

Whether you’re after an intimate spot for an anniversary date or a convivial atmosphere for a boisterous reunion, Philadelphia has you covered with these 15 celebration-worthy restaurants. 

Estia – Philadelphia (Center City)

Bringing a taste of Greece to three locations across Philadelphia and New Jersey, Estia is a Mediterranean restaurant with seafood sourced from the Aegean sea. A selection of whole fish comes charcoal-grilled with capers, lemon juice, and olive oil. Traditional Greek finds include spanakopita (phyllo pastry filled with spinach, leek, scallion, and feta) and moussaka (beef casserole layered with potatoes, eggplant, and bechamel sauce). A celebration isn’t complete without drinks, and Estia has an extensive wine menu of more than 300 wines in its Philly location. 

Amada PHL (Old City)

Sangria at Amada PHL. | Credit: Amada PHL

Iron Chef Jose Garces’s first restaurant, Amada, is a deep dive into Andalusian cuisine, complete with tapas, charcuterie, paella, and suckling pig. There are classics such as serrano ham croquettes, paprika aioli patatas bravas, grilled octopus, and garlic shrimp. Start your weekend on the right foot at happy hour Thursday through Saturday with $5 tapas and house-made sangrias. To wrap up a fantastic weekend, return on Sundays for half-priced bottles of wine and a special selection of $7 tapas—or try all nine for $45. 

Jean-Georges – Four Season Philadelphia (Logan Square)

After a long closure, the dazzling Jean-Georges Philadelphia is back. Its Comcast Technology Center location means sweeping city views. To that, add one of the most inventive menus in town, and it’s an obvious candidate for the most special of special-occasion meals. Floor-to-ceiling windows display panoramic vistas and cushy horseshoe banquettes provide unusually spacious and comfortable seating. Diners have two options for their tasting menu: “from land and sea,” which is for omnivores and includes meat and seafood, or “from the earth,” a vegetarian feast. Both include a selection of iconic dishes that Jean-Georges restaurants are known for, such as egg toast with caviar and herbs, as well as new seasonal dishes. At $198 per person, not including drinks, it’s now one of the most expensive tasting menu experiences in the city. But reservations disappear quickly so book in advance if you want to celebrate something special in the sky. 

Veda – Modern Indian Bistro (Rittenhouse Square)

This Indian restaurant is a modern-meets-traditional gem in Rittenhouse Square. The cocktail menu stands out, with inventive drinks including the drunken lassi made with mango lassi, chile powder, and dark rum or the Punjabi sour with whisky, amaretto, citrus juices, bitters, and a Scotch rinse. You can also pair flights of whiskey with rich curries, which are all gluten-free. Dip onion and sage naan into lamb rogan josh (tender lamb pieces in a Kashmiri red chile sauce) and chicken korma (boneless chicken in a blend of almond and cardamom sauce). Veda is the whole special occasion package with flavors of a home-cooked meal in stylish digs. 

Fork – Philadelphia (Old City)

The entrance to Fork – Philadelphia. | Credit: Fork – Philadelphia

It takes something special for any restaurant to flourish for decades, and Old City’s Fork has that X factor in spades. The restaurant marks its 25th anniversary this year. Led by visionary restaurateur Ellen Yin, Fork has evolved with the neighborhood around it. From the very start, it’s been one of Philadelphia’s best restaurants to celebrate special occasions. The elegant setting features art, plants, and chandelier lighting. It’s a scene worthy of birthdays, anniversaries, going away gatherings, and other moments you want to etch into your memory. The menu is inspired by local farmers and the seasonal ingredients of the Mid-Atlantic region. Oysters with rosé-peppercorn mignonette, house-made charcuterie, and dry-aged, bone-in steak served with bone marrow, roasted garlic, potato pave, and chimichurri are especially flavorful ways to celebrate. The attentive and expert service is one more touch that places Fork in a league of its own.

Relish (West Oak Lane)

Bringing a slice of Southern charm to Philly, Relish is a live jazz restaurant with weekend buffets. Signature menu items include the deviled cajun shrimp eggs and smoked turkey wings with collards, cabbage, and smashed potatoes. Both the restaurant space and hearty meals are family-friendly and great for larger parties. Treat yourself to live music on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 

Talula’s Garden (Washington Square West)

Talula’s Garden is Philadelphia’s answer to San Francisco’s Chez Panisse; owner Aimee Olexy is an East Coast counterpart to Alice Waters. Here, it’s all about embracing the best of seasonal ingredients from nearby farms. The restaurant is an indoor-outdoor space, but a table in the eponymous garden, lush with plants and twinkling with lights, is the place to be for celebrations. Olexy’s passion for artisan cheese is apparent in her ever-changing cheese board, titled accurately on the menu as a “master class.” Start with the mushroom soup, made from Pennsylvania-grown mushrooms, miso, and herbs, topped with brioche croutons and garlic-thyme cream. Smoked pork belly with roasted peaches, bok choy, and peanuts and pan-roasted salmon with summer corn, butter beans, and zucchini are entrees that make the most of the fleeting seasonal bounty. 

El Vez (Midtown Village) 

El Vez Philadelphia

A festive spread at El Vez. | Credit: El Vez

The life of the party, El Vez is a Mexican restaurant decked out with a spinning neon bike elevated as the centerpiece of the bar. The festive vibes are also fueled by a sprawling wall of miniature Calavera figurines against plush couches. Dive into five different types of guacamole and an array of tacos, or get the taco tasting platter with chicken, steak, carnitas, mahi-mahi, and árabes (slow-roasted lamb with morita chile). Don’t sleep on the sides of lime chipotle and queso fresco grilled corn. This is the spot for lively group celebrations such as birthdays and family reunions.

SOUTH Restaurant & Jazz Club (Center City)

Sometimes a special night out calls for more than a meal. If dinner and a show appeals, head to SOUTH Restaurant & Jazz Club on North Broad Street. Show tickets come with a reservation for a table where you can enjoy the restaurant’s menu, stacked with dishes inspired by the American South. Start with blue crab and avocado on grilled brioche or cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes and shrimp remoulade. Jumbo lump crab cakes with sweet corn maque choux and charred asparagus are sure to harmonize with what’s being improvised on stage. You’ll likely want to linger over something sweet and an after-dinner coffee or cocktail. One highlight of the excellent dessert menu is the bourbon vanilla creme brulee.  

Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti (Old City)

Bold colors and Italianate art at Positano Coast by Aldo Lamberti. | Credit: Adriano Martino

After a recent renovation that transformed this Old City stalwart, Positano Coast feels more festive than ever. The interior blooms with bold colors and warm woodwork. Combined with the Italianate art, the new interior design instantly activates vacation vibes. The classic Italian plates remain a reason to visit. For something appropriately luxurious, try the chilled lobster with avocado and mango, or go all-in with Aldo’s seafood harvest, a feast of oysters on the half shelf, top-neck clams, shrimp cocktail, and seafood salad. House-made pastas, such as sea urchin linguine with crab, are always a good choice for a special night. Toast to whatever you’re celebrating with the process cocktail, a mix of vodka and hibiscus made bubbly with prosecco.

Barclay Prime (Rittenhouse Square)

Nothing says big night out like a swanky steakhouse. Barclay Prime, on the corner of Rittenhouse Square Park, is the place to sip a Manhattan and sink your teeth into some of the best beef on offer in Philadelphia. The dining room is awash in serene shades of sage and blue. Tabletops are cool marble, and the walls are lined with bookcases for a refreshingly adult and library-like vibe. The menu brings a subtle modern touch to steakhouse classics. Start with caviar and blini with all the traditional accompaniments including egg, red onion, crème fraîche, and chives, or try the iconic wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese. The main draw is the steak and there are more than 10 options on the menu. Choose from a wide variety of cuts and sizes as well as American or Japanese wagyu. There are five steak sauces for those who want to gild the lily. Side dishes skew rich and nostalgic. Go for the tater tots and creamed spinach to round out the perfect steakhouse meal.

Vedge (Midtown Village)

Vedge restaurant serves plant-based dishes only, but this constraint hasn’t stopped it from landing on numerous national best restaurants lists. Or racking up James Beard Award nominations over the years for chef/owners, Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby. The restaurant occupies a gracious historic brownstone, which sets a romantic, candle-lit scene in the dining rooms and bar. But the genius vegetable cuisine will remain the biggest draw. Must-order dishes include the rutabaga fondue with today’s soft pretzel and yesterday’s pickles; the eggplant braciole with Italian salsa verde, black olive, and piquillo pepper; and the cheesecake with seasonal accompaniments. Natural wine aficionados will want to pair dinner with something from the well-chosen wine list.

Laurel (East Passyunk)


Artful, seasonal dishes make up the menu at Laurel. | Credit: Laurel

Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi puts his spin on French-inspired American cuisine at BYOB restaurant Laurel. Simple and refined, Laurel curates a seasonal six-course menu with a focus on locally farmed ingredients. Each artfully plated course is designed to impress; expect dishes such as a L’Arpège egg—chef Alain Passard’s famous dish, with Elmi’s twist on it—with bowfin caviar and two slices of toasted sourdough brioche; brown butter roasted cod with spring peas, white asparagus, and miso; and charcoal-grilled quail with sassafras, purple carrot, and pickled green almond. The exquisite food garnered the highest distinction of four bells from The Philadelphia Inquirer  food critic Craig LaBan.

Vernick Food & Drink (Rittenhouse)

Since 2012, chef Greg Vernick has wowed the Philadelphia food scene and beyond with his straightforward yet striking cooking. The James Beard Award winner is deft at applying unpretentious fine-dining techniques—no surprise given he rose through the ranks at Jean-Georges Vongrichten’s restaurants in New York City. The airy, energetic bar and dining room at his namesake spot set a lively scene for a big date or group dinner. The menu changes frequently, but raw fish small plates are reliable standouts. The arctic char crudo with crispy skin and toasted chile oil is a favorite among regulars. The wood-fired half chicken is a beloved menu staple that Vernick would be hard-pressed to take off the menu. It’s currently served with charred gem lettuce, sweet peppers, and lemon jus.  

Kpod (University City)

After 20 years as the University City staple Pod, the restaurant space on Sansom Street is now KPod, a new Stephen Starr restaurant with lauded chef Peter Serpico at the kitchen’s helm. The interior has a whimsical feel with colorful abstract murals and an abundance of buoyant, rounded shapes. Serpico cooks up an exuberant, Korean-inspired menu that lends itself to sharing. There’s sweet-spicy Korean fried cauliflower tossed in a chile glaze with scallion and sesame. The seafood pancake is a crisp tangle of shrimp, crab, and scallops served with a soy dipping sauce. For something vibrant and fresh, try the classic kimbap-style hand roll stuffed with carrots, pickles, spinach, and shiitake. And don’t forget to add a few banchan, or veggie-forward Korean side dishes, without which no visit is complete.

Joy Manning is a food writer, recipe developer, and podcaster based in Philadelphia. 

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