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5 restaurants pushing the envelope in Philadelphia

A photo of Red logo
by OpenTable team
Updated December 21, 2022

Innovation runs deep in Philadelphia’s rich history. After all, one of the most famous Philadelphians is inventor extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin, whose innovative spirit lives on in the city’s electric dining scene.

A beloved Sichuan spot in Chinatown augments its staff with a service robot. A swanky Rittenhouse Square steakhouse donates a hundred pounds of oyster shells a week to restore the Delaware River shoreline.

Meet Philadelphia’s risk-takers, trailblazers, and changemakers. Read on for a list of five of the most cutting-edge restaurants to book now in the City of Brotherly Love.

A photo of Fork - Philadelphia restaurant
4.7
4.7 (4966)
$31 to $50
Contemporary American
Old City
About the restaurant

Fork debuted in 1997 and is steered by outstanding restaurateur Ellen Yin, who ensures her sophisticated New American spot evolves with the times. As the flagship venture of High Street Hospitality Group (owned by Yin and acclaimed chef Eli Kulp), Fork was a standard-setter in Philadelphia’s farm-to-table movement. These days, Yin and company, led by chef de cuisine George Madosky, are especially passionate about reducing food waste. Madosky, who regularly breaks down full and half lambs for his dishes, is known for making sausages and stocks with the off-cuts. The restaurant uses a biodigester, a system that transforms organic solid waste into water rather than composting, eliminating the need to rely on an outside company to pick up food scraps. Among other pioneering efforts, Fork also works with Too Good To Go to get surplus food to people who will use it.

Top review
TarrZvip
Dined 1 day ago
A truly remarkable, innovative, and scrumptious cuisine! Fork is a stand-out among Philadelphia's fine restaurants!
A photo of Square 1682 restaurant
4.4
4.4 (2036)
$30 and under
American
Center City
About the restaurant
In Rittenhouse Square’s Architects Building, an Art Deco office tower, Square 1682 is Philadelphia’s first LEED-certified restaurant and bar. The menu prioritizes bold, New American plates, such as Lancaster duck confit on buttermilk toast and braised beef cheeks in habanero-carrot purée, made with locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. Even the cocktails lean seasonal, such as the London Beet, a blend of gin, spice syrup, beet juice, and cranberry bitters. Square 1682 stands out for having passed a series of stringent U.S. Green Building Council guidelines. Its kitchen uses energy- and water-efficient appliances, an in-house garden supplies the restaurant’s herbs, and the menu includes multiple gluten-free and vegetarian options, all contributing to its unique, eco-friendly existence.
Top review
DianeMvip
Dined 4 days ago
As soon as we walk through the door, everyone is warm and welcoming- especially Tanya, Cindy, and Alex. We feel at home while we enjoy our delicious food.
A photo of EMei restaurant
4.7
4.7 (241)
$30 and under
Chinese (Sichuan)
Chinatown
About the restaurant

Steered by chef Yongcheng Zhao, EMei has served some of the Philadelphia area’s best Sichuan food since 2011. The lively, group-friendly spot, filled with large round tables and rotating trays, is ideal for gathering over plates of Chongqing spicy chicken and pork intestine. But it’s a unique approach to the restaurant industry labor shortage that distinguishes EMei from the crowd. In September 2022, the restaurant welcomed Bella, a service robot manufactured by the China-based company Pudu. Equipped with four heat induction trays and 3D sensors, Bella saves servers trips to the kitchen and can shuttle takeout orders from the kitchen to EMei’s reception desk without human intervention. Bella can display dozens of facial expressions, making it a selfie magnet with its own TikTok account.

Top review
OpenTable Diner
Dined on Jun 1, 2024
Pork dumplings were so good! The food we ordered was good too.
A photo of Volver restaurant
4.4
4.4 (792)
$31 to $50
Portuguese
Center City
About the restaurant

This Kimmel Center icon dazzles with dramatic interiors decked with a marble-topped bar, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a striking curved glass bottle mural by local artist Conrad Booker. Locally sourced meats, seafood, and produce from chef/owner Jose Garces’s Bucks County farm feature prominently in the restaurant’s French-inspired dishes. The community connection doesn’t end there: Garces, a James Beard Award winner, introduced a chefs-in-residency program in 2021, spotlighting local talent from underrepresented communities for six-to-eight-week rotations. The path-breaking program returned for a second season in 2022, featuring soul food master Reuben “Big Rube” Harley of Pitchers Pub in Manayunk and Chance Anies, the owner of Tabachoy, a local Filipino food truck.

Top review
MaryKay
Dined 5 days ago
Very nice experience prior to the concert. We ate at the bar. The drinks and food were very good, we were very satisfied in the quality and flavors of the octopus, zucchini and salad. All tasty items. It is a shame that it is closing. Best of luck to everyone.
A photo of Barclay Prime restaurant
4.8
4.8 (5206)
$50 and over
Steakhouse
Rittenhouse Square
About the restaurant
Some of Philadelphia’s best steaks await at this retro-chic spot, part of Stephen Starr’s vast hospitality empire. The service sets a sophisticated, if fun and over-the-top, tone, having diners select which steak knife they prefer for their entree. Barclay Prime extends its signature thoughtfulness beyond the walls of the chandelier-filled dining room. In 2022, the restaurant started donating 100 pounds of shells a week to the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s oyster shell recycling program. Oysters have ecological superpowers: They can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Yet young oysters need to attach to old shells to grow. The donated shells help rebuild oyster reefs and restore the Delaware River watershed.
Top review
tlobrivip
Dined 3 days ago
Fantastic food and too-notch service. The restaurant gets a little loud, but everything was quite terrific. My Sea bass was wonderful!
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