For people visiting the Philadelphia area you’ll be rather surprised that some of the best dining is actually causal dining. This is something that’s well known by the locals, and although the fine dining options in Philadelphia are many and quite good the casual dining options actually offer more bang for your buck.
August BYOB is one of many restaurants in Philadelphia that works under the local law that allows patrons to bring in their own bottle (or alcoholic drink) so the restaurant doesn’t have to pay a high fee for carrying alcohol and the patron actually gets a discount too as restaurants often charge a premium for alcohol served on premises. Currently there are more than 200 restaurants who have opted for the BYOB classification. With that in mind, plan your drinks accordingly.
August is fusion Italian, which means that its soul is Italian but there are a lot of other influences that affect the ingredients, preparation, and the flavor. Basically it’s Italian with an American twist. The food at August is sure to delight and fill an empty stomach at the same time. For a casual restaurant, August is unexpectedly romantic and a great place for a couple to relax after a day of tourist activities.
Horizons is actually an interesting combination of restaurants rolled into one, the upstairs is more formal in that its an intimate, romantic place to dine while the lower level is more causal and has the atmosphere of a bistro. But the food on both levels is incredible. The cuisine is touted as Tropical with a Mediterranean World Influence. This basically means it’s a little bit of everything with more than a hint of Mediterranean flavor. Their latest foray is into the vegan world where they expertly incorporate their established culinary touch with products that are not animal based. But remember, if you’re looking to stay casual then ask for seating in the bar area.
211 York is a bistro style restaurant that believes in brining fine dining cuisine to people in a comfortable and casual environment. 211 York doesn’t like to classify its cuisine except to say that it’s just like America and influenced by just about every culture around the world. The food at 211 York has been a local favorite since the restaurant opened in 1999 and it’s easy to understand why when have your first taste. But save a little room for dessert as these treats are actually prepared by the chef himself, something rare in most restaurants today.
Definitely casual, Eulogy Belgian Tavern is a bit more exciting than laid back and it’s conveniently located within walking distance of both Independence Hall and the riverfront. Tucked into an historic row house, this two story beer heaven features Philadelphia’s largest beer selection with more than 300 international and domestic beers and 21 draughts. A testament to their name, La Binchoise Brewery in Belgium creates Eulogy’s Busty Blonde exclusively for the restaurant. The restaurant features food that is both American and Belgian inspired and beers are often on the ingredient list. If you love beer, you’ll love Eulogy Belgian Tavern.
Chloe is another entrant into the BYOB category, so plan accordingly. This Old City staple doesn’t accept reservations so you may have to wait as this restaurant is quite popular. The décor is a bit cluttered and fussy, but it’s still comfortable and screams neighborhood bistro. The cuisine is considered new American but features a lot of twists with Mediterranean influences and is always noteworthy. The atmosphere is on the dressier side of casual but welcoming.
Upstares & Sotto Varalli has been a Philadelphia staple since 1989 and features two different restaurants on two different floors. The first floor is referred to as Sotto and features an unusual décor which includes a giant squid and artwork by many local artists. The main draw to both restaurants are the floor to ceiling windows which give you incredible views of the passing crowds from Sotto. From Upstares’ location upstairs, the view is the beautiful skyline of the Avenue of the Arts, one that is said to inspire stares, and thus the pun in the spelling of the name. Both restaurants feature cuisine that is considered gourmet Italian seafood with hints of Mediterranean. Either restaurant is sure to delight with a comfortable casual atmosphere and wonderful selection of fresh seafood selections.
The BYOB Lolita recommends you bring your own tequila to the restaurant and the bar staff will be more than happy to mix up one of their famous margaritas for you. Lolita is located in the Center City area and is one of the businesses credited for the revitalization of this area. The food is upscale Mexican and a wonderful departure from the traditional taco and burrito. The atmosphere at Lolita is boisterous and energetic and this makes it a popular establishment among the locals. A wait is not uncommon so it really would behoove you to take them up on their margarita offer while you wait to get a seat.
London Grill is a wonderful place to go for casual dining as the cuisine isn’t casual at all, its one of the best upscale menus around and the prices are a little high for casual dining but the atmosphere is definitely welcoming and casual. London Grill is another one of those restaurants that aspires to take advantage of everything the local harvest has to offer and prides itself on their selection of local and fresh ingredients. The bar is also very welcoming and a great place to hang out before and/or after your meal.
The advents of the BYOB in Philadelphia inspired many local chefs to open bistro style restaurants which featured fresh local ingredients and exquisite cuisine is a relaxed casual atmosphere. Over the years the best of these restaurants rose to the top while the lesser restaurants faded into the past. This culling of the dining scene has left Philadelphia with a unique situation where you are almost guaranteed an exceptional dining experience in one of the many local casual restaurants.
Photo credit: j.reed