As summer is winding down, the dining scene in Philadelphia and New Jersey is heating up. After a spring and summer of outdoor dining, parklets, and tents, dining rooms have reopened to full capacity and eating out is more of an option than it’s been in quite some time. After so many months of takeout, delivery, and too much home cooking, there’s a real joy in sitting down to a restaurant meal.
In Philadelphia and New Jersey, restaurateurs have been busy, using these strange times to get creative, come up with new concepts, and offer diners something different. From modern Mexican to brand-new beach eats, these are the reservations to make this season.
Pumpkin BYOB (Rittenhouse Square)
This beloved BYOB has been championing seasonally inspired local fare since 2004. Now, going strong a decade-plus later, the owners have refreshed the dining room, expanded outside dining with a year round parklet, and introduced a daily three-course prix fixe. Choose from dishes such as duck with sweet corn succotash, salt potatoes with crab and Old Bay butter, and trumpet pasta with rabbit ragu. Attractive additions like freshly shucked oysters, buffalo mozzarella, and Lost Bread Co. slices are available for those looking to incorporate an extra course or two.
Village Whiskey (Rittenhouse Square)
Scoring a table at celebrity chef Jose Garces’s beloved burger and cocktail bar just got a little bit easier. Village Whiskey has recently expanded its space to include double the original seating capacity. Favorites like the Village burger and foie gras-topped whiskey king aren’t going anywhere, but with added space, the kitchen has expanded menu offerings to include elevated pub grub, too, such as baby back ribs, brick chicken frites, and a smoked salmon BLT. With $7 cocktails and plenty of snacks, Village Whiskey’s Wednesday to Sunday happy hour is still one the best in town.
Relish (West Oak Lane)
Southern-inspired fare shares the spotlight with live jazz at this recently reopened Oakland favorite. With generous appetizers such as seafood mac and cheese and shrimp and grits, it’s best to arrive at Relish ready to dig in. Entrees include tender all-night braised ribs, turkey wings with collards and cabbage, and fried Carolina catfish. The restaurant’s beloved jazz brunch is slated to return shortly, so keep an eye out for what’s one of the best ways to spend a Sunday in town.
Sor Ynez (Fishtown)
The newest addition from restaurateur Jill Weber and the Sojourn Philly restaurant group (Cafe Ynez, Jet Wine Garden) is a modern Mexican spot named for a noted feminist nun and scholar. One look at chef Alex Telez’s menu and it’s clear that Sor Ynez is not your run-of-the-mill taco and margarita spot. Start with sikil pak, a Mayan pumpkin seeds dip, and move on to heritage pork carnitas with onion escabeche and habanero salsa, or a vegan mixiote of vegetables steamed in a banana leaf. Don’t miss Sor Ynez’s female-owned and -operated spin on a Citywide, a shot of La Gritona tequila served with Love City lager.
Belmar Kitchen (Belmar)
Celebrity chef David Burke’s latest venture, opened in April, is an Italian American tavern by the sea. Located at the Beach Haus Brewery in Belmar, the crowd-pleasing menu lines up tomato burrata salad and shrimp cocktail alongside shareable pizzas and entrees like branzino with artichoke and olives or a wood-fired chicken with peaches and kale. The bar’s signature cocktail is an old fashioned made with a choice of locally distilled spirits.
Meals at this colorful Clifton cantina from chef Julieta Vallesteros (of Los Feliz and La Loteria in New York City) start on a high note with creative agave-based cocktails and table-side guac. The menu highlights Mayan cooking, from sikil-p’ak (a dip made with toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted tomatillo, and pomegranate seeds) to cured bass or ahi tuna ceviches. Tacos and tlayudas are also available with various fillings and toppings, and those wishing for an interactive dining experience can opt for steak on a stone, a filet or New York strip cooked table-side on lava rock.
R Bar (Asbury Park)
As far as Jersey Shore dining goes, Asbury Park has no shortage of standout places to eat. R Bar’s focus is on updated beach eats — think smoked whitefish dip with fried shallots and a spin on disco fries with cheese curds and demi glace. Vegans can get into a cauliflower steak with chimichurri, while those looking to splash out can opt for a 40-ounce Tomahawk steak and caviar service. A lengthy wine list features bottles from independent producers rarely seen at the beach.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.