Golden Touch
With our 2015 Golden Fork Awards, the area’s best restaurants take center stage
by Bill Donahue

Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just want to sit back and enjoy the comforts of good food and good conversation, there is nothing quite like sitting down to a table at your favorite restaurant—or, even better, discovering a new favorite. In compiling our 2015 Golden Fork Awards, we ventured out to find the best restaurants in the Philadelphia area. We partook in applewood-bacon-heaped burgers, zaatar-zipped hummus and everything in between. Here’s what we learned: There are some truly amazing restaurants right in our backyard, staffed by chefs, servers and folks who truly love what they do. We couldn’t get to them all, of course, but we certainly enjoyed trying. We expect you will, too.

Bacco Italian Restaurant
Bacco uses only the freshest ingredients, prepared in the purest fashion, in crafting dishes infused with the spirit of Naples, Italy, ancestral home of Bacco’s owners. You can taste it in everything that comes out of the kitchen, from the demi-glace in the osso bucco Bacco, to the fresh mozzarella atop the coal-fired Margherita pizza, to the blend of spices in Bacco’s “famous” appetizer, otherwise known as the stuffed long hot peppers. For an experience unlike any other, take a seat at La Cucina, a “kitchen theater” with room for eight, where a chef will cook your order right in front of you, essentially turning the act of dining into a full-fledged culinary event. 587 DeKalb Pike, North Wales, 215-699-3361,

Bowman’s Tavern
It’s fitting that Bowman’s Tavern is a mile or more removed from the hustle and bustle of New Hope’s quirky Main Street. Considering its secluded location and welcoming architecture, this recently renovated tavern/restaurant has a certain rustic appeal that makes you feel as if the rest of the world has melted away. It’s the food, however, that truly makes you stand up and take notice. The menu abounds with dishes that deliver in terms of flavor and presentation. For our money, you can’t beat the seared scallops or the housemade veggie burger … or pretty much anything else on the menu of hearty favorites that put a distinctly flavorful spin on American comfort food. 1600 River Road, New Hope, 215-862-2972,

Buona Via Italian Seafood & Grill
Led by chef David Marques, Buona Via continues to surprise. Italian dishes such as the ravioli D’Aragosta (lobster-filled black ravioli) and the capellini Granchio (angel hair pasta with jumbo lump crab meat) star on a menu rich with fresh fish and seafood, but Chef Marques isn’t shy when it comes to finding inventive ways of introducing patrons to the cuisine of his Portuguese heritage. Buona Via also boasts a truly gorgeous bar area, complete with a raw bar, where general manager Aprile Marques and the bartending staff are continually whipping up new and classy cocktails you’ll want to add to your “must” list. 426 Horsham Road, Horsham, 215-672-5595,

Carmine’s Act II
If chef John Mims is an artist—and one can argue that’s exactly what he is—his medium is Creole and Cajun food that screams with flavors that are tough to find outside of New Orleans. Carmine’s Act Two is a fitting stage for Mims, one of our area’s most talented practitioners of the legendary cuisine of NOLA and far-flung parts of Louisiana. You’ll quickly appreciate how much he labors over each dish, especially the Creole seafood gumbo. And as much as we love Carmine’s, we’re also—ahem—jazzed about the opening of Treme, Mims’ food-and-music spot expected to open on North Broad Street this summer. 232 Woodbine Ave., Narberth, 610-660-0160,

The magic of Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka, the acclaimed chef and owner of Zama in Rittenhouse, is on full display here, at this relatively new addition to the University City dining scene. Serving tapas-style Japanese food, as well as the sushi and sashimi that made Chef Tanaka famous, coZara succeeds on all fronts. The ramens are immensely comforting, the kushi skewers toothsome and, of course, the sushi among the best you’ll find anywhere. This izakaya enables guests to try a lot of different types of Japanese and Japanese-influenced dishes—and, sure enough, the drinks are inventive as they are authentic. 3200 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia (University City), 267-233-7488,

Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange
Restaurant goers in Mt. Airy mourned in March 2014, when they heard Wine Thief was closing its doors. Their lamenting came to a swift end when Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange swooped in and revamped the vacant space. Big on rustic character and equipped with a menu of some truly excellent dishes that riff on comfort food, Cresheim Valley Grain Exchange goes to great lengths to give customers—carnivores and vegetarians alike—a good experience. One side of the menu offers delights such as the applewood-bacon-topped farmhouse burger for meat lovers, while the almost mirror-like flip side will suit the tastes of those who follow a plant-based diet, including a righteous veggie “bacon” cheeseburger. Although the wine selection and list of locally sourced brews are sure to surprise, there’s also a rather inventive list of signature cocktails. 7152 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia (Mt. Airy), 267-766-2502

It’s a great time to be a vegetarian in the Philadelphia area. Vedge, in the city’s Washington Square West neighborhood, has helped change the way people think about plant-based food. And now there’s Flora, bringing Vedge’s sophistication to the suburbs with confidence. At this 16-seat BYOB from the owners of fellow Jenkintown restaurants Forcella and Leila’s Bistro, chef Max Hosey has built a four-course menu of dishes that are not only beautifully plated but also incredibly flavorful. What he’s doing with persimmons, cauliflower and roasted Brussels sprouts is nothing short of extraordinary. Be sure to save room for the powdered-sugar-brushed beignets, which will give those from New Orleans’ famous Café du Monde a run for their money. 307 Old York Road, Jenkintown, 215-779-7945

High Street on Market
There’s a very good reason why High Street on Market made just about every “it” list in the past 12 months: taste. Chef Eli Kulp has crafted a menu rich with dishes guaranteed to change your perspective on life. You could stop in any time of day and be awed—by the breakfast sandwiches on fresh-baked artisan breads in the a.m., by the duck meatball sandwich with liver, onions, Swiss and a splash of marinara at noon, or by one of the handcrafted pasta dishes at 7 p.m. No matter the time of day, you’ll walk away from the table realizing one thing: There’s something special going on here. 308 Market Street, Philadelphia (Old City), 215-625-0988,

Jarrettown Hotel
The Jarrettown Hotel Italian Restaurant does a lot of things right, including one of the region’s best crab cakes. Whether you choose to sit at the bar for the festive happy hour or in the main dining room for a Sunday brunch, the Jarrettown delivers an experience you will want to recreate over and over. In nicer weather, there are few places more relaxing than the alfresco patio. Here, begin with a nice glass of super Tuscan, an arugula salad and the region’s best bruschetta—or whatever else you will surely find to your liking on the Italian-inspired menu.1425 Limekiln Pike, Dresher, 215-654-6880,

Pub & Kitchen
With Pub & Kitchen, chef Eli Collins has proven his proficiency at a particular kind of alchemy: adding vibrant, new twists to otherwise familiar comfort foods. The towering P&K cheeseburger, complete with pickle, thick hunks of slightly melted Cooper sharp cheese and slabs of Pennsylvania bacon, is a perfect example of Chef Collins’ skill at adding richness and depth to an American classic; there’s a good reason it is one of the few staples on an otherwise seasonally adjusted menu. The Rhode Island monkfish entrée, when available, boast a tenderness and delicacy the dish often lacks elsewhere, while the Brussels sprouts preparation will turn the uninitiated into true believers. Of course, the space itself—a quietly sophisticated neighborhood tavern decidedly devoid of pretension—suits the menu to a T. 1946 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, 215-545-0350,

Los Sarapes
It’s worth a trip to Los Sarapes just for the lava rock filled with guacamole and the caramel-spiked flan, which Los Sarapes arguably does better than anyone else in the region. Of course, there’s so much more than these two dishes—a menu brimming with flavorful Mexican favorites, each exquisitely plated to be worthy of a glossy magazine cover. The Horsham location is small and intimate, while the original location in Chalfont is spacious and festive—and, at times, appropriately raucous. (The Marin family owns both locations, in addition to El Sarape in Blue Bell and Xilantro in Wayne.) No matter which location you visit and, frankly, no matter what you order, you’ll leave happier than when you walked through the door. 17 Moyer Road, Chalfont, 215-822-8858, | 1116 Horsham Road, Horsham, 215-654-5002,

Marsha Brown
In the Philadelphia suburbs, it’s not every day you have the opportunity to enjoy a five-star meal starring the feasts of New Orleans—unless, of course, you’re a regular at Marsha Brown in New Hope. Built out of the bones of an old stone church dating back to the 1800s, and complete with murals and stained glass windows, Marsha Brown offers a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Although Marsha Brown is worth a visit for the atmosphere alone, it’s the cuisine—Cajun and Creole dishes that embody the music, traditions and spirit of the Crescent City—that truly sets it apart. “You’re not going to find jambalaya like this anywhere else in Bucks County,” says Marsha Brown, owner of her eponymous restaurant. She won’t get any argument from us. 15 S. Main Street, New Hope, 215-862-7044,

Moonstruck Restaurant
Two words that come to mind when walking through the doors of Moonstruck, which is rooted in Northeast Philly’s Fox Chase neighborhood: “classic” and “classy.” Moonstruck delivers in every sense, from the candlelit tables that set the tone for a romantic evening, to the confident service of the wait staff who genuinely seem to like what they do, to the excellent Italian cuisine that speaks for itself the moment the contents of your fork pass through your lips. Although Moonstruck is perfect for date nights and special occasions, there’s no reason to limit oneself to just a few times a year. 7955 Oxford Ave., Philadelphia (Fox Chase), 215-725-6000,

Park Plates
When most people hear the phrase “Mediterranean-inspired cuisine,” chances are they think of the foods of western and southern Italy, maybe of coastal Spain or Portugal. But what about foods from the Mediterranean-kissed edges of Morocco or Greece or parts of the Middle East? You’ll find these and more (including Italian-inspired dishes) at Park Plates. Be it the braised short rib with grilled mushrooms, the lamb kofta tagine or the pan-seared branzino, the dishes served at this charming Elkins Park BYOB—headed by co-proprietors and chefs Locke Johnston and Owen Lee—strike a razor-sharp balance between comforting and exotic. 7852 Montgomery Ave., Elkins Park, 215-782-3663,

Piccolo Trattoria
From the crispy crust of the house-baked bread and the made-to-order gnocchi to the simple brilliance of the Brooklyn-style pizza, Piccolo Trattoria is serving up authentic Italian favorites made with only the freshest ingredients of the purest quality. Led by longtime restaurateur Fahmi Elabed, Piccolo’s two locations strive to create an experience that makes each guest feel as if he or she has been transported to an Italian ristorante. From everything we’ve seen (and, of course, tasted), they’re succeeding. 32 West Road, Newtown, 215-860-4247 | 800 R Denow Road, Pennington, N.J., 609-737-9050 |

Ristorante Castello
It would be easy to drive past Ristorante Castello, considering its location in an upscale yet unassuming shopping district along Skippack Pike. If you do, follow this advice: Turn around, because inside you will experience an Italian meal that’s as good as you’ll find anywhere in the Philadelphia area. No matter what you choose for an entrée—there are many excellent options, such as the osso bucco, the veal chop or the Chilean sea bass, not to mention the perfectly prepared gnocchi—begin with the artichoke Romano and/or the tomato avocado mozzarella. Also be sure to end with something prepared by the in-house pastry chef. Our vote goes to the pistachio cheesecake. 721 W. Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, 215-368-9400,

Ron’s Original Bar & Grille
Ron Inverso, proprietor of Ron’s Original Bar & Grille, is working to redefine the term “health food.” He believes the food used to fuel a human body determines how the body looks, feels and functions, so he and his team make everything from scratch, with only the purest of the pure—imported Italian flour, preservative-free soups and salad dressings, meats raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics, etc. Of course, Inverso also realizes you can’t sacrifice taste, and one needs to sample just a taste of the butternut squash and cheese ravioli or the jumbo lump crab cakes to realize that dining here is hardly a sacrifice. 74 Uwchlan Ave., Exton, 610-594-9900,

The StoneRose Restaurant
StoneRose opened its doors in 2009—and closed them briefly following a 2011 fire—to become a shining example of Conshohocken’s continued transformation and rise to culinary prominence. (Said rise inched up a few more notches when StoneRose owner Brian Pieri opened the equally excellent Bar Lucca to replace the shuttered Conshy landmark that was Totaro’s.) Intimately spaced, smartly designed and equipped with a bar area that lets you know this place is deadly serious about its wine selection, StoneRose boasts a menu that’s rife with inspired American and Italian dishes that, whenever possible, feature locally sourced ingredients. No matter what you decide to order, make sure to pair it with a side of StoneRose’s signature fries, made of hand-cut Kennebec potatoes. 822 Fayette Street, Conshohocken, 484-532-7300,

Kensington Quarters
This Fishtown restaurant, bar and butcher shop is an important addition to the area’s culinary lineup. Why? Because you’ll order up not only a stunning meal but also a stellar education. “Ken Q” takes the concept of utilizing the whole animal to its logical conclusion, yet it does so with a distinct lack of pretense and preciousness. In the process of serving up so many carnivore-friendly wonders, the team here shows a deep level of respect for the animals that gave their lives for the food being butchered and cooked up for the table. Not everything on the menu is meat based, and the fact that the vegetables are as transporting as they are is a testament to the talent of the team. Even the cocktails are exceptional, brightened up with unexpected herbal touches. 1310 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, 267-314-5086,

V Street
From chefs Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby, the good people behind the nationally (and, in fact, globally) acclaimed Vedge, comes V Street, which Landau and Jacoby have dubbed a “street food bar.” V Street guests will enjoy amazingly flavored plant-based cuisine from around the globe—Caribbean, Indian, Peruvian, etc.—making V Street a United Nations of the culinary sort. Examples of the menu items on display here: a Singapore noodle bowl, Korean fried tempeh, Peruvian fries and harissa-grilled cauliflower. V Street’s menu of beer and wine is equally inspired, internationally speaking, plus it’s serving up signature cocktails you’ll be more than happy to order—as in, “I’ll have a ‘Colonel Mustard in the Library with a Dagger,’ please.” 126 S. 19th Street, Philadelphia (Rittenhouse), 215-278-7943,

Choice Cuts
Everyone has a favorite restaurant—and, in this case, several favorites. We asked readers to vote for their favorite restaurants in the Philadelphia area, and they let us know. Following are the top 25 readers’ choice restaurants in our backyard.

Alessio’s Seafood Grille
827 Easton Road, Warrington, 267-483-8500,

Bar Lucca
729 E. Hector Street, Conshohocken, 610-825-2700,

119 Fayette Street, Conshohocken, 610-397-0888,

Blue Bell Inn
601 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, 215-646-2010,

Colonial Quy-Bau
101 E. Moreland Road, Willow Grove, 215-346-2328,

Coyote Crossing
800 Spring Mill Road, Conshohocken, 610-825-3000,

Creed’s Seafood & Steaks
499 N. Gulph Road, King of Prussia, 610-265-2550,

El Tule
49 N. Main Street, Lambertville, N.J., 609-773-0007,

The Farm and Fisherman
1120 Pine Street, Philadelphia, 267-687-1555,

Caption with PeanutHummus_FatHam.jpg: Southern hummus at The Fat Ham
The Fat Ham
3131 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-735-1914,

Friday Saturday Sunday
261 S. 21st Street, Philadelphia, 215-546-4232,

From the Boot
Visit for locations in Ambler, Blue Bell and Lafayette Hill.

Golden Pheasant Inn
763 River Road, Erwinna, 610-294-9595,

The Gypsy Saloon
128 Ford Street, Conshohocken, 610-828-8494,

The Inn at Phillips Mill
2590 River Road, New Hope, 215-862-9919,

The Lambertville Station Restaurant
11 Bridge Street, Lambertville, N.J., 609-397-8300,

Luigi’s Ristorante Italiano
1992 York Road, Jamison, 215-491-2001,

Mainland Inn
17 Mainland Road, Harleysville, 484-704-2600,

Maize Restaurant
519 W. Walnut Street, Perkasie, 215-257-2264,

29 Hulfish Street, Princeton, N.J.,

The Plumsteadville Inn
5902 Easton Road, Pipersville, 215-766-7500,

792 N. Easton Road, Doylestown, 215-348-2826,

722 W. DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell, 610-272-5700,

Ristorante San Marco
504 N. Bethlehem Pike, Ambler, 215-654-5000,

Caption with Saffron_Hall.tif (crop in tight): Tandoori chicken at Saffron
Saffron Indian Kitchen
Visit for details on locations in Ambler and Bala Cynwyd.
Pub & Kitchen photograph by Alison Dunlap