New dining scene, old truck faves in U. City

Josh Kim builds a burger at Spot Burger, his cart at 33d and Arch Streets.

Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat from March 18, 2014:

Craig LaBan: I've got a special guest today,'s resident restaurant-news know-it-all Michael Klein. There's a lot cooking on the "soon-to-open" burner. For starters, any news on CoZara?

Michael Klein: CoZara is about a month out, I hear. It will be near the brand-new Zavino and Shake Shack in Chestnut Square, 3200 Chestnut St.

C.L.: That's an exciting new complex for Drexel to make its stamp on the U. City dining scene, as well as Penn. I'm looking forward to seeing what Zama, one of my fave Philly sushi chefs, has to offer in a bigger space.

M.K.: Zama is planning a really ambitious, cool bar menu to pair with kitchen food.

Reader: I recall Vetri is to open a restaurant in Navy Yard. What restaurant is that going to be?

M.K.: Lo Spiedo, right in one of the guardhouses at the front gate of the Navy Yard. Just checked: Up for September.

Reader: Enough of posh burgers. Where can I get the likes of Charlie's Hamburgers in Center City?

C.L.: If only. Charlie's greasy little sliders are inimitable. I used to love Snow White on 19th Street - but it's no more. I'm hearing good things about the Fountain Porter's $5 burger in the E'Punk hood. ... Must try it soon.

Reader: Walnut Street was once such a great location for restaurants, but has since become a haven for places like Chipotle. Do you foresee new restaurants following in Avance's path and opening on Walnut? Or is it just too expensive to lease space there?

M.K.: Walnut Street has been priced too high for most restaurants. It's almost purely affordable to national retailers now. This is why the action has moved to Sansom and Chestnut.

C.L.: Michael, so if that's the case, why did Avance's investors decide to go for it there, instead of another, cheaper location?

M.K.: I hear there's a lot of ego involved, on the part of one of Avance's main investors. Believe it or not, ego drives a lot of the restaurant business.

Reader: It is interesting that the West Philly food scene is sprouting. From Han Dynasty, Federal Donuts, Zavino, to Fat Ham and CoZara. What's up with that?

M.K.: Penn and Drexel are driving most of the growth. I remember when Penn kids had to eat exclusively off food trucks or in those Indian buffets on 40th Street to survive.

C.L.: Those Drexel trucks, though, offer some of the best lunch for the flavor value in the city - 33d and Arch ... also known as "food truck mecca"!

Reader: Drexel Student here. SPOT Burger, along with all of the specialty food trucks, is truly the best part of going to school at Drexel!

M.K.: Agreed. I was referring to the "old" Penn trucks. Drexel's scene is great. So is the Porch at 30th Street Station.

C.L.: Street Food, Taco Mondo, Rival Bros., Say Cheese, Ranch Road Taco cart, Kami ... I have a long list of faves. Interesting how Penn's lottery system was not appealing to some of the innovative new trucks that wanted more freedom to roll. That's how 33d Street north of Market, just beyond Penn's lottery zone, came to flourish.

Reader: Some of the old-standby, less-gourmet food trucks behind Drexel's main building are also excellent values.

C.L.: Yes, like Cucina Zapata.

Continue Reading