Craig LaBan’s Best of the ’burbs

The Main Line’s Top Restaurants​

 
Wayne
 
Malvern
 
Bryn Mawr
 
Ardmore
 
In and around the Main Line
See Craig LaBan's Top 25 Suburban Favorites
Mapping where to eat and drink on the Main Line
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Superior
Rare, sets regional dining standards.
Excellent
Special, excels in most every category of the dining experience.
Very Good
Interesting, with above-average food.
Hit-or-miss
Too inconsistent for a strong recommendation.
Ardmore
Serious craft beers and international flavors have made this the Main Line's coolest town for eating and drinking.
FAVORITE PICK Tired Hands Fermentaria
35 Cricket Terrace, Ardmore, 484-413-2983, visit website
Price: $
No brewery has done more to put a suburban town on the national hipster map than Tired Hands, the iconoclastic producer of funky saisons and experimental “milkshake” IPAs that can incite blocks-long lines of beer geeks who’ve traveled from far and wide in hopes of scoring the latest release. (The owner of a beer store in Vermont recently told me he’d been to Ardmore “many times” — but never visited Philly.) In many ways, its swift organic growth into four separate facilities (including the Dispensary “oak throne room” aging warehouse) has helped to stamp Ardmore’s status as the Main Line’s coolest Main Street.

The sprawling Fermentaria brewpub is the primary draw. Set in the noisy industrial shell of a former trolley works filled with big oak barrels, this is the place to taste the widest array of the ever-changing brews along with a menu of traditional and unconventional tacos — curried cauliflower, carnitas, chicken verde — as well as hummus plates and a good burger topped with HopHands mustard. The original Brew Café is a more intimate destination for a distinct set of beers to sip along with house pickles, sandwiches, and tasty bread baked from beer yeast served warm with local butter. The General Store right next door, meanwhile, is the place to load-up on T-shirts, cyclist gear and growlers to go.
Tired Hands Brew Cafe
16 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore, 610-896-7621, visit website
Price: $
No brewery has done more to put a suburban town on the national hipster map than Tired Hands, the iconoclastic producer of funky saisons and experimental “milkshake” IPAs that can incite blocks-long lines of beer geeks who’ve traveled from far and wide in hopes of scoring the latest release. (The owner of a beer store in Vermont recently told me he’d been to Ardmore “many times” — but never visited Philly.) In many ways, its swift organic growth into four separate facilities (including the Dispensary “oak throne room” aging warehouse) has helped to stamp Ardmore’s status as the Main Line’s coolest Main Street.

The sprawling Fermentaria brewpub is the primary draw. Set in the noisy industrial shell of a former trolley works filled with big oak barrels, this is the place to taste the widest array of the ever-changing brews along with a menu of traditional and unconventional tacos — curried cauliflower, carnitas, chicken verde — as well as hummus plates and a good burger topped with HopHands mustard. The original Brew Café is a more intimate destination for a distinct set of beers to sip along with house pickles, sandwiches, and tasty bread baked from beer yeast served warm with local butter. The General Store right next door, meanwhile, is the place to load-up on T-shirts, cyclist gear and growlers to go.
Tired Hands General Store
20 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore, 484-413-2978, visit website
Price: $
No brewery has done more to put a suburban town on the national hipster map than Tired Hands, the iconoclastic producer of funky saisons and experimental “milkshake” IPAs that can incite blocks-long lines of beer geeks who’ve traveled from far and wide in hopes of scoring the latest release. (The owner of a beer store in Vermont recently told me he’d been to Ardmore “many times” — but never visited Philly.) In many ways, its swift organic growth into four separate facilities (including the Dispensary “oak throne room” aging warehouse) has helped to stamp Ardmore’s status as the Main Line’s coolest Main Street.

The sprawling Fermentaria brewpub is the primary draw. Set in the noisy industrial shell of a former trolley works filled with big oak barrels, this is the place to taste the widest array of the ever-changing brews along with a menu of traditional and unconventional tacos — curried cauliflower, carnitas, chicken verde — as well as hummus plates and a good burger topped with HopHands mustard. The original Brew Café is a more intimate destination for a distinct set of beers to sip along with house pickles, sandwiches, and tasty bread baked from beer yeast served warm with local butter. The General Store right next door, meanwhile, is the place to load-up on T-shirts, cyclist gear and growlers to go.
Delices Et Chocolat
7 Station Rd., Ardmore, 610-649-7001, visit website
This elegant French sweets boutique is like a slice of Paris just steps from the Ardmore train station. French-born brothers Joseph and Antoine Amrani, two veterans of the Georges Perrier orbit, are behind the textbook truffles, colorful macarons, and flaky Viennoiserie. Norristown-roasted Valerio coffee is being brewed. There are even some gorgeous gluten-free options layered with decadent 70-percent dark chocolate mousse.
Jason’s Toridasu
40 Rittenhouse Pl, Ardmore, 484-417-6350, visit website
Price: $$
There’s already too much mediocre cheap sushi in the world. But this maki-to-go specialist takes budget sushi to the next level of quality, with consistently precise craftsmanship using good fish, and a creative touch to give some of its signature rolls some distinction. Don’t miss the Red Dragon tempura shrimp roll wrapped with jalapeño-spiced tuna, or one of the colorful roe riffs of maki and ngiri topped with a rainbow of tobiko eggs colored coded to signal the stuffings.
Maido!
5 Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, 484-417-6745, visit website
Price: $
When the region’s only Japanese grocery called closed its original location in Narberth, cooks seeking a local source for kombu, hand-pounded mochi rice cakes, or a wide range of imported furikake rice seasonings went into withdrawal. More important, Maido’s lunch counter, known for homey rice bowls topped with chicken katsu in thick curry gravy and for tender gyu don beef stewed in sweet soy broth, was missed. Well, when Maido finally reemerged in a brighter, larger new space in Ardmore, that lunch counter was more prominent than ever. And it’s true prize is the okonomiyaki, the delicious savory pancake-omelet hybrid streaked with a lattice of tangy dark sauce and Kewpie mayo, plus shaved bonito flakes that seemingly dance atop the surface in the pancake’s heat. This is classic street food, whose dashi-moistened batter comes with myriad fillings that vary by region. Maido’s is in the Kansai style, with nuggets of pork and shrimp, but also shredded cabbage, scallions, pickled red ginger, and grated nagaimo yam that lend the pancake — mixed and griddled right before you to order — a pliant tenderness and lingering vegetable savor.
El Limon
61 Lancaster Ave, Ardmore, 610-567-0120, visit website
Price: $
This fast-growing chain with roots in the Mexican state of Michoacan has appeared at the perfect moment in our region's Mexican education. The local taqueria scene has grown rapidly in Philly over the past 15 years, and enough mainstream audiences now crave the authentic flavors of an al pastor taco wrapped in the earthy softness of fresh corn tortillas, that the Americanized polish of, say, a Chipotle, is no longer required to win a devoted following. And that's exactly what El Limon delivers, a collection of pleasant but utilitarian dining rooms paired with consistent taqueria fare built on fresh ingredients, bold flavors and traditional ideas. These kitchens do an excellent job with all the classic meats-al pastor, carnitas and smoky chicken tinga. I've been especially impressed with the hand-pressed sopes, the simple freshness of the marinated shrimp tacos, the crackly crisp tostada rounds, and pretty much anything in the excellent tomatillo-tanged salsa verde.
Bryn Mawr
Impressive Italian flavors, a spectacular new space and warm BYOBs give Bryn Mawr dining a sophisticated appeal.
FAVORITE PICK Fraschetta
816 Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, 610-525-1007, visit website
Price: $$$
There are plenty of Italian restaurants cooking similar menus in the suburbs. But the food at the rustic Italian BYOB called Fraschetta is always interesting. Octopus — elsewhere always grilled — appears here simmered as coins in tomato sauce that flickers with chile heat, and pops with fresh peas and mint. Cacio e pepe, a dish Italian-born chef-owner Gianuluca Demontis has mastered in classic form at his Melograno downtown, appears at Fraschetta with the Pecorino-pepper sauce glossing ravioli filled with ricotta-fluffed mashed potatoes. Sparked by pickled red onions, they’re like Roman-style pierogi.

What impresses me more than those creative tweaks, however, is how Demontis manages to coax powerful flavors from good ingredients with smart but simple combinations. He dry-ages for an extra week a piece of grass-fed New York strip for the tagliata steak to “tenderize the meat and announce its flavor,” serving it over cannellini beans splashed with sweet tang of clove-scented Chianti vincotto. For dessert, Demontis literally explodes the familiar into its parts, the shards of a cannoli shell layered high in tiers between fluffs of mascarpone and pistachios in a sweet-tart balsamic glaze like some free-form dessert sculpture. Interesting, but most importantly, it was also delicious.
Biga
810 Glenbrook Ave., Bryn Mawr, 610-525-4800, visit website
Price: $-$$
This laid-back cousin to Sean Weinberg’s Restaurant Alba has brought wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and craft beer to a colorful Bryn Mawr corner space, where locals gather around communal tables to savor the heat-blistered pies, veg-forward small plates, and a limited but satisfying selection of moderately-sized entrées and pastas that are well-priced for the neighborhood. Try Da Bomb, Daytripper and “Pepe’s” (for a clam pie!), but also the charred carrots, fried cauliflower, farro salad, rigatoni with chicken ragu and spaghetti alla chittara. A fridge stocked with 80 craft brews (plus six on draft) is an added draw for pizza-loving beer geeks.
Enoteca Tredici
915 Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, 484-381-0268, visit website
Price: $$$
This soaring new version of Midtown Village’s Tredici has brought a sexy new space to a former Bryn Mawr warehouse (in the same complex as La Colombe), with what seems like acres of Carrara marble, herringbone wood floors, whitewashed brick, and a sky-lit wine bar trimmed with ficus trees worthy of the Main Line’s high-style crowd. The menu combines the Italian-Med plates of the downtown Tredici with the pizzas of its Zavino sibling, and the kitchen has been delivering with even more precision. Nibble on the sweet pea-guacamole crudo, tender Moroccan-spiced ribs, the creamy rich crab pasta, or the odd-but-delicious chicken Parm made from a minced meat patty sliced tableside with a pizza roller. Tredici is not cheap: The burger is $21. But a great collection of wines by the glass and excellent cocktails overseen by local bar star Papi Hurtado soften the blow.
Sola BYOB
614 West Lancaster Ave.nue, Bryn Mawr, 610-526-0123, visit website
Price: $$$
The trophy wall of empty bottles at Sola — Echezeaux, La Tâche, the famous names of Bordeaux — tells the story of an understated but elegant space of linen-draped tables that’s long served as a BYOB destination for a fine meal to accompany wines from the great cellars of the Main Line. It’s changed owners and chefs multiple times since I first reviewed it (remember when it was Spezia?), but this 42-seater still occupies that role. And under current owner Brian Engler and chef Scott Morozin, I recently had one of the best meals I’ve ever had at that address. Crispy soft-shell crabs scented with juniper and hazelnut dust came over curried cantaloupe. A thick hunk of swordfish swam in a juicy fennel-tomato brodo beneath chunks of lobster jeweling a salad of fava beans and bitter chicory. A breast of cast-iron crisped duck, sweet and savory with a brown sugar and soy lime reduction, arrived with house-cured pork belly, crispy chickpea fritters, and the unexpected funk of house-kimchied baby bok choy. For a restaurant that’s largely remained under the trendy radar, the boldness and finesse of that dish caught my attention, as did the professionalism of the staff. So while Sola still occupies its long-favored status for the BYO regulars of Bryn Mawr, its kitchen is showcasing a fresh talent.
El Limon
847 Lancaster Ave, Bryn Mawr, 610-567-0120, visit website
Price: $
This fast-growing chain with roots in the Mexican state of Michoacan has appeared at the perfect moment in our region's Mexican education. The local taqueria scene has grown rapidly in Philly over the past 15 years, and enough mainstream audiences now crave the authentic flavors of an al pastor taco wrapped in the earthy softness of fresh corn tortillas, that the Americanized polish of, say, a Chipotle, is no longer required to win a devoted following. And that's exactly what El Limon delivers, a collection of pleasant but utilitarian dining rooms paired with consistent taqueria fare built on fresh ingredients, bold flavors and traditional ideas. These kitchens do an excellent job with all the classic meats-al pastor, carnitas and smoky chicken tinga. I've been especially impressed with the hand-pressed sopes, the simple freshness of the marinated shrimp tacos, the crackly crisp tostada rounds, and pretty much anything in the excellent tomatillo-tanged salsa verde.
In and around the Main Line
Sleek Asian fusion, an ambitious brewpub and old-school Italian comforts are polished for the Main Line
B2 Bluefin
401 E. City Line Ave., Bala Cynwyd, 610-227-1507, visit website
Price: $$$
Yong Kim’s reliable East Norriton Japanese hit (Bluefin, 2820 Dekalb Pike) has made a splash with this Bala Cynwd sibling, a swank new sushi hall for the Main Line crowd. The sleek, modern space feels much more corporate than Bluefin’s strip-mall home base, especially during the boisterous happy hours. The slightly smaller menu also has fewer cooked options for the raw-fish averse, though the chef’s special dumplings, miso-baked eggplant, and Chilean sea bass in miso sauce are still good bets. But if you crave a tuna fix, the high-grade bluefin being sliced into toro tastings and platters of colorful maki rolls (Benty, Ramp Roll, Ai Maki) and sashimi set this ambitious newcomer a worthy half-step above the suburban average.
Bluefin
2820 Dekalb Pike, East Norriton, 610-277-3917, visit website
When Yong Kim strip-mall-hopped his Bluefin restaurant from its original Blue Bell nook to a sleeker space in East Norriton a few years ago, he doubled the seating of one of the suburbs' most popular sushi haunts. And from the tuna-draped Marlee roll stuffed with spicy yellowtail to the live scallop, homemade dumplings, and noodle-wrapped "spinning shrimp," the transition hasn't dimmed Bluefin’s status status as a quality cut above the ubiquitous strip-mall sushi crowd. Also, don’t miss the usuzukuri.
Cotoletta
201 Jefferson St., Bala Cynwyd, 610-660-5224, visit website
Price: $$-$$$
Everyone loves the Italian American comfort of a good breaded cutlet. But this clubby BYOB tucked away in Belmont Hills takes cutlet craft (plus old-school anachronisms like the Milan salad, chicken piccata, meatballs) to another level. Owner Beth Amadio has mastered the genre down to an egg wash flavored with secret spice — excellent in the big 12-ounce veal chop that gets pounded thin and breaded for a deluxe veal Parm upgrade. But for the indecisive who cannot choose — chicken? veal? vegetarian? — the “cutlet stack” is for you. Two chicken cutlets wrapped around an eggplant cutlet oozing with melted provolone and two inner layers of sausage-stuffed long hot peppers are essentially a KFC Double Down for the red-gravy set. But I found myself devouring it with unexpected enthusiasm and decided it was a favorite new splurge.
Green Engine Coffee Co.
16 Haverford Station Rd., Haverford, , visit website
Chill beside the live plant wall with a crema-topped shot from the "green engine" La Marzocco espresso machine, a glass of cold-brew off the nitro tap, or a hot pour-over of Rival Bros. beans at this very cool café beside the Haverford train station. With overstuffed furniture and community tables, subway tile and reclaimed wood, this bay-windowed storefront space feels more city than suburbs. It's also sourced some of the Philly's best food artisans - like Capogiro - to bolster its menu of pastries, creative paninis, pickles, and avocado toast.
La Cabra Brewing
642 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 610-240-7908, visit website
Price: $-$$
One of the local craft-beer scene’s newest stars can be found across from the Berwyn train station, where former Spanish teacher and garage cult brewer, Dan Popernack, has combined his love of beer and Spanish culture for a gastropub that dabbles in pan-Latino themes. The kitchen veers liberally from tradition, but leans on indulgent scratch cooking (lots of pork belly and duck confit) to embellish dishes ranging from tacos to Cubano sandwiches and foie gras pierogi. Don’t miss the corn crème brûlée for dessert. The initial beers were very good, but Popernack’s true passion — for funky barrel-aged brews — began emerging from La Cabra’s cellar this spring, with variations on Belgian sours and wild yeast lambics called the Aleatory Series that are impressive.
Nectar
1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 610-725-9000, visit website
Price: $$$
I’ve long referred to this high-style pan-Asian palace as the Buddakan of the ’burbs, thanks to its fusion menu and the massive silk-printed Buddha behind glass that watches over the modern room. But really, Nectar has convincingly blazed its own distinct identity as a special-occasion destination, thanks in large part to talented chef-partner Patrick Feury, an alum of Susanna Foo’s Suilan and several New York classics (Le Cirque), whose skill set epitomizes the sophisticated possibilities of east-west fusion. The sushi here is stellar and creative, but don’t miss the crisp lobster dumplings and great steamed pork buns, as well as the wild boar lo mein, tea-smoked salmon curry, butter-poached lobster pad Thai and seasonal specials.
Le Petit Mitron
207 Haverford Ave., Narberth, 484-562-0500, visit website
Price: $
The cozy borough of Narberth has small-town village charm to spare, with a great beer store (The Greeks Next Door, 237 Haverford Ave.), an imported cheese emporium (The Cheese Co., 217 Haverford Ave.) and even a cute Thai restaurant (Coco Thai Bistro, 231 Haverford Ave.) for a pad Thai fix. But the single best reason to visit this Main Line hamlet is Le Petit Mitron, a French patisserie from Patrick and Isabelle Rurange that is as close as we get to a true Parisian boulagerie Paris. It’s no surprise a line forms before the window curtains are lifted each morning. If there’s a better croissant in the region, I haven’t had it. All the pastries here are simply magnifiques.
Malvern
This tiny borough has a pair of destinations within a short walk of the train station.
FAVORITE PICK Restaurant Alba
7 W. King St., Malvern, 610-644-4009, visit website
Price: $$$
It’s all about the live fire at Sean and Kelly Weinberg’s Malvern oasis, where the aromatic wood grill and the flavors of Northern Italy pair with excellent service and great Piedmont wines for a refined rustic vibe that makes for one of the best overall dining experiences in the suburbs. But what an evolution this restaurant has gone through over the past 13 years! Initially a 53-seat BYOB with a vague “Mediterranean” focus, Weinberg, who lived and cooked in Italy for several years, has more fully embraced his passion for Italian cuisine as the restaurant acquired a liquor license and expanded to 125 seats with a big back patio and a lively bar.

Fresh pastas are a specialty, like the tiny Alba-style plin ravioli stuffed with rabbit and prosciutto in sage brown butter sauce. But anything that kisses the grill is also recommended, from the charred octopus with celery and crisp potatoes over tonnato sauce, or the plump trout fillets whose silver skin is crisped before a pairing with crunchy raw escarole salad in hazelnut brown butter vinaigrette and juicy chunks of sweet peach. The slow-roasted pork may be Weinberg’s true masterpiece, the meltingly soft chunks of pig set over a polenta made with fresh sweet corn and chilies. For dessert? Butterscotch budino!

Weinberg has streamlined the once larger and composed entrées in recent years to focus on their proteins and leave accompaniments to guests, who get to mix and match sides from several choices, from farro arancini to garlicky broccoli rabe and smashed potatoes with chive créme fraìche. It’s a subtle but smart refinement tuned to the times that shows Alba, already a delicious destination, is not done evolving yet.
Malvern Buttery
233 E. King St., Malvern, 610-296-2534, visit website
Price: $-$$
This unique café and lunch destination could just as easily have been called the “Bread-ery.” That’s because super-crusty, naturally leavened breads in the style of Tartine or High Street on Market are at the heart of so many great things on the ever-changing buffet table of sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and tarts. Take as many items as you want back to the big wooden community tables and they’ll charge you when you’re done — an honor system that works in this laid-back and airy open-kitchen space, where leather couches and oversize easy chairs fill the other half of the room. It’s an artisan go-local twist on the fast-casual trend, says co-owner John Rhoads. And it’s exceptional because of the integrity of the scratch cooking, which features eggs from nearby Highspire Hills Farm, seasonal local produce and some fresh-milled grain from Castle Valley Mills in the outstanding breads from baker Nicole Petrongolo (La Colombe, Avance). I loved everything at our brunch, from the buttery chocolate croissants to irresistible cookies and even the pizza. But my highlight was the refined simplicity of an ultimate PB&J, a crusty slice from the bread station slathered with fresh-ground peanut butter and house rhubarb jam. The coffee service, with pour-overs available using Counter Culture beans, is also serious.
El Limon
446 Lancaster Ave, Malvern, 610-567-0120, visit website
Price: $
This fast-growing chain with roots in the Mexican state of Michoacan has appeared at the perfect moment in our region's Mexican education. The local taqueria scene has grown rapidly in Philly over the past 15 years, and enough mainstream audiences now crave the authentic flavors of an al pastor taco wrapped in the earthy softness of fresh corn tortillas, that the Americanized polish of, say, a Chipotle, is no longer required to win a devoted following. And that's exactly what El Limon delivers, a collection of pleasant but utilitarian dining rooms paired with consistent taqueria fare built on fresh ingredients, bold flavors and traditional ideas. These kitchens do an excellent job with all the classic meats-al pastor, carnitas and smoky chicken tinga. I've been especially impressed with the hand-pressed sopes, the simple freshness of the marinated shrimp tacos, the crackly crisp tostada rounds, and pretty much anything in the excellent tomatillo-tanged salsa verde.
Wayne
Downtown charm meets a stellar Belgian bar, regional Chinese flavors, and a clubby Main Line update.
FAVORITE PICK Teresa’s Next Door
124 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne, 610-293-9909, visit website
Price: $$
What began a decade ago as a Belgian bar with a novel Mexican twist has settled in, refined its Euro-taqueria bistro menu, and evolved into so much more than just a great beer bar. There simply aren’t many places on the planet where you can order a bowl of delicate waterzooi seafood stew alongside some amazingly tender goat tacos — the meat braised down overnight with chilies. But even more compelling, TND, which is in fact right next door to the Italian-themed BYOB Teresa’s, has blossomed into what may well be the single greatest place to drink well in the suburbs, no matter what your beverage preference — a distinction that has elevated it to a third bell. There are nearly 400 whiskeys from around the world, available in flights as well as outstanding cocktails (the $10 G&T bar offers 16 different gins and eight different tonics). There’s a tap box that is entirely gluten-free, with several meads, ciders, sake, and wines on draft. Beverage director Chris Peters’ 75-bottle wine list is about to go to entirely “natural” — wines made with minimal intervention, with the bonus of a license to sell those bottles retail with just $9 added to cost. (Few, if any, are available in state stores.) And, of course, you can also still find some of the greatest beers in the world on draft here, from Russian River’s Pliny the Elder to Val-Dieu blond and Italian stout brewed with balsamic among the recent choices on its 24 taps, along with three handpumps, and about 150 bottles from which to choose.

Chef and partner Andy Dickerson does a fine job making sure the menu is up to all that booze, tapping my most elemental poutine bar cravings with the Disco Frites tossed in Mornay sauce with Brie and demiglace gravy. Corn-crisped long-stemmed artichokes make a sophisticated nibble, while the fricadellen give a beer-braised Belgian accent to little meatballs made from nutmeg-scented veal and pork. The carnitas tacos are my second choice when I’ve had my fill of goat. That’s when it’s time to explore those whiskeys for an after dinner nip — at which point I’m grateful Teresa’s is not far from the train, or an easy ride request with my phone. “Uber,” Dickerson says, “is our friend!”
Autograph Brasserie
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-964-2588, visit website
Price: $$$
The strip-mall manse in Wayne once occupied by Le Mas Perrier has been revived by the White Dog’s Marty Grims and chef Ralph Fernandez as a clubby American brasserie. The meat-centric menu is not always as consistent (or original) as it should be for the prices, though the prime burger is memorable and the dry-aged rib eye is tasty. But Fernandez generally puts high-quality ingredients into appealing combinations, with fun variations on toasts, and house-made pastas like the gemelli with shrimp and squash agnolotti a highlight. Desserts, including a chocolate-cashew tart and homemade daily ice creams, also are notable. A solid wine list with 35 choices by the glass, a handsome multiroom decor, and outgoing service that knows how to correct mistakes make Autograph feel like a properly posh special-occasion standby for the Main Line.
DANDAN
214 Sugartown Rd., Wayne, 484-580-8558, visit website
Price: $-$$
Kevin and Catherina “Cat” Huang have opened a stylish and expansive suburban sibling to their compact bi-level Rittenhouse ode to authentic regional Chinese cuisine. This branch serves similar excellent takes on spicy Sichuan and Taiwanese flavors, with the signature noodles tossed tableside in nutty ground pork sauce, sweet and herbaceous basil chicken bubbling in dark sauce over a flaming mini-wok, heat-blistered string beans, plump shrimp with minced pickled Sichuan chili peppers and pork, and a lip-numbing cumin lamb over hand-ripped noodles — one of a few dishes exclusive to Wayne. Too bad the lights were turned down so low we could hardly see the food. The service was also maddeningly disorganized and slow. Tons of potential here, if only the front of the house tightens its act.
The Silverspoon
503 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-688-7646, visit website
Price: $$
There’s definitely a dinner menu at this hidden American gem, tucked away at the far back of the strip mall behind Autograph Brasserie. But with its pressed tin ceiling, frilly curtains, and quaint decor, this BYOB has “ladies who brunch” written all over it. And this kitchen delivered one of the best midday meals of my summer: a perfect waffle topped with fresh fruit; a textbook omelet with Highspire Hills Farm organic eggs folded over goat cheese and herbs; a frothy bowl of creamy mushroom bisque; addictive chicken salad studded with Granny Smith apples; and a bountiful fresh salad that popped with toasted hazelnuts, mustardy vinaigrette, and tender artichoke hearts.
Gryphon Café
105 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-688-1988, visit website
Price: $
The Gryphon Cafe, with its artful mural, open mikes, and laid-back vibe, has been a fixture in Wayne for two decades. But more recently, owner Rich Mattis has been house-roasting the cafe’s own beans, too. I’ve been impressed at each visit with both the quality and complexity of his beans, whether it’s the round and fruity GST espresso (Gryphon Standard Time), or a bag of Guatemalan Rio Azul — full of raspberry, citrus, sage, and bitter-cocoa notes — inspired by a trip to the farm in Guatemala. There’s a second location in Rosemont.
Gryphon Café
1225 Montrose Ave., Rosemont, 610-526-1937, visit website
Price: $
The Gryphon Cafe, with its artful mural, open mikes, and laid-back vibe, has been a fixture in Wayne for two decades. But more recently, owner Rich Mattis has been house-roasting the cafe’s own beans, too. I’ve been impressed at each visit with both the quality and complexity of his beans, whether it’s the round and fruity GST espresso (Gryphon Standard Time), or a bag of Guatemalan Rio Azul — full of raspberry, citrus, sage, and bitter-cocoa notes — inspired by a trip to the farm in Guatemala. There’s a second location in Rosemont.
Lancaster County Farmer’s Market
389 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-688-9856, visit website
Weekends feel like a mini-Reading Terminal inside this impressive branch of the Lancaster County Farmer’s Market Group, where shoppers can taste an array of smoky-sweet Lebanon bolognas and an impressive cheese collection from S. Cyde Weaver, buy Flintstone-sized prime-beef chops from Sammy’s Superior Meats, gorgeous quiches from La Delicatesse, old-school German gingerbread men from D’Innocenzo’s, and Peking-style take-out dumplings and wonton soup from Margaret Kuo.
Margaret Kuo’s
175 Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-688-7200, visit website
Price: $$-$$$
We come to hear the gong announce what is still the region’s best Peking duck, carved and wrapped in fresh pancakes tableside. But there is a vast number of other favorites on Margaret Kuo’s menus that certify her status as one of our pioneers of authentic Chinese food: the first soup dumplings served in the area, open-ended Peking-style potstickers, Shanghai braised pork shoulder served with fluffy homemade buns, red-cooked short ribs, Taiwanese night market specialties, and tofu-seafood fritters in silky bamboo and crab sauce. There’s also an excellent array of real teas. Much of the rest of the region’s Chinese scene has caught up to Kuo’s menu, and the elegant Wayne dining room now sometimes feels, by contrast, a little staid. It no longer feels like a three-beller, but it remains a favorite for a special occasion, with the added bonus of good sushi from the Japanese restaurant on the second floor. Look for excellent take-out dumplings, noodles, fried rice and duck rolls from the stand at Wayne’s Lancaster County Farmer’s Market.
Elsewhere
Estia Taverna
222 N. Radnor Chester Rd., Radnor, 484-581-7124, visit website
Price: $$-$$$
The soaring vaulted ceiling, stone masonry and ice bank decked with Mediterranean seafood at this mini-chain evokes a Greek vacation, even if they are a slightly more casual, ever-so-slightly-less-expensive version of Estia downtown. They are still some of the best destinations anywhere for whole Greek fish-lavraki (branzino), tsipoura (dorado), fagri (snapper)-butterflied cooked over the coals to minimalist perfection, glossed with lemony olive oil, oregano and capers. Other Greek classics are also well-wrought, from flakey spinach pie to tender octopus, lamb chops and moussaka, plus tomatoey shrimp Saganaki. Also, don't miss the addictive Estia chips or halibut souvlaki, which is not available in Center City.
A La Maison
53 Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, 484-412-8009, visit website
Who knows what will become of this low-key BYOB once The Bercy, a grand new brasserie from the Stove & Tap crew planned for the old Primavera Pizza Kitchen, opens just down the street later this year. But this mustard-colored bistro has maintained its status as a solid destination for classic French dishes, including a bountiful bouillabaisse, a creamy crêpe Florentine and broiler dish of tender escargot in garlicky snail butter that got my Bastille Day off to a perfect start.
Carlino’s Market
2616 E. County Line Rd., Ardmore, 610-649-4046, visit website
As an admittedly Philly-centric person, I think of Carlino's markets as the Di Bruno Bros. of the 'burbs, but with better prepared foods. Carlino's has one of the best imported cheese sections anywhere (with knowledgeable and helpful service), house-baked breads and classic Italian groceries like olive oils in bulk and an array of pastas. But it is those prepared food counters where Carlino's really excels, with great tomato pie, homey soups, myriad variations on labor-itensive lasagnas, tender chicken scallopine and fresh-baked sweets, including cannolis and an olive oil cake my friend Dan swears by.
Hymie’s
342 Montgomery Ave., Merion Station, 610-668-3354, visit website
Price: $
When it comes to cross-street rivalries, the Main Line duo of Hymie’s and Murray’s have attracted loyalists on either side of Montgomery Avenue for decades. After a recent doubleheader taste-off lunch, however, I landed decidedly in Hymie’s camp. The matzo ball soup, amped-up with a “mishmash” of kreplach, bow ties and rice, had a soulful natural broth flavor. The pickle bar was abundant. And most importantly, the house-made corned beef was superbly tender and full of flavor. As with all good delis, Hymie’s is clearly a neighborhood hub that serves affordable, made-from-scratch takes on a wide menu of comfort foods, from wraps to smoked fish to huge salads and hearty all-day breakfasts. But it’s that corned beef I’d return for, especially paired with the equally good and peppery pastrami for a “Shmoozer” combo layered with coleslaw over fresh and crusty rye.
White Dog Cafe
200 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, 610-225-3700, visit website
Price: $$$
In one of our scene's most unlikely evolutions, this '80s counter-culture pioneer of sustainable local food in University City has morphed under current owner Marty Grims into a pair of powerhouse Main Line hubs, where the brass button-cashmere crowd drinks martinis and dines in oversized living room furniture surrounded by whimsical dog art. Despite the culture shift, and perhaps because the mainstream has now embraced it, the White Dog remains true its organic mission with creative New American food built on quality ingredients. A recent meal in Haverford was satisfying, with truffled Kennett Square mushroom soup, mini-latkes draped in smoked salmon, tender Asian duck skewers over soba noodles and a memorable "Twenty Layer" lasagna. With entrée prices routinely tipping into the $30s and above (the burger starts at $19?!) it feels a bit overpriced. The White Dog's enthusiastic new audience, though, clearly doesn't blink.
White Dog Cafe
379 Lancaster Ave., Haverford, 610-225-3700, visit website
Price: $$$
In one of our scene's most unlikely evolutions, this '80s counter-culture pioneer of sustainable local food in University City has morphed under current owner Marty Grims into a pair of powerhouse Main Line hubs, where the brass button-cashmere crowd drinks martinis and dines in oversized living room furniture surrounded by whimsical dog art. Despite the culture shift, and perhaps because the mainstream has now embraced it, the White Dog remains true its organic mission with creative New American food built on quality ingredients. A recent meal in Haverford was satisfying, with truffled Kennett Square mushroom soup, mini-latkes draped in smoked salmon, tender Asian duck skewers over soba noodles and a memorable "Twenty Layer" lasagna. With entrée prices routinely tipping into the $30s and above (the burger starts at $19?!) it feels a bit overpriced. The White Dog's enthusiastic new audience, though, clearly doesn't blink.
RESTAURANT CRITIC: CRAIG LABAN FOOD EDITOR: MAUREEN FITZGERALD PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID SWANSON PRODUCTION & DESIGN: GARLAND POTTS VISUALS EDITOR: FRANK WIESE COPY CHIEF: ALISON SMITH INTERNS: ASHLEY GRAEF, THEA APPLEBAUM LICHT PHOTO EDITOR: MICHAEL MERCANTI
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