Where to eat when you visit Philly's new Rail Park | Craig LaBan

Once home to the Reading Railroad viaduct, the quarter-mile green space transforms what was formerly an overgrown stretch of abandoned railway into a public park for all.

Reader: I’m thinking of going to visit the new Rail Park, but there’s not much around there to eat … or is there?

Craig LaBan: Considering the opening section of the new Rail Park is only a couple of blocks long, building some activities around a visit is a smart idea. And a few years ago, when the Inquirer and Daily News offices were still across the street, I would have agreed. There was not a whole lot there besides the promise of an industrial neighborhood in transition. However, this area – known as the Loft District, the Eraserhood, and, more recently, Spring Arts – has finally begun to bloom with some exciting options that are beginning to show its real potential.

First off, some props must be paid to the 13th Street Kitchens restaurant group, which first invested in the future there 15 years ago with its hidden gem, the hip bruncherie Café Lift tucked beneath the rails at 428 N. 13th St. (Lift, by the way, soon will open a branch in Narberth), followed by a gastropub at Prohibition Taproom (501 N. 13th St.), and a wood-fired pizza place called Bufad (1240 Spring Garden St.) that serves the neighborhood well.

Many other places have also come online or are on track. From the bend of the park at 12th Street, you can look down and see Parada Maimon (345 N. 12th St.), a casual Dominican restaurant serving Caribbean comfort foods like pollo asado, pasteles, seafood, and stewed oxtails.

Just a few steps south in the Goldtex building, you’ll soon be able to caffeinate in Third Wave-style at the new roastery and coffee bar location for Elixr (315 N. 12th St.), which is readying Philly’s first-ever “coffee omakase,” a six-cup tasting of various house roasts and styles for $15. That should be a perky wake-up for anyone who’s gotten a little sleepy on the park’s big iron swings.

While you’re alert, this is an especially good moment to remember to reserve your deep-dish, Detroit-style pizza from Pizza Gutt, the Instagram-based pizzeria that bakes out of the funky W/N W/N Coffee Bar (931 Spring Garden St.), which has its own draws of good coffee, cocktails  (hello, Limón Pepino!), and bar snacks. (Note: Pizza Gutt reliably sells out online days in advance — so check ahead — but 24 pies are also usually available for walk-ins when pie master Daniel Gutter is baking, so you never know!)

Alternatively, some tacos might be in order, so head over to the tiny corner taqueria El Purepecha (469 N. 10th St.) to fill your belly with al pastor sopes before sliding next door for a quenching lager session at Love City Brewing (1023 Hamilton), a handsome retrofit of a 19th-century warehouse that is the latest piece of the impressive new beer district that’s been rising on Spring Garden Street over the last year. The Rail Park, no doubt, is as good an excuse as any for a beer crawl, beginning at the new Boxcar Beer Garden, a picnic-style clearing at the 12th and Callowhill entrance to the park from the crew behind Morgan’s Pier (they’re donating a portion of the proceeds from beer and the BBQ menu to Friends of the Rail Park).

Also worth checking out nearby are the Roy-Pitz Barrel House (990 Spring Garden St.) and the vast, new Yards Brewery (500 Spring Garden) a little farther east. There are plans for yet another brewery (Triple Bottom) at 915 Spring Garden in the former Reading Railroad Building, which directly abuts the viaduct portion of the Rail Park (which has yet to be built). It’s far more likely Triple Bottom will be open well before this second, longer section of the Rail Park is ever completed, based on this overview of the significant challenges by my colleague Inga Saffron.

But once you’re up on even that small existing snippet of former tracks, swinging in the summer breeze with a view of a neighborhood primed for progress and pushing forward below you, the imagination easily kicks in, and the leap from vision to reality no longer feels like such a grand gamble to make, so much as a necessity.