How Craig LaBan picked his 25 faves, and the places that just missed the cut

The albacore tuna tartare at Mica in Chestnut Hill, a LaBan favorite that nearly made this year’s Top 25.

Inquirer Food Critic Craig LaBan last week named his Top 25 Philadelphia restaurants? But how did he pick them? And what about Le Virtù? What about Brauhaus Schmitz? What about Fond? He gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the process.

LaBan: You have no idea how many great restaurants there are in Philadelphia until you try to jot down a few favorites — and suddenly get to 50 quickly. Narrowing it to 25 that reflect the range and diversity of our stellar food scene is truly hard.

The restaurants noted above are all worthy, but in the case of Le Virtù and Brauhaus Schmitz, recent chef changes put them on hold until further reassessment. Fond is another old three-bell favorite, but, despite my efforts to keep up with everything, I have simply not been back to recently enough to make that call. (I agree with one correspondent who said Fond is one of the most overlooked great restaurants in town.)

That said, there were several restaurants that really did, in fact, come close to making my list. Curious for five other contenders that are on my mind right now? Mica in Chestnut Hill has been revived by a talented young chef who’s given that neighborhood the sophisticated BYOB it deserves. It would be impossible to leave Vedge off any Top 25 list, but its more casual Rittenhouse sibling, V Street, has an exciting and innovative energy all its own. Ditto for Abe Fisher. The company’s flagship Zahav gets all the well-deserved glory. But Abe chef Yehuda Sichel is cooking inspired modern Ashkenazi food that should not be overlooked. Will BYOB is producing what might be some of the city’s most beautiful modernist plates on East Passyunk Avenue, but a lack of creature comforts (noise, darkness) was always a minus. Well, Will just completed a renovation — so I need to get back there soon! One more place that I’ve come to love this year on a personal level for family meals: Tom’s Dim Sum, the new and improved space that replaced the original Dim Sum Garden, is now our go-to destination for Chinatown’s best soup dumplings.

I could go on, really, I could. But there’s always next year.