Saturday, November 1, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Craig LaBan

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I joined the Inquirer as its restaurant critic in 1998, after a stint covering the food beat for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Having eaten about 500 restaurant meals a year here ever since, I never cease to be amazed by the diversity and sophistication of Philadelphia's kitchens. To travel from its many authentic ethnic neighborhoods to the gastronomic temples of Walnut Street to its beery gastropubs, cozy BYOBs and multitude of greasy-but-great steak joints, is to know this town delivers satisfaction at every level of the food chain. Including online dish.

Live chat: Join Craig at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays in the chatroom.

Book: The Philadelphia Inquirer Restaurant Guide is available through our online store.

4 Bells: According to Craig, the best restaurants in the Philadelphia area.

As trend-spotting goes for Chinese food on the East Coast, the basement food court at New World Mall in Flushing, N.Y., is the place to begin. That's where Jack Chen, owner of Sakura Mandarin in Philadelphia's Chinatown, first spotted the spicy mix-and-match stir-fry bowls called ma la xiang gou.
On Sunday we headed off to Conte Farms in Tabernacle, Burlington County, for our annual blueberry-picking fest. It doesn't take long to fill those buckets - we collected 10 pounds in an hour, which at $2.50 a pound was a pretty good deal for berries so fresh . . . I find Conte's fruit reliably great every year, and it's a wonderful family ritual.

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