Craig LaBan's favorite restaurants in the Pa. and N.J. suburbs

Sean Weinberg works the grill at Alba in Malvern.

The city may be the beating heart of our region’s dining scene, but Philly’s suburbs have some great restaurants, too, from the Main Line to Cherry Hill.

Two stars – Zeppoli in Collingswood and Junto in Chadds Ford – are good enough to have cracked our list of Top 25 favorite restaurants in the region, no matter the address.

But there are so many others beyond the city limits also worth touting.

In a diverse field of favorites that range from an Asian fusion palace to farm-to-table kitchens and a wood-fired Italian grill, here are nine more great choices for dinner in both the South Jersey and Pennsylvania suburbs, excerpted from Craig LaBan’s Ultimate Dining guide, recently delivered to subscribers. (See ordering information below.)

Of particular note, two restaurants here, Sagami of Collingswood and Charcoal BYOB in Yardley, stepped-up in our guide to new three-bell ratings. (Not a subscriber? You can order a copy; info is below.)

Bell ratings, where applicable, range from zero to four.

Pennsylvania Suburbs

MAINLAND INN

17 Mainland Rd., Harleysville, 484-704-2600 

This Montco country inn was spectacularly renovated and updated with an ambitious kitchen creating sophisticated farm-to-table plates using seasonal organics and sustainably raised meats from the owner’s Quarry Hill Farm. A chef change in its first year did not slow it down.


THE WHIP TAVERN

1383 N. Chatham Rd., West Marlborough (Springdell), Coatesville, 610-383-0600 

Talented chef Anne Coll (Meritage, Susanna Foo) has upgraded the pub fare at this charming British-themed tavern in Chester County’s picturesque horse country. With more seasonality and finesse, from “bubble and squeak” to the beef curry, chips, and sublime short ribs, the Whip is better than ever.


CHARCOAL BYOB

11 S. Delaware Ave. Yardley, 215-493-6394 

Charcoal is still a diner by day, but experimental chef-brothers Mark and Eric Anton Pleschsa have stepped up at night to a third bell by refining their inventive modern plates, including offbeat pastas (“A-1 rigatoni with meat loaf marinara?”) that are as tasty as they are witty.


RESTAURANT ALBA

7 W. King St, Malvern; 610-644-4009

Sean and Kelly Weinberg’s wood-fired Italian outpost has grown from its BYOB roots to a large full-service restaurant that impressed at a memorable recent meal with rabbit agnolotti, chimichurri octopus, amazing roast pork with corn pudding, and trout with hazelnuts.


NECTAR

1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 610-725-9000

This high-style pan-Asian palace is more than just “Buddakan of the burbs,” with stellar sushi and seasonally inspired Asian fusion cooking by Patrick Feury, from crisp lobster dumplings and great steamed pork buns to wild boar lo mein and tea-smoked salmon curry.

South Jersey

These restaurants serve Jersey pride on a plate.

FARM & FISHERMAN TAVERN

1442 Marlton Pike E. (Rt. 70), Cherry Hill, 856-356-2282 

In a land of chains, Josh Lawler and Todd Fuller have created their vision of a veg-forward neighborhood spot built on local ingredients. It’s also a prime showcase for Jersey beer.


SAGAMI JAPANESE RESTAURANT

37 W. Crescent Blvd., Collingswood, 856-854-9773 

After an astounding 42 years of unwavering craftsmanship, Shigeru Fukuyoshi’s low-lit, dark wood ode to Japanese classics remains a gold standard for pristine sushi (now worthy of three bells!) Try the chirashi and broiled miso-eggplant app.


CHUlicious

1200 S. Church St., Village Two Shoppes, Mount Laurel, 856-780-5240; 

The Chu family took its woks from Chinatown to a Mount Laurel strip, where it creates the same excellent Taiwanese and Sichuan flavors, from crystal wontons to Wu-Shi ribs, cumin beef sandwiches, and bean-crusted Taiwanese fish.


ESTIA TAVERNA

(Not yet formally rated)

140 Route 70, Marlton, 856- 596-5500 

The Mediterranean seafood and striking decor evokes a Greek vacation. It’s more casual and less-expensive than Estia downtown. The whole fish is a specialty, but don’t miss the Estia chips or halibut souvlaki.


"Craig LaBan's Ultimate Dining," a glossy, 52-page, magazine-style book that wraps up the food critic's 25 favorite restaurants, as well as lists such as favorite BYOBs, Chinatown, and Philadelphia classics, is available by mail, through this link, or in person at the newspaper's offices, 801 Market St. (entrance on Eighth Street), from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays ($5.95, cash only).