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5 restaurants pushing the envelope in Philadelphia

Innovation runs deep in Philadelphia’s rich history. After all, one of the most famous Philadelphians is inventor extraordinaire Benjamin Franklin, whose innovative spirit lives on in the city’s electric dining scene.

A beloved Sichuan spot in Chinatown augments its staff with a service robot. A swanky Rittenhouse Square steakhouse donates a hundred pounds of oyster shells a week to restore the Delaware River shoreline.

Meet Philadelphia’s risk-takers, trailblazers, and changemakers. Read on for a list of five of the most cutting-edge restaurants to book now in the City of Brotherly Love.

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OpenTable team
5 Restaurants
Updated December 21, 2022
Restaurants:Fork - Philadelphia, Square 1682, Emei Restaurant
Price Range:$$ - $$$
Cuisines:Contemporary American, American, Chinese (Sichuan)
Neighborhoods:Old City, Center City, Chinatown
A photo of Fork - Philadelphia restaurant

Fork - Philadelphia

Contemporary American
Old City
4498 reviews

Fork debuted in 1997 and is steered by outstanding restaurateur Ellen Yin, who ensures her sophisticated New American spot evolves with the times. As the flagship venture of High Street Hospitality Group (owned by Yin and acclaimed chef Eli Kulp), Fork was a standard-setter in Philadelphia’s farm-to-table movement. These days, Yin and company, led by chef de cuisine George Madosky, are especially passionate about reducing food waste. Madosky, who regularly breaks down full and half lambs for his dishes, is known for making sausages and stocks with the off-cuts. The restaurant uses a biodigester, a system that transforms organic solid waste into water rather than composting, eliminating the need to rely on an outside company to pick up food scraps. Among other pioneering efforts, Fork also works with Too Good To Go to get surplus food to people who will use it.

At the moment, there's no online availability within 2.5 hours of your request. Do you have another time in mind?

A photo of Square 1682 restaurant

Square 1682

Center City
1948 reviews
In Rittenhouse Square’s Architects Building, an Art Deco office tower, Square 1682 is Philadelphia’s first LEED-certified restaurant and bar. The menu prioritizes bold, New American plates, such as Lancaster duck confit on buttermilk toast and braised beef cheeks in habanero-carrot purée, made with locally sourced, sustainable ingredients. Even the cocktails lean seasonal, such as the London Beet, a blend of gin, spice syrup, beet juice, and cranberry bitters. Square 1682 stands out for having passed a series of stringent U.S. Green Building Council guidelines. Its kitchen uses energy- and water-efficient appliances, an in-house garden supplies the restaurant’s herbs, and the menu includes multiple gluten-free and vegetarian options, all contributing to its unique, eco-friendly existence.

At the moment, there's no online availability within 2.5 hours of your request. Do you have another time in mind?

A photo of Emei Restaurant restaurant

Emei Restaurant

Chinese (Sichuan)
84 reviews

Steered by chef Yongcheng Zhao, EMei has served some of the Philadelphia area’s best Sichuan food since 2011. The lively, group-friendly spot, filled with large round tables and rotating trays, is ideal for gathering over plates of Chongqing spicy chicken and pork intestine. But it’s a unique approach to the restaurant industry labor shortage that distinguishes EMei from the crowd. In September 2022, the restaurant welcomed Bella, a service robot manufactured by the China-based company Pudu. Equipped with four heat induction trays and 3D sensors, Bella saves servers trips to the kitchen and can shuttle takeout orders from the kitchen to EMei’s reception desk without human intervention. Bella can display dozens of facial expressions, making it a selfie magnet with its own TikTok account.

At the moment, there's no online availability within 2.5 hours of your request. Do you have another time in mind?

A photo of Volver restaurant


Contemporary American
Center City
645 reviews

This Kimmel Center icon dazzles with dramatic interiors decked with a marble-topped bar, floor-to-ceiling windows, and a striking curved glass bottle mural by local artist Conrad Booker. Locally sourced meats, seafood, and produce from chef/owner Jose Garces’s Bucks County farm feature prominently in the restaurant’s French-inspired dishes. The community connection doesn’t end there: Garces, a James Beard Award winner, introduced a chefs-in-residency program in 2021, spotlighting local talent from underrepresented communities for six-to-eight-week rotations. The path-breaking program returned for a second season in 2022, featuring soul food master Reuben “Big Rube” Harley of Pitchers Pub in Manayunk and Chance Anies, the owner of Tabachoy, a local Filipino food truck.

At the moment, there's no online availability within 2.5 hours of your request. Do you have another time in mind?

A photo of Barclay Prime restaurant

Barclay Prime

Rittenhouse Square
4650 reviews
Some of Philadelphia’s best steaks await at this retro-chic spot, part of Stephen Starr’s vast hospitality empire. The service sets a sophisticated, if fun and over-the-top, tone, having diners select which steak knife they prefer for their entree. Barclay Prime extends its signature thoughtfulness beyond the walls of the chandelier-filled dining room. In 2022, the restaurant started donating 100 pounds of shells a week to the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary’s oyster shell recycling program. Oysters have ecological superpowers: They can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. Yet young oysters need to attach to old shells to grow. The donated shells help rebuild oyster reefs and restore the Delaware River watershed.

At the moment, there's no online availability within 2.5 hours of your request. Do you have another time in mind?

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