Top Treats in ’24

Local foodie Eleni Finkelstein reviews three new Philly restaurants for your bucket list this year. 

Philly Dining owned 2023! Everyone apparently got the memo: Philadelphia’s food scene competes head-to-head with New York, LA, DC, and beyond. And why not? Our diverse community crafts dishes from every corner of the globe. The city is truly a foodie’s paradise.

If your New Year’s resolution involves embracing fresh experiences — including culinary adventures — this shortlist of new restaurants will get you started! These dining hotspots have recently opened their doors and should definitely be on your radar for 2024.

CHIKA RAMEN 🍜🍸🍣
1526 Sansom St, basement level (Rittenhouse)
chikaramenbar.com
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If you’re looking for a new lunch or dinner spot, this not-so-secret late-night speakeasy should be at the top of your list. Chika Ramen (translating to basement or cellar) opened on November 2 on the bottom level of 1526 Sansom St. and is one of the most popular new spots among foodies.

Chika offers authentic Japanese ramen and other dishes in a futuristic setting inspired by the sci-fi movie Blade Runner. Chef Dean Leevongcharoen, who trained in Japan and previously operated Ramen Bar near Drexel, has crafted a menu that showcases his expertise in ramen and sushi techniques.

The ramen bowls feature homemade noodles and broth that is simmered for over 24 hours (!), resulting in a rich and flavorful base for the toppings. Customers can choose from five ramen varieties, including the signature tonkotsu with pork belly, the spicy chicken with minced pork, and the veggie with tofu and mushrooms. (You can adjust the spice level and protein amount to your liking.)

In addition to ramen, Chika also serves a selection of otsumami, meaning “small bites” — a Japanese tradition of snacks paired with beer and alcohol (very similar to tapas):  edamame, gyoza, yakitori, bao buns, etc. The sushi menu includes hand rolls, nigiri, and sashimi, made with fresh fish and rice. For dessert, we ordered fried ice cream, which comes in vanilla or green tea ice flavors and defies the laws of physics with the hot, crispy outside and cold, creamy inside.

Chika also has a full bar that offers cocktails, mocktails, beer, wine, and sake. Some of the drinks are themed after Blade Runner, such as the Syrup Nexus-Six with pumpkin togarashi (“chili pepper” in Japanese) foam and the Deckard (Japanese Whisky, Cherry Shochu, St Germaine, Citrus, and Egg White).

The neon-lit decor and music create a lively, immersive atmosphere that transports diners to a futuristic world. Chika doesn’t take reservations, so make sure you get there early to avoid the line outside!

EL FUERTE DE LORETO 🍳🌮🍹
1412 S 5th St. (South Philly)
elfuertedeloretophilly.com
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Starting strong with brunch, El Fuerte de Loreto, which opened this past May, is one of the best brunches in the city. The restaurant’s name comes from a fort in the Mexican town of Puebla, which was the site of the famous battle of Puebla in 1862. An invading French army repeatedly failed to storm the fort, eventually retreating. The battle was a miraculous win for the Mexicans over the French. The victory, which occurred on May 5, is commemorated as Cinco de Mayo.

El Fuerte is a family-owned restaurant that serves Mexican-American fusion dishes. You can enjoy classics like huevos rancheros and enchiladas, or try something new like apple cinnamon french toast or dulce de leche french toast. The steak and eggs, which came with a tender filet mignon and a flavorful chimichurri sauce, impressed me. This place has some of the best brunch food in the city, and the service is warm and friendly.

El Fuerte is not just a restaurant but a family passion project. Johnny, who has 30 years of experience in the restaurant industry, and his son Ricardo, who has a culinary degree, decided to open a place where they could work together and share their culture. They designed the menu and the decor with their love of their heritage in mind. The bright green walls reflect their vibrant spirit and energy. Don’t miss this hidden treasure in South Philly.

VITA  🙌🍦🍨
261 S. 17th St. (Center City)
vitainphilly.com
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What would a restaurant roundup be without a sweets spot? Vita is the newest gelateria in the city, located at 261 S. 17th St. in Rittenhouse. Business partners Massimo Boni and Matt Cocco opened it in October and have provided Philadelphians with homemade gelato, coffee, and pastries ever since.

When Massimo’s civil engineering degree landed him in New York working on restaurant buildings, he realized his passion lay inside the restaurants rather than on the exteriors. He decided to pursue a degree in culinary arts, which required kitchen experience. He became a line cook while balancing his traditional 9-5 job during the pandemic. He knew his dream was to open a gelateria in Philly and named it after his sister Victoria, who goes by “Vita.”

While Massimo runs the front of the house, Matt creates the rotating gelato and sorbet menu. The gelato features seasonal ingredients and changes regularly. During our visit, we tried mango, strawberry, and Kinder Bueno. I also tried a cup of hot chocolate, the richest and tastiest I’ve ever had. Some popular flavors to remember include gingerbread, egg nog, dark chocolate, and amarena cherry. Vita also offers vegan options such as sorbetto.

The gelateria has a cozy and inviting atmosphere with friendly staff who are happy to provide samples and recommendations. Vita is a must-try for anyone who loves gelato or wants to experience a taste of Italy in Philly.

🗣️ COMMENTS WELCOME! ⭐⭐⭐
What do you think? Have you tried any of these spots?  Do you have your own top three I should check out this year? Please share below in the Comments, or catch up with me on Instagram @gingersliketoeat. If you enjoyed this feature, please check out last month’s column on Holiday spirit at a favorite South Philly hangout.

About Eleni Finkelstein 20 Articles
Eleni Finkelstein (aka @gingersliketoeat on Instagram) is a South Jersey and Philadelphia-based food blogger and journalist. She loves traveling, trying new foods, and cheering on Philly sports teams. You can check out her book, "Eat Like a Local: South Jersey" on Amazon.

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