PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tourism officials will tell you the restaurant-rich area at the heart of downtown is called Midtown Village, but that moniker hasn't entirely caught on with the locals.
The good news is that it doesn't matter what you call it. Philadelphia food-lovers just know 13th Street — which runs through the center of the neighborhood — as a vibrant area chockfull of great eateries and wine bars, a place to get anything from artisanal pizza and gourmet vegan to Asian fusion and modern Indian. And don't forget the freshly made prickly-pear gelato for dessert.
While the city boasts many foodie destinations — from Fishtown in the north to East Passyunk in the south — Midtown Village is the most centrally located, sitting in the shadow of City Hall between the Liberty Bell and tony Rittenhouse Square.
The once-seedy 13th Street corridor has been transformed in recent years in part through the efforts of chef Marcie Turney and her partner Valerie Safran. Their portfolio of restaurants, upscale gift shops and grocery store became core elements of the casually hip district.
Among their properties: perpetually popular Barbuzzo, which offers a Mediterranean kitchen and bar; Jamonera, a Spanish wine bar with an extensive sherry list; and the relatively new Italian dining room Little Nonna's. Their innovative take on Mexican food, Lolita, was scheduled to reopen in April after undergoing renovations.
Another Mexican outpost is the hard-to-miss El Vez, a gregarious emporium from hometown restaurateur Stephen Starr. And across the street is the eye-catching Sampan and its semi-hidden Graffiti Bar, both offering a contemporary Asian menu from chef Michael Schulson.
Nearly all the eateries offer outdoor seating, which makes for crowded, lively sidewalks. It also eases the seating crunch at tiny places like Zavino, an informal pizzeria and wine bar that boasts some of the city's best pies.
Favorites include the "Stache" (whole-wheat crust with pistachio pesto, mozzarella, Parmesan, lemon vinaigrette and baby arugula) and the "Joey" (sausage, mozzarella, crushed tomato, spinach, garlic, provolone and chili flakes). Zavino also offers a small selection of homemade pasta and noshes like charcuterie and olives.
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