Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Gu’d Food is a biweekly column run by an aspiring foodie who will literally wait an hour to have an awesome bowl of ramen and travel to another country for food. Having been born and raised by a food-loving Shanghainese family in Philly, and then later damned to the suburbs, I’m always looking for new places to eat that are worth what you are paying for. To see more restaurant reviews or news on food on the East Coast, check out my blog of the same title at gudfoodblog.wordpress.com.
Ah, autumn – my favorite time of year. The Crum gets a colorful makeover and the cool air makes the sweltering dorms more bearable, but what truly makes this time of year amazing is two simple words: Restaurant Week. It happens twice a year in Center City (and once in University City).
Now some freshmen and non-urban folk might be asking, what is Restaurant Week? It is a glorious two-week periods where aspiring foodies rejoice on the discounted prices at some of Philly’s best restaurants. Three-course lunches are capped off at $20 and three-course dinners are at $35. While for a college student’s budget, this might not be cheap, if you try to go to many of the participating restaurants during other times, you will end up paying almost twice as much for the same amount of food.
This year’s Restaurant Week runs from September 15th-20th and 22nd-27th. Yes, it started this week. Here are some gu’d tips for first-timers that will make you look like a pro:
1) OpenTable is your best friend
Make reservations ahead of time. Let me repeat, you must make reservations ahead of time, especially at popular places such as Buddakan and Zahav. For the pros out there, you probably already made your reservation during the first week of classes with your friends. They go fast so check them our right now (probably after you’re finished reading this article) and call up some friends.
2) Be wary of chain restaurants
Be aware that the Restaurant Week deals do not apply to the entire menu of the restaurant. Restaurants have a separate menu for those who are doing the Restaurant Week deal so please check those menus before you select. Restaurants that I do not recommend going to are often chain restaurants such as The Melting Pot and Maggiano’s since those are often places that are more affordable when you go off the Restaurant Week menu.
3) Make sure you take the train or bus schedule in account if you’re taking SEPTA into the city
Make sure you allot yourself enough time to get into the city and make your reservation. For a lot of popular restaurants, they will only hold your reservation for 10 minutes.
Ok? We got the nitty-gritty done? Cool beans. Now here is where I will recommend some restaurants depending on what you’re looking for:
For a group of meat-loving friends:
If you have a craving for unlimited meat from flank steak to swordfish, check out Chima Brazilian Steakhouse. This chic restaurant provides a great environment for a group of friends with waiters walking around with sewers of meat.
Gu’d Tip: You will be given a small chip that you will lay on the table indicating whether or not you would like meat, depending on what side you lay the chip.
For the friends who crave an adventure for their taste buds:
One of the most popular restaurants in Philadelphia, Zahav provides a great sampling of Middle Eastern cuisine that explodes with flavor in your mouth. Some of my favorite dishes include the must-try Grilled Duck Hearts and Kibbe Naya, which is raw lamb.
For those who want a casual lunch with a foodie friend:
Probably the most underutilized aspect of Restaurant Week for Swat students, the lunch menus provide a cheaper price (at $20) for a three-course meal. A good friend and I took advantage of this and went to Barbuzzo, a small Mediterranean restaurant on 13th street. The Salted Caramel Budino is an extremely rich, filling dessert that will satisfy any person with a sweet tooth.
For those who want an intimate dinner with friends or their boo:
Possibly my favorite restaurant in Philadelphia, Stephen Starr’s Buddakan is the perfect place to take someone to celebrate anything meaningful – from a birthday to sharing a dinner with that special someone. This Asian fusion restaurant does not disappoint; providing a delicious Chilean Seabass, cooked with butternut squash and maitake mushrooms. Don’t forget the dessert. The must-must-try is the Crying Chocolate, a lava cake that oozes melted chocolate into vanilla ice cream. I definitely shed a tear of joy and made Sally-esque sounds (think When Harry Met Sally) biting into this dessert.
Let me know what you tried out this year. Enjoy Restaurant Week, Swatties!