Shared plates are happier plates.
The trend of tapas restaurants and small plates, in general, gathers increasing popularity throughout the U.S. for its offer to sample several options at once with friends and family.
While shared plates are usually small morsels, there’s no reason to be stingy with full meals either. An increasingly popular sub-section of the shared plates trend is getting a large group of friends together to share a full side of succulent lamb or other equally delicious and cost-effective meal.
Known as the “City of Brotherly Love,” Philadelphia is booming with options to pull up a chair and share large or small plates with loved ones.
The name of the first restaurant from Iron Chef Jose Garces roughly translates as ‘sweetheart’ in Spanish. Located in Old City, Amada makes a strong case for romance with its sultry lighting and shadowy nooks. After gorging on plates of imported jamon, sheep-milk cheeses, tasty tapas and rare sherry, go for the lobster paella, a $75 seafood feast presented on a bed of rice dyed black with squid ink. 217-219 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.625.2450
Ideal meal: Iberico ham from accord-fed pigs, patatas bravas, Cabrales blue cheese-stuffed Medjool dates, scallops a la plancha.
The smoked lamb shoulder gets top billing at Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook’s marque Israeli restaurant, but Zahav is actually a small plate-restaurant in disguise. Start with the silky hummus and salatim, a spread of seven Middle Eastern vegetable salads, then move through mezze and the al ha’esh section of skewers cooked over smoldering coals. 237 St. James Pl., Philadelphia, 215.625.8800
Ideal meal: buttery Turkish hummus and salatim, lamb tartare, grilled duck hearts, lamb-and-beef kofte; whatever Solomonov is doing with halloumi.
While Zahav focuses on Middle Eastern recipes, its younger brother, Abe Fisher, mines the culinary traditions of Jewish cooks in Eastern Europe and the Americas. And unlike Zahav’s single lamb shoulder, Abe offers three large-format showstoppers: a massive rib-eye that’s dry-aged 35 days, short ribs done in the style of Montreal smoked meat and the Hungarian duck, a twist on Chinese restaurants’ classic Peking fowl served here with steamed buns and schmaltz rice. 1623 Sansom St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.867.0088
French technique and North African flavors entwine at Neuf, a new restaurant from Noord’s Joncarl Lachman. Fragrant tagines served in classic clay vessels anchor the menu and are perfect for sharing. Lachman does three varieties (vegetable, roasted chicken, braised lamb), each plated on a cushion of fluffy couscous. 943 S. Ninth St., Philadelphia, PA, 215.309.5847
Nicholas Elmi’s tasting menu-only spot, Laurel, on East Passyunk Avenue, is so perennially packed, the chef opened up an overflow wine bar next door. Now, it doesn’t take reservations months in advance to eat Elmi’s food; you can slide right up the bar (or drink rail) for a glass of Aglianico or junmai sake and a few bites, some of which are just $5 at happy hour. 1615 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, 267.858.0669
Idea meal: beef fat biscuit, smoked trout rillettes on pumpernickel soldiers and caviar service.
This chic Greek spot in Midtown Village isn’t a small plate restaurant per se, but chef Bobby Saritsoglu’s menu is front-loaded with mezedes, spreads, cheese-and-charcuterie boards, phyllo pies and other attractive snacks. Balance the noshing with sips of raki, ouzo and restina. A dozen plates are just $2 to $6 during happy hour. 1311 Sansom St., Philadelphia, 215.545.0170
Ideal meal: saganaki, fried smelts, charred eggplant dip, octopus meatballs, Greek fries.
Jesse Ito has spent his whole professional career cooking at his parents’ old Japanese restaurant in South Jersey—until now. The family sold the business and partnered with a couple of Philly restaurateurs opening Royal Izakaya in Queen Village. Ito mans a sushi bar in the back, while up front in the dimly lit saloon, the menu serves plates true to the restaurant’s Japanese pub inspiration. Cool beers and the best sake list in the city complement. 780 S. Second St., Philadelphia, 267.909.9002
Ideal meal: Japanese-style pickles, spider roll, grilled Pacific squid, Kurobuta sausages, shumai.
Bing Bing Dim Sum
Proudly unorthodox, this vivacious steam parlor from Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh plays with the rules of Chinese dim sum on East Passyunk. The neighborhood’s loyal regulars and a solid contingent of Philadelphians from other areas—Bing Bing’s intersection is one of the most popular Uber pick-up/drop-off points in the city—get cozy on Hong Kong wedding beds-turned-banquettes and at the bar, where high-proof punches flow. The menu is mishmash of dumplings, noodles, congee and veggies built for sharing. 1648 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, 215.279.7702
Ideal meal: soup dumplings, caterpillar bread (contains no actual caterpillars), green papaya salad, roast pork bao bun, mapo tofu.
This collection of cozy bites correctly bills itself as “the original wine, cheese and beer bar.” The first Tria opened on Rittenhouse Square in 2004 and has subsequently launched satellites in Washington Square West and Fitler Square, plus Tria Taproom. So pretty much wherever you are in Center City, you’re within a 15-minute walk of a Tria. Locals love it for the domestic and European cheese list, the three-bite bruschettas and well-curated list of wines and beers, whose clever tasting notes make it a joy to explore. Multiple locations, 215.972.8742
Ideal meal: Chester County Shellbark Sharp goat cheese, chicken liver mousse with shallot marmalade, truffled mushroom bruschetta, smoked duck salad.
Vernick Food & Drink
Dinner at Greg and Julie Vernick’s eponymous restaurant in Rittenhouse Square begins with electric crudos and delicious things on thick sourdough toast, but invariably ends with one of their large-format proteins roasted in the wood-burning oven: a whole fish, a shellfish roast, 28-ounce bone-in strip loin or a whole Amish chicken. The bird is audacious in its simplicity, a clinic in crispy, well-seasoned skin and moist white and dark meat that needs nothing but a squirt of the accompanying heel of lemon. 2031 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA, 267.639.6644