PHLReview

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Illata image
8.7

Best New Restaurants

2023

Illata

American

Fitler SquareGray's Ferry

$$$$Perfect For:BYOBDate NightCatching Up With MatesCasual Weeknight DinnerFirst/Early in the Game Dates
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Every day, a shiny new restaurant with an eye rolling new concept seems to pop up. Our local cuisine, once dominated by sandwiches and straightforward BYO’s, has officially gone over-the-top. We now have $225 baked potatoes at a Gatsby-themed sports bar, cocktail classes with Harry Potter cosplay, and, for some godforsaken reason, a $700 cheeseburger. But once in a while, we get a refreshing reminder that simple is best. Illata, the tiny BYO on the border of Fitler Square and Grays Ferry, is a very welcome return to our roots.

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Illata is a buzzy neighborhood bistro in a decidedly uncomplicated package. The experience is more reminiscent of a friend’s dinner party—one who just happens to make very beautiful, very tasty food. This place is cozy, but they make the most of their 20 seats (plus the six-seat bar they save for walk-ins only). Friendly servers will greet and seat you, and the laidback atmosphere means you’ll likely get a glimpse of the chefs dancing to Diana Ross or Lou Reed in the open kitchen. As for the menu, it’s short—only about 10 dishes focused on local seafood and produce. It’s a little bit Italian, a little bit American, and all looks like it was plated by the Barefoot Contessa herself (when Jennifer Garner comes for dinner. Not just for Jeffrey).

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Everything is simple, but also surprising—you won’t find another menu like this in the city. Friends or couples pack in to share plates of crispy fried clams and scrape up the last of the airy chocolate cream puff. The marinated mussels are a rich and spicy must-order. The housemade pastas (that rotate regularly) highlight seasonal flavors, showing off tart, sweet tomato sauce or balancing velvety zucchini with crisp breadcrumbs. The chicken schnitzel, when combined with its refreshing fennel salad and sweet mustard, is the stuff of dreams, and don’t even get us started on the brown butter tart (which deserves a full review of its own).

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Turns out that the hottest new restaurants don't have to be over-concepted and overproduced. Sometimes they just need a few candlelit tables that diners don’t want to get up from. Can’t say we blame them, though. Simple is best.

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

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Food Rundown

Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Asparagus Salad

This salad is herbaceous, bright, and if you get a bite with one of the slivered dates in it, it’s excellent. That said, we need a few more dates in there to match the earthiness of all the asparagus.
Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Marinated Mussels

These mussels are perfectly balanced by sweet, crunchy Hakurei turnips, savory, (slightly) funky miso, and a hint of heat from the chili oil. You’ll need to order the housemade bread to soak up all of the sauce.
Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Trofie Alla Nerano

This dish is plenty big to share, but you won’t want to. The twists of pasta are al dente and tossed in a rich zucchini sauce (it borders on creamy, but there’s no milk involved). It’s topped with buttery breadcrumbs.
Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Rigatoni Alla Norma

We so badly want to like Norma, but she’s just missing a little something (salt, perhaps?). The rigatoni are too al dente and the sauce is under-seasoned—the only “just okay” dish here.
Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Chicken Schnitzel

The chef must have done a stint at a schnitzel haus in Germany. This thin, crisp-fried chicken schnitzel is flawless. It’s served with a tangy fennel salad and a sweet mustard, which makes a bite that’s sweet, savory, and incredible.
Illata image

photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo

Brown Butter Tart

Sometimes it’s topped with strawberry and crème fraîche, or rhubard and a drizzle of olive oil. It doesn’t matter what’s on top—we’re eating it and thinking about it long after we’ve finished. Nutty and caramelly in flavor, smooth and delicate in texture. This is easily one of the best desserts in the city.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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