Local restaurants are struggling amid the pandemic, but in cities with vibrant food scenes, like Philadelphia, the tough times haven't stopped chefs from serving up a good meal.
On TODAY Monday, Sheinelle Jones and the Godmother of Soul Patti LaBelle, both Philly natives, discussed their favorite restaurants in the city. LaBelle said that she loves the city's soul food, and the pair spoke with Ben Bynum, a famous Philly restaurateur and chef who operates four restaurants with his brother Robert.
Sheinelle also shared her top-five favorite restaurants in Philadelphia with TODAY Food.
"It was very difficult to try to come up with just my top five (restaurants)," Sheinelle said. "If you're a foodie, Philadelphia is the place to be, quite honestly. Everybody thinks about cheesesteaks and hoagies, which are obviously so beyond yummy, but there are so many other food places in Philly that are just absolutely fantastic. And so, with that said, these were the five places that I found myself in the most with my friends and my family."
Sheinelle said that she loves this restaurant, which serves up Sichuan cuisine and late-night street-food recipes. The restaurant has nine locations throughout Philly, New York City and New Jersey, though it's currently only offering pickup or delivery amid the pandemic.
"Once I discovered Han Dynasty, my life was forever changed, and I'm not even kidding," Sheinelle said. "We ate there all the time, and now it's also my dad and my sister's favorite as well."
Sheinelle said that when she dines at Han Dynasty, she loves to amp up the spice factor.
"My favorite thing on the menu is they have Dan Dan Noodles, and they have what's called 'Dry Pot' shrimp, and I get it really spicy … I get it right to the point where it's so spicy I almost can't take it, but not to the point where you don't have the flavor. It's just so good," she said. " … They do a heat level all the way to number 10, and my dad will do 10, and I'll do like, 7, but it's just so good."
This trendy cafe has four locations in Philadelphia and one in New Jersey, and it's the perfect spot for breakfast, brunch or dinner, according to Sheinelle.
"They have the best French toast and the best bread pudding you've ever had in your life," she said. " … It's just heaven. My husband and I would go there and we could be there all day. It's just the best French toast you've ever had."
According to Sheinelle, this Greek tavern in the Fairmount neighborhood of Philadelphia has "amazing" lamb chops and was a "favorite spot" for her family.
"I remember after my oldest son was born, before the twins were born, I would come home from work, and you know I had early hours, and I would sometimes be too tired to cook, and Zorba's … was as close to home cooking as I could get without cooking," she said. "They have these lamb chops that are amazing. I would make vegetables and then serve the lamb chops (for my son) and he would just go nuts."
Sheinelle also praised the restaurant's staff.
"When you're in Philly, everybody treats you like you're family, and the guys at Zorba's were just so kind to me and my family," she said.
Sheinelle said the best thing about this trendy Mexican restaurant, found in Philadelphia's Center City, is its wide range of guacamole options.
"They have the best guacamole around, they have different kinds of guacamole, and so it just depends on your mood," she said. "I would literally go there and get different kinds of guacamole with my friends, and wine, and it would be a great way to end the week. It's got a really fun atmosphere … I miss it."
This modern Southern restaurant, operated by the Bynum Brothers, is a neighborhood establishment that used to do an incredible Sunday brunch where customers sat at a 40-foot table, dining with strangers as live jazz played. While that brunch is no longer happening during the pandemic, Sheinelle said she has "really fond memories" of spending time there with family and friends.
"At Relish, Sunday brunch was one of the best meals you can get on the planet, in my opinion," she said. "Everything from your breakfast foods to your dinner staples, they had it all for Sunday brunch.
"I would go with my girlfriends … At the time, my oldest wasn't even walking yet, and we put him in a high chair and put a little food on his tray, and we could be there for hours laughing and talking. It just became one of our regular spots."