By: Michael Wechsler
It could be argued that there are two types of restaurants: dining destinations and neighborhood haunts. The former, a place that serves a spectacular meal worthy of raving about to all your friends, the latter a tried and true establishment that if not exciting, is always comfortable. A lucky few find restaurants that satisfy both requirements: an eatery serving up a special experience that can be enjoyed time and time again. If you asked me to name such a restaurant in Philadelphia, I would need not a moment’s hesitation to rattle off the name REX 1516.
REX is not a large restaurant, but it manages to feel right for a surprisingly large number of circumstances. The smattering of small tables along the relatively calm sidewalk give REX an edge over many other such sidewalk cafes in town. Inside, the restaurant’s intimate size, exposed brick walls, southern belle decor, and candle-lit tables add to an air of romanticism. Any notion that this is a stuffy eatery is immediately dispelled by the diverse base of customers and incredibly warm staff. The bar behind the dining room is inviting to all, and a great place to have a drink and a chat.
The menu at REX is described as “Southern inspired” and dishes out fantastic renditions of American comfort food. I have on several occasions enjoyed a fantastic fried chicken platter or brisket plate, while my dining companions have given their seal of approval to smoked wings and mussels verde. The bar offers a well curated beer list and several great southern inspired cocktails. It’s hard to argue with good food and a well crafted sazerac.
I’ve had several dishes at REX, but the reason I keep coming back is for the one dish that never gets boring. If you read my last post you may have guessed what’s coming: REX is on the short list of best burger purveyors around. What makes this a special place worthy of repeat incursions is the weekly burger special available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Each week, chef Justin Swain (or one of his staff, or a guest chef) reveal a fresh specialty burger available those two nights only. While the standard burger at REX is delicious, it can’t compete with the excitement and intrigue of punnily name burgers like the “Mark Buffalo” or the “Tot Another Bacon Pun”. These delicious riffs come with any manner of toppings, but my weakness is for burgers topped with other meat. I’ve had burgers incorporating cheesesteak, brisket, pork belly, and more. Not only does REX give you a fresh new option every week, but Tuesday’s burger comes in a citywide special with beer, burger, and a shot for merely $15.
After leaving REX for what will be one of many such occasions, you’ll find yourself on South Street West, where it is but one of the places that make this one of the best dining strips in the city. While the name South Street usually conjures images of the raucous stretch several blocks to the east, South Street becomes quieter, leafier, and simply more charming once you cross Broad St. Here, a well curated selection of bars, BYOB’s, fast casual eateries, and bakeries exist as the border between the residential Graduate Hospital neighborhood and the quieter southern half of posh Rittenhouse Square. I struggle to think of a more comprehensive scene than this one. For those who don’t like frills, beloved dive Bob & Barbara’s offers up the original citywide special at ridiculously low prices. For a fast but healthy meal, Quick Fixx and Miles Table are easy stops. My sweet tooth is always satisfied by handmade ice cream and a slice of butterscotch bourbon at exceedingly cute pie temple Magpie. A friend who spent many years in Chiang Mai raves to me about the authenticity of Sawatdee while other ethnic eateries are well represented by places like Kei Sushi, Tio Flores, and the aptly named Indian Restaurant. For fine dining, there are elite BYOBS like Pumpkin and Entree. Every taste can be satisfied on this action-packed stretch.
To take full advantage of South St West, I can’t think of a better place to live than the elegant blocks just to the north in Rittenhouse. Nestled in a handsome mansion on a row of stately homes, 1524 Pine St. #2 is a gorgeous condo only 2 blocks from REX 1516. This one bedroom offers the ease of condo living, the endless amenities of a central location, and the ambiance of a grand old estate.
An easy walk up one flight of stairs, this second-floor unit welcomes you into a sun drenched living room centered around a grand fireplace. The generous space never fails to impress with it’s crown moldings, rich wood flooring, and extra tall ceilings. Although you may never need it with so many restaurants nearby, the generous open kitchen has plenty of room for cooking and entertaining. A large master bedroom features yet another fireplace, excessive closet space, and the en-suite master bath.
1524 Pine St #2 is listed by our friend Solon Alpohoritis at Keller Williams Center City for $330,000. This fantastic property offers low condo fees, extra storage and laundry in the building’s basement, an easy walk to any corner of Center City, and is only two blocks from the Broad St. subway line for access to all of Philadelphia.
If those amenities don’t impress you, just remember: this condo is but a skip and a hop away from a fantastic new burger at REX every week. I’ll see you there!