What's for lunch on 18th Street

Matt Capetola at Brodo. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Matt Capetola at Brodo. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 04, 2012

Restaurants want to be where the action is, and 18th Street from Market Street to Rittenhouse Square is one of the busiest restaurant corridors in Center City.

Like the proverbial birds of a feather, a growing clutch of eateries, approaching two dozen, is catering to the lunch crowd. In the last week, a soup/salad/sandwich place called Brodo took a spot in the United Plaza building, just south of Market. Across the street, a Japanese soup restaurant called Nom Nom Ramen opened in March, and the vegan takeout HipCityVeg opened two weeks ago just north of the square, next to what may become a Crumbs Bake Shop. The week-old Rittenhouse Tavern, in the Art Alliance at the southeastern corner of the square, expects to join the lunch fray.

“Each of us has a different angle, and that’s refreshing,” said Scott Hockfield, who owns the Wrap Shack at 120 S. 18th St., and added a bar more than two years ago to differentiate his sandwich shop from others, such as Tony Jr.’s, a cheesesteakery, next door.

The breadth of options along the four-block stretch is impressive — fancier bistros such as Parc, Rouge, Devon Seafood Grill, and a.kitchen; Italian fare from Serafina; sandwiches, cheese, beer, and wine at Tria; power spots Continental Mid-town and the Dandelion; sushi at Numa; pub food at Elephant & Castle; pizza at SLiCe (a few steps off 18th), and, for those aiming at dining alfresco in the square, casual spots such as Di Bruno’s, Pastrami & Things, Le Bus, and a Manhattan Bagel.

“I never go hungry,” said Fred Casselli, an office worker who said he stopped brown-bagging last year, as he stepped into Numa for a bento box.

Neither does the Starr Restaurant Organization, which feeds about 1,100 people a day at Parc (500), Continental Mid-town (350), and the Dandelion (250), said owner Stephen Starr.

There’s a reason 18th Street has become a restaurant row. “Eighteenth Street is the connector street where residential meets commercial,” said Allan Domb, a real estate broker who handles many properties along the square, where residential prices are some of the highest in the city. Also, he said, 18th Street from Chestnut Street to the square is a series of storefronts with street entrances, few steps, and no “blank walls” such as hotels or large properties to interrupt the flow.

“I did a lot of research,” said Vlad Uchenik, who opened Crisp, a vegetarian quick-serve specializing in falafel, in September. He was impressed with the count of offices — he used to work for a company at 1835 Market St. and noticed the Comcast Center and its thousands of employees at the doorstep.

Matt Capetola, an engineer by trade making his entry into the food business with Brodo, said the proximity to both the office district and Rittenhouse Square was a selling point, as was the building’s large plaza, which will allow plenty of outdoor seating along 18th Street.

Rouge, which opened in 1998 on the 18th Street side of Rittenhouse Square, is considered a pioneer in outdoor dining in Center City, staking its claim by appropriating a narrow strip of sidewalk.

One of the veterans on the street is Ray Tafuri, who has owned the 24-hour Midtown III diner at 28 S. 18th St. for a quarter-century. “My business actually improved when all these restaurants started opening around me,” he said. “More is better.”

Contact Michael Klein at mklein@philly.com.

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