Coming home was always the plan for Joncarl Lachman—he just needed to make a few stops first. Thirty-plus countries, dozens of jobs and two successful restaurants of his own later, he's back in Philadelphia, quickly sliding into the position that suits him best—the chef and restaurateur is one of the food scene's biggest and most earnest boosters.
Raised in Southwest Philly, Lachman left town in 1986, graduating from college, then working under chefs like Nora Pouillon (at Restaurant Nora in D.C.) and Anne Rosenzweig (at Inside in NYC), with enviable amounts of travel scattered throughout. He spent considerable time in the Netherlands, his family's ancestral home, and up into Scandinavia—the cooking canon inspiring the approach of his intimate "eetcafe," Noord.
By the early aughts, Lachman and his partner, Bob Moysan, landed in Chicago, where he'd go on to open two successful restaurants. All the while, he kept tabs on Philly, tracing its uptick in national relevance. "I came back often and stayed in touch with what was going on with restaurants here," he says.
The water was eventually warm enough for Lachman to relocate to his hometown permanently. In 2013, they opened Noord on East Passyunk Avenue, a traditionally Italian commercial strip in South Philly that's been rejiggered as a restaurant row with a neighborly personality. Though it's been around less than two years, the BYOB spot has developed into a chef-driven fixture.
Lachman returns the favor by supporting a wide variety of local food entrepreneurs, in his bustling 'hood and beyond—that means he has strong opinions about what tastes best and better than all the rest. Here's his recommended belt-loosening Philadelphia eating itinerary, starting with his city's classic sandwiches and eating his way on up.
The cheesesteak question: Tony Luke's. Waiting in line on Oregon Avenue, down near the stadiums, just enhances the experience. I have also been known, after a long shift and a few drinks at my neighbor Fond's bar, to wander up to Pat's. While I know the conventional wisdom is to poo-poo cheesesteak corner, I believe it should be part of any Philly tour that I'd give a visiting out-of-towner. It's the atmosphere more than anything. Mushroom Whiz-wit, please.
How 'bout a hoagie: Philip's on West Passyunk Avenue, hands down. I have gotten to know the people there... They're known for their steaks, but do hoagies well, too. There is just something about the great combination of the chewy roll and the shredded lettuce. I always get a ham and American cheese hoagie with mayo.
Philly's other famous sandwich: John's Roast Pork, of course. In my decade-plus in Chicago, the only indigenous food item I allowed myself to enjoy was the Italian beef sandwich. I like John's for the same reasons—a wet, chewy roll filled with meat and spicy peppers, with sharp provolone and spinach. As with the previous sandwich places, waiting in line and taking in the Philadelphia atmosphere is part of the enjoyment. We are a gruff but decidedly friendly people.
An unbeatable combo: Water ice and soft pretzels. I think this combination is what I missed most during the time I was away from Philadelphia. With these two items, embarrassingly, I will stick with the classics: Rita's and Philadelphia Pretzel Factory. This year, when Rita's on Passyunk opened, I was the first person in line, no lie. And there is nothing better than a hot, just-out-of-the-oven pretzel from PPF.
Old-school breakfast: Atlantic Pizza, a tiny little restaurant-diner in my neighborhood. Seems like they have had the same staff and customers that they have had since they first opened 20-plus years ago. I particularly love Sue. I have ham and eggs, but they do a great crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside scrapple, too. Close runner-up in Dutch Eating Place in the Reading Terminal Market. Try the creamed chipped beef on rye toast.
Down-to-earth burgers: Fountain Porter has the best backyard barbecue-style $5 burger in the world. So salty and delicious, with great pickles. They also have a veggie burger, which I initially was forced to order because they ran out of their beef burger, but I now love. That is made by Vegan Commissary.
Favorite Pho: Here, I am going to go for the classic, Pho 75. The staff can be kind of grumpy, but the broth is delicious and it's a big, airy room full of other people with hangovers. I always add meatballs and extra pickled onions on the side.
Steak (that's vegetarian-friendly): Like any big city, Philadelphia has its fair share of great steakhouses...Butcher & Singer, Barclay Prime, Del Frisco's. But my favorite steak in town is found at The Farm and Fisherman. My friend Josh, who left Blue Hill at Stone Barns to come back to Philly and open his own place, does an incredible "bloody beet steak" with yogurt, pan juices, and amaranth. I would venture to guess that this is the best vegetarian steak you will find anywhere.
The sweet stuff: I love Isgro's cannoli. Also, Jessie Prawlucki makes some incredible desserts at Fond. From a visitor's perspective, I would recommend visiting any one of the Capogiro locations in the city. My favorite flavors there are concord grape and Madagascar bourbon vanilla.
Romantic date spot: Choose any one of our great little BYOBs, which are very plentiful here thanks to Pennsylvania's archaic liquor laws. When I lived elsewhere, I would return home a few times a year to do BYOB tours of the city. They're small, chef-run, personal experiences—the best kind of dining, in my opinion. I really love Little Fish, and the same goes for Chloe and August. I also love Bistro 7, The Pickled Heron, Will, and Audrey Claire...
See the meatball, be the meatball: The plethora of old-school red-sauce Italian places here can give visitors a uniquely Philadelphia dining experience. I'm thinking places like Ralph's and Villa di Roma. And down by me, everyone respects Tre Scalini.