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January 05, 2021

Three Philly restaurants among Esquire's top 100 America 'can't afford to lose'

As COVID-19 threat carries into 2021, risk remains for local favorites

Food & Drink Restaurants
Fork in Old City A. Ricketts/Visit Philadelphia™

Fork in Old City.

As we enter the new year, COVID-19's devastating impact on the restaurant industry continues to threaten the survival of some of the most beloved eateries across the United States.

In December, a study from the National Restaurant Association claimed that roughly 17% of U.S. restaurants have closed either permanently or long-term as a result of the pandemic. That amounts to about 110,000 service industry businesses across the country.

Only about half of the owners of these restaurants felt they would be able to return to the industry in the months or years ahead.

THINKING BACK ON 2020: These were my favorite dishes from local restaurants

In Philadelphia, long-established restaurants like City Tavern, R2L, Mad River and Grey Lodge Pub have all permanently closed, joining a long list of local businesses that have either shuttered or face an uncertain future.

A new feature from Esquire compiles the top 100 restaurants America can't afford to lose, including three in Philadelphia. The list features blurbs from people whose lives these restaurants have touched in one way or another over the years.

First is Fork, the Old City staple established by Ellen Yin more than 20 years ago. While sister restaurant High Street on Market closed and reopened at a new location (101 South 9th Street) , Fork has thus far withstood the challenge of the pandemic. From Esquire:

I got my first restaurant job at Fork restaurant when I was just out of college. Fork had recently opened and added an elegant vibe to Philadelphia's Old City. My entire family has dined at Fork and loved every meal — from shrimp and grits at lunch to Champagne roasted chicken (takeaway) dinners during quarantine. Every experience at Fork is edifying. Ellen Yin has maintained this gem for more than two decades and I hope it lasts at least another twenty years. — Klancy Miller

Next up is Abyssinia, one of the early Ethiopian restaurants that have formed a distinctive community in West Philadelphia. That includes the upstairs dive bar Fiume.

"Oh, I love that place." That's what I often hear from Philadelphians whenever I happen to mention Abyssinia. The connection runs deep. And that's no surprise, because the warmth of the hospitality at this beloved Ethiopian spot makes you feel as though you've joined a family for dinner in their home — even if you happen to be dining alone. A little while back, when I was teaching a writing course at Drexel University, I used to catch an early train from Manhattan just so that I could get a quick, quiet lunch of injera and stews at Abyssinia before dashing to the classroom. But it's even better with a big group. Let's all gather here when the pandemic is over. We'll have a feast. — JG

AbyssiniaCourtesy of/Visit Philadelphia™

Abyssinia in Philly.

Finally, Esquire gives a nod to Kalaya, which it recently placed at the top of its list of Best New Restaurants in America. The Southern Thai restaurant, led by Chef Chutatip "Nok" Suntaranon, opened on South Street in the spring of 2019, has quickly caught on as a local favorite and found a place on the radar of national food critics. 

No punches are pulled by chef/owner Chutatip "Nok" Suntaranon and her remarkably spicy, funky, practically vibrating Thai dishes that are a snapshot of her mother's recipes while growing up in Southern Thailand.

Philadelphia's restrictions prohibiting indoor dining will remain in place until at least Jan. 15, so restaurants in the city aren't yet out of the woods. Supporting them by ordering takeout in the meantime may be the best way to ensure that we can all still enjoy our favorite spots to eat when the worst of the pandemic has been overcome.