Letter from the Dining Guide Editor
On cheap eats, transcendent tomatoes, and why we write about food
I fell in love with food from afar before I learned to love eating. Food writing was the first kind of journalism that meant something to me, and it was all the more ironic that I was savoring the descriptions of dishes I would’ve demurred in reality. I recall picking up my first copy of Saveur, the Nov. 2013 issue, which included this line in a guest column titled “The Food I Dream Of”:
“I fell hard…for the deeply flavorful Black Iberian pork; the fruity olive oil; the nutty sheep cheeses; the tomatoes.”
I became enamored with all of these flavors I’d never tasted (and didn’t have much interest in tasting), but it was the tomatoes that fascinated me most, in all their non–adjectival glory. There was an intangible quality to this produce that transcended description entirely. Clearly, I had to go and find out what it was for myself.
I would later discover that this is just how foodies talk to each other. It’s a language where everything’s written in invisible tildes, and a well–placed emphasis or sigh tells you more than any synonym for delicious ever could. But if that’s the case, then food writing seems a pretty futile task, so why do it at all?
Writing about food also means writing about place, and I wanted this issue to serve as a love letter to the city whose culinary scene has meant more to me than any other. For their part, Street’s writers have done their due diligence in mapping out Philly’s vibrancy and heritage not just cafe by cafe, but neighborhood by neighborhood.
While you peruse this issue, you’ll see that the restaurants detailed within still have their price points handily marked, but you also won’t see any boasting more than two dollar signs. That’s because this edition of Street’s Dining Guide provides you with exactly what it says on the cover: cheap eats, plain and simple. The cheap eats guide is the foodie’s best friend, whether you’ve got 24 hours in a new city or you’ve already turned over every underground gem your hometown has to offer.
In many ways, this is our hopeful goodbye to the era of COVID–19 dining—our longform feature about the ripple effects of the pandemic in the restaurant industry, and other articles shine a spotlight on the community organizations that are making an impact in its wake. We want you to hear the voices of people who have dedicated their lives to feeding others; just because it’s a cliché to say that food is the universal language doesn’t mean it’s not true.
So why write about food? If I haven’t convinced you already, allow me to make my final case: Food writing can travel a city and it can travel the globe, and it’s a whole lot less perishable than a tomato.
Get 34th Street's newsletter, The Toast, delivered to your inbox every Sunday morning.Newsletters