MARIGOLD KITCHEN “Your bouche will be amused.” That’s chef-owner Robert Halpern’s promise at this onetime West Philly boardinghouse-turned-BYO, and it’s an understatement. From a Caprese salad distilled into ice cream droplets to a foie gras ball dipped into cherry gel that you pluck off a real stem, Halpern imbues his creations with a sense of humor that fills dinner with giggles rather than the dead-serious obeisance that infects too many modernist meals these days. Swift and unpretentious service helps the cause, along with bargain (for such fare) pricing. And don’t fret: There are recognizable comforts, too, like chestnut ravioli, and puffy crackers packed with molten cloth-bound cheddar. Still, it’s stuff like popcorn “sauced” with liquid nitrogen, which you exhale like dragon breath, that makes this a memorable first date—or 50th. 501 S. 45th St., 215-222-3699.
FETTE SAU For all the fanatical devotion Americans have to barbecue, there’s a pretty solid reason some people avoid their local pig pit: the Cro-Magnon cultural vibe. Stephen Starr and Joe Carroll’s Fishtown branch of this Brooklyn-born BBQ haven proves it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s a place so unprepossessing that you actually want to sidle up to strangers at the communal picnic tables and see who can concoct the best blend of Fette Sau’s heterodox trio of ’cue sauces. It doesn’t hurt that Philly can’t have a better short rib than one fresh out of the cooker here: moist, multi-textured, and seasoned rather than swallowed by smoke. 1208 Frankford Ave., 215-391-4888.
RANGOON Winter’s over. It’s time to get your salad on, and nobody fills out a plate of fresh greens like the Burmese. This peaceful oasis on the edge of Chinatown is a friendly place to get your bearings. The Asian tea-leaf salad and spring ginger salad are classic introductions to what makes Burmese salads special: all those crunchies and crumblies. Peanuts you know. Crispy shallots, you should. But it’s the deep-fried lentil patties that will change the way you think about the possibilities of the humble legume. And anybody who comes here without trying the crispy watercress salad should be arrested by the food police. The flawless fronds are flash-fried within a translucent, featherweight batter, and dressed with a minty-sweet lime and basil dressing that features chilies at full throttle. It’s amazing—and a salad’s still a salad even if it’s fried. 112 N. Ninth St., 215-829-8939.