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January 8, 2014

Chef Talk: Philadelphia Barbecue Mistress Chef Erin O’Shea Shares Her Picks For Restaurants, Markets And More

Chef Erin O'Shea of Percy Street Barbecue expertly dishes Texas-style barbecue from her kitchen, but goes for noodles at Pho 75 or Cheu on her own time. (Photo by Jason Varney for Percy Street Barbecue)

[Philadelphia’s charms as an eating town are increasingly well known, but it’s also a city that harbors a fair number of hidden delights. Visit Philly asked five local food luminaries to share where they like to go on their off-hours, what they snack on late at night, their favorite low-cost meals and why they love to cook and dine in Philly. Here, we share the results.]

Percy Street Barbecue chef and co-owner Erin O’Shea was born in Maryland and trained in Richmond, Virginia before she came to Philadelphia to work alongside Michael Solomonov at Marigold Kitchen, which was then a Southern-style restaurant.

Later, she worked with Solomonov and Steven Cook to open Percy Street, a laid-back Hill Country Texas-style eatery on South Street, where she has mastered the barbecue pit with aplomb, gaining national plaudits for her homey yet precisely rendered cooking.

What draws you to Philadelphia and how would you characterize the city’s eaters?
We see such a broad spectrum of people at Percy Street, and I think that’s what’s so great about this city. When I first got here nine years ago, the dining scene was not as developed — a lot of the major players were here, but the empires weren’t built yet. Now we see that Philly has become nationally recognized as a food town, and local eaters seem to really appreciate what they have here.

What’s your favorite local guilty pleasure food?
It would be a tie between Dalessandro’s cheesesteaks, which I think are the best in town, and the cheeseburger at my local watering hole, Twelve Steps Down. They have a great burger, but nobody knows about it.

Where do you like to shop for food?
I like to go to places that surprise me — the Asian markets in South Philly or Makkah, a Middle Eastern market in West Philly where they have these amazing jars of pickled peppers, and they also have a small kitchen that makes great affordable eats. Every time I go in, I buy a jar of those pickles, and I eat them at home all the time.

What’s the quintessential Philly restaurant?
It would have to be a pho kitchen because pho wasn’t something that was part of my life until I moved to Philly, and now it’s very important. But which one? That’s actually a common discussion in the restaurant industry, and it can lead to a heated argument because every cook in town has a strong opinion about the best one. My personal favorite is Pho 75 on Washington Avenue.

Where do you like to go with your kitchen staff after work?
Cheu Noodle Bar. We’re big fans of it. I love the brisket ramen with matzo balls and kimchi. The smoked fish ribs with miso truffle sauce are out of this world, and the broccoli and Vietnamese sausage is killer.

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