With Love Letters: Chef Jose Garces Dishes on Some of His Favorite Things Including Dollar Dog Days, Mini Golf in Franklin Square and Late-Night Chinese Food in Chinatown

Chef Jose Garces at Amada (Photo courtesy of Garces Restaurant Group)
Chef Jose Garces at Amada (Photo courtesy of Garces Restaurant Group)

Welcome to a new post series on uwishunu called “With Love Letters,” in which our With Love Philadelphia campaign interviews noteworthy Philadelphians in order to learn more about their relationship with the city and why they love it here.
First up is Super Chef and Restaurateur Jose Garces.

Note: links were added to the interview during editing.


Chef Jose Garces rose to prominence in the food world after he opened Amada in Old City in 2005. In the four years since, Garces has changed the face of Philadelphia’s dining scene and, in the process, gained a lot of national recognition. To date, he’s opened five wildly successful restaurants in Philadelphia — Amada, Tinto, Distrito, Chifa and, most recently, Village Whiskey. Earlier this year, he won the prestigious James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” award. And this fall, Chef Garces will compete on Food Network’s hit show The Next Iron Chef.

But for right now, he’s focused on Philadelphia…

The “With Love Letters” Q&A:

With Love: Be honest: have you ever run up the Rocky Steps?

Garces: I live near the Art Museum and I take my 2 1/2-year-old son Andrés up the steps all the time.

With Love: That’s great. Ok, with that question out of the way, let’s get down to business. What do you love about Philadelphia’s restaurant and food scene?

Garces: Am I allowed to say “everything”…?  Because I really do love it all — the little BYOBs all over the place, the grand restaurants for special-occasion meals, the classic hoagies and cheesesteaks, the late-night Chinese food in Chinatown, dollar dog days at the stadium, Sunday brunches complete with scrapple, and especially all the innovation with so many talented new chefs that’s growing all the time.  With this much culinary talent in one town, there is always somewhere new to eat — if you can keep yourself away from your old favorites long enough to try it.

With Love: We will certainly accept “everything” as an answer — we agree! Ok, so when you’re not working at your own restaurants, where are some of your favorite places to eat in Philadelphia?

Garces: I love to visit my friends at their restaurants, like Marc Vetri at Osteria and Morimoto [at Morimoto].  And sometimes there’s nothing better than kicking back with my staff after a long shift at David’s Mei Lei Wah in Chinatown for some salt-and-pepper shrimp.

With Love: Sounds delicious. How about when you host friends and family from out-of-town; where do you like to take them? Are you especially hot on any one Philly neighborhood right now?

Garces: I love bringing them to the Reading Terminal Market for lunch and then shopping for ingredients that we’ll cook that night for dinner.  And it just isn’t a trip to Philadelphia without seeing at least one of our beautiful parks — in the summer, we’ll play mini-golf in Franklin Square, and in the winter, Rittenhouse Square looks like a fairyland with all the Christmas lights in the trees.

After the jump, we find out what dish Chef Garces is craving right now, one of his favorite hotels in the city, and why he’s excited about the new Cantina at Distrito.

With Love: Ok, what about hotels — what are your top hotel recommendations for visiting guests?

Garces: I always urge guests to stay downtown; there are so many affordable options, it would be silly not to experience a night in the heart of the city.  The Sofitel at 17th and Sansom Streets is a particular favorite of mine, but that might be because it’s so close to Tinto and Village Whiskey…

With Love: Good advice. Is there a specific dish in Philadelphia that you are really craving right now? How about a drink?

Garces: I could really go for a tortilla Espanola and a glass of red sangria at Amada.  It’s my comfort food.  As the weather gets colder, add a bowl of Amada’s caldo Gallego – white bean and ham stew — and you’ve got the perfect way to warm up after sightseeing in Old City.

With Love: Again, we agree — Amada’s location is really perfect for a pop-in during a trip to Historic Philadelphia.

Ok, is there a piece of news about your five (soon-to-be-six) restaurants in Philadelphia that you would like to share with our readers at this time?

Garces: We just debuted a brand-new “Cantina” menu downstairs at Distrito (40th and Chestnut Streets), loaded with affordable nibbles, beer and cocktails.  It’s a great way to experience the restaurant’s vibrant scene there in a more laid-back way. And of course, I’ll be eagerly looking forward to opening Garces Trading Company, a bistro and gourmet take away shop in the beautiful Western Union Building (11th and Locust Streets).

With Love: As will we. Ok, last question: how has Philadelphia shown you love? What do you most appreciate about the city?

Garces: I have been so blessed to be in Philadelphia, and I truly do think of it as home.  It was here that I opened my first restaurant, here that I met my wife, here that my two children were born.  I feel so lucky to be a part of this city and to be surrounded by so many warm, talented, wonderful people who love our home as much as I do.

With Love: Seriously, we’re touched. We’re thrilled that you’re here and that you love calling Philadelphia home. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Congratulations on all of your success, keep up the great work, and best of luck to you on The Next Iron Chef this fall!

With Love,

Garces Restaurant Group [Official Site]
With Love Philadelphia [Gophila.com]

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