Eat like an Insider: Chef Paras Shah

Chef Paras Shah currently focuses on French brasserie fare at Chez Ben. | Provided

Chef Paras Shah has only lived in Philadelphia for a year, but has already become a fan of our food scene. Originally from Queens, he studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and shortly after, won the ICEX culinary scholarship to study at Michelin Star restaurants in Spain. He currently serves as chef at Chez Ben in Old City, creating French bistro-style fare. When he’s not working, he enjoys golfing, napping and dining out. Shah tells us where to chow down on a tripe sandwich, and which Philly restaurant is serving up the best food he’s ever had.

Best late night meal?
Cantina Los Caballitos (1651 East Passyunk Ave.). I really dug this place because it was close to where I used to work, the kitchen is open until around 1 a.m., they serve cold beer and of course, margaritas. Since I don’t drink as much as I used to, I would get their awesome Mexican hot dog — a griddled hot dog topped with pico de gallo, sour cream, guac and cheese. Good Lord, is that yummy! I also like Royal Izakaya (780 S. 2nd St.) in Queen Village. I love this place because it fills my craving for raw fish, seaweed and soy. I can’t really pinpoint one dish because they’re all good.

Best meal under $10?
John’s Roast Pork (14 E. Snyder Ave.). If you have $10 and want something delicious, you can’t beat the roast pork hoagie from John’s Roast Pork. This creation is a thing of absolute beauty. The first time I ate this hoagie, I couldn’t see why one would need anything else. Full of porky juices and spinach, supported by a layer of sharp provolone, being held together by a noble hoagie roll that feels like it will give way to all of the juice, but holds up until the last delicious bite. Goodness gracious, I love this sandwich! Plus, don’t forget the banana peppers: their beautifully vinegary sting will cut right through the richness of the pork, spinach and cheese combo.

Best hidden food gem?
Kim’s BBQ (5955 N. 5th St.). If you’re looking for Korean BBQ, this is a great, somewhat hole-in-the-wall place. The service is good and they use charcoal for the grill. They load you up with banchan (Korean appetizers), then they have all of the usual suspects. I would definitely get the mandoo (Korean dumplings) the spicy Kalbi (short rib). This place is a bit out of the way, but if you want a really authentic experience, you’ll find it here.

Best place to dine alone?
George’s Sandwich Shop (900 S. 9th St.) Since it’s right down the block, I always passed this place on Sundays on my way to DiBruno’s, Claudios or Molly’s Records. I decided to stop in one day and saw that they had a tripe sandwich, which is awesome. Slowly braised tripe in a tomatoey stew, caringly placed in hoagie roll, sprinkled with salt and pepper — it’s properly sloppy, tender and just flat delicious. It’s a great place to dine alone because they usually have a table hugging 9th street, and you can enjoy your tripe while watching passersby. 

Place you always take or recommend for out-of-towners?
Jim’s on South Street (400 South St.).  More often than not, out-of-towners (not unlike myself before I lived here), would go and seek a cheesesteak down on Passyunk. I dig Jim’s because it’s a great cheesesteak that is famous here in Philly, but the folks that flock here don’t really head there because of the hype and history that surrounds the Passyunk spots.

Go-to date spot hands down?
Double Knot (120 S. 13th St.) is a great spot for delicious Japanese-inspired food. The upstairs dining area is usually packed and busy, but the spot for a great date would be the downstairs area near the sushi bar. It’s a bit more quieter and dimly lit, so you can have great conversation and great food and cocktails.

Best place to catch up with friends?
Destination Dogs (1111 Walnut St.). I could have put this on the late night eats part of this list as well. The kitchen closes at like 1 a.m., with the whole menu available. This spot is awesome because the dogs are amazing and they make all of the sausages. If you have a hankering for hot dogs, go here and you can eat a different hot dog for each day of the month — maybe a couple of months. They’ve got some games and a good deal of space, so you and a bunch of pals can kick each other’s butts at pool, eat up some dope dogs and wash them down with some really good local brews.

Most Instagrammable restaurant?
I love Zahav (237 St. James Pl.). The first time I went to Zahav was a few years ago before I lived here with a bunch of chef buddies. One of my buddies knows Michael well and so we were treated to some of the most beautiful and delicious food I ever had on any continent. There’s only one problem — you want to eat all of the things before getting proper pictures of them. I guess that’s the best problem to have. And yes, that lamb shank is the truth!

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