Stephen Starr has to be one of my favorite restaurateurs. As the owner of Buddakan on 16th street he has been able to combine outstanding decor and ambiance with impeccable food (something that a lot of restaurants can’t seem to do). So since I was in Philadelphia I had to check out one of the 13 restaurants Stephen has there. Since we have a Buddakan & Morimoto in New York I didn’t bother checking those out. My first choice was Tangerine but that had closed down recently. Pod and Alma De Cuba were two that I really wanted to try to I researched them and decided on Alma De Cuba. Alma De Cuba is a trendy, swank Cuban restaurant located in a canary yellow townhouse. From the outside the place doesn’t seem elegant or chic but almost cheap. The red neon sign glowing “Alma De Cuba” was off putting and the bright yellow color of the townhouse didn’t help either. But once you step foot into this tri-level restaurant you forget everything you saw outside. The lower level is the “lounge” area so to speak as there’s couches instead of formal tables and chairs as well as a bar area. On the other two levels are where the tables and chairs are for a more intimate dinner setting. But personally I prefer the 1st floor as its the most fun looking floor and the photos of local Cubans projected on the white Cuban influenced walls really adds to the sexy vibe of the restaurant. Stephen Starr nailed the decor but what really surpassed my expectations was the food. I had always thought that the city with the best food (in America) was New York hands down. While I still think this, I do believe Alma De Cuba was up to New York standards. I ordered the Kobe Beef Tacos and the “Fried Cow” (Skirt steak with black beans and rice). The tacos were petite yet flavorful and satisfying and the fried cow, though a simple dish, was able to combine all elements of traditional Spanish cooking and put a more sophisticated twist on the presentation and flavors. Don’t let the outside of this amazing Cuban restaurant deceive you, Alma De Cuba will surpass your expectations and make you wonder why Stephen Starr doesn’t clone one of these and throw it into the Meatpacking District like he did with Morimoto and Buddakan (the food and decor made Son Cubano look like Qdoba and gave Dos Caminos a run for their money). The next time you’re in Philly be sure to check out Alma De Cuba!