parents in town

After weeks of dining hall food, nothing is quite as nice as a meal out—compliments of mom and dad. Show off Philly’s best dining, and let them pick up the tab.

Zocalo(36th & Lancaster Ave., 215-895-0139) This authentic yet inventive Mexican restaurant on the northern edge of University City is definitely not cheap, but the high food quality keep regulars coming back. The fresh, crisp homemade tortilla chips can be loaded with the award winning guacamole, the fresh ground pumpkin seed dip, or the salsa mexicana—be sure to try all three. The Pechuga en Mole Poblano, a chicken dish served with red rice and refried pinto beans, is topped with a unique “classic mole from Puebla.” The unique sauce is made of chiles, pumpkin and sesame seeds, almonds, raisins, and mexican chocolate and the moist chicken extraordinary. More standard Mexican options like enchiladas are also featured on the diverse menu, and are always sure to please. A fresh and fruity sangria or margarita is the perfect compliment to any meal. (Julie Johnson)

Audrey Claire(276 S. 20th St., 215-731-1222) Audrey Claire’s location just off Rittenhouse Square makes it a convenient stop while you show the folks around the city. A simple, modern décor and only the highest quality ingredients invite a steady crowd of diners. Dishes are prepared in an open kitchen so you can watch the action. The menu offers a mix of classic options with inventive touches, like salmon fillet with basil mashed potatoes and grilled strip steak with string beans and pine nuts. An overflowing seafood stew with several types of fish, shrimp, and mussels is a must for seafood lovers, and unique specials, like rabbit, are available for the more adventurous. Just remember to hit (or have the parents hit) the ATM and the state store (19th and Chestnut sts.) on the way to this cash-only BYOB. (Rob Huff)

Bridget Foy’s (200 South St., 215-922-1813) This trendy restaurant is a cornerstone on arguably the nicest part of South Street. Show the folks the shops and sites of the city’s most happening area and then sit down for a great American bistro platter like the Tex Mex Skirt Steak or the Puget Sound Salmon & Fettuccine. Bridget Foy’s offers excellent choices for both lunch and dinner, making anytime a good time to stop in and enjoy a Fillet Benedict, Chesapeake Crab Dip, or a good old fashioned South Street Bistro Burger. In warmer weather, the outdoor porch is an excellent place to sit and enjoy some good people-watching. (Rob Huff)

great food spots for groups

Need somewhere to celebrate a birthday? Want to chow down with 10 of your closest friends? These spots can accommodate the whole crowd.

Great American Pub and Diner(2900 Street Road, Bensalem, 215.638.9600) For a late-night, or anytime snack, the place to see and be seen in the ‘burbs is the Great American Pub and Diner. “The Pub,” as regulars call it, is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making it popular with students after a night of partying. The Pub always welcomes crowds and groups of 20 to 25 people are a common occurence. If you have a group of about 15, make sure to get the huge, round table in the corner near the bar. The Pub has something for everyone within their huge, multi-page menu—which makes it perfect for a large group with various tastes. And if you’re 21, show your ID at the front counter and receive a wristband so you can order drinks. (Erica Brooke Fajge)

Buca di Beppo(258 South 15th Street, 215.545.2818) Do you ever find yourself craving authentic Italian cuisine but concerned about the expense of dining out? If so, visit Buca di Beppo in the heart of center city. From the decorations to the service, Buca di Beppo is a welcoming experience, although if you don’t want to wait to be seated, make sure to make a reservation. Whether dining in a party of two or twenty, Buca is the perfect venue. The dishes are intended to be shared— everything is served family style on large or small platters depending on the party size. While the homemade fresh bread is complimentary, be careful not to fill up before dinner arrives. The portions are huge, and the prices are low, especially if sharing with a large group. And even though the dishes are shared, don’t be afraid to ask for a doggie bag—this food is just too good to go to waste and you will definitely have leftovers. (Julie Johnson)

Porkie & Porky (1111 S. 11th St., 215-468-8389) The best Korean barbeque in town, Porky & Porkie has a la carte menu, but the buffet is unbeatable at $10.95 for lunch and $14.95 for dinner. This way, you get to try everything, and you won’t have any confusion about who pays what when the bill comes, as so often happens in large groups of starving students. The main attraction is heaps of flavorful raw meat, thinly sliced and marinated in delicious Korean spices. Chicken, pork, pork bellies (strips of fatty bacon), and my own personal favorite—rib-eye beef—are piled high next to ox tripe and chicken large intestine for the more adventurous among us. You’ll also find salad, decent-but-not-great sushi, vegetables and fresh fruit on the buffet. Fill your plate as often as you like, and take everything back to your table where you cook it yourself on grills in the center of each table. And once the pain of overeating subsides, your friends will thank you for introducing them to this totally memorable dining experience. (Karrie Gavin)

great date spots

Planning a romantic meal with that special someone or looking for the perfect place for a first date? Check out some of our favorite restaurants for romance.

Dahlak (4708 Baltimore Ave., 215-726-6464) With its dimly-lit interiors and cozy ambience, West Philly’s Ethiopian favorite is the perfect place to bring a date. The unassuming storefront hides this gem that has been delighting West Philly locals, students, and culinary explorers for years. At the rear of the restaurant is a small bar area where hipsters congregate nightly to enjoy cheap beer and the relaxed outdoor setting. Dahlak’s menu boasts a wide variety of chicken, beef, chicken, and vegetarian dishes, and most run from around $7 to $10 dollars. These delicious, savory stews are served on Injera bread, which laypeople might first mistake for cloth napkins. You use your hands and the bread to transport the stews into your mouth. Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine without utensils, so if you’re a messy eater, you’ll have no worries of embarrassing yourself in front of your date—since everyone else will be messy too. (Gary Davidoff)

The Café (2011 Walnut St., 215-568-5603) This Café opened in late 2004, offering a quiet environment perfect for long conversations. The menu primarily consists of a rotating list of daily specials (ranging from Chilean sea bass to four-cheese lasagna to orange-glazed roasted duck), making each visit a unique experience. The layout provides patrons options of dining quietly in a booth by the bar, out in the foyer with a view of Walnut Street, or outside in the springtime. Combine this with a fine wine list and prices lower than your age and you have the perfect atmosphere for wooing your crush. (Rob Huff)

Seafood Unlimited (270 S. 20th St., 215-SEA-FOOD) A fresh fish market and intimate restaurant in one, this unique spot serves generously-portioned and reasonably-priced seafood. They also offer carry-out and delivery—perfect if you’re looking to entertain a date at home and a pizza just won’t do. Favorite menu items include the Seared Tuna Fillet and the Shrimp Stuffed with Crab Imperial–or buy fresh tuna, scallops, or seasoned catfish and cook for yourself. While the prepared entrees average $15 to $20 dollars, buying raw seafood is a cheaper alternative. Or come in for happy hour specials which include a variety of tasty five dollar eats like buffalo shrimp and mussels in a garlic sauce. Oh, and don’t skip the fresh oysters on the half shell on your date—it’s a proven aphrodisiac. (Rob Huff)

good chains

Ok, we usually avoid chains in favor of the unique, undiscovered spots—but there are exceptions to every rule. These chains offer high-quality fare at reasonable prices, and wherever you are—you won’t be too far from one of them.

Nifty Fifty’s (Bensalem (Bucks County): 2555 Street Road, Bensalem, PA 19020, 215-638-1950, Northeast Philadelphia: 2491 Grant Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19114, 215-676-1950 Ridley Township (Delaware County): 1900 MacDade Blvd., Folsom, PA 19033, 610-583-1950, www.niftyfiftys.com) If you’re looking for a fun atmosphere, great food and great prices (and who isn’t?), look no further than the 1950s-style diner, Nifty Fifty’s. The menu features a variety of classic diner fare, like burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings, and breakfast fare—all for under for $5 bucks. The milkshakes (Nifty’s #1 product) come in 27 flavors, and they also have the world’s largest soda fountain, with over 100 original flavors for $1.49 each. Malts, floats, ice cream, and specialty desserts are popular items, and health-conscious eaters can substitute guilt-free, low-fat, hand-dipped yogurt for ice cream. Nifty Fifty’s is truly a diner for everyone and all occasions—perfect for dates, friends, group or families. Both the young and young-at-heart will enjoy the game room with arcade games and prizes. It’s cash only, but there is an ATM conveniently located right inside. (Erica Brooke Fajge)

Cosi Café (Visit www.getcosi.com for contact information and locations.) So you’re hungry and you have about ten bucks in your pocket. You could go to a diner or a fast food restaurant, but how many more greasy burgers can you possibly get down? Cosi is the answer to your problems, offering a wide variety of hearty and healthy soups, salads and sandwiches served on flat bread—all made fresh on site. Modeled after a Parisian café, music plays softly and the lighting is just right—not too harsh and not too dim. Whether you’re grabbing a quick bite or looking for a place to sit and study for house, Cosi is the place to go for fast service and consistently good food. Prices range from $7.00 to $9.00 for the sandwiches and a whole meal— sandwich, soup and drink—will cost you around $15.00. A variety of coffee drinks, alcohol and desserts are also available. (Brittany Sturges) with that special someone Cheesecake Factory (570 Mall Boulevard, King of Prussia, 610-337-2200) The Cheesecake Factory, with a variety of locations across the country including one right here at the King of Prussia Mall (just 30 minutes outside of the city), offers way more than just amazing cheesecake. Mega-sized portions of just about anything you can imagine are available, including pasta, chicken, seafood, pizza, burgers, breakfast fare, and a variety of Asian, Thai, and Italian specialties (like Chicken Marsala over bow-tie pasta.) Newcomers, beware – a regular wait for dinner can take up to two hours. Arrive early, or give your name and do some shopping at the mall while you wait. And remember, the portions are huge, so be prepared to bring a doggy bag home or share a few items with a group of friends. And no matter how full you are — don’t forget to buy a slice of cheesecake for later on your way out. Banana cream and chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake are just two flavors that should not be missed. (Erica Brooke Fagje)

book bartering with universitybay

How much do you spend on textbooks each semester and how much do you receive when you sell books back to your school store? Are those amounts equal? Probably not. The cost of college textbooks is ever-increasing and with some professors requiring several texts for each class, many students are tired of spending a fortune on books each semester. Bruce Marable, a West Chester University senior, and his business partner, Hollis I. Gilliam, a 2004 WCU graduate, have plans to change that with their innovative, new Web site, UniversityBay.com.

Originally, this idea was a class project for Marable. He and Gilliam, whose friendship began in middle school, have spent the last year working with lawyers, graphic designers, marketing specialists, and software developers to create UniversityBay.com, a free online trading outlet exclusively for college students. In order to access this site, you must have an active school e-mail address. This will prevent fraudulent posting, which is just one of the nifty security features incorporated for your privacy.

And UniversityBay is not limited to books. The site also provides trading posts for the needs and desires of any college student. Dying for a new sofa? Check out the furniture section. Craving cool accessories for your pad? Click on the link for “Dorm Stuff.” Hunting down an internship? Take a look at the job section. There’s even a place for realtors to post apartment listings near your campus.

The site is extraordinarily user-friendly. Just choose your state and school from the drop-down menus and you’re ready to begin your search. Once you find what you’re looking for

racing to help kids

When Anthony Martin was a teenager growing up in West Philadelphia, he dreamed of becoming a professional race car driver. But as a city kid, he didn’t have an opportunity to participate in the sport. Even taking a trip to see an actual race, he said, was too expensive.

“There was really no way to get involved in it,” Martin said. “They have baseball fields in the ’hood and basketball courts in the ’hood, but they don’t have go-kart tracks in the ’hood.”

Instead of a racing career, Martin ended up working in the sports marketing field. Then about eight years ago, he came up with an idea that would benefit inner-city kids who shared his passion for motorsports.

In 1998 he founded the Urban Youth Racing School, a nonprofit organization created to expose Philadelphia children to the many different career opportunities within the $20 billion motorsports industry.

Nearly 1,000 kids have passed through the program. Martin proudly points out that everyone who has completed the racing school has also graduated from high school.

Now Martin is looking to take his program national.

In May, a second Urban Youth Racing School will open in Washington, D.C. City officials from New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Chicago also are interested in opening schools.

The Philadelphia program, which has 700 kids on its two-year waiting list, draws most of its students from the city — but it has also accepted students from New York and Virginia. About 90 percent of the school’s students are African American, the remaining 10 percent are Hispanic.

“We select kids on a first-come, first-served basis, but they have to be totally committed and parents have to be involved,” Martin said.

The Philadelphia racing school — based out of a converted warehouse on North Front Street — is free for students, ages 8 to 18, and totally supported by private contributions from sponsors.

“This year, our budget is $409,000,” Martin said. “That’s the most we ever raised. The first year our budget was $50,000.” General Motors, which gave the school $125,000 last year, is its largest sponsor. Other supporters of the school include NASCAR, Microsoft, Sears and Philadelphia-based Sunoco.

Universal Technical Institute Inc. of Phoenix, which has a campus in Exton, just entered into a sponsorship agreement with the racing school. UTI will provide 12 new Honda engines and technical installation assistance for the school’s Super MiniCup cars.

Earlier this month, three Urban Youth students starred in a new NASCAR television commercial — part of a campaign NASCAR launched in support of Black History Month. The campaign showcases the accomplishments of African Americans throughout NASCAR’s history and demonstrates the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing’s expanding diversity efforts.

In the commercial, the students pay homage to Wendell Scott, the first African American to win a NASCAR race; Sam Belnavis, a NASCAR Busch Series team co-owner; and Bill Lester, who currently competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

“We love the racing school and we love Anthony,” said Tish Sheets, director of diversity for NASCAR and a member of the racing school’s board of directors. “We’re very pleased with the progress of the school and what Anthony’s doing. Our entire industry, NASCAR and our teams and sponsors, have opened up our doors and our hearts to the school and its students.”

Sheets said student interns get a lot of “one-to-one” time with experts in the industry. “It’s fun for everybody who gets to share their expertise with the kids, who just soak it all up. Everybody loves it,” she said.

The school says it provides students with an “opportunity to enhance their education and life skills by using motorsports as the magnet and education as the compass.”

The school offers two 10-week “Build A Dream” programs, consisting of five Saturday classroom sessions and five track sessions, that run from June to November. The sessions provide exposure to science, math, chemistry, mechanics and business. The school also has a year-round Urban Youth Racing School team development program that puts promising students behind the wheels of real race cars.

New students start out racing go-karts at Arnold’s in Oaks. Advanced students graduate to racing Super MiniCup Cars competitively in the Poconos and at tracks in upstate New York, North and South Carolina and Florida. Some move up from there to Legend series racing.

“Some kids get behind the wheel of a race car and it scares them off [from racing], but they still want to be involved behind the scenes,” Martin said. “We show them how they can work as engineers or get involved in building engines or be a crew chief. You can make $80,000 a year working on a pit crew. Urban kids never had the first clue these jobs existed.”

He said the school helps students land internships with NASCAR racing teams and sponsors, and make key connections that could lead to future employment.

“Some of our kids never left West Philadelphia,” he said, “and now they are traveling to Charlotte [N.C.] to work with racing teams.”

Philadelphia college students Leon Simmons and brother Jason first became motorsports fans when they were growing up in Mount Airy.

“A lot of my friends were into basketball or football or track, but I wanted to get involved in something different,” said Jason Simmons, 18, a freshman at Temple University studying mechanical engineering. “I remember one Sunday none of my friends were around. I was bored. My brother and I were sitting in the living room when he turned on the television and we watched a NASCAR race. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Leon, 19, who is studying mechanical engineering at Community College of Philadelphia, said the day after his mom first heard about the racing school she enrolled both her sons.

“A week later we were part of the school,” Leon said. “I’m still part of the school and I’m having the time of my life.”

The brothers have graduated from racing MiniCup Cars to Legend Cars. Both aspire to be professional racers on the NASCAR Circuit.

“When I first walked through doors [of the racing school] I thought they were going to teach us about racing, and I thought that would be a good thing,” Jason said. “But they also taught us about the business as well. We got a strong appreciation for the business and marketing side of the sport. NASCAR wouldn’t be what it is today without the marketing.”

Martin said most of the school’s graduates are now in college or technical schools. While no graduate has become a pro NASCAR driver, Martin said, a few have demonstrated real potential.

Later this year, several students from the racing school will be depicted as featured characters in a revival of the old cartoon “Speed Racer.”

Martin was beyond thrilled when the producers of the show called and wanted to include the Urban Youth Racing School in the program.

“I was a huge Speed Racer fan,” said Martin, who has a model of the Mach 5 featured in the cartoon on his office desk. “I remember every episode.”