Readers’ Choice: A meal-good story

Shortly before her father’s 2009 death, Gina Rucci, knowing that second-generation businesses often struggle to sustain the magic that guiding their founding, vowed to father Nicholas that she would enhance his vision and make Popi’s Italian Restaurant, 3120 S. 20th St., an even more dynamic dining destination. One can suppose the patriarch is smiling down from heaven at his diligent daughter, whose efforts helped the location to capture the Readers’ Choice restaurant title.

“I’m absolutely thrilled because we always strive to do better, and this is amazing proof that we’re making great decisions for our guests,” Rucci said of the Packer Park space’s special place in diners’ hearts.

The local resident has been a constant presence since its 1993 inception and cherishes her responsibilities not only because they reflect pride in her Italian lineage and an obsession with delicious food but also since no two days are alike. That ability to adapt, be it for large parties, small gatherings, funeral luncheons, receptions, or other occasions, reflects the evolving identity of the industry, with Rucci quick to compare the past and the present.

“At other times, a place could survive because people went there for the food, or the ambience, or the staff, or the cleanliness,” she noted. “Today, there are no ‘ors.’ You have to be great in every area to stand out, and we’re there.”

Emphasizing mutability as another necessity, Rucci, whose 24-year-old spot could accommodate an eye-opening total of 450 patrons, said that no matter which changes she implements, fairness and honesty will always guide her actions, a stance that board member status for the South Philadelphia Business Association confirms. While the other elements are definitely commendable, guests delight in deliberating over the menu items, with Rucci especially glad when they select the crab cakes, a former Readers’ Choice victor, and Popi’s veal products. Revealing that operations are “all about presentation and perception,” she loves having this prestigious honor as a reflection of her commitment.

“There are many great places in South Philly,” Rucci said, noting visits to a few to gain insights into how Popi’s could improve. “To stand above them all makes me proud. Thank you.”

Ristorante Pesto seated itself in second, and Villa di Roma cried “Mangia” in third. –