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Readers’ Choice: A meal-good story

Popi’s Itali­an Res­taur­ant captures the Read­ers’ Choice res­taur­ant title.

By Joe Myers

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.

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