In Chicago, a young Jose Garces welcomed summer as much as any other kid. While it provided the chance for outdoor fun, it also meant a visit from Mamita Amada and time spent with her in the kitchen. “She was the matriarch of the family, and she was brilliant in the kitchen,” says Garces, who has Ecuadoran roots. “She taught our family to cook, including my mom. My mom and my grandma were very influential for me. In the summer, I’d do light prep work for them. I was a chubby kid, and I loved food. It was a natural connection.”
Eighteen years ago, that link manifested itself in Philadelphia as Amada, Garces’ first restaurant project. A rising talent in the Stephen Starr orbit, Garces had a vision for a tapas restaurant—something Starr didn’t think would work in Center City. He was wrong.
“My mom and my grandma were very influential for me. In the summer, I’d do light prep work for them. I was a chubby kid, and I loved food. It was a natural connection.”
Since Amada’s debut in 2005, Garces has opened 15 other dining spots, including a Buena Onda taqueria and, most recently, a third Amada location (opened in March 2023), both in Radnor. (There’s another Amada in Atlantic City.) Garces has also seen his share of national visibility, first as a challenger on Iron Chef America, defeating Bobby Flay on a 2008 episode. A year later, he won the second season of The Next Iron Chef.
With Amada Radnor, Garces adds to the already rich lineup that is the Main Line dining scene. A Spanish tapas restaurant, the concept stemmed from a business plan Garces wrote in culinary school.
The 200-seat Amada space in Radnor Financial Center expands Garces’ reach in the Main Line region as it continues the tapas tradition begun by the flagship eatery. There are also some larger items—like paella, plus a suckling pig that has to be ordered 48 hours in advance. Bringing another property here reinforces Garces’ belief in the area’s culinary viability. “After cooking in the city for almost 20 years and expanding my footprint, we’ve built a pretty loyal following and customer base in the suburbs,” he says. “So this makes sense.”
This version of Amada serves lunch and dinner seven days a week in a setting with a pronounced South and Central American vibe. “It has a neoclassical Spanish revival look that you might see in a home on the Main Line,” says Scott Campanella, CEO of Ideation Hospitality, the holding company that acquired the Garces Group in July 2018.
“To bring it out here makes a lot of sense,” Garces says of the newest Main Line location. “We know a lot of our loyal customer base travels from here to get into [Philly], so we wanted to bring this out to them.”
While Garces’ move to the Main Line is definitely newsworthy, it shouldn’t come a surprise. The region’s restaurant scene has been raising eyebrows for several years. So it makes sense that big names like Garces would be interested. “We do like Radnor,” Campanella says. “I like where it sits as a hub for the Main Line in Delaware County, but also that it services Chester and Montgomery counties. There are plenty of other folks coming out to the Main Line, too.”
The menu is expansive, full of Spanish classics with something for everyone. For Radnor, Garces has upped his equipment game. When he makes it into the kitchen at the new Amada, he has something that makes him quite happy: a hardwood charcoal oven from Mibrasa, the kind used by Spanish chefs for years. A grill oven, a Mibrasa is loaded up with hardwood charcoal and natural wood like hickory or oak, creating a lot of flavor and heat. “You put all the fuel in the bottom, the food on a grate, and the oven can heat to 900 degrees,” Garces says. “You can put vegetables in there, animal proteins. It produces a lot of flavor. That oven has evaded me for a long time. I’ve wanted to have it. It’s expensive, and it has a special hood. I finally got it off my wish list of kitchen equipment. As a chef, it feels good.”
A wood-burning pizza oven adds to the already impressive kitchen and is used for paellas, which are Garces’ favorite menu items.
A suckling pig program further enhances Amada’s imaginative dining experience. Give the restaurant a call 48 hours ahead of your visit, and you can order a half or whole pig to be brined and air-dried, then roasted and carved tableside once you arrive. “It’s a really nice experience…if you’re into suckling pigs,” Garces quips.
If that wasn’t enough, a gin and tonic cart comes around to the tables for guests to customize their beverages. “For those that don’t know, the gin and tonic culture is pretty big in Spain,” the chef explains. You’ll select from various options of gin, tonic and garnishes. “It’s really customizable, and it comes in this pretty big goblet. I could really see these guys flowing in the summer.”
Speaking of the warmer months, an outdoor space will include cocktail seating along with regular dining, designed to look like a Spanish olive farm. Inside, the space seats 246 people. Both lunch and brunch will be available soon, and happy hour takes place from 5-6 p.m. from Sunday through Thursday.
Garces is happiest in the kitchen, and he plans to spend plenty of time there in the months ahead. “What I’ve always loved about the hospitality and culinary industries is the ability to reinvent yourself—the ability to continue to find challenges and goals to meet,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for over 25 years. If you’re going to stay in it, you’ve got to look for new things. Otherwise, it gets boring. It’s in my DNA.”
While Garces focuses on the menu and the vibe, Campanella has made sure the Radnor space is memorable, with no less than 35 chandeliers throughout. The bar and kitchen are topped with Carrarra marble. Along the front and sides of the building, large windows provide ample natural light at lunchtime, highlighting the subtle grays and suede browns on the walls. “A great many of our customers who come in town are from the suburbs and the Main Line,” Campanella says. “We want to make room for people from West Chester and the western suburbs.”
Garces purposely put together a large bill of fare at Amada—the better to make the experience more varied for customers. Those looking for a more modest meal can stick with small plates in the bar area. If guests are looking for a grander experience, that’s available, too. “You won’t have to break the bank,” Garces says. “But if you want to come in and get grilled meats or the suckling pig and blow it out, you can do that.”
A Manayunk resident, Garces is excited to bring Amada to the Main Line. “When people come to the restaurant, I want them to feel like they’re home…that kind of Latin hospitality that’s maybe missing out here,” he says. “We’re going to take care of you guys.”
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