Are you wondering what to eat in Philadelphia during your first visit to the City of Brotherly Love? Read on to discover fifteen must-eat Philadelphia food favorites from pretzels to cheesesteaks.
Travelers visit Philadelphia for many reasons. Some go to explore the cradle of America’s government at historic shrines like Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Others are attracted to world-class museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. And then there are film and fitness fanatics who want to live out their Rocky experiences.
Regardless of your primary reason for visiting Philly, we recommend taking a walking tour or riding a hop-on-hop-off bus to hit the best sites. Then we recommend you focus your time on Philadelphia’s greatest asset – its food.
Philadelphia Food Favorites
Philadelphia is a food traveler’s dream destination. Beyond iconic cheap eats like cheesesteaks and hoagies, the city transcends those iconic foods with a vibrant, sophisticated restaurant scene.
This restaurant scene runs the gamut from local food to international cuisines. In Philly, young chefs have added new life to an established landscape and the buzz is palpable.
Take a food tour if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices. Otherwise, we recommend that you start your culinary exploration with the following Philadelphia food favorites:
1. Philly Cheesesteaks
While the high protein sandwich has probably outgrown its reputation, there’s no disputing the cheesesteak’s place as a Philadelphia food icon. In all corners of the world, there’s no food that people associate more with Philly than the Cheesesteak. Without dispute, it’s one of the best sandwiches in the world.
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Famous movie characters like Rocky have eaten them, ad infinitum tv shows have featured them and food lovers around the world in cities like Los Angeles, London and even Dubai have duplicated them. But there’s only one city where you can experience a Cheesesteak at the source.
Ask a thousand Philadelphians about where to find and how to eat a Cheesesteak and you’ll probably hear a thousand opinions. Some enjoy their Cheesesteaks with cheese wiz and fried onions at Pat’s King of Steaks (the sandwich’s origin) and Geno’s Steaks while others prefer the amazing provolone topped version at John’s Roast Pork.
Start your Philadelphia Cheesesteak odyssey at Pat’s and Geno’s on East Passyunk Avenue and then head to John’s in deep South Philly to try our favorite Cheesesteak. Without doubt, eating a messy, oozy, meaty Cheesesteak should be an integral part of your Philly food experience.
America has a number of great Italian inspired sandwiches. New York has the Submarine, Boston has the Hero, New Orleans has the Po’ Boy and Philadelphia has the Hoagie. All four sandwiches are similar, but there’s something unique about Philly’s sandwich icon.
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Food historians trace the Hoagie’s origins to the early 20th century. Back then, Italian workers enjoyed long rolls stuffed with meats and cheeses while working at South Philly’s Hog Island Shipyard.
Today, the best Hoagies are filled with great Italian meats like Prosciutto di Parma, Coppa and Genoa-style salami, enhanced with aged (Philly natives call it “sharp”) Provolone and finished with oil, vinegar and oregano. You’ll want to order your this way unless you have dietary restrictions.
Not in the mood for a classic experience? You can order a Hoagie with turkey or replace meat with roasted eggplant and bitter greens like broccoli rabe. No matter how you order your Hoagie, bear in mind that your sandwich will probably be big enough to share.
3. Roast Pork Sandwiches
Despite the global popularity of Cheesesteaks and Hoagies, the Roast Pork Sandwich may be the granddaddy of Philly sandwiches. While it doesn’t receive the star billing of the Cheesesteak, the combination of slow-roasted pork, greens and aged provolone is acknowledged by many culinarians around Philly as the sandwich to beat.
The Roast Pork’s Sandwich recipe is simple. Cooks pile specially spiced and braised pork shoulder on a long, soft sesame seed roll. Although you’ll find the best Roast Pork Sandwich at John’s Roast Pork, DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market serves an excellent alternative.
4. Modern Restaurant Cuisine
Bursting at the seams with great food at all price points, Philadelphia’s restaurant scene is filled with beer-friendly gastropubs and budget-friendly BYOBs. No longer in the shadow of nearby New York City, great chefs like Marc Vetri, Michael Solomonov, Michael Shulson, Greg Vernick, Nick Elmi, Jose Garces and Chad Williams have boosted the city’s excellent dining scene to worldwide fame.
We like to dine at old favorites and try new restaurants when we visit family in Philadelphia. Since we lived in the city for a cumulative total exceeding three decades, we know the city well but love to find new gems.
Insider Tip: Plan your Philadelphia restaurant meals wisely. The more popular restaurants book up way in advance.
For many years, Bagels in Philadelphia could be described as good but not great – more a vehicle for a Sunday brunch treat of Jewish appetizers like lox and whitefish than the main event. These Bagels were generally smaller and less crusty than New York Bagels and never carried a unique Philadelphia identity.
Those years are over. Great Philly Bagel bakers have emerged over the past ten years, each with a unique style and approach to baking bagels.
After you eat a Bagel, explore more iconic American food favorites you need to eat at least once in your life.
Start your bagel crawl at Fishtown’s Philly Style Bagels where the owners boil their Bagels in a special beer-enhanced bath. Then go to Knead Bagels and try a unique Bagel flavor like togarashi topped with an equally unique spread like charred long hot pepper cream cheese.
Assuming you can handle more carbs, continue your crawl at Spread Bagelry and eat a Montreal-style Bagel. Or, if you’re in West Philly and feel edgy on a Sunday morning, check out newcomer Dodo Bagels‘ weekly pop up.
6. Italian Food
‘Old school’ Italian restaurants like Villa di Roma, Ralph’s and Dante & Luigi’s ruled the South Philly landscape for many years. However, the growth of modern Italian dining in Philadelphia, like much of the United States, should not be underestimated.
With restaurants like Vetri Cucina, Osteria, Le Virtù, Cicala and Crybaby Pasta, Philly has taken its place at the forefront of the country’s modern Italian cuisine movement. Yes, there are a lot of great Italian restaurants in Philly.
Philadelphia’s best Italian restaurants cook food in the styles of Italian regions like Piemonte, Emilia-Romagna and Campania. However, in the spirit of great Cucina, these restaurants use the best available local ingredients and techniques.
Think of this as a local spin on Italian food. Expect the unexpected like fresh rolled and extruded pasta cooked with local ingredients like black trumpet mushrooms, sweet corn and even jalapeños.
While in Philadelphia, you can eat Spaghetti and Meatballs, an Italian American classic, at Villa di Roma on one night and Francobolli, small ravioli stuffed with local black trumpet mushrooms, at Osteria the next. You’ll feel complete… and full.
In reality, Philadelphia, as a whole, can’t touch New York when it comes to pizza. But, that being said, the best Philadelphia pizza at Pizzeria Beddia is good enough to achieve prominence on the national scene.
That being said, there ARE other great pizza options in Philadelphia including square-shaped, sauce-dominated pies at Santucci’s, Neapolitan style pies at Pizza Vetri (now owned by Urban Outfitters) and classic old school pies at Tacconelli’s. Plus there’s good, if not great, pizza to be had at numerous other pizzerias throughout the city.
In your quest to eat great pizza in Philadelphia, start at Pizzeria Beddia. Joe Beddia’s original corner pizza joint earned national acclaim from Bon Appetit as “The Best Pizza in America”. He later closed that small spot to open a larger pizza restaurant with communal tables, a bustling bar and a private dining room. In his spare time, he wrote a definitive pizza cookbook.
8. Asian Food
The Asian restaurant scene in Philadelphia is not enormous compared to American cities like San Francisco and Portland. But size doesn’t matter in a city where each restaurant packs a punch, offering some of the best examples of Asian food in the country.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown has a variety of eating options featuring cuisines as varied as Chinese, Vietnamese and Burmese. Beyond Chinatown, a number of restaurants have opened in South Philadelphia and the expansive region of Northeast Philadelphia. These far-flung eateries serve a range of cuisines including Korean, Thai and even Cambodian.
When you crave Asian dishes in Philadelphia, start with great soup dumplings (xiao long bao) at Dim Sum Garden, hand-pulled noodles at Nan Zhou, excellent Cantonese roast duck and char sui pork at Sang Kee or flavorful dan dan noodles at Han Dynasty.
After that, dig deeper and eat Pho at Cafe Diem, Tamarind Fish at I Heart Cambodia or Pad Thai at Kalaya. After a break, slurp trendy soup at Stock in Fishtown or Cheu’s multiple locations in Center City, South Philly and Fishtown.
Craving Japanese food too? If so, go to Royal Sushi & Izakaya for a special omakase meal or Neighborhood Ramen for ramen. Both restaurants are located in the Queen Village neighborhood.
Where to Eat Asian Food in Philadelphia
Cafe Diem, Cheu Noodle Bar, Dim Sum Garden, Han Dynasty, I Heart Cambodia, Kalaya, Nan Zhou, Neighborhood Ramen, Royal Sushi & Izakaya, Sang Kee Peking Duck House and Stock
9. Mexican Food
In the last couple decades, Mexican cuisine has grown exponentially in Philadelphia. As with most of the U.S., this growth has coincided with the growth of the city’s Mexican population.
Many of the best new Mexican restaurants in Philadelphia have opened in the city’s historic Italian Market on 9th Street. While a few Italian specialty businesses continue to thrive in Philly’s Italian Market, the influx of Mexican restaurants and retailers has changed the neighborhood’s landscape, with Cristina Martinez’s South Philly Barbacoa leading the charge.
Martinez has received national acclaim, both for her immigration activism and her wonderful braised lamb tacos. She (along with husband Benjamin Miller) worked at different restaurants over the last few years before settling in the thick of it all on the corner of 9th and Ellsworth Streets.
You’ll want to chow down at South Philly Barbacoa first. You can then dine at a number of more upscale Mexican restaurants including El Vez in Midtown Village, Mission Tacqueria in Center City, Distrito in West Philly, Taqueria Feliz in Manayunk and the exciting new Condesa near Rittenhouse Square.
10. Middle Eastern Food
Zahav’s chef Michael Solomonov is world-famous for bringing an Israeli food revolution to Philadelphia. Solomonov has opened a number of great eateries in addition to his flagship Zahav including hummusiya Dizengoff, Jewish diasporic Abe Fisher, falafel joint Goldie and new cafe K’Far.
You’ll need to plan ahead to score a reservation at Zahav. Your reward will be a tasting menu filled with outstanding mezzes and braised lamb shoulder. If you don’t taste the simple, savory, creamy pleasure of Solomonov’s hummus at Zahav or Dizengoff, you’re missing something special during your trip to Philadelphia.
Your next stop should be Suraya, one of Philadelphia’s trendiest restaurants. Be sure to shop at the restaurant’s specialty store after you eat excellent Lebanese-inspired dishes in the restaurant’s open, airy dining room.
11. Vegan Food
Despite Philadelphia’s global notoriety for inventing the Cheesesteak, the city has a surprisingly vibrant Vegan scene. Yes, not only is Philly a mecca for carnivores but it’s also a happy place for locals and travelers who don’t eat meat.
Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby put Philadelphia on the Vegan map back in 2011 when they opened Vedge in an elegant townhouse formerly occupied by legendary French restaurant Deux Cheminées. Recognized by James Beard and pretty much every notable food magazine, the culinary duo has made vegetables sexy in Philadelphia at upscale Vedge and more casual V Street.
Whether you live a Vegan lifestyle or just like excellent food, dining at Vedge is a plan-ahead must when you visit Philadelphia. Vegan travelers will find want to dig deeper with falafel at Goldie, pizza at Blackbird, bar food at Charlie Was a Sinner, fast-casual at HipCityVedge and global street food at V Street.
As is the case with much of the best Philadelphia food, historians can link pretzels back to immigrants. Back in the 19th century, Germans known as ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ who immigrated to Philadelphia and nearby Lancaster County brought the pretzel recipe and tradition with them.
Amish bakers continue to bake pretzels and sell them at Miller’s Twist in Center City’s Reading Terminal Market. You can start your market lunch with a hot Miller’s pretzel and end it with a chocolate-covered pretzel at Mueller Chocolate Company. What you eat in between is up to you.
For a real taste of Philly, don’t miss eating a hot soft Philly pretzel at one of many Philly Pretzel Factory locations in town. Squeeze a good amount of classic yellow or spicy brown mustard over your soft pretzel to achieve the classic Philly pretzel experience. You may be tempted to add a side of gooey cheese dip as well.
Donut devotees craving donuts will find plenty of fried dough to eat in Philadelphia. Options range from down-and-dirty Mexican churros on 9th Street to upscale Lebanese beauties at Suraya (see above). As for Vegans, they can chow down on dairy-free varieties at Dottie’s Donuts in West Philly.
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We always head to Federal Donuts to fulfill our donut needs in Philadelphia. Now with several locations, ‘FedNuts’ freshly bakes cinnamon donuts throughout the day and prepares colorful ‘fancy’ donuts each morning. We typically order a finger-licking-good crispy chicken sandwich to go with our donuts.
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We also stop by Reading Terminal’s Beiler’s Doughnuts in your when we’re in the neighborhood. Based in Lancaster, the Amish baker sells a dizzying array of donuts including our personal favorite – Caramel Apple.
14. Third Wave Coffee
Philadelphia joined coffee’s third wave movement in 2010 when Evan Inatome opened the original Elixr Coffee in Center City. Fast forward to the present and Inatome now has a local coffee empire with multiple shops and successful roastery. He also has a number of worthy coffee competitors.
We frequent the best coffee shops in Philadelphia in neighborhoods like Queen Village and Fishtown. With so many great choices, it would be a shame to drink swill instead of specialty coffee when you satisfy your caffeine craving in Philly.
15. Craft Beer
Philadelphia’s beer history is no flash in the keg. German immigrants operated close to 100 independent breweries in the city more than a century after revolutionary patriots plotted rebellion in local pubs. The city’s beer passion ran so deep that there’s a neighborhood named Brewerytown.
Although this history took a snooze during the 20th century thanks to pesky Prohibition, Philly is back in the American beer game with a vengeance. Not only does the city have dozens of outstanding beer bars, but several craft brewers have set up shop in trendy neighborhoods like Northern Liberties.
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About the Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.
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