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Move over cheesesteak – the Philly food scene is more than the ubiquitous sandwich. Check out our Philadelphia food guide for the best Philadelphia restaurants, cafes, and markets.
Thomas Wolfe said that you can’t go home again, but we beg to differ. Perhaps that’s because our home town is Philadelphia – a city teeming with American history, eclectic culture and amazing food.
We’re proud (and a little embarrassed) to admit that we miss Philadelphia food favorites like pretzels, krimpets and water ice as we travel the world. If you’re not familiar with any of these popular local food icons, then you clearly need to visit Philadelphia and taste them for yourself.
Why Visit Philadelphia?
When we go home, the question isn’t what to do but rather how to fit everything into our busy schedules. The struggle of balancing time with friends and family together with all the places we want to visit and revisit is real. Seriously, there is no lack of things to do in Philadelphia.
Though often overshadowed by nearby cities like New York and Washington DC, Philadelphia is an ideal spot for an American city break. America’s founding city is a veritable treasure trove for history buffs with sites like the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House.
Art lovers will go crazy at the amazing Barnes Foundation with an Impressionist collection that rivals, if not beats, the best museums in Paris. We recently revisited the Barnes and were impressed by the hodgepodge of world-class art accessibly displayed in its controversial Benjamin Franklin Parkway location adjacent to Center City.
Most Impressionist art lovers rate Paris’ Musée D’Orsay as the greatest museum to view Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. While we don’t like to argue too strongly about the ‘best’ of anything, we are compelled to make a strong case for Albert Barnes’ diverse billion dollar collection.
While there may be better individual works hanging in museums throughout the world such as the Orsay and NYC’s MoMA, the Barnes collection, with its stacked Cezannes, Renoirs and Matisses like gold over platinum, is a daunting display. We struggle to understand why the museum wasn’t more crowded during our visit on a holiday weekend.
Another art museum not to miss is the Philadelphia Museum of Art with its world-class collection ranging from the antiquities to modern day works, not to mention the famous Rocky steps. Quirkier in a folk-art kind of way, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens gallery draws crowds to South Street with its crazy mosaics and numerous photo ops.
Visiting the Barnes and these other great attractions, not to mention Philadelphia’s rich history as the USA’s founding city, would be more than reason enough to make Philadelphia an ideal spot for a city break for travelers from all corners of the world. But Philly’s food scene completes the puzzle.
Philly Food Scene
With a thriving food scene that ranges from humble food trucks to nationally acclaimed restaurants, Philadelphia is a great destination for food travelers at every budget. Though crowds assemble nightly at Pat’s and Genos, the neon-adorned rival cheesesteak shops in South Philly, savvy travelers know to expand beyond the popular sandwich.
However, when you think about it, the quality of Philly’s food scene should come as no surprise. Philadelphia is the most centrally located city on America’s eastern seaboard. Plus, living in Philadelphia is far more affordable than nearby cities like New York and Washington, D.C., which has provided a draw to some of the nation’s best young and experienced chefs.
Quietly over years and then suddenly with a bang, Philadelphia has elevated itself to become one of America’s premier food cities recognized by the likes of James Beard, Travel & Leisure and the Washington Post. These days, it’s hard to find a periodical that hasn’t recently discovered Philly’s sophisticated restaurants.
This acclaim isn’t limited to restaurants in Center City Philadelphia. Some of the top restaurants in Philadelphia are in neighborhoods like Fishtown, Bella Vista and South Philly.
The beginnings of Philadelphia’s restaurant gold rush go back to the 1970s with chefs like George Perrier and continued with Stephen Starr and his Philly-based restaurant group. Beyond Perrier and Starr, much of the credit goes to New York-trained chefs like Eli Kulp and Peter Serpico who relocated to the city to take advantage of business opportunities, not to mention the city’s relatively low cost of living.
However, chefs like Michael Solomonov, Marc Vetri and Jose Garces also need to be recognized for their ongoing contributions to the local restaurant scene.
Traveling within Philadelphia
Don’t worry if you’re traveling without a car – Philly is one of the few cities outside of NYC and Chicago where it’s not necessary to have a car to get around.
Philly has a decent public transportation system, one of the few public transit networks in the U.S. that provides train service directly from its airport (Philadelphia International Airport) to the center of town. Philadelphia is also one of only two or three cities in the U.S. that we consider to be truly walkable.
If you choose to stay within the limits of Center City (what Philadelphians call the center of town), it’s entirely possible to plan your trip on foot. It generally takes no longer than 45 minutes to walk from one side of Center City to the other. Also, a network of overground and underground transit, including the Market-Frankford Line and the Broad Street Line, makes it easy to explore trendy neighborhoods like Fishtown and South Philly without a car.
Add the Philly Flash Bus which moves around a circular network of city attractions (and is cheaper than Hop-On-Hop-Off buses) and Uber to the mix, and travel around the City of Brotherly Love is a breeze.
Philadelphia Food Guide
The 2foodtrippers have seen and tasted a lot of great Philly food during our combined 25+ years of living in the city. Until we hit the road on our ongoing quest to taste the world, we ate out a lot, always seeking the newest trends while never forgetting the city’s culinary stalwarts. Our challenge isn’t finding enough restaurants to recommend here; rather, it’s limiting our recommendations for the best places to eat in Philadelphia to a manageable number.
After much internal debate and a recent food-focused visit in partnership with Visit Philadelphia, we are finally ready to present a Philadelphia food guide with our favorite restaurants, cafes and markets. As always, we have included a variety of fine dining, cheap eats and coffee options because that’s how we roll in real life.
The Philadelphia dining scene is deep with many restaurants which we like but chose not to include in this guide. We have limited the guide to highlight restaurants that we truly love and think that you, our readers, will enjoy when you visit Philly. We’ve eaten (or drank) at every recommended establishment at least once and some multiple times.
Top Philadelphia Restaurants
Philadelphia has more than its fair share of solid restaurants, even for a city with over 1.5 million residents. Despite the city’s international reputation as the world’s cheesesteak capital, the best restaurants in Philadelphia PA run the gamut of global cuisine options from French to Israeli. The city also houses one of the country’s most innovative Vegan restaurants.
Over the years we’ve dined at most of the best Philadelphia restaurants. We celebrated anniversaries and birthdays at hot spots including Bibou, Morimoto, Serpico, Vetri and Volver. As happens, we’ve seen some of our favorite restaurants come and go but most of the best continue to serve great food over the years.
If you’re researching where to celebrate a special occasion in Philadelphia, the choices can be overwhelming. Critics have their favorites and so do we. Based on our own personal dining experiences, we recommend the following top restaurants in Philly:
Once upon a time, not so many years ago, the only Israeli food available in Philadelphia was of the hummus and falafel variety. Then, after Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook opened Zahav in 2008, everything changed. Since that time, Israel-born and Pittsburgh-raised has Solomonov earned multiple James Beard awards and now co-runs a thriving restaurant empire.
Zahav, Hebrew for gold, is a modern Israeli restaurant that takes diners on a culinary journey starting with wood-fire baked laffa bread served with three varieties of hummus and continuing with vegetarian salads and meatier mezze. Diners can order additional plates on an a la carte basis or sample a variety including the restaurant tasting menu and signature lamb shoulder.
Back in 2008, we could easily walk into Zahav before or after a movie and grab a bite and a drink at the bar. We especially enjoyed the happy hour.
Fast forward to the present and the happy hour is still going strong with its ever-popular lemonnana cocktails and hummus. However, the 16 seats at the bar now fill up quickly. And by quickly, we mean that the bar is full with a waiting list when Zahav opens at 5:00 pm each day.
Eating at Zahav requires planning and advance reservations a good two months before the dinner date. Otherwise, plan to arrive by 4:30 to secure a first come, first serve seat at the bar.
Sure, you’ll be eating early but at least you’ll get discounted lemonannas to start your meal. You can put the savings toward a Zahav cookbook, an ideal souvenir of your meal.
Vernick Food & Drink
Jean-George Vongerichten disciple Greg Vernick serves an amazing assortment of food at his restaurant, appropriately named Vernick, starting with a varied and changing selection of ‘toasts’ to expertly crafted starters and entrees. Not flying under the radar, Vernick is fully booked every night it’s open, making advance reservations a necessity except at the bar.
Despite the restaurant’s popularity and prime Rittenhouse Square location, Vernick’s staff maintains a non-pretentious vibe. We especially like the convivial atmosphere at the sleek bar with its mix of locals and expense account travelers who often bond over a shared love for food. Plus, sitting at the bar provides a front-row view to a nightly mixology show performed by Vernick’s expert barkeeps.
But at the end of the day, the best part of dining at Vernick is the food. Vernick offers toasted bread with toppings that go beyond avocado, offering sophisticated seasonal pairings like Fromage & Pickled Cherries and Beef Tartare & Fresh Horseradish.
Toasts may whet your appetite at Vernick but surprises don’t stop there. Go big and try a dish like Red Curry Shrimp Duck or keep it simple with locally sourced Organic Amish Chicken. You won’t be disappointed either way.
Vernick Food & Drink is located at 2031 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.
Friday Saturday Sunday
Proving that everything old can become new again, a crackerjack team of Philadelphia restaurant pros have transformed formerly stodgy Friday Saturday Sunday into an exciting culinary destination. Despite its age on paper, Friday Saturday Sunday is one of the best new restaurants in Philadelphia.
Chad and Hanna Williams seamlessly run the back and front of the Rittenhouse Square restaurant, but they don’t do it alone. Locals will recognize familiar faces like bartender Paul MacDonald and pastry chef Tish Smith as well as servers from some of the best restaurants in Philly.
Start your meal at the restaurant’s beautifully restored bar replete with ornate marble and a dizzying selection of liquors and cocktail ingredients. You could request a standard drink, but we recommend choosing one of the restaurant’s signature concoctions like Sob Story. We almost cried from happiness as we chilled with this not-so-sad cocktail made with Haitian rum, Torino vermouth, Nardini, Batavia arrack and coconut rum.
The one-page menu includes an enticing variety of dishes starting with a raw bar and continuing with beef tartare, octopus and sweetbread katsu. Don’t worry if you don’t eat meat, vegetable options like charred cauliflower and confit carrots (pictured above) are the opposite of a sacrifice. Plus, the restaurant’s desserts are splurge-worthy.
Friday Saturday Sunday is located at 261 S 21st Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.
One bite into the “tortilla” and we knew we were in for a special meal at Spice Finch, the hot new restaurant helmed by former Top Chef contestant Jennifer Carroll and her fiance Billy Riddle. Not just any tortilla (think Spain, not Mexico), this fluffy egg concoction features manchego and harissa aioli for an extra kick of flavor.
Carroll and Riddle’s world tour, in a nod to countries like Mozambique and South Africa, also features sweet, fresh Peri-Peri Shrimp. The peri-peri sauce, while lacking a definitive chile punch, more than compensated for its lack of heat with a pleasing balance of spicy richness and acidity. Bowls filled with Harissa and Tahina served with crunchy, yet pillowy sourdough flatbread, reminiscent of laffa, jettisoned us to Israel.
However, the Charred Carrot Hummus (pictured above) and Muhumara sauce were our favorites. Replacing chickpeas with carrots and adding crunchy pickled vegetables and squishy cherry tomatoes added unexpected textural elements to this ingenious twist on typical hummus.
As for the Muhumara sauce, that spicy red dip encouraged a healthy debate about what made it so flavorful. We later found out that cumin and pomegranate were two of the ingredients added to the red pepper and toasted walnut base.
Reasonably priced, exciting food is reason enough to make a dinner reservation at Spice Finch, but the cocktail program will have you staying beyond your meal. Michael Haggerty has created a drink menu filled with whimsical takes on classic cocktails as well as beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages.
On a personal note, we were pleased to see Spice Finch buzzing on a chilly weeknight. Since we stayed at the Warwick Hotel during our wedding weekend, we’re always happy for an excuse to return to the scene of the crime – especially when there’s good food involved. For those unfamiliar with Philadelphia, Spice Finch is located in the Warwick.
Spice Finch is located at 220 S 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103.
If you’re looking for a New York level dining experience in Philadelphia, head to Old City and eat dinner at Fork. This restaurant has been a sophisticated Philadelphia dining destination since Ellen Yin opened the doors in 1997.
Back in the day, now trendy Old City didn’t offer diners much beyond Stephen Starr’s martini bar, The Continental. A young pup named Daryl lived around the corner in a walk-up apartment decorated with pink carpet and sparkly ceilings, allegedly not his design choices.
Like the rest of us, Fork has evolved over the years. Talented Chef Eli Kulp, a veteran of the Major Food Group in New York City, has taken the restaurant to new culinary levels with dishes like lamb tartar and sweet corn ice cream sandwiches.
Despite the changes, the u-shape bar at Fork remains a friendly spot for neighborhood folk to enjoy a light bite (or a full meal) with drinks. As far as we’re concerned, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Fork is located at 306 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Iron Chef Jose Garces’ original restaurant remains his crowning jewel. Named after Garces’ grandmother, Amada introduced many Philadelphians to the tapas style of eating when it opened in 2005. Popular from the get-go, Amada is still one of the hottest restaurant tickets in town for Madrid style tapas and a popular spot for celebratory dinners.
Amada’s menu has dozens of small plate options. You can’t go wrong with Spanish favorites like Serrano ham (jamón Serrano) or bacon-wrapped Medjool Dates (dátiles con almendras). In addition to its outstanding wine list, Amada also serves tasty red and white sangria by the pitcher or glass.
When you dine at Amada, you can go whole hog and order the roasted suckling pig (conchillo asado) meal which is both sized and priced for a large group. Suckling pigs must be ordered in advance. We recommend checking with the restaurant a week before your reservation.
Amada is located at 217-219 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Suraya opened in Fishtown after we left Philadelphia. We’d heard positive reports about the Lebanese restaurant but we had to see and taste it to believe it. After doing just that, we’re now fans of the exciting Frankford Avenue restaurant.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in Suraya is the massive gorgeous, sunlit converted machine shop space. The owners spared no expense with the design including a sleek bar and inviting market. This is the kind of restaurant where you can start your day with a Levantine pastry and a cup of Stumptown coffee and come back later to end it with artistically prepared small plates and a crafted cocktail.
We sat at the bar during our impromptu visit which gave us a prime people-watching vista. Dishes like the Samke Nayyeh (pictured above) and Labne with Za’atar satisfied us and left us excited to return and eat more of Suraya’s exotic yet accessible food.
Suraya is located at 1528 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA.
Located on Locust Street, Vedge’s modern Vegan menu is so good that it will make you think twice about ever eating meat again. Our meal didn’t turn us into Vegans or even Vegetarians, but we did consider the option for a few minutes.
Operated by power couple Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby and housed in a stately building formerly occupied by old-school restaurant Deux Cheminees, Vedge is a beautiful restaurant that serves beautiful food. The only thing missing from the equation is meat – but there’s no reason to miss it.
Opting to celebrate plants rather than fake meat, Vedge’s seasonal menu is separated into three sections – Vedge Bar, Dirt List and The Grill. Standout dishes during our meal were the wood roasted carrots and luscious eggplant braciole. We also enjoyed a fruit-topped cheesecake dessert and crafted cocktails. In case we weren’t clear, we didn’t miss meat at all.
Vedge is located at 1221 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
We celebrated our fifth anniversary at Vetri Cucina back in 2012, just a few months before we launched the 2foodtrippers site and 14 years after the top-rated restaurant opened. A lot has changed for us since then, but Vetri has continued its status as one of the best restaurants in Philadelphia.
Situated in an impressive rowhouse just a block off of busy Broad Street, Vetri Cucina only serves prix fix meals fit (and priced) for special occasions and romantic dates. During our anniversary dinner, we enjoyed diving deep into Chef Mac Vetri’s authentic take on northern Italian cuisine. Vetri trained in Bergamo, Italy and later trained a young crop of chefs including Zahav’s Michael Solmonov (see above).
Michelin has no inspectors in Philadelphia but, in our opinion, a restaurant like Vetri would merit at least two Michelin stars. Does our meal at Vetri rank at the top of meals we’ve eaten at similarly priced restaurants like French Laundry, Maison Lameloise and Maison Bras? We can’t say it that it did. But we still recommend a meal here if you have the time and budget.
Vetri Cucina is located at 1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Additional Top Philly Restaurants
But wait there’s more! Each of the following Philadelphia restaurants serves exciting food that you should not miss when you visit Philadelphia. Like the restaurants featured above, these restaurants require advance reservations – so plan ahead.
- Bibou – Chef Pierre Calmels serves seasonal seven-course dinners four nights a week at his intimate Bella Vista restaurant. Bring your own wine as this restaurant does not have a liquor license. In our opinion, this is a good thing. Wine on Pennsylvania restaurants menus can be prohibitively expensive.
- Serpico – When you head to South Street, try a plate of Chef Peter Serpico’s diver scallops that looks like a museum piece or a fun, tasty sandwich with deep-fried duck leg. Better yet, try both.
- Laurel – Top Chef winner Nick Elmi serves an extraordinary French prix-fixe menu in his intimate space on Passyunk Square. Elmi also operates In the Valley (ITV) next door to Laurel as well as Royal Boucherie in Old City.
- Townsend – Chef Townsend Wentz didn’t miss a beat when he left Center City to open his first restaurant down the block from Laurel after working for acclaimed Chef Jean-Marie Lacroix. Along with wife Gordana Kostovski, an acclaimed sommelier, Wentz also runs other exciting restaurants in town including Italian A Mano in the Art Museum neighborhood and the newly opened Spanish Oloroso in Washington Square.
- Forsythia – Chef Christopher Kearse lets his imagination run wild at his modern French bistro in Old City. Unlike his former restaurant in South Philly, Forsythia is not BYOB.
- Lacroix – Start at this legend if you want to check out fancy restaurants in Philadelphia. Lacroix Restaurant in the Rittenhouse Hotel is a great place to splurge on a romantic dinner, elegant afternoon tea or lavish weekend brunch.
Casual Philadelphia Restaurants
The only problem with choosing a casual restaurant in Philadelphia is that there are too many options. Throughout the city, each neighborhood has its own dining scene with new restaurants popping up all the time. We recommend you try the following casual restaurants when you eat out in Philly:
High Street on Market
Unlike Fork (see above), High Street on Market didn’t open until 2013, well after Daryl left Old City’s for greener pastures in Bella Vista. Don’t feel bad for him – the distance was still short enough for him to frequently enjoy baker Alex Bois’s award-winning bread.
More than just Fork’s little brother and next door neighbor, High Street is an excellent spot to enjoy a quick breakfast or leisurely brunch. Better yet, make a reservation for dinner. The restaurant has an eclectic menu filled with twists on local favorites that satisfy diners from vegetarians to carnivores.
We’d tell you what to order but that would be dangerous since the menu changes with the seasons. That being said, we recently enjoyed dishes like Philly style beef carpaccio (pictured above) and half brick chicken served with gem lettuce and warm caesar dressing. As an option, diners can leave the food selection up to the kitchen for a reasonable flat price, so there’s no need to be stressed by the numerous tempting choices.
High Street’s atmosphere is more intimate than Fork, but the cooking is just as good. This should be no surprise since eagle-eyed owner Ellen Yin is often on site, alternating between the two dining rooms. Yin is a legend in the Philly restaurant scene, a true leader in Old City’s restaurant resurgence.
Be sure to order a crafted cocktail or glass of wine from a carefully curated selection and save room for dessert. We found High Street’s Philly style pretzel sundae particularly divine.
High Street on Market is located at 308 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Located in Northern Liberties, the tragically hip Philadelphia neighborhood that’s now overshadowed by even hipper Fishtown just a few blocks away, Standard Tap was a gastropub before the word was a common vocabulary term. Despite its longevity, Standard Tap has stayed fresh with one of the city’s best beer selections and a top-notch food menu.
Chef Joel Mazigian took over the kitchen in 2017 and has piloted the restaurant in an exciting direction. Sure, The Tap, as locals call it, still sells hamburgers and mussels, but Mazigian has added locally sourced items like seasonal heirloom tomatoes and heritage pork to the menu and brings years of charcuterie craft to this classic Philadelphia restaurant.
During our most recent visit, we enjoyed dishes featuring ingredients like Persian cucumbers, smoked ricotta, duck liver mousse and baked feta. And the beer? Our pints were outstanding. Standard Tap has one of Philly’s deepest brew selections including two beers tapped from hand-pumped (British style) beer engines.
If we were to name a local restaurant that epitomizes American food in Philadelphia, Standard Tap would have to be in the conversation. If you’re a tourist who’s new to the USA, this is a spot that more than typifies what New American dining is all about.
Standard Tap is located at 901 N 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123, USA.
Until recently, Fabric Row was a culinary wasteland. The arrival of Hungry Pigeon in a repurposed fabric shop (natch) is proof that things are looking up in this pocket of Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood.
Hungry Pigeon is far from a one-trick bird. Acclaimed Chef Scott Schroeder’s restaurant serves distinct meals depending on the time of day – pastries for weekend brunch, sandwiches for lunch and chef-driven, locally sourced food for dinner. Coffee fans will dig the coffee program, though be warned that free refills are not provided even during brunch.
Hungry Pigeon is located at 743 S 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Previously known as the Sansom Street Oyster House, Oyster House lives up to its name by serving the best oysters in town. Its name may have been shortened, but the oyster selection remains strong with mollusks hailing from as close as the Mid Atlantic shores and as far away as Prince Edward’s Island and British Columbia.
Beyond oysters, the Center City restaurant serves a variety of seafood including shrimp, octopus and lobster. Meat lovers can opt for burgers. Choices are more limited for Vegetarians as is the case at most seafood restaurants in Philadelphia.
If you’re a non-vegetarian and want to eat seafood like a native Philadelphian, order the Snapper Turtle Soup (or as locals call it – ‘Snapper Soup’). Made with real snapping turtles, this thick, meaty soup will warm your bones on a cold winter night.
Oyster House is located at 1516 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA.
More than just whiskey, Jose Garces’ Village Whiskey serves a full range of tasty beverages as well as some of the best burgers in town. Ironically, another favorite burger favorite Shake Shack is right across the street, but that’s a chain restaurant based in NYC. Sure, you can order other items like cobb salad and jarred pickled vegetables at Village Whiskey, but the restaurant’s burgers, specially butchered in-house, are the star attractions.
Most purists order the Village Burger with an 8-oz. patty, tomato, lettuce and thousand island dressing. Others shoot for the moon by ordering the Whiskey King, a whopper of a burger with its 8-oz. patty, cipollini onions, blue cheese, applewood bacon and foie gras.
Vegetarians are welcome to the party too. Village Whiskey’s third burger is a black bean lentil veggie burger with guacamole and pickled red cabbage.
Village Whiskey is located at 118 S 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.
Chef Johncarl Lachman became a bit of a legend when he returned to South Philly to open Noord eetcafe in a sun streamed corner building on Passyunk Square. This legendary status is not just due to his boisterous, welcoming personality. The main reason is that he brought Dutch food to a city better known for Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.
When you eat at Noord, be sure to try Lachman’s signature bitterballen, golden fried pork balls, but don’t stop there. Go for it and order the smørrebrød – three types of sandwiches with toppings like egg, herring and salmon. Save room for dessert. The almond butter cake is sensational.
Noord eetcafe is located at 1046 Tasker Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148, USA.
Directly across the street from leafy Rittenhouse Square, Parc Restaurant is Philadelphia’s gentrified version of a Parisian brasserie. Stephen Starr and his team left no stone or tile unturned when they decorated this corner restaurant with both style and panache.
When you dine at Parc, you can order solid versions of French food classics like onion soup gratinée or steak tartare. However, we love eating at Parc for the prime people-watching opportunities both inside the restaurant’s beaux-arts dining room as well as outside on the bistro’s expansive sidewalk. The sidewalk seating is a key reason why Parc is one of the most popular Rittenhouse Square restaurants.
Parc is located at 227 S 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.
Khyber Pass Pub
Don’t go to the Khyber Pass Pub if you’re looking for good Pakistani food. Despite the name, this pub doesn’t serve any Pakistani food at all. But do go if you’re looking for a classic bar with a standout Philadelphia beer selection and some of the city’s best New Orleans pub inspired cuisine.
The Khyber is by many estimates the oldest operating bar in Philly. Its ornately sculpted wood bar dates back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition, and legend says that troughs below the bar were previously used for a very special purpose by its rough-hewn dock and seafaring clientele.
The Khyber used to be the kind of bar locals would go to for good beer and live music. Some of the legendary music acts that performed at the Khyber include Morphine, Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Pavement, Kings of Leon and Future Tips. However, the 150-year-old bar was generally not the kind of place where you’d find a clean bathroom or good food. The pub always had great beer, but that’s another story.
Boy have things changed. Not only did Esquire include the Khyber in its 2015 list of the 15 best bars in America, but it’s one of our favorite places to enjoy a bowl of gumbo or a New Orleans Po-Boy on a Leidenheimer roll shipped specially from the Big Easy.
The Khyber also serves popcorn freshly popped in Benton’s bacon grease. Warning: This popcorn is the greatest bar snack you will ever eat!!
Khyber Pass Pub is located at 56 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
The Love / Talula’s Garden / Talula’s Daily
Aimee Olexy became an institution after she opened the wildly successful Talula’s Table in nearby Kennett Square. With a one-year waiting list, not many people can actually eat at the tiny BYO restaurant. Who plans that far ahead???
We originally met Olexy at Talula’s Table and later bonded with her at Headhouse Square Market (see below), but we never ate dinner at the exclusive suburban restaurant. Luckily for us and people who don’t want to schlep to the suburbs, Steven Starr has partnered with Olexy to open three restaurants in the city.
If you’re looking for a romantic dinner, go to Talula’s Garden on the edge of Washington Square. Diners looking for a more casual dining experience can opt to try Talula’s Daily, also on Washington Square. For a more trendy experience, try newly opened The Love by Rittenhouse Square.
The Love is located at 130 S 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103, USA.
Talula’s Daily is located at 208 W Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Talula’s Garden is located at 210 W Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Additional Casual Philly Restaurants
Sometimes the best way to narrow down the good restaurants in Philadelphia is to start with the neighborhood where you want to eat. The following recommended casual restaurants span the city:
- Bistro La Minette – Less flashy than Parc (see above), Peter Woolsey’s Bistro La Minette plates up authentic French bistro fare cooked by Chef Kenneth Bush in the Queen Village neighborhood.
- Bud & Marilyn’s – Marcie Turney and Valerie Safran bring fun to the Gayborhood with their take on American food. Their other Philadelphia restaurants include Barbuzzo, Little Nonna’s and Lolita.
- Double Knot – Also in the Gayborhood, Michael Schulson’s Izakaya, Double Knot is a haven for people who love coffee and Japanese food, not necessarily at the same time. The restaurant offers excellent coffee and a casual Vietnamese inspired menu by day and a robatayaki and sushi menu at night. Schulson’s other restaurants include Sampan, Harp & Crown and Independence Beer Garden.
- The Good King Tavern – The epitome of a neighborhood cafe, The Good King is a quaint spot to dine in Philadelphia’s Bella Vista neighborhood.
- Helm – Bring your own wine when you dine at Helm in West Kensington. Though they don’t serve liquor, their farm-to-table food variety is both seasonal and tasty. Helm also has a restaurant in Rittenhouse Square.
- Kanella Grill – Chef Konstantinos Pitsillides brings flavors of Cyprus to his cozy Washington Square West neighborhood BYOB. His souvlaki takes us straight back to Athens. (Yes, we know that Athens is in Greece, not Cyprus, but they’re close.)
- Mission Taqueria – The team from Oyster House (see above) opened Mission Taqueria right above their legendary seafood house on Sansom Street. The Mexican cantina’s specialties include ceviche, guacamole, house-made tortillas and frozen margaritas.
For years, South Philly’ Marra’s and Kensington’s Taconelli’s Pizza were the best places to eat pizza. Marra’s has been open since 1927 on Passyunk Avenue, while Taconelli’s has been open since 1918 in Port Richmond. Both remain favorites for locals who have fond memories of eating pies with their parents or grandparents
When choosing pizza in Philadelphia, we generally prefer more modern Campania-style pizza like the pies we’ve eaten in Naples and at Pepe in Grani, which many, including us, consider to be the best pizzeria in the world. When we’re in Philadelphia, these are our favorite spots for pizza:
Opened by Chef Marc Vetri in 2013 and now owned by retailer Urban Outfitters, Pizzeria Vetri dishes out Neapolitan pizza at multiple locations including two in Philadelphia. Did we mention that we love Neapolitan pizza? Pizzeria Vetri makes traditional pies that meet our pizza standards, and that’s saying a lot.
Beyond pizza, Pizzeria Vetri has a menu filled with Italian treats, both savory and sweet. We recommend you start your meal with a rotolo. Made with pizza dough, mortadella, ricotta and pistachio pesto, the rotolo may be our favorite item on Pizzeria Vetri’s menu.
Pizzeria Vetri has multiple locations in Philadelphia.
As much as we love a properly baked Neapolitan pizza, sometimes we are happy to eat a pie smothered with sauce, coated with melted cheese and topped with Italian sausage. When that’s our mood, Santucci’s in the Italian Market is our go-to spot in Philadelphia.
Beyond a consistently crunchy crust and top quality sausage, Santucci’s pulls away from the pizza pack for two reasons. Not only does Santucci’s make rectangular pies instead of the standard round shape, they also add a slightly sweet tomato sauce on top of the cheese. The results may look strange but the taste gets our thumbs up.
Santucci’s has multiple locations. We frequented the Italian Market location at 901 S 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Bagels + Brunch
Like many cities, Philadelphia has a thriving brunch scene with bustling weekend crowds that willingly wait hours for a table. When we lived in Philly, our favorite brunch go-to was Morning Glory Diner for its breakfast fare and a chill vibe as well as the short two-block walk from our house. When we weren’t in our neighborhood, we liked to eat lemon ricotta pancakes at Cafe Lift and traditional New Orleans fare at the Khyber.
Until recently, bagels were good but not great in Philly. That all changed with several bagel shops opening in town, with our favorites being Knead Bagels and Philly Style Bagel. Both of these bagel shops serve top quality bagels with a twist – think togarashi bagels at Knead Bagels and bagels made with beer at Philly Style Bagels.
Philly Style Bagels
The debate between New York and Montreal as to which city makes the better bagel now has a third rival for the claim. Young guns Collin Shapiro and Jonathon Zilber have joined the competition with their locally loved and nationally lauded bagels.
For the past few years, the team at Philly Style Bagels has been hand rolling bagels and boiling them in IPA beer from nearby Yards Brewing Company (see below). While bagels in Montreal are boiled in honey water and New York bagels are boiled in malt syrup, Philadelphians Shapiro and Zilber ramp up their bagels with beer.
Philly style bagels aren’t cheap, but these round beauties are some of the best in the world.
According to Zilber, beer adds “flavor, color and crunch” while “embracing the culture of Philadelphia.” Based on the lines that form daily to buy bagels, sandwiches and Elixr coffee at Philly Style Bagels, they’re doing something right.
Philly Style Bagels is located at 1451 E Columbia Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA.
At first glance, Knead Bagels looks like a typical bagel shop. But when you look closer for the full picture, you will see that Knead doesn’t stop at plain, poppy seed and sesame bagels.
Instead, the Washington Square West bagel shop offers provocative bagel flavors like togarashi, black sesame and lavender. And salt bagel lovers get an option that adds fennel seed to the mix.
Sure, you could slather plain cream cheese on a Knead bagel, but that’s kind of boring. We suggest trying a specialty cream cheese spread like scallion lime or roasted tomato. Then again, you could go for whitefish salad. We rarely say no to the fishy yet legendary bagel topping.
Knead Bagels is located at 725 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Sam’s Morning Glory Diner
Open since 1997 before brunch was a ‘thing’ in Philadelphia and around the world, Morning Glory Diner set the standard for daytime dining in the city. All these years later, crowds still line up at this brunch spot in the Bella Vista neighborhood, especially on weekends.
Though Morning Glory serves comfort food like frittatas, breakfast burritos, pancakes and monte cristo sandwiches, we recommend the diner’s breakfast platter. In addition to two eggs cooked to order, the value-priced platter comes with a jumbo buttermilk biscuit, potatoes or grits and a fruit. Meat is an optional add-on for those feeling particularly carnivorous.
One of the most unique diners in Philadelphia, Morning Glory has its quirks. In addition to serving food with a side of attitude, the diner makes its own jams and ketchup. If you like Heinz ketchup, you won’t find it here.
Sam’s Morning Glory Diner is located at 735 S 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Additional Brunch Spots
You would need a year of Sundays to eat at every brunch spot in Philadelphia. Once you hit our favorites mentioned above, we recommend you continue your mission at the following spots:
- Cafe Lift – The Callowhill neighborhood cafe serves brunch daily. Don’t miss their lemon ricotta pancakes topped with fresh strawberries, honey and whipped cream!
- Honey’s Sit ‘N Eat – With locations in Northern Liberties and Center City, Honey’s serves food all day though brunch is our favorite meal here. Be sure to order a potato latke on the side.
- Khyber Pass Pub – We like eating at the Khyber at any time of day. What makes brunch special is that it’s less crowded than most Philadelphia restaurants. For some reason, people don’t realize that the Khyber serves a great one on the weekends with dishes like praline bacon, beignets and bananas foster french toast. Shhh.
- On Point Bistro – This local BYOB in Point Breeze excels at serving satisfying brunch dishes like its signature Clucker, a sweet potato waffle generously topped with fried chicken, poached eggs, honey mustard hollandaise and maple syrup. We also like their cobb salad.
- Sabrina’s Cafe – Now with three locations in town plus two in the burbs, Sabrina’s has been a popular Philly brunch spot since their original Italian Market cafe opened in 2001. The go-to menu item here is double stuffed french toast.
Philly Cheap Eats
Despite all the fun restaurants in Philly slinging cheesesteaks and hoagies, sandwiches are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cheap eats in the City of Brotherly Love. Seriously, the options are wide if you’re looking for a quick meal on the go.
When you visit Philadelphia, you’ll find all kinds of food values including fried chicken, hummus, tacos and matzoh ball soup. There’s no need to drop a bundle every time you eat out in Philly unless that’s your thing. These are our favorite spots when we want to save money and/or eat our guilty pleasures in Philadelphia:
Federal Donuts serves only three things. But these three are enough to satisfy crowds of hungry Philadelphians who affectionately call the spot Fed Nuts. In Philadelphia, this is THE place to go for cake-style donuts and Korean-style fried chicken. Great coffee is a bonus.
When Fed Nuts opened its first location in the Pennsport neighborhood in 2011, the crowds were crazy. Not only did the restaurant regularly run out of hot donuts but they served a limited supply of fried chicken on a first-come-first-serve basis, selling out every day. We missed out on fried chicken on our first visit but quickly learned to arrive early for a chance at the twice cooked, Korean-style fried birds.
Things have changed for the better now that Fed Nuts has multiple locations in the city. Guests no longer have to arrive early or queue up for hot donuts or fried chicken. Plus, Fed Nuts has added fried chicken sandwiches, a hybrid of one of its three offerings. And there’s even a convenient parking lot at their North 7th Street location.
Flavors at Fed Nuts skew toward the exotic. Customers can choose between fresh hot (which are our favorite) and fancy donuts (also excellent). Hot donut flavors are basic with flavors like cinnamon, brown sugar and strawberry lavender while fancy flavors are more unusual with varieties including vanilla rhubarb, blueberry lemonade and maple bacon.
Fried chicken is offered in dry style flavors like za’atar, coconut curry, buttermilk ranch and wet style flavors like chili garlic, honey ginger and sweet soy. You may need to visit twice if you can’t pick just one style.
Federal Donuts has multiple locations in the city. We usually go to the original location at 1219 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
John’s Roast Pork
Recognized by James Beard and loved by locals, John’s Roast Pork serves some of the best sandwiches in a sandwich city. In fact, many Philadelphians (including us) consider John’s Roast Pork as THE best spot in the city for roast pork sandwiches and cheesesteaks.
The Bucci family opened John’s Roast Pork back in 1930. In many ways, the sandwich shop hasn’t changed a lot over the years. It’s still located at the industrial corner of Weccacoe and Snyder Avenue near shop docks, warehouses and I-95. The service is surly as ever but in a friendly way – just know what you want to order when you enter.
The line is long but John’s wants to serve customers quickly. The experience is chaotic but orderly and you will rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes for your sandwiches. On the upside, the eatery is now open six days a week and until 7:00 pm.
By all means, order a roast pork sandwich here – it’s the best in town. Be prepared to share it or take part home to eat later. It’s that big! Our best recommendation is to order your pork with greens (spinach – they don’t use broccoli rabe at John’s) and sharp. Sharp provolone is one of Philly’s great sandwich secrets. The aged cheese adds a funky edge of flavor that makes this sandwich special.
John’s cheesesteak is arguably the best in the city. John’s uses top quality meat and, controversially, does not use cheese whiz. It’s a spectacular sandwich. Some would say that the mixture of cheese whiz and grease from the steaks at Pat’s, Jim’s and Geno’s makes those sandwiches special and we don’t disagree. But to us, John’s cheesesteaks are just a little better.
Be prepared to roll up your sleeves after you snag a spot at an outdoor picnic table. If you really love your sandwich, you can buy some roast pork by the pound to take back to your hotel room.
John’s Roast Pork is located at 14 Snyder Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148, USA.
Like most Philadelphians, we had a favorite hoagie spot. Sadly, that spot is now a hair salon on the edge of the Italian Market. Such is progress.
Sure we could eat hoagies at Wawa, the popular Philadelphia convenience store, but sometimes we want a more loaded sandwich. After a bit of research, we found Cosmi’s Deli to satisfy our hoagie needs.
Owner Mike Seccia continues his family’s culinary traditions at a tiny corner stand in South Philly. He and his team serve a full menu of hoagies featuring Italian cured meats, meatballs, tuna, turkey, roast beef and more. Cosmi’s also has hoagie options for Vegetarians.
Cosmi’s Deli is located at 1501 S 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Dizengoff / Goldie
After Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook became kings of Israeli food in Philadelphia with Zahav (see above), they cemented this status with Dizengoff and Goldie. Located a block from each other, these two casual eateries strike a chord with local hummus lovers and falafel fans.
Dizengoff will remind you of a Tel Aviv hummusiya with its hip design and bold flavors. Not surprisingly, hummus is the star here and it’s just as creamy as at Zahav. However, unlike Zahav, you can order toppings like lamb and veggies depending on the current seasonal menu.
Goldie specializes in just a few things – falafels, fries and tahini shakes. All three items are completely vegan and utterly addictive. If you don’t believe us, stop by for a quick bite and watch the constant flow of eager customers. Without a doubt, you’ll be back to join the flow.
As the nation’s fifth biggest city, Philadelphia is big enough to support multiple restaurants that specialize in roast pork sandwiches. In addition to John’s Roast Pork (see above), we recommend award-winning DiNic’s for visitors who want to experience this quintessential Philadelphia sandwich without leaving the center of town.
For better and worse, DiNic’s is located inside the Reading Terminal. The good part of this location is that it’s highly convenient to public transportation and near many of the city’s top tourist sites. On the downside, the stand is often crowded with a long line for seats.
Don’t be scared by the line – this sandwich is worth the wait. You’ll know what we mean after you take a bite, especially if you order your sandwich with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone.
DiNic’s is located inside the Reading Terminal Market at 51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Cheese Steaks – Pat’s/Geno’s/Jim’s/Tony Luke’s
We even have an answer to the inevitable question as to whether we prefer Pat’s or Geno’s for cheesesteaks. Drum roll – our answer to the Philly cheesesteak debate is John’s Roast Pork (see above) in deep South Philly.
We’ll eat at Pat’s and Geno’s when it’s convenient (like at 4 am on a weeknight), but we’ll travel to John’s when we crave a juicy cheesesteak. We must also mention Jim’s, a local cheesesteak favorite since 1939, both for its sandwiches and South Street location.
Most visitors can’t resist visiting Pat’s and Geno’s, vying cheesesteak stands at 9th and Passyunk. The neon-adorned stands are internationally recognized as much for the friendly competition as for their meaty sandwiches. As a bonus, both Pat’s (open since 1930) and Geno’s (open since 1966) are open 24/7 for early birds and late nighters.
For lifelong Philadelphians, there’s a certain degree of nostalgia associated with eating a steak from Jim’s, Geno’s or Pats. As we said above, there’s magic in the way the cheese whiz combines with the fat from the thinly sliced, flat top grilled steak. It’s special. While we do love John’s best, we still think that eating a steak at Jim’s, Pat’s or Geno’s is worth a trip.
Another option is Tony Lukes – a relative newcomer since opening in 1992. Tony Luke’s serves quality cheesesteaks along with other specialties like Pork Italian (similar to John’s and DiNic’s) and chicken cutlet parmesan sandwiches. Their most famous location on Oregon Avenue gained popularity due to its proximity to the Philadelphia Sports Complex in deep South Philly.
FYI, Philadelphians are crazy about their sports teams and there’s nothing better than a cheesesteak either before or after you catch a game. Ask us later about the time we woke up at 5 am in Da Nang, Vietnam to watch the Eagles win the Superbowl…
Geno’s Steaks is located at 1219 Street 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Jim’s Steaks is located at 400 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Pat’s King of Steaks is located at 1237 E Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Tony Luke’s is located at 39 E Oregon Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148, USA.
South Philly Barbacoa
Recognized by the likes of Bon Appetit and James Beard, Chef Cristina Martínez specializes in cooking authentic Mexican food like lamb consommé and tacos. Not your standard tacos, Martínez makes hers with freshly pressed tortilla shells and tops them with slow-cooked lamb and pork barbacoa.
Does this story sound familiar? If so, you may have seen Martínez and her cooking on David Chang’s Netflix show Ugly Delicious. Either way, you’re going to want to arrive early when the restaurant is open on weekend days to try the famous barbacoa before it sells out.
South Philly Barbacoa is located at 1140 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Famous 4th Street Delicatessen
Don’t freak out when you see the prices at Famous 4th Street Deli. Their monstrous sandwiches are actually a good value at this traditional New York deli-style eatery. At Famous Fourth, a classic pastrami on rye sandwich is big enough to share, though you may need to ask for extra rye bread.
As for the Famous chicken soup with a huge matzo ball, kreplach, noodles, rice and kasha – you can share that too and take the rest home or to your hotel room to enjoy later. You’ll want to order your own can of Dr. Brown’s soda, at least that’s what we do.
Famous 4th Street Delicatessen is located at 700 S 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Owner Robin Admana started her award-winning food truck business back in 2014 (along with former partner Flo Gardner) armed with a jacked up truck and a dream. Between creativity and hard work, the ladies of Foolish Waffles built a loyal following with fans who chase the truck for the chance to eat freshly made regular waffles and special, sugary liege waffles served with both sweet and savory toppings.
You can’t make a bad waffle choice – that would be foolish. If nothing jumps out to you, we recommend trying a fried chicken waffle, a banh mi waffle (with pork belly or tofu) or a simple, crunchy liege waffle with fresh berries and whipped cream.
Foolish Waffles is located on the streets of Philadelphia. Check the website for an up-to-date truck schedule.
We love Asian food so much that we celebrated our rehearsal dinner in Chinatown back in 2007 when Philly’s best Asian food was in the one center city neighborhood. We still have our roster of favorites in Chinatown, but we’re pleased to report that many of the city’s best Asian restaurants have spread to different neighborhoods throughout the city.
Pick an Asian country and you will likely find a restaurant serving its cuisine in Philadelphia. We recommend that you start exploring Philly’s Asian restaurants with a hungry stomach and a plan. Since each restaurant has its own specialty, start with our favorites until you have your own.
Dim Sum Garden
Originally located in a dank space on 11th Street next to an infamous Chinatown bus depot, Dim Sum Garden moved to the big time when it relocated to Race Street in 2013. Since the move, the Shanghainese Chinatown restaurant has achieved local cult status due to the rabid popularity of its main dish – Xia Long Bao, otherwise known as soup dumplings.
Mother/daughter team of Chef ShiZhou Da and Sally Song showed foresight when they moved to the larger space, evidenced by the line of regulars who queue up daily to eat soup dumplings filled with a choice of either pork or crabmeat and pork.
Sure, the restaurant offers other dumpling choices like excellent Shao Mai, but the soup dumplings are the star of the show. They also serve a pan-fried soup dumpling (Shengjian Bao) for those who are so inclined.
Dim Sum Garden is located at 1020 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Sang Kee Noodle House
Sang Kee is not a hidden gem that we discovered together. Instead, the Hong Kong style Chinatown restaurant was a personal favorite of ours before we met. So it should be no surprise that this is the restaurant where we kicked off our wedding weekend with a food-focused rehearsal dinner.
In our opinion, Sang Kee is the closest thing Philly has to a Hong Kong style roast duck house. Like in Hong Kong, an array of hanging roast ducks, char siu pork and soy sauce chickens greet diners at the restaurant’s foyer. There are a number of other items on Sang Kee’s menu but make no mistake – roast Southern Chinese meats are the big draw here. Order simple and you can’t go wrong.
We both have our favorite dishes at Sang Kee. Mindi always orders a big bowl of noodle soup loaded with shrimp and pork wontons, char siu pork and wide noodles. Daryl prefers to order a plate generously topped with roast pork, duck, chicken and green vegetable over rice.
Sang Kee Noodle House is located at 3549 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Royal Sushi & Izakaya
We discovered the izakaya concept in Las Vegas and got the full experience in Tokyo, but Philly didn’t have a decent izakaya when we lived there. We heard rumors of the Khyber team opening one in the Queen Village neighborhood, but it never happened. That is, it never happened until after we hit the road and left town.
Royal Sushi & Izakaya is the izakaya that we had wished for when we lived in Philadelphia. The cool factor is high with an anonymous sign pulled straight from a Tokyo back alley (blink and you’ll miss it) and Japanese animé projected on the restaurant’s interior brick wall. But it’s the food that makes this izakaya truly special.
In addition to traditional izakaya fare like yakitori and chasu buns, Royal excels with a sushi program led by Jesse and Massaharu Ito, both formerly at the beloved Fuji in nearby Haddonfield, New Jersey. Guests can order sushi and sashimi at the izakaya, but the better option is to reserve a spot at the intimate sushi bar in the back room for a special omakase meal.
Royal Sushi & Izakaya is located at 780 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House
Before Nan Zhou moved into its current location in 2012, the unique noodle shop was a hole-in-the-wall secret shared among friends. Fast forward to the present and the secret is out of the bag.
Philadelphia’s original hand-drawn noodle house offers an extensive menu in its expanded Chinatown location. Some people prefer their shaved noodles. As for us, we agree to disagree on this important topic.
Daryl orders pulled noodles with various proteins depending on his mood. However, Mindi always orders shaved noodles with house special meatballs. If we’re extra hungry, we go crazy and share a scallion pancake.
Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House is located at 1022 Race St, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Historically, the Han Dynasty was a golden age in China many moons ago. Today, Han Dynasty is a gem of a restaurant group for lovers of spicy food in Philadelphia and beyond. The cuisine is Sichuan, and the spice level is as hot as you want it to be.
Han Chiang opened the original Han Dynasty in Philly exurb Exton and soon expanded into Philly proper. He now has nine locations including the original location and three in the city. With additional locations in New Jersey and New York City, Chiang’s dynasty is for real.
We usually start our Han Dynasty meals with dan dan noodles and spicy, crispy cucumbers. Main dishes run the gamut much like a who’s who of Sichuan favorites. Whatever you order, the key is to select the right heat level. Too low and your taste buds will be bored. Too high and you’ll need to be peeled off the ceiling.
When Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh opened CHeU Noodle Bar in the Washington Square neighborhood in 2013, it was a cool joint serving creative Asian food in a funky bar setting. We often went at off hours to avoid crowds in the tiny space and ordered dishes like Brisket Ramen, a unique, spicy take on the Japanese classic with a matzoh ball and kimchee.
For a while, the spot felt like a hidden gem with its graffitied walls, paper lanterns and space for just a couple dozen or so guests. Puchowitz and Darragh quickly expanded their horizons with bigger, bolder spaces in South Philly (Bing Bing Dim Sum) and Fishtown, two of Philly’s hottest neighborhoods.
Expect fun designs and non-traditional Asian food at the newer locations which are similar yet different to the original CHeU. Without a doubt, these are some of the most trendy Asian restaurants in Philly.
Bing Bing Dim Sum is located at 1648 E Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19148, USA.
CHeU Fishtown is located at 1416 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA.
CHeU Noodle Bar is located at 255 S 10th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Open since 2014, Stock has become a fixture in Fishtown despite its tiny space and a limited menu with just a handful of Vietnamese food favorites including pho, salads and banh mi sandwiches. Locals often queue up for a spot so that they can eat a satisfying bowl of pho before hitting the many bars that have sprouted in Fishtown over the past decade.
Chef Tyler Akin quietly made a name for himself at Stock before achieving dubious acclaim in 2016 due to a poorly-received Bon Appetit video that featured the chef explaining how to eat a bowl of pho. He weathered the PR storm and has since co-opened Res Ipsa Cafe (see below) in Rittenhouse Square and a second Stock in that same tony neighborhood.
The original Stock is located at 308 E Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA. The second location is in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.
Additional Asian Restaurants
Can you tell that we like Asian food? Here are additional Asian eateries that we love in Philadelphia:
- Cafe Diem – This casual day-time spot serves excellent bowls of Bun Bo Hue and Pho near the Italian Market.
- David’s Mai Lai Wah – Open until 3 am seven days a week, David’s is great for late night noodles and people watching in Chinatown.
- Nam Phuong – When you crave Vietnamese food beyond soup, Nam Phuong has a massive menu filled with pages of Vietnamese food favorites. Located just outside the boundaries of Center City, Nam Phuong’s strip mall location offers free parking for customers.
- Zama – Though overshadowed by some newer sushi joints, Zama is a solid sushi restaurant in Rittenhouse Square.
Philadelphia Coffee Shops
Ten years ago, coffee in Philadelphia was nothing to write home about with a plethora of chain cafes serving burnt coffee and frozen coffee drinks to the masses. What a difference a decade can make! Philadelphia now has excellent coffee shops and roasters all over the city.
Drinking coffee in Philadelphia will always hold a soft spot for us because this is the city where we developed our ongoing love for third wave coffee. Though we’ve drunk some of the world’s best coffee in cities like Cape Town and Naples, we still love the following Philadelphia cafes:
Elixr Coffee Roaster
Just steps away from hectic Walnut Street, Elixr Coffee Roasters is an oasis for coffee roasters in need of a jolt of classic artisan coffee. Evan Inatome opened the original Elixr in 2010 before relocating to the artistically designed flagship location and is quietly building a coffee juggernaut. He and the company now have multiple locations, a roastery and a busy distribution business.
We originally met Inatome in his Center City cafe and later had the opportunity to rap about coffee with him at Elixr’s Kensington roastery. As we learned, Inatome developed a love for coffee while volunteering in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. This love influences his ongoing commitment to procuring and roasting some of the world’s best beans.
Elixr is growing rapidly with locations throughout the city. We like to drink cappuccinos, Chemex pour-overs and drip coffee (of course) at the location at 207 S Sydenham Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA.
Shot Tower Coffee
Though several coffee shops were located near our Bella Vista house, we usually trekked to Shot Tower for our daily jolt of joe when we wanted to drink locally. Of course, the baristas at Shot Tower craft good cappuccinos and lattes – that’s a given. But we also preferred the cafe’s airy space, good lighting and friendly service.
Until recently, Shot Tower used beans from Counter Culture but has switched to local Elixr beans. After drinking iced lattes under the new coffee program, we wholeheartedly approve of the change.
Shot Tower Coffee is located at 542 Christian Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Beyond its modern decor, this Old City cafe serves expertly crafted brews made with beans from Minneapolis’ Dogwood Coffee Co. Breaking the mold, Menagerie has opted against procuring and roasting its own beans so that the owners can focus on the cafe itself.
Menagerie Coffee is located at 18 S 3rd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
La Colombe Coffee Roasters
La Colombe was one of our gateways to better coffee, though we’ve since outgrown the company’s dark roasting style. Todd Carmichael opened the original La Colombe in 1994 before he found fame and fortune with the Travel Channel and Chobani. With over 30 locations in cities across the US, La Colombe is now a national powerhouse when it comes to coffee.
Even though the original cafe is just off of Rittenhouse Square, the company’s flagship location is in Fishtown. Not only does La Colombe brew beans onsite in Fishtown, but they pull tap draft lattes from a tap and serve excellent baked items and artisan baguettes. Seriously, head baker John McGrath’s baguettes are almost as good as those sold in France.
The flagship La Colombe Coffee Roasters is located at 1335 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125, USA.
Additional Philly Coffee Shops
The boom in Philadelphia coffee shops means that you don’t have to travel far to quench your caffeine fix. We always enjoy visiting these coffee shops as we travel around Philadelphia:
- Bodhi Coffee – This cafe sources beans from PTs and Stumptown as well as food from local proprietors. However, the best part of Bodhi is its location directly next to Headhouse Square.
- Cogito Coffee – Our favorite Zagreb coffee shop is opening its first international coffee shop in midtown village. We have high hopes for the Croatian specialty coffee shop scheduled to open in 2019.
- Ox Coffee – Part art gallery and part coffee shop, Ox differentiates itself by serving Stumptown coffee and not offering free Wi-Fi in its tranquil Queen Village location.
- ReAnimator Coffee Roasters – Now with locations in Kensington, Fishtown and West Philly, ReAnimator roasts its own beans locally. The cafes offer a selection of single-origin and blends that customers can enjoy onsite or brew at home.
- Res Ipsa Cafe – Co-owned by the owners of ReAnimator Coffee Roaster and Stock (see above), Ress Ipsa lives a dual life as a BYOB restaurant and cafe. Go for the coffee but consider staying for the food.
- Rival Bros. Coffee – Ironically the owners of Rival Bros. are neither rivals nor brothers. There’s no confusion with the freshly roasted coffee that they serve in their three third wave cafes as well as via other local outlets. As a bonus, they also serve bread from High Street (see above) and pastries from Machine Shop Boulangerie.
- Ultimo Coffee – Coffee pioneers Aaron and Elizabeth Ultimo opened the original Ultimo in the Newbold neighborhood back in 2009. They now roast their own beans and serve them in Ultimo’s three Philadelphia locations.
As the saying goes, life is short so eat dessert first. This mission could be a challenge in some cities but not in Philadelphia where dessert options are seemingly endless. If you don’t believe us, check out some of our favorite dessert spots and see for yourself.
Open since 2004, Franklin Fountain has embraced its Old City neighborhood and could pass for an ice cream counter from a century ago. Beyond classic scoops, uniformed servers and a restored soda counter complete the retro picture.
Crowds form day and night to eat handmade ice cream made with local dairy and seasonal fruit. Flavors include chocolate and vanilla standards as well as more unique offerings like Teaberry Gum, a minty gum popular in the early 20th century. Vegans will even find options to whet their whistles.
Beyond ice cream, Franklin Fountain has a menu filled with tempting treats including egg creams, milkshakes and sundaes. The sundaes are quite elaborate and easily shareable with a friend or two.
Living near the Italian Market can be dangerous. No, not for crime. The danger is being so close to Isgro Pastries.
Isgro has been a neighborhood institution since founder Gus Isgro opened the bakery’s doors in 1904. Over a hundred years later, crowds continue to gather at the shop and patiently wait for their numbers to be called so they can buy Italian pastries, cakes and custom-filled cannolis.
Isgro Pastries is located at 1009 Christian Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Termini Bros. Bakery
Just like Philadelphia has dueling cheesesteak shops, local Italian bakeries vie for top cannoli honors. Usually, the contenders are Isgro Pastries (see above) and Termini Bros., a third generation Italian bakery based in South Philly.
Opened by Giuseppe and Gaetano Termini in the early 1920s, aptly named Termini Bros. specializes in Italian pastries of all sorts including the aforementioned cannolis. Though customers can choose their cannoli fillings, we prefer the just-sweet-enough ricotta filling with tiny bits of chocolate.
Termini Bros. Bakery has multiple locations. The original South Philly location is at 1523 S 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
With a population exceeding 1.5 million, Philadelphia is a city that can support more than one donut store. In fact, it’s a city that loves donuts – and a lot of them.
Based in nearby Reading and owned by the Beilers, an Amish family, Beiler’s Doughnuts is up to the challenge. The Pennsylvania Dutch operation has commanded a corner of the Reading Terminal (see below) since 1985 and sells thousands of donuts every day of the week except Sunday.
Popular choices include apple fritters, banana cream and salted caramel, though the shop also sells fancy donuts with toppings like fruity pebbles and m&m’s. We shared a caramel apple donut during our last visit and found it to be finger-licking good.
Beiler’s Doughnuts has multiple locations. We recommend the location inside the Reading Terminal Market at 51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Chef Tova du Plessis’ tiny Essen Bakery packs a big wallop with its traditional baked Jewish delicacies. The pedigreed chef, with an impressive resume that includes a stint at Zahav (see above), hails from Johannesburg, South Africa but her babka takes us straight to New York’s lower east side. It’s that good!
Though we’re partial to Essen’s babka, we understand if you want to try other treats like apple cake, rugelach and black & white cookies. The bakery also sells sandwiches and loaves of bread.
Essen Bakery is located at 1437 E Passyunk Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Philadelphia’s MidAtlantic location positions the city as a hub for a myriad of fresh seasonal produce including our favorites – tomatoes from New Jersey and apples from Adams County, PA near Gettysburg. To try the best produce, we recommend shopping at local markets whenever possible.
Ironically, prices are often higher at Philadelphia’s markets when compared to chain grocery stores. However, in this case, sometimes you have to pay more for quality.
Headhouse Farmers Market
Operated by the Food Trust since 2007, Headhouse Farmers Market sells some of the area’s best local produce for just four hours a week. The popular market is open from 10 am to 2 pm on Sundays only.
Locals fill historic Headhouse Square shambles every week to buy the area’s best produce from dozens of vendors who regularly convene in Society Hill to sell their wares. Popular items include fruits, vegetables, meat, baked goods and local cheese.
When you go to Headhouse Market, we recommend stopping at the following stands:
- Birchrun Hills – They make some of the best bleu cheese in the country.
- Beechwood Orchards -Their seasonal selection of Honeycrisp apples are nothing short of incredible.
- Happy Cat Organics – Go here for amazing heirloom tomatoes in a mind-numbing selection of varieties.
- Talula’s Table – We like their house-made charcuterie and spreads.
- John & Kira’s – This local chocolatier makes chocolates that look as beautiful as they taste.
Headhouse Farmers Market is located at 401 S 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Reading Terminal Market
Open since 1893, Reading Terminal Market functions both as a local institution and a major tourist attraction. Most visitors don’t know or care about the market’s history. They come to Reading Terminal for the food.
75 food vendors sell a melting pot of food from Chinese to Mexican, but the most popular spots sell local favorites like roast pork sandwiches and chocolate covered pretzels. The market even has an entire section dedicated to Pennsylvania Dutch merchants who commute from nearby Lancaster County.
With so many vendors, the choices can be overwhelming. We recommend you stop and eat at locations previously highlighted in this article including Beiler’s Doughnuts, DiNic’s, Dutch Eating Place, Sang Kee and Termini Bros. Bakery.
Reading Terminal Market is located at 51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA.
Visitors to Philadelphia’s Italian Market will likely be surprised for two reasons. First, the market spans several blocks on South 9th Street and is not enclosed. Second, many of the shops are not actually Italian.
Despite the surprises, the Italian Market is in a wonderful place to visit in Philadelphia. The ‘market’ has numerous locally-owned, non-chain shops, markets, bakeries, butchers, cheese shops, not to mention taquerias, bodegas and Asian eateries.
We recommend starting your Italian Market stroll at 9th and Christian, perhaps after you have brunch at either Morning Gory or Sabrina’s (see both above). Wander south toward Washington Avenue making stops at Claudio’s and Di Bruno where you can indulge in Italian cheese and cured meats.
After you’re done nibbling, pop into Fante’s to peruse the local store’s extensive kitchenware selection. Finally, if you’re still hungry, consider looping back to Villa di Roma, one of the most popular Italian restaurants in Philadelphia, for a plate of South Philly pasta with gravy.
Claudio’s Specialty Foods is located at 924 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Di Bruno Brothers has multiple locations including Rittenhouse Square and Washington Square. The Italian Market location is at 930 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Fante’s Kitchen Shop is located at 1006 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
Villa di Roma is located at 936 S 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, USA.
“There cannot be good living where there is not good drinking.”
Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia’s most favorite citizen, penned numerous famous quotes, though none more prolific about his adopted city than his quote about good drinking. We agree with Franklin. Philadelphia is a city conducive for both good living and good drinking.
Visitors to the City of Brotherly Love will have no problem finding good spots to drink. To the contrary, the true challenge will be narrowing down the many options.
For decades, Philadelphia’s drinking scene was hampered by Pennsylvania’s archaic liquor laws. With the state finally loosening its noose, the city is seeing a renaissance of new bars, breweries and distilleries popping up all over the city.
Beer lovers will feel right at home in Philly where craft beer is both popular and plentiful. This situation is nothing new. Prior to Prohibition, the city had almost 100 breweries within its borders, many located in a neighborhood now known as Brewerytown.
Beer connoisseurs consider Philadelphia to be one of the best beer cities in the country. The city has its own craft beer trail with multiple breweries and an entire week dedicated to drinking beer every year. Whether or not you follow the trail or visit the city during Philly Beer Week, you’ll easily find a spot where you can belly up to the bar and enjoy a pint or two.
Even if you don’t drink beer, you won’t go thirsty in Philadelphia. Many of the same bars that serve beer also serve a variety of beverages. Some bars specialize in crafted cocktails and a few focus on wine. As you narrow the choices of where to drink in Philadelphia, we recommend the following spots:
- Bob & Barbara’s Lounge – Go to this Center City vinyl-padded dive bar and order ‘The Special’, a can of PBR and a shot. It’s a true Philly experience.
- Bock Bar – Only open in the summer, this popular rooftop bar in deep South Philly has fabulous views in addition to its menu with drinks and snack food options.
- Franklin Porter – In addition to a rotating selection of craft beer, this South Philly watering hole has one of the best burger deals in town.
- The Franklin Bar – Formerly known as Franklin Morgage & Investment Company, this Rittenhouse Square speakeasy serves hundreds of cocktails. Just don’t try to order one with vodka.
- Johnny Brenda’s – You can play pool, eat food and catch live music at this Fishtown favorite.
- Lloyd Whiskey Bar – This East Girard Avenue bar in Fishtown offers an excellent selection of whiskeys as well as an underrated food menu.
- Martha – What do you call a hipster neighborhood bar? In Philadelphia, the answer is Martha. Dig deeper and you’ll find fun drinks and food as well as cool spaces where you can enjoy them.
- Monk’s Cafe – This Center City dungeon has the most extensive Belgian beer selection in town plus good food to eat with it. Pretend you’re actually in Belgium and order some mussels with frites.
- Philadelphia Distilling – If you love Bluecoat gin, go to Fishtown to drink the popular spirit at the source. Try some samples of the popular liquor while you’re there. The distillery also has a classic bar serving drinks with Vieux Carré absinthe. Need we say more?
- South Philly Tap Room – One of the first gastropubs in South Philly, this bar is a popular spot in gentrifying Newbold.
- Standard Tap – Since you’re already going to the Tap for food, be sure to stay for one of the city’s best selections of local brews.
- Tria – Philly isn’t a great wine city, but Tria is a great wine bar. In addition to drinking wine, you can also enjoy cheese, small plates and beer at Tria’s locations in Rittenhouse Square, Washington Square and University City.
- Village Whiskey – We already recommended Village Whiskey for their burgers. To nobody’s surprise, their whiskey selection also merits a visit.
- Yards Brewery – As more breweries open in Philadelphia, we’re still partial to Yards and the local brewery’s Ales of the Revolution. As a bonus to beer lovers, Yards offers daily tours and has a full kitchen at its new Spring Garden facility.
Philadelphia Meal Map
We’ve included this handy map so you can track your Philly meals and drink breaks with a smartphone.
Where to Stay in Philadelphia
If you’re looking at Philadelphia hotels, we recommend staying at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel for its central location, friendly service and comfortable rooms. Although the Loews is located in the historic PSFS building, the amenities are totally modern including an indoor pool, flatscreen televisions and free wi-fi.
Click here to research rates for this 2foodtrippers-approved hotel in the heart of downtown Philadelphia.
Book a Tour
There’s more to do in Philadelphia besides eating and drinking. Click here to find an awesome Philadelphia tour or try one of these tours:
Buy a Travel Guide
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We thank Visit Philadelphia for hosting us for two days. Beyond these two days, we self-funded the vast majority of the meals highlighted in this guide.
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