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San Francisco Chowhound's first visit to Philadelphia

Taking some classes @ Wharton in a few weeks. Supposed to be studying. And I am...I'm studying your board! Would like to eat whatever I can't get in Bay Area (so not interested in Asian or Mexican). And probably shouldn't plan on ditching class so prefer restaurants in University City District or accessible by SEPTA, taxis or preferably walking.
You've taught me what BYOB restaurants are but still not sure which are BYOB and which aren't.
I gather cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches are not the same but not clear on differences. Sounds like I should have cheesesteaks 'wit' @ Campo's and roast pork @ DiNic's?
Would also like to find an old school Italian restaurant. Enjoyed Jack Flash's May 22 post re Dante and Luigi's so was considering that. Any others?
Should I add to my list: hoagies, Amish food (what is it?), soft pretzels, ice cream?
Melanie Wong mentioned an old Jim Leff post about Carribean(?) trucks in Philadelphia but I've searched all the old posts and couldn't find anything. (Did find a very amusing 7 year old post where Jim was considering changing the title of his post but decided not to because of the limitations of the software. The new and improved Chowhound is remarkable! Congrats to Jim and everyone who made it what it is.)
Thanks to all for any recommendations. I promise to do same for you when you visit my neighborhood!

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  1. A little puzzled about "old school Italian"...

    But, for a BYOB Italian that is wonderful and uniquely Philadelphia: L'Angolo, which is only one block off the C-Bus going South on Broad Street.

    You can find the Amish food, the roast pork sandwiches, and almost everything else at the Reading Terminal Market, easy to get to from Wharton.

    In West Philly, the corner of 40th and Chestnut offers two attractive sites. Nan is upscale Vietnamese/French; two doors down is Pataya Grille--my favorite lunch spot for Vietnamese food that is very good, and quite reasonable--a special 3 course for something like $7.95.

    1. I just remembered another wonderful West PHilly place: Marigold! Wonderful, but not BYOB I don't think. Can't give you the exact address, but it's near 45th and Baltimore. They have a special $30 menu during West Philly Days now, including being open on Monday the 24th of July.

      1. Actually, it is byob. For the menu, you can check:


        1. By "old school Italian", I imagine that chowfish means red sauce, non-Northern Italian style food.

          Here's a link to an ancient thread on lunch trucks.


          Updates on the lunch trucks please?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            My favorite lunch truck in West Philly is Magic Carpet vegetarian truck at 34th and Walnut. Everything is good, particularly the magic meatballs, the vine leaf salad, the spinach pie, and the louisiana BBQ special.

            I also like the falafel truck and the chinese truck behind the Pottruck gym. The orange sauce at the Chinese truck is great. Don't be intimidated by a line, they move very fast.

            There's a great burrito truck (that isn't always there) at 38th and Walnut called Mexi-Cali. There are also a couple other Mexican trucks on Spruce between 36th and 37th.

            Thank you.

            1. re: Bride of the Juggler

              Thank you thank you for this post! I saw something on Food Network about this veggie truck before I lived near Philly, so paid no attention to its location. Now that I'm here and reminded and I know where it's at, I'll be sure to check it out. Kudos!

          2. Amish food abounds at the Reading Terminal Market www.readingterminalmarket.com which is an easy hop on SEPTA green line trolleys from Penn to City Hall, a block away. The market is closed on Sundays and the Amish merchants are only there from Wednesdays to Saturdays. Best bets at the market include airy warm soft pretzels at Fisher's, pancakes at the Dutch Eating Place, and apple fritters and cinnamon rolls from Beiler's Bakery there. DiNic's is at the market too (get the roast pork with provolone and greens), and they have a good Italian bakery for cannoli (Termini's). Bassett's has good ice cream there too.

            A cheesesteak is thinly sliced sirloin, often cheese (usually cheeze wiz but sometimes provolone), sometimes grilled onions or mushrooms, and generally a lot of grease. A roast pork sandwich is thinly sliced pork soakd in juices and is not greasy.

            There are a lot of good dining options near Rittenhouse Square
            and Old City and both are accessible by the #21 and #42 buses on SEPTA.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bluehensfan

              Be sure to get the Sharp Provolone and Greens on the DiNics Roast Pork.

              1. re: bluehensfan

                When I was in Philadelphia briefly last fall I really enjoyed Reading Terminal Market. To use Bay-Area referants, it's a little like Housewives Market, but several times bigger and with a few more upscale/nonfood "stalls."

                BTW, I ended up there in part because it turns out virtually all the historic sites in Philadelphia are closed on Monday -- something to take into consideration when planning your time there.

              2. By all means have a HOAGIE (Italian) with hot cherry peppers - perhaps you will open your own place in the Mission.

                Other things to try in Philly:

                Taylor's Pork Roll
                Lebanon Balogna
                Real NY style pizza

                while you're there:

                rent a car and take off for Ocean City, NJ for a great beach getaway (try the seafood at Hogates/blue lump crab)

                have fun, a Philly boy from Oregon

                1. My two sons went to Penn and we used to love going to our hometown and having cheeseteak sandwiches and/or hoagies. Lee's Hoagie House was always my favorite but I'm not sure where the best cheesesteaks now are. Hopefully, someone living there will know the tops.

                  1. My sister's husband was raised in S. Philly. When I went out to visit, they took me to Franko and Luigi's in South Philly. It was the very best Italian food I have ever had. It is in a neighborhood there...very unassuming. It was on a street that started with a T. Just google the name. I may have spelled it wrong..but you can find it. A wonderful night of service, food, and entertainment.

                    1. I'm a half NYCer, half-Californian, have spent a lot of time in San Francisco, recently moved to Philly and am in classes at Penn right now, so hopefully I can help out a bit.

                      So far (I moved from NY about 9 months ago), some things I've discovered that Philly does distinctly and surpassingly well are:

                      - burgers
                      - cheesesteaks
                      - hoagies
                      - food carts
                      - coffee
                      - apple cider
                      - unpasteurized dairy
                      - roast pork sandwiches

                      (I'm not saying this is all that Philly does better than anywhere else - this is just what I know about after 10 months in which I've been too busy to explore as much as I'd like to)

                      taking them one by one:

                      - burgers: Philly has a higher density of great burgers than anywhere else I've lived. My favorite so far (and I'm no detective for discovering this place, it's well-known) is Monk's in center city (17th and spruce or thereabouts), but I've recently heard that I have to try the burger at Rouge. Also popular are Good Dog, Grace Tavern and the Nodding Head. Shop around.

                      - cheesesteaks: sadly, I think the best cheesesteak in the city is at Steve's Prince of Steaks, which has two locations waaaaaay out of center city. the second-best steak I've had was at D'Allesandro's in Manayunk, which is also a bit out of the center of town, but easy to get to and a gorgeous bike ride, if you're into that. Otherwise there are lots of posts on this board arguing over the best place to get a cheesesteak.
                      - hoagies: I never cared much about hoagies, subs, grinders, or whatever they call them in other cities, but since I moved here I am an avid convert. this is probably because philadelphia sandwich makers use better bread - the locally baked italian loaves are perfect sandwich bread and make for an exceptionally delicious hoagie. My favorite is at Sarcones by the Italian Market - they have their own bakery, the bread is stellar, the fillings, too, and the people are very nice.
                      - food carts: Philly has a huge cart culture and it's a real blessing, especially if you're running in between classes. Over where you'll be (on Penn campus), I'm a fan of the two Magic Carpet carts (corner of 34th and walnut, or spruce around 36th) that serve quite tasty vegan meditteranean food, and Hemo's chicken sandwiches (spruce near 36th - there are a number of carts in the city that serve grilled chicken sandwiches with honey-mustard sauce. Hemo's is yummy). I'm also very into the fruit-salad carts, which are an incredible deal. If you find a good one you'll get a mountain of very sweet, fresh fruit for about $2.50.
                      - coffee: At least compared to NYC, Philly has very above-average coffee shops. Everyone will recommend the La Colombe shop on 19th just above Rittenhouse Square. I like their coffee but the cooler-than-thou barristas bug me. They're not as cute as they think they are, and they ARE as smarmy as I think they are. I used to prefer 22 Gallery Cafe on 22nd below Walnut, but haven't been in awhile. You'll want to pick somewhere near Wharton, I'm sure, and I can't help much with that.
                      - apple cider: PA is a great cider state. Most places only have it in the fall but try the Kreider's Dairy booth at the Reading Terminal Market - they often have Kauffman's which is a good solid Lancaster County brand.
                      - unpasteurized dairy: PA is one of two or three states that allows the sale of unpasteurized dairy. Check out the milk (and the Pequea Vally yogurt, which isn't unpasteurized but is amazing) at the Fair Food farmstand at Reading Terminal.
                      - roast pork sandwiches: DiNic's (also at Reading Terminal) roast pork sandwich is possibly my favorite Philly thing. Get it with provolone and peppers or prov and greens or ask for greens and peppers (which I usually do) and then pile in some yellow banana peppers from the bowl on the counter. Eating a whole one is like dropping a brick in your stomach, but it is so worth it.
                      Two more little things:
                      there are lots of great recs on www.hollyeats.com, a really nice down-to-earth seat by a local food writer with a Calvin-Trillin-esque approach to eating.
                      Also: There's a nice BYO in West Philly called Rx. Not everything they make is perfect, but lots of what they make is very good. That'll be near you when you're at Wharton, so check them out when you want a more refined meal.

                      Have a good time...

                      1. I spent a long weekend in Philadelphia three years ago. I was there to buy antiques, so mainly ate where I was shopping.

                        By all means go to RTM. I went there twice and sampled several places each time. My favorite was Rocco's for the classic Italian combo which you must have with the sharp provolone. I carried one to a computer software class in Wayne and then another on my flight to Columbus, OH later in the week. I ate lunch at the Amish diner and it was tasty and wholesome. My lunch at Down Home Diner was good, but it didn't scream Philly, so I would skip. I just missed breakfast, but the menu looked good. I really enjoyed the Fisher's pretzals, they were very tender, and also an ice cream place across from Rocco's. I have since been sorry that I didn't get one of those roast pork sandwiches, but there was a thread on this board 2-3 weeks ago on that subject.

                        I would also go to South Philly to have a cheesesteak wit wiz at either Geno's or Pat's, although locals might have other opinions. On Sunday there is a nice buffet at the Art Museum, although you can get many of the same side dishes a lot cheaper at the cafe. When I was there, the Philly Flash bus ran from the historical district to the museum and then down to South Street. All the places I went were basically along this route. I would steer clear of South Street, think Haight St, but the cheesesteak places are not too far below there. If you want to do antiques, there are some small shops on Bainbridge, 1 block below South.

                        I loved Philadelphia. Have fun from Berkeley!

                        1. You can by far and away cover the majority of the recommended by pigging out at the Reading Terminal Market. Bring a crowd...send them out foraging for the above referenced items (I'll add a hoagie (is a must) from Salumeria. Regroup at the Beer Garden and have at it.

                          Maybe just have a coffee at the Down Home diner. Struck me as somewhat haggard the last time I was there. Though if your lucky you might catch Jack McDavid (owner) hovering about. (of Grillin N Chillin fame on the Food Network some years back.

                          As far as Penn Area..There were a few interesting Thai restaurants around 39th n Chestnut, though none stand out in my memory. Maybe you can find more detail on the board.

                          Dominic N Luigis is pretty old school in the Italian Market area of South Philly. If you want classic Italian (carbonara, sausage n broccoli rabe, sauce...some drinks. Bunch of waiters givin you the 'eye whaddo ya wanna eat.' Ah, overpriced somewhat, but its been there forever.

                          1. Hi, The trucks Jim loved are outside of the post office on 30th St. He adored a soul food truck which isn't there anymore(sob). The Jamaican trucks can be spectacular. I waited in the rain on a cold November night, starving and not expecting much.It was worth it!!!!! The food was mighty fresh and delicious. I stop there whenever I am in the nabe now.Check it out and report back!!!!!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: missclaudy

                              That oxtail truck is still there right? I have a hard time getting there during the day.

                              1. re: missclaudy

                                "Hi, The trucks Jim loved are outside of the post office on 30th St. He adored a soul food truck which isn't there anymore(sob). "

                                The truck I liked was April's Kitchen. And I just found, via googling, this "April's Kitchen" in Chester: http://bit.ly/8PFdjM

                                No further info on the web. I wonder if this is the same people. Local chowhounds: can you help? Vast deliciousness may be your reward!

                              2. Here's the article. Hopelessly out of date, but perhaps still relevant.

                                The Metroliner totally totally rules. I love the Metroliner. We didn't seem to be going that fast, but arrived, in smooth comfort, in an HOUR(!). And unlike flying, there's no early check-in, and you can get to Penn Station by subway. Then, once you're in Philly, you find yourself a short walk from downtown, at 30th and Market.

                                But you needn't walk more than a few steps for great chow. Several food trucks set up directly in front of the station, most of them scary and foul-smelling...but one of them is really really good.

                                April's Kitchen does soul food: fried fish, fried chicken, ribs, jerk chicken, etc. Everything looked beyond scrumptious. I got fried fish which was downright miraculous, at least for up here in the North. You can find better fried fish in the Deep South, but not MUCH better. The fish was so tender and flaky and snowy, the batter thin but crisp. It cried out for hot sauce, and Tabasco responded with tender compassion, elevating things with the grace of a ballet lift.

                                The polite, earnest truck guys work with a bristling, devoted intensity that immediately signifies chow greatness. Their every move shows that they've been doing this for years and have everything down to a science. The fried chicken looked as good as any I've ever seen, and while I didn't try it, I'm positive that its appearance hadn't fooled me via cheap tricks; this place is too real, too no-nonsense, for that.

                                The crowd was all very extremely well-dressed African Americans, lawyers and such who look like they'd suffered through disappointing $60 lunches and craved an antidote.

                                1. the best thing about the philly trucks is the soft pretzel. and you must take the chinese bus to philly. or there is a way cheaper train that makes you transfer at princeton. a white castle burger is your option.

                                  1. i work at penn and i am from south philly, so it is my calling to reply to you...yay!

                                    in west philly - most of the good eats are asian, and you said that you wanted to avoid that. there is a very decent irish pub favored by the penn crowd called the new deck tavern on sansom between 34th and 36th (no 35th there). next door to it (practically) is the white dog cafe, an all organic (not vegetarian) restaurant with a very progressive mission. the food is delicious and while i have never been served anything bad, i have heard complaints, but that is true about any restaurant i suppose. there is an excellent soul food restaurant that serves west indian, senegalese and southern food called fatou et fama's at 40th and chestnut. if you crave chinese food at any point, the best truck for it is yue kee on 38th between walnut and spruce. here's a review of there truck by the philly inquirer's food critic:


                                    magic carpet (veggie truck) is very good, and while i love that truck, many of their dishes taste similar (two locations, 34th and walnut and 36th and spruce. 36th and spruce is usually way less crowded). have a cheesesteak from a food truck, in my honest south philly opinion, the best cheesesteaks come from food trucks, random hole in the wall joints and dalessandro's in roxborough (you'll need a car to get there). tony luke's makes a good one for being of the big guys and they just opened a branch on penn's campus, on spruce by 38th street i think. i have heard that it is not as good as the original, so try it out if you want. they are known for their roast pork too. and wawa hoagies are always good. there are 2 or 3 locations on campus.

                                    reading terminal is heaven on earth and easy as hell to get to from penn. the market street subway (the el) goes direct from 40th and 34th and market to 13th and 11th and market and the market is between 11th and 12th streets, one block north of market.

                                    as for red gravy italian joints, dante and luigis is by far my favorite. do not go to ralph's is way more touristy and half as good. d & l is located at 10th and catherine (2 blocks from where i grew up/live, which has nothing at all to do with why it's my favie) and they make excellent lasagne and manicotti and the lamb stew is also divine (though heavy for the summer). there are a ton of good italian places in south philly, so most of the recommendations that you get will hit the spot.

                                    and for my insider tip for a good philly experience that is way off the beaten path but still accessible is nick's roast beef at 20th and jackson. the hands down best roast beef sandwich in the world, it is heavenly. from penn you would need to take the el to broad street, change to the broad street line southbound, get off at snyder and walk about 6 blocks, but it is beyond worth it. they also do a very good roast pork and ham, but the beef is perfection. my favorite way to order it (they have alot of nicknames for the options) is roast beef combo overboard and operated, my boyfriend's is roast beef combo with rabs on the outs. (combo is with provolone cheese, overboard is with extra gravy, operated is with the white part of the bread removed, rabs is sauteed broccoli rab and on the outs means the meat from the edge of beef, it tends to be spicier and a touch drier). if you tell anyone from south philly that you've been to nick's they'll either be impressed or along the lines of 'of course you've been there, you'd be a fool to miss it'.

                                    my list of recommendations goes on, so if you would like more, i got your back...

                                    1. Thanks to everyone! Would not have enjoyed Philadelphia as much without all your recommendations. Unfortunately Wharton classes took up way too much of my time AND it was unbearably hot and humid so I didn't get to explore as much as I would have liked to but all the Chowhound recommendations were huge hits (as usual).
                                      First night I got in late, wandered around campus and ended up at White Dog Cafe (3420 Sansom). Kind of a Chez Panisse wannabe. Decent food and service. My first soft shell crab in a long time--very good. Fun shop next door--actually connected to restaurant: Black Dog (3426 Sansom).
                                      Reading Terminal: (btw--tip for us tourists: it's pronounced 'redding' not 'reading'). Took 15 pages of Chowhound notes with me. Am directionally challenged and got a little turned around in SEPTA terminal. A woman in her 60s not only told me how to find Reading Terminal but walked me there! Had nothing but nice experiences with the people in Philadelphia. Ruth Lafler is right--it is like Oakland's Housewive's Market. Also reminded me of San Francisco's Ferry Building Market without all the chichi. You can buy good oysters at Pearl in Reading and equally good ones at Hog Island in SF Ferry building but in Philadelphia they're at least 1/2 the price of SF. Unfortunately it was a Monday so the Amish places were closed as well as a few others that have limited summer hours (ex: Termini Brothers--wanted to try bluehensfan's cannoli recommendation but they have limited summer hours). Made a beeline for DiNics--knew from jcmods, kitchenmom, susanh, jugglerdave, gdswamp and other Chowhounds to order roast pork 'wit' provolone and peppers and greens. An elderly man sitting in front of DiNics said "Too bad--they had a Friday on a Monday". Took me a minute to digest (so to speak) what he had said--they had run out of food and were closed! I was devasted. I had skipped a couple of meals so I could feast on DiNic's roast pork sandwich! The man saw how disappointed I was and walked me over to Down Home Diner (he told me the owner was not a cook; he was a chef) but I just wasn't in the mood. Ended up @ Salumeria (thank you, GBak504) with a great hoagie. Loved the people watching @ Reading Terminal.
                                      Cheesesteak: running out of time so on last night played hookie from planned Wharton dinner and walked down the street to Abner's (3813 Chestnut) for my first ever cheesesteak. Was recommended by Chowhound Jack Flash and the bell captain at my hotel. Dragged along a fellow classmate who grew up in the area. She confirmed they were the real thing. Could not resist taking a picture of the rows of canned Cheese Whiz. Think they knew I was a tourist?
                                      Food trucks: unfortunately I did not read truck posts from Jim, Missclaudy and himheer until I had left Philadelphia for NYC. I did spot the ones next to the U of Penn gym (made it quite difficult to work out while drooling over the trucks outside the window.) Tried a hoagie from George's. Thought it was good until I went to Salumeria in Reading. Judging from the lines the most popular ones were Bento Box and Kim's Food (Vietnamese and Chinese). Never saw anyone in line at the Curry truck. On the way to the train station (you're right, Jim--great way to travel to New York) I finally spotted the Carribean trucks across street from station but it was too late to stop. Quick walk through food kiosks in the train station. Saw one that offered Southern food--not sure but it might have been April's.
                                      Thank you, Chowhounds, for once again making a good trip better.

                                      1. Sorry that Termini's was closed on Monday...forgot the summer hours thing. The Market's admittedly much better when the Amish are open and DiNic's does not run out of food (which is a new one for me). Good thing you steered clear of the Down Home Diner though. Thanks for the comments and glad you enjoyed your trip!

                                        1. Wow - who knew there were so many NYC/NJ via SF to Penn/Philly transplants. Anyway, great tips so far; in my week here so far, I'd also highly recommend the Middle Eastern/fallafel/etc truck at 40th and Locust (where Locust ends + becomes pedestrian path). Along with all the other food trucks surrounding Penn, this one is cheap and good.

                                          Now, does anyone have recommendations for BBQ or Soul Food? Prefernce for West Philly or Graduate Hospital areas, but anywhere else is fine too.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: andrewlee

                                            There's Delilah's at the Reading Terminal Market that has decent soul food. They are in cahoots with Bluzette in Old City. Both places are above average, but the service at Bluezette was a little too slow paced our last visit.

                                            As far as BBQ (Smoked Joint rest in peace...) in the areas you're asking about, there's not much left these days. There is Tommy Gunn's on South Street and another place there but I've never been to either. A good BBQ place apparently exists on State Line Rd. in NE Philly.

                                            1. re: bluehensfan

                                              It's called Sweet Lucy's. Run don't walk!!!!!!

                                            2. re: andrewlee

                                              Woah - based on previous Chowhound recommendations, I just walked across Philly to try Denise's Soul Food/Carribean Style lunch truck and it was awesome. Location: Market and 30th just to the left of the train station (with your back to the Schuylkill). Had the "large" fried chicken for $8.50. Small was $2 less and unless you're feeding two people, I'd strongly recommend sticking with a small. Large was 2 entire thigh/legs and 2 heaping servings of sides. The chicken was piping hot, tender, with a crispy coating, covered with hot sauce (optional) comparable to tabasco in terms of flavor and bite. The crust had no extra salt, allowing the flavor of the chicken and the batter to shine through. The true test of perfect fried chicken -- the skin and coating were still crispy after the whole meal was done.

                                              Sides: Tried the green beans which were fresh, hot, a bit salty but not overly so, and had a touch of onions I believe. Yum. Also had the candied yams -- perfectly soft but not mushy, sweet but not too much so. Overall - sides were done right.

                                              The chicken was the highlight of the meal though and this was the best fried chicken (if not best chicken period) I've had in recent memory, and that includes several trips from San Francisco to the East Coast passing through the Deep South, so take that! Denises' will do ya right! Almost forgot to mention -- I didn't order it, but for $2 you get 32oz of homemade ice-tea in a plastic tub. Other menu items include fried fish, jerk chicken, and a variety of sides, but they'll all have to wait because I'm still full from the chicken.

                                              Other: No atmosphere to speak of, but remember this is a lunch truck. Take your meal into the beautiful 30th street train station and grab a seat.