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Philly Top Five

Going to Philly for the first time for five days for a conference this week.

What are your top five (or more) things I should make sure to eat, or places I need to eat at, to really feel like I've experienced historic, authentic (I know, a problematic word/term!) Philadelphia food and foodways. I live in SF so I'm really looking for food and experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else but in Philadelphia.

And in addition, what are your top five places to go/things to eat inside the Reading Terminal Market?

Thanks so much in advance for your help!

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  1. The top five things at the Reading Terminal Market seem a lot easier so I will tackle those...
    1. A pancake (and scrapple or bacon) breakfast at the Dutch Eating Place
    2. A roast pork (with greens and provolone) sandwich from DiNic's
    3. A soft pretzel (preferably just out of the oven) from Fisher's
    4. A cannoli or other pastry (lately it's been the pig ears) from Termini's
    5. An apple fritter or cinnamon bun (the ones with the brown cinnamon on top, not the cream cheese) from Beiler's
    Of course, that's not to say there are only five things you must try at the Market...

    1. Top Five Restaurants (that I can think of right now, none of these are very expensive):

      1. Horizons
      2. Caffe Casta Diva
      3. Raddichio
      4. Shiao Lan Kung
      5. Chloe

      1. I've eaten 2-4 meals a week at the terminal for the past 5 years. My top 5 items are:

        1. Roast Pork with Cheese & Greens at DiNics (you're going to see a lot of these)
        2. Salmon with Red Curry Sauce at the Little Thai Place
        3. Chocolate covered pretzels from the PA General Store
        4. Iced Coffee from Old City Coffee
        5. Beef Taco Salad with black refried beans and guacamole from the 12th St Cantina

        And now I'm soooo ready for lunch!!

        1 Reply
        1. re: jessicheese

          At Reading Terminal:
          - Ricotta canolli at Termini's
          - Bacon, egg and cheese in a soft pretzel at the Amish pretzel place
          - Dinic's sandwich

          In the city, Vetri is my favorite fine dining. L'Angolo is best low key BYOB Italian. I love Buddakan for the Bento Box lunch special. DiBruno's on chestnut is a must for lunch or goodies.

        2. Not one recommendation from anyone to take in a Cheese Steak?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Feasty Boy

            Nah, too touristy. Stick with DiNic's. I'd add that the chocolate peanut butter pretzels are good at Mueller's as is the salmon from the Thai place.

            1. re: bluehensfan

              Given the guideline of "looking for food and experiences that cannot be duplicated anywhere else but in Philadelphia," I think one cheesesteak wouldn't be too touristy in the course of five days. With the Reading Terminal Market area being convenient (presumably to the Convention Center for the conference), there is Rick's (I think) in Reading Terminal Market plus Campo's and Sonny's on Market Street near 2nd and 3rd. All three are good though not "the best" in the city. There are other boards devoted to the best cheesesteak in Philly but, for the convention center area, these three are worth a try. Everything else mentioned for RTM is right on target. I haven't been there recently -- I'm getting hungry just reading this board and thinking about getting over that way soon. Whatever you choose, you should enjoy.

              1. re: jfr

                I agree ! You have to have a cheesesteak - they are absolutely the best in the Philly area. As for being a tourist thing, I suspect there are a few locals that indulge in a cheesesteak once in awhile (just to keep all those cheesesteak shops in business).

          2. I'm Italian American from Boston, and one thing I love about Philly is the Italian provisions readily available here. So, here are a few of the red/white/green highlights. If you have any time in the morning, I find the Italian Market (the heart of it is on 9th street between Christian and Washington) to be enduringly charming. Some would argue it's become less than "authentic", but it's just nice to stroll through an honest-to-goodness, functioning outdoor market. Claudio's mozzarella is tasty, DiBruno Bros. is good for sampling and has a good cheese selection. Sabrina's (not Italian per se, but great, on Christian just west of 9th street) is the best breakfast/brunch I've found in the city (lunch and dinner there are not nearly as good). Long waits there on a weekend. Also, try gelato at Capogiro (there are two locations, both at Samson St., one on 13th and one on 20th). They'll let you try as much as you want before you buy. The "herb" flavors are really interesting. Have fun in Phila.

            2 Replies
            1. re: leavethegun

              Naked Chocolate (Walnut & Juniper) is great for dessert. I love their drinking chocolates, they're very rich. I usually get a small and am well satisfied. And it's cheap to boot. If you can sneak in some Grand Marinier, it's even better.

              1. re: bumble

                Talking dessert, the Franklin Fountain between front and 2nd on Market is a unique experience and great dessert/mid day sweet location!

            2. Thank you so much for your responses...I am even more excited about going to Philadelphia now. I teach an American food cultures/history class and I know that "Philadelphia" was used to market food products in the 19th and early 20th century because of the rep the city had for excellent food (i.e., Philadelphia cream cheese).

              I only really have five days in the city so I figured if I could maybe hit one suggestion a day, I would be ok. Keep em coming, if possible! I'm enjoying reading your wonderful posts and will share them with my fellow conference-goers. They will be impressed.

              5 Replies
              1. re: sfkusinera

                If you're interested in American food culture than you will love the RTM! It's actually a historical landmark, as the Amish vendors used to travel down from the north to sell wares near the train station. It is, however, closed on July 4th.
                I also recommend stopping for a beer at the City Tavern on 2nd Street, near Walnut. It's one of the oldest restaurants (or the oldest?) in Philly. Past presidents used to drink there, too. I've enjoyed meals at CT, although I'm sure there will be follow up posts about how there are many more places that are soooo much better. But as a history buff, I really think you'll love it.

                1. re: sfkusinera

                  I'll second someone's recommendation about Franklin Fountain. Not only do they make all their own stuff, but they know a lot of icecream and confectionary history that would be of particular interest to you as an historian. Make sure you ask for one of the brothers--Eric or Ryan. A note about City Tavern--it's not the original building. You can't even get the old-school Philadelphia stuff anymore--Pepper pot soup (tripe), snapper soup (still at the Union League, but it's a private club), all the oyster houses are closed (except Snockey's which is no great shakes) and there are some famous punch recipes from the old Boat House Row private clubs that may pop up from time to time. There are lots of beer choices, but Yards is great and they are in an old 19th-c. brewery so it's a good tour.....Philadelphia is truly blessed by its food renaissance, but some of the history is gone. I can't believe no one said Sarcone's for the best hoagie experience!

                  1. re: clairvaux

                    As for Philadelphia authenticity, the traditional ice cream we all think of, you know the denser type sitting on the cone.....as I understand it, that style is known by ice cream aficianados as "Philadelphia Style" mainly because it was first produced here in Philly. For that I think the Franklin Fountain will probably provide the most authentic (and delicious) "Philadelphia Style" ice cream.


                    Cheesesteak - gotta travel for this one - Chink's in Northeast Philly. Simple and delicious steak served in an old soda fountain. Get a freshly made milkshake with your steak and die happy.

                    Roast Pork Italian (roast pork sandwich with garlicky broccoli rabe and sharp provolone)- You can't go wrong with either John's Roast Pork in South Philly or DiNic's in the RTM. The sandwich Philly SHOULD be famous for.

                    Chicken cutlet Italian (same as the pork but with a fried chicken cutlet instead of the pork) - Tony Luke's - Front and Oregon Streets

                    Beer! Philly (and Eastern PA in general) is the craft beer champ of the East Coast, and it's not even close. Local brewers include Yards, Victory, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, Legacy, Flying Fish, Dogfish Head, Stoudt's. The epicenter of all of these great breweries is right here in Philly, and the evidence is the preponderance of incredible beer bars with great food to boot. The Standard Tap, N. 3rd, The South Philly Tap Room, Johnny Brenda's, Grace Tavern, Royal Tavern.....all with solid to fantastic food. And more Belgian beers are consumed right here in Philly than any other city outside of Belgium. Great Belgain influenced bars include Monk's (a Philly classic) Eulogy, Zot and Brigid's. All with very good food.

                    And you have to try a Philly BYOB. They are everywhere and many are very good. Matyson and Mandoline comes quickly to mind. The state store system sucks, so find the best bottle of wine you can. Enjoy the often delicious BYOBs that have resulted in response to that crappy system.

                    That's my 2 cents.

                    Enjoy your time here!

                    1. re: G Goo

                      Correction re: beer, Dogfish Head brewery is in lower Delaware (about 3 hrs from Philly).

                      1. re: Nancy99

                        Close enough. And with the number of Philly metro residents vacationing in Rehoboth and the burgeoning beer culture here (starting 10-12 years ago, the infancy of DFH), Dogfish Head made its name here in Philly. I'd argue if it weren't for the Philly market, DFH would have disappeared years ago. So would all those other "local" beers I mentioned.

                2. I agree that a cheesesteak is in line, not just for tourists. But DiNics pork a must. Also at Reading,nif for breakfast, the apricot danish at Metropolitan Bakery is excellent (or their cannelle, though these aren't usually available before Noon). Delilah's.

                  If you can get a reservation at Matyson, Philly's (in my opinion) best byob of many very Philly byob's, go there for a lovely dinner. Rouge on Rittenhouse Square is a classic Philly scene. (You'll never get into Vetri on short notice.)

                  1. My top 5 regional food experiences for Philly:

                    1) The Cheesteak - yes, it's an obvious answer but it's also true
                    2) The Hoagie - good bread, good deli, great food
                    3) The Soft Pretzel - a hard, slightly damp one that smells a little harsh; apply bright yellow mustard; truly soft pretzels are good, but they're hybrids, not true Philly pretzels.
                    4) Pork Roll on a hard roll - a truly regional dish, virtually unheard-of outside the NJ/PA area. It's largely a breakfast sandwich; the accepted way to spread the pork roll with mustard.
                    5) Shoofly Pie - the molasses pie from Lancaster.

                    And for #6, in America's ice cream capitol, get an ice cream soda made with Breyer's vanilla. Heaven should feel like that tastes.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: wisteria1

                      Sadly, Breyer's isn't made in Philly anymore, and it's not Pure anymore, they use **NATURAL** Flavors (distilled chicken toe cheese), stabilizers/gums, fake chocolate chips, corn syrup/coloring instead of fruit.

                      1. re: peekpoke

                        Bassetts maintains Phila as the Ice Cream Capitol!

                      2. re: wisteria1

                        Skip the cheesesteak, unless you can find one that's served with REAL cheese and not that gunky Cheese Whiz stuff. The very touristy Geno's and Pat's in South Philly don't do a cheesesteak justice. (Sorry, fans of Geno's/Pat's!)

                      3. If I were choosing any five Philadelphia restaurants, I would go to: Monk's, Amada, Matyson, Morimoto, and Vietnam.

                        If I could choose five things from RTM I would have: something from Nanee's kitchen (Pakistani), a scoop of Bassett's Ice Cream, a canoli (sp?) from Termini Brothers, pancakes from the Dutch Eating Place, and a something from DiNic's.

                        This is fun.

                        1. Am here in Philly! Thank you so much for your recs. I'm here until Monday so I still have time to do and eat more! Your recs have helped so much...

                          So far...

                          From the Reading Terminal Market (if only we had something like this at home...Ferry Plaza is so sterile in comparison!)....

                          - A juicy, drippy and delicious pork, cheese and greens sandwich at DiNics
                          - scrapple, eggs, pancakes, and heavenly apple dumpling at Dutch Eating Place
                          - a Fisher's pretzel (buttery, salty, deliciously soft AND chewy, redolent of butter and wheat)
                          - pillowy soft, moist, yet dense pecan sticky bun from Beiler's (how does this happen -- what secret do the Amish bakers hold dear?) -- quite possibly one of the best sticky buns I have ever had. Ok, maybe one of the best baked goods I have ever had!
                          - Lavender and chocolate cupcakes at Flying Monkey bakery
                          - and jams and jellies to take home from Kauffman's

                          Still haven't had cheesesteak yet, and will definitely try to get to all of your suggestions before I leave. I LOVE THIS CITY. I haven't seen the Liberty Bell, and have yet to do any real sightseeing, but I feel like I can already go home happy! One more trip to RTM, and hopefully more great food before I leave.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: sfkusinera

                            Who said a cheesesteak is too touristy?
                            Get yourself to D'Alessandro's and go for broke. They use real cheese, not that fake Whiz stuff.
                            That's what Philly is all about for gosh sakes!!!

                            1. re: idia

                              Not to fuel this one up again, but IMHO D'Alessandro's is the single most overrated cheesesteak experience in Philly..........

                              1. re: G Goo

                                I concur. Steamed beef doesn't make a good sandwich.

                            2. re: sfkusinera

                              Don't forget a great hoagie. unfortunately Lee's on 17th has closed, but you can get a really good Italian hoagie from Salumeria in RTM. Also a great choice for lunch from RTM is to buy a great bread (Metropolitan is a good choice) and some cheeses from the cheese shop in RTM. And don't miss Capogiro gelato - possibly the best in the US.

                              I second the vote for L'Angolo at 1415 Porter (take the Broad St. subway to Oregon and walk north to Porter, left on Porter). BYOB. And Matyson, also a BYOB.

                              Don't bother with Chinatown -- it's good for the east coast, but you're from SF.

                              1. re: Susan H

                                The hoagies at Salumeria are ok, but you should go to Sarcone's for a hoagie. It's close to the Italian Market, so it's an excuse to head that way; (9th and Christian area). Get mozarella at Claudio's (hot out of the bath), gnosh at Di Bruno brothers, and have a great afternoon.

                                1. re: clairvaux

                                  sarcones deli is 9th and Fitzwater...the bakery is 9th and Catherine

                            3. nick's ---roast beef i think 20th and jackson