Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Pennsylvania >
Jun 2, 2009 08:48 AM

Quintessential Philly (not cheesesteak)

I'm going to be in Philly for one day and will definitely be getting a cheesesteak for lunch. I don't know where yet but I can figure that out on my own. What i don't know is what to do for dinner. What food can't be missed while in Philly that is hard to find elsewhere? I'm open to all price ranges (but I assume any fine dining establishment is unlikely to be very uniquely Philly) and neighborhoods. Thanks for the help.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The gastopub trend has been strong for years, and arguably started here in the US. Places like Standard Tap (Northern Liberties neighborhood) and Royal Tavern (Bella Vista) are two excellent examples. Great food and great beer in a casual setting surrounded by neighborhood regulars. Standard Tap has tends to have more adventurous and elaborate dishes, and also only serves local beer.

    1. Quintessential Philly IMO would probably be a red sauce Italian place like Villa d Roma

      1. Don't know where you're coming from but Italian pastries are also an old time Philly favorite ala Termine's

        7 Replies
        1. re: Den

          Yes, the Termini bakery is very cool--they have lovely old wooden display cases and a very old fashioned way of doing business. They make a traditional Italian pastry called Sfoglio (?), that's good and unusual.

            1. re: Philly Ray

              Yes, that's it. I was too lazy to google it last night.

              1. re: feklar42

                Do people really like that one? It's not my favorite... I kind of like the nirvana and almond souce pastries and their raspberry pound cake, and especially the "dead bones" around halloween.

                1. re: bluehensfan

                  It's not my favorite, but I do like it.

                  1. re: bluehensfan

                    I'm not a sweets person, but I have friends and family who rave

              2. re: feklar42

                I'd hit the Termini's at Reading Terminal Market so you can see a quintessential Philadelphia destination. While there, I'd also suggest having a soft pretzel at Miller's Twist and the "other cheesesteak" (a roast pork sandwich) at DiNic's.

            2. If you are in the mood for a more traditional image of Philly, I would suggest walking down Passyunk. You could start at Pat's and Geno's at 9th and Passyunk. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend their cheesesteaks, but they are a sight worth seeing--especially on the weekend when they have block long lines.) After that, Passyunk goes between a grocery store and a pharmacy, but the next few blocks are houses, shops and nice restaurants. If you want more modern Italian, Paradiso is great, if you want traditional, Marra's is a bit further down.

              Having said that, I have to point out that high concept restaurants and fancy food are a very Philadelphia thing. XIX at the top of the Bellevue is about as classic a setting as you can ask for in Philly (the cuisine is modern--but again, the cuisine would have been haute modern when it was built). Susanna Foo's is a Philadelphia Classic, even if it is Asian Fusion.

              Dining Al Fresco (preferably with dog) is also very Philadelphia. I love sidewalk dining at Parc, 20 Manning, and Rouge on and around Rittenhouse Square. You can also go to the Rittenhouse Di Bruno Bros. from there for a smaller taste of South Philly.

              1. Thanks for all the advice. I see now that I need to get a cheesesteak AND a roast pork w/ broccoli rabe sandwich. While I know everyone has their preferences regarding those sandwiches, can I just get both at John's Roast Pork and be adequately introduced to both or do I need to go to DiNics (not looking for DiNic's detractors here, want to know if John's Roast Pork is adequate or better for both options)? Dinner is still up in the air, it seems to be between Standard Tap (suggested here and seems like a nice way to end a busy day), Distrito (not sure I spelled it correctly but the interesting Mexican inspired restaurant that looks good to me) and Book Binders which my friend just recommended to me this morning. Thanks again for the help, I'm having a hard time reconciling the friendliness I've seen here and my previous conception of people in Philadelphia based on being a lifelong Cowboys fan.

                7 Replies
                1. re: demigodh

                  John's Roast Pork is as good (if not better) than Di Nic's. The trick at John's is being able to get there before they close (which is usually around 2-3 in the afternoon...sooner if they run out of bread). You can definitely have a cheesesteak and a pork sandwich there and know you ate 2 of the best sandwiches in town.

                  I'm guessing your Bookbinders friend has not dined in Philly in the past 5-10 years? At one time in the distant past, Bookbinders was all anyone from outside of Philly ever knew, but both outposts have closed (some would say thankfully). Even if they were still open, all of the places mentioned here would be better.

                  If you would have told us up front that you were a Cowboys fan, we would have adjusted our "friendliness" accordingly.

                  1. re: Philly Ray

                    Wow, I've have had the John's Roast Pork sandwich 3 times now and all have been pretty bland. I've had Di Nics about 6 times in the past 6 months and everytime has been amazing (probably my favorite sandwich in the city tied w Hershel's cornbeef sandwich). What am I doing wrong at John's?

                  2. re: demigodh

                    Cowboy's fan? go to bookbinders and stick to Pat's or Geno's for a steak and skip the roast pork .

                    Nah, can't do that to anyone - go to John's and get both sandwiches if you can - it's what we do on a weekday hookie day! and follow the recs for dinner above - they are spot on.

                    1. re: demigodh

                      you might want to look at a map before you make your decision. Those are all in pretty different areas, I'm kind of biased, but I never found Northern Liberties (where Standard Tap is) overly convenient.

                      Distrito is my least favorite Jose Garces restaurant--I love Amada, and Chifa is pretty good, but Distrito seemed like El Vez, but with smaller portions and even more garish decor (the decor is fun, but those pink walls...). I like El Vez and Distrito was very tasty, but with all the hype and after my great experiences at the others, I was expecting something more.

                      Again, for a nice all around experience, Chifa and Amada are both short walks from the Independence Hall/Liberty Bell area for a nice historical stroll before or after dinner. Amada is in Old City, which is also close to the river parks.

                      Fortunately, I am not a football fan.

                      1. re: feklar42

                        I agree that for a Garces restaurant I'd pick Amada and Tinto over Distrito. No Libs, and standard tap, etc are about a mile north of Amada (and Market St)- so if the OP is having both a cheesesteak and a roast pork at lunch - he or she will need the walk!

                      2. re: demigodh

                        John's is a fine place for both a cheesesteak and roast pork. Another place that is excellent for both, with much longer hours, is Tony Luke's in South Philly. It is actually my favorite for the roast pork italian (that's what they call it), though DiNic's and John's are both fine examples.

                        Ditch Bookbinder's. It's lousy. If you are wanting seafood, check out Oyster House (a Philly classic reopening this week). All reports are that it is going to be excellent. You can get the Philly classic chicken salad w/oysters. It is also conveniently located right in Center City.

                        Standard Tap is a little out of the way, but excellent if you want pub grub.

                        I love, love, love Distrito, and so does everyone I've ever brought there. Fantastic margaritas and lovely, fresh, creative Mexican influenced food (not strictly authentic, but evoking all the feelings and flavors). The ceviches are out of this world.

                        I care about food, not football.

                        1. re: demigodh

                          Only one day? Gads, so many great eats, so little time! The Bookbinder's uptown became an Appleby's and I believe the one in Old City recently closed. Not to worry - you're not missing a thing. Philly is a BIG byob town; some of the best are Matyson, Melograno, Radicchio, Chloe, La Locanda Ghittone, and Salento. None charges a corkage fee but some don't take reservations, so check first. And start planning to come back!