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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.

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  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 http://www.readingterminalmarket.org 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!

                        2. Again, thanks everyone. Unfortunately, I asked my question a bit prematurely and have since learned that John's (and practically everywhere else) is closed on Sundays. I'm going to be in town on Sunday so now I have a new question. I've decided on Steve's Prince of Cheesesteaks for my cheesesteak. Where can I go for a Roast Pork? Johns, DiNic's, Tony Lukes are all closed.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: demigodh

                            Oh no! I hate that all the good places are closed Sunday. Steve's is a great choice, though you'll have to drive a bit to get there. It's not a roast pork, but another classic Philly sandwich I'd recommend is the Italian hoagie at Salumeria in the Reading Terminal Market, which is open Sundays. It just occurred to me that Paesano's also makes a great roast pork, but I think they might be closed on Sunday as well. That's one thing that really stinks about Philly. Maybe someone else will know.

                            1. re: Hungryin theBurbs

                              Paesano's is closed on Sundays. Their sandwiches are great although in my opinion their roast pork is the least impressive of the bunch.

                              Steve's is the best cheesesteak in Philly (John's is a close second for me). Great choice. For Roast Pork, you might be out of luck, sorry, I can't think of anywhere that is open.

                              A tip for Steve's--try ordering your steak with "both cheeses"--you'll get the yellow American (its melted here) and the orange whiz. It is truly superb.

                              1. re: barryg

                                Frusco's in the Northeast is open Sundays and serves an acceptable pork sandwich with green and aged provalone. Its not far from Steve's

                                For Sunday cheesesteaks, I actually prefer Chubby's on Henry Avenue to Steve's, although Steves is quite good

                            2. re: demigodh

                              George's in the Italian Market (9th and Christian, on 9th Street, one storefront south of Christian) is open on Sundays until 3:00 and has both an excellent Cheesesteak and Roast Pork sandwich (and tripe for the truly adventurous)

                              1. re: Bigley9

                                Nicely done, George's makes a high quality roast pork sandwich. Their style in different than some, as they use cubed pork rather than sliced, but it's a good sandwich for sure.

                              2. re: demigodh

                                Oh no! We're really into our Blue Laws (and when not law, custom) in this part of the country. Meaning - yah, a LOT is closed on Sunday. Including anywhere to buy booze, so plan accordingly. You can get a drink at a bar, restaurant or your hotel minbar, but you can't buy beer, wine or the hard stuff in a store anywhere.

                                1. re: Mawrter

                                  Actually, several state stores are open on Sundays as are both locations of the Foodery and lots of local bars, so it is quite easy to buy beer, wine AND "the hard stuff" on a Sunday in Philadelphia.

                              3. Bon Appetit actually does a decent review of Philly foods in this month's issue that may be helpful: http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/20...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: bluehensfan

                                  Philly Hounds, you never cease to amaze me!

                                  1. re: hungry100

                                    I believe that Tony Luke's has recently added Sunday hours. Their roast pork and cheesesteaks are both excellent.

                                2. Another very Philly thing is ice cream. Philadelphia was the United States's leading city for ice cream production historically and we still have some really great ice creams -some historical, some not- that are available Sundays.

                                  Reading Terminal is open and you can get Bassett's there, which is a historical Philadelphia company. And, you know, delicious!


                                  Franklin Fountain serves cones in an old fashioned storefront.

                                  Capogiro - gelati & other Italian frozen confections - less sweet, incredible texture.


                                  And oh! Water ice! NOT the same as snow cones, which are fake crap. Some people call them Italian ice. VERY Philadelphia. Have one in lemon, the classic flavor - find real lemon peel and delicious sweet/sour iciness. Cheap and so summery and truly local. If you have to do a chain instead of a mom&pop, Rita's isn't bad. Please do have some water ice, it's very special!

                                  1. Well, Le Bec-Fin is very much a Philadelphia institution. It isn't a down-and-dirty Philly experience, but it is...Ours. If you want fine dining and want something unique to Philadelphia, I'd go there.

                                    Now, if you WANT a down-and-dirty Philly experience, You can go down 9th Street South and check out one of the red gravy joints around the Italian Market (the stalls will be closed by dinnertime, but not the restaurants). You can go to Mai Lai Wah at 10th & Race in our Chinatown (not the most authentic place, but delicious, affordable, and a Philly institution at this point...Also, they serve food until after 3am!). You can go to Jack's Deli up in the Northeast and get onion rings, a corned beef special and cheesecake (the place looks awful, but has the best onion rings and cheesecake I've ever tasted, as well as great deli).

                                    There are also the diners. but you have to know which ones are worth eating at. Still, a good diner with great chicken croquettes or a hot, open-faced turkey sandwich at a great price is very, very, VERY Philly. So many of the diners anymore are awful, though...

                                    And listen, as for the roast pork sandwich...if you go for one get the roast pork with spinach and sharp provolone. I like the roast pork better with spinach though because at least for me, the broccoli rabe is so bitter I can't taste anything else. Pork does not have tons of flavor of it's own, after all. The garlic-y spinach is a much better balanced flavor. My favorite cheesesteak is up in the Northeastern part of the city, near Frankford and Cottman Avenues and it's in a shop called Frusco's.

                                    Sarah M.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: StrandedYankee

                                      *And listen, as for the roast pork sandwich...if you go for one get the roast pork with spinach and sharp provolone. I like the roast pork better with spinach though because at least for me, the broccoli rabe is so bitter I can't taste anything else.*

                                      Thank you SY! I thought I was alone in my disdain for Broccoli Rabe. It is a vile nasty weed and has no business being anywhere near a pork sandwich. Spinach is fine or even some nice roasted long hots, but usually I just stick with the pork and sharp provolone.

                                      1. re: DDR4040

                                        DDR, someone once told me that there is a way to cook broccoli rabe that makes it less bitter and more palatable. I did once have a farfalle dish with sausage and broccoli rabe at a good Italian place in Philly that I liked a great deal. That exception aside (I actually think it shouldn't count as I think it was due to the tiny amount of the broccoli rabe used next to the heavy pasta and intensely flavored sausage), I have never had broccoli rabe that has actually tasted good to me. Have you?

                                        Sarah M.

                                        1. re: StrandedYankee

                                          Nope, never have. I've probably tried it a half dozen times over the years. A couple of times growing up when my South Philly transplant neighbors across the street made it for the "7 fishes" meal over the holidays. I gave it 2 chances at Tony Luke's and never made it past 2 bites without picking it off the sandwich. To hear everyone around here go on and on about how it is the "Best Sandwich in the City", I just chalked it up to my unsophisticated palette. I'm glad to finally see I am not alone.

                                          1. re: StrandedYankee

                                            Well cooked broccoli rabe should not be bitter, but maybe you are sensitive to it no matter how it is cooked.

                                            My Italian next door neighbor explained to me that the the proper way to cook it is to blanch the rabe for a couple minutes, and then sautee. The blanching removes the bitterness.

                                            1. re: barryg

                                              Yes, blanching and then sauteeing is the way to go. It removes some of the bitterness, but it shouldn't remove all of it (and may not even be possible) or you're really missing out IMNSHO.

                                              "Bitter" is not a negative, it's a legit taste, just like sour and sweet. Americans in general are not really into bitter, so for most of us, it's an acquired taste. Italians are into bitter, "amaro," so it's a great cuisine to tap into to develop your taste for it (if you want to, that is).

                                              I think the key to enjoying rabe for newbies is to get it really really fresh, and to overwhelm it with complementary flavors: garlic, sharp cheese, anchovy, lemon, sausage, raisins - so the rabe doesn't predominate (like at Sarah's South Philly restaurant with the enjoyable rabe dish). The thing is, it sounds like you non-rabe-lovers already are doing that... so maybe it's safe to say you just don't like it! Maybe leave it alone for a few years and come back to it.

                                              1. re: Mawrter

                                                I never said that bitter in and of itself is bad, but overwhelmingly bitter sure ain't good. I did say that I've liked it as an ingredient in other recipes, but not where it's a main ingredient. Bitter is okay, but in limited measure. I'll try it again sometime where I hear good things about it.

                                                Sarah M.

                                                1. re: Mawrter

                                                  They have had very young broccoli rabe at the headhouse farmers market the last two weeks and it has been amazing!

                                        2. My day in the City of Brotherly Love Recap

                                          First, thanks everyone for your help. Here's where I went, in case you're interested.

                                          Started at Steve's Prince of Steaks. There I had a cheesesteak with onions and both cheeses. Excellent cheesesteak, the roll was great the two cheese combo was a genius suggestion (forgot who said it). However, it left me a little unsatisfied, I felt that better cheesesteaks could be had.

                                          On that note, i then went to Pats/Genos. My friend and I split a sandwich from each. My new go to plan for a cheesesteak in Philly is to go to Genos and get one with onions and wiz. This time I got provolone on the Geno's one which hurt it but everything else was great (ie. the roll and meat).

                                          After doing some sightseeing stuff for a few hours, we left Penns Landing and headed to Hardena's Restaurant for dinner. Even though I was already stuffed from the 2 cheesesteak lunch, I thoroughly enjoyed Hardena's and would go back there when i'm back in your city.
                                          Hardena's is an Indonesian restaurant a bit southwest of Little Saigon (i'm guessing it's your Little Saigon, I drove by a ton of Vietnamese places). For $6, you pick three "entrees" and she puts them on a plate of white rice. I tried 5 different items (between my friend and I) and enjoyed all of them.

                                          No time/space in stomach for the Roast Pork sandwich but I'll make that happen next time I'm there on any day that isn't a Sunday. Thanks again for the help, Philadelphia is a pretty cool city despite the Eagles.

                                          PS. Philadelphia Museum of Art might be my favorite museum in America.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: demigodh

                                            I will ignore your comment about the Eagles, cause I'm classy like that ;-).

                                            Your opinion on Steve's vs. Geno's is interesting. I have taken out of towners to Steve's before, and in general they are not that impressed. I've had similar experiences with Tony Luke's Steak Italian (greens + sharp prov). The the steaks that locals think are the best are usually not appreciated by people who aren't as experienced with real cheesesteaks.

                                            Now clearly you are discriminating about food, or you wouldn't be posting on Chowhound, so this is not a swipe at you at all. I think there is a level of cheesesteak connoisseurship that one develops when being surrounded by cheesesteaks. Locals hate on Pat's and Geno's as low quality, touristy cheesesteaks. They certainly aren't the best in town, but the bottom line is that they make authentic, tasty Philly Cheesesteaks. My main beef with these places (no pun intended) is that the quality is wildly inconsistent. But these steaks are better than 99% of the "steak & cheese" sandwiches in the country.