Philly visitor logistics
I will be 4 days in Philly around New Year's, with two days pretty free, and while I have been there before, I've never really spent this kind of free time there. So I lack orientation. My base is the Marriott downtown (for a convention), and I will not have a car. I'd love to try some of the ethnic variety in Philly that's hard to come by in my midwest home--good Chinese or middle-Eastern, maybe Thai. Two evenings during the convention, we can do pretty upscale dining, too. I've been scouring the boards...
Some queries that I'm not sure how to answer from our boards:
1. What Chowhound destinations or regions are especially hard (or easy) to access with public transit (like a bus; and you have a subway?)? I have the budget to take cabs, if need be, but then that's a bit of drag to have to call to get one for the way back.
2. How long would it take to walk from the Reading Terminal Market area, where my hotel is, to the Italian Market? I'm thinking cheesesteak, maybe Cosmi's, plus I want to buy some cheese at Di Bruno's.
3. Are there regions that I should think twice about walking through, maybe alone, in the evening? I know everyone differs about that, and it's not a PC query; but just so you know, I am not urban-shy at all, but there ARE some places in various cities that I think it's prudent to think twice about at night.
You are very close to chinatown so you will have some nice options there including:
1. Vietnam and Vietnam Palace for a wide range of vietnamese, or Pho 75 for the best Pho in chinatown.
2. Rangoon for Burmese food.. think a cross between indian, thai and chinese. Very few restaurants of this cuisine in the US..
3. Thai is not a strong suit in philadelphia, but you might consider Penang, for Malaysian food.. again fusion of a bit of different cuisines.
Subway lines you might want to consider using: the Broad street line to get to the Italian market. Note that there are two DiBruno's locations, one in the Market, and one in center city at 17th and Chestnut. The latter is walkable from the Marriott.
Subway surface lines will take you from Center City to West Philadelphia, if you want to go to U Penn campus or some of the restaurants in West Philly.
Good website for SEPTA: http://www.septa.org/f. There are two day passes you might want to consider.. 6.00 eight rides or 10 dollar unlimited rides for a given day if you expect to move around a lot. Enjoy philadelphia, great time of the year to be visiting.
Cabs are plentiful in Philadelphia. You can just hail one on the street. No need to worry about having to call one. You'll have no problem getting a cab to and from the Italian Market. It will take maybe 15-20 minutes. No problem walking around the Italian Market, Center City, or Chinatown.
I'll cover my experience w/ public transport and walking below, since I'm sans car here in Philly. But just as an fyi, Google Maps does directions by public transportation and walking. Click on "Get directions" and there's a drop-down, listing car, public transportation, and walking.
As cwdonald mentioned, you're a couple of easily walkable blocks away from Chinatown (10th & Arch). I'd recommend Nanzhou Hand-drawn Noodle House, Sangkee Peking Duck & Four Rivers for Chinese. I've also heard Shiao Lan Kung is good, but have yet to go. Others common recs in Chinatown would also be: Rangoon (Burmese), Sakura (Chinese & sushi strangely enough) and dimsum garden (Xiao Long Bao).
Italian Market - For me, it's about a 20 minute walk from RTM and like ncara mentioned, it's a nice walk during the day. During the night, well I've definitely walked back home to Center City, but the streets are pretty sparse with people in that area and in between, so I'd probably cab it back if you're there at night. Just as an fyi, besides Dibruno's and Pat's/Geno's, there are some pretty solid Mexican restaurants: Taqueria Veracruzana, Lalupe, Taqueria de Poble and some decent Vietnamese: Cafe Nhuy, Pho 75 (better than the Chinatown location, IMO) and I've heard Cafe Diem (Vietnamese) and Cafe de Laos (Laotian) are good as well.
Center City and Old City are where I'm presuming you're thinking of the mid - upscale dining. Both areas are safe enough to walk around, night or day. The only note I'd make are the streets between RTM and Old City (4th -> 12th) don't have as many people walking about at night. You can easily get on the 21/42/9 buses on Chestnut/Walnut or some of the buses on Market or just cab it.
A few other areas that are further and may be of interest are: South Philly for Italian and Hardena (Indonesian) and the Koreatown area (20 minute drive up north). I was rather nervous in both neighborhoods during the evening, but I've only been to each of these areas twice (when I had access to a car), so I don't know whether my fears were founded or not.
As for Middle Eastern, I'm sure you've probably come across Zahav, upscale Middle Eastern in Old City, which is great. As for lower end Middle Eastern and Thai, I haven't tried anything yet worth recommending to a visitor.
Hope you enjoy Philly!
I second the Zahav rec! We had dinner there (2 vegetarians, 2 non-veg) a couple of nights ago and it was outstanding on all fronts: atomosphere is understated yet exotic feeling; service was patient, attentive and unobtrusive; food was delicious across the board, from a divine fava bean hummus with warm laffa bread to fried to the apple terrine with baklava and caramel ice cream and everything in between. Highly recommended!
237 St James Place, Philadelphia, PA 19106
For walking around from your hotel - general rule of thumb is that anything btwn race and south is fine; once you go north of race or south of south you should know what you're doing. The Italian Market is south of south, and I'd say 90% of the routes you could take to walk there are nice, but there are some rather seedy blocks worth avoiding. Walk down 9th, though, and you'll be fine.
I also wouldn't recommend walking to and from northern liberties at night, esp. since you have to deal with crossingthe vine st. expressway. and walking to and from fairmount is doable but kind of a hassle - but if you do, definitely head west then north going there, rather than north then west.
cabs are easy to get in center city. they're hard to just hail outside of center city, as you suspected.
Actually, I'll add another query rather than start a new thread: about BYOB.
I see that lots of interesting places are BYOB, and I gather that wine is sold in State stores rather than markets. So if I'm setting out from the Marriott Downtown/RTM area, where can I grab some wine to take to these BYOB places? Alternatively, are there norms about where these stores tend to be located, how to find them, etc? Are they "everywhere"?
re: Bada Bing
You're very close to a couple Wine and Spirits stores.
There is one just around the corner on 12th street between Market and Arch (literally right next to the Marriott). There is also one a touch further (but still very close) on Chestnut between 12th & 13th (I think, or it might be between 11th & 12th) - that one is larger, and tends to have better selection.
re: Bada Bing
If you know which restaurant you're going to, call to see where the closest liquor store is (for wine or the hard stuff - if you just want a 6-pack of beer, find a bar - seriously!). The city's convention and visitors bureau also has some slightly-dated info on their website... not sure if all the BYOs are still in existence, but at the very least it's a list of some liquor stores by neighborhood.