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Bostonian Coming to Town -- Looking for Nontouristy Local Faves

I'm heading to Philly for a few days next month and will be staying downtown (near City Hall). We're going to be looking mostly for casual spots that are more local favorites rather than touristy places, and would love to find the following that are within maybe a half hour walk from downtown:

burgers, hot dogs

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

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  1. Italian is easy for where you're located. Plenty of wonderful byobs in walkable distance. I'd recommend checking out Salento, Melograno, Branzino, and Caffe Casta Diva, just to name a few. Check each's website to see if their menus appeal.

    For burgers, I'd check out Village Whiskey, Good Dog, or Pub & Kitchen.

    1. Italian - Melograno or Salento. Both BYO and really great. Salento is a little less known and a touch less expensive (tho Melograno is also very fairly priced), and easier to get a table.

      Deli - Haven't been yet, but Delicatessen is supposed to be really good. Otherwise, either Famous Fourth Street Deli, or Kibitz Room (plan to share since the portions are ginormous)

      Steakhouse - don't go much so ask some others here...

      burgers, hot dogs - best burger by far is Village Whiskey. This place it spot on for great drinks and food, but go at a weird time or you'll never get a table. For best gourmet hot dog - Varga Bar. They do a Kobe chili dog my husband dies for.

      cheesesteak - ok, so you can go almost anywhere in the city and get a good one of these - for reals. You're very close to the Reading Terminal Market, so go there and check out all the fun foods, then get a cheesesteak while there. If you're willing to drive to South Philly, John's Roast Pork is the best by far. But you have to get there by noon or you'll miss out.

      Kibitz Room
      100 Springdale Rd Ste A2, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003

      1. BeerMistress' deli recommendations are great for Jewish deli. The corned beef, pastrami, and smoked fish at Famous is fantastic; I haven't been to Kibbitz Room.

        You should also get some Italian-style sandwiches at Paesano's (get anything) or Sarcone's (get the Old Fashioned Italian hoagie on long roll, or one of their veggie options) or as a backup Primo's. I don't think anywhere does sandwiches like this better than Philly.

        1. If you head to the Italian Market (9th Street, generally from Christian to south of Washington Ave), don't miss Paesano's for sandwiches. They don't do my favorite Italian hoagie, but everything else is stellar, their Liveracce (fried chicken livers) is phenomenal. My favorite Italian hoagie, not that you asked, is Sarcone's, just up the street at 9th and Fitzwater.

          1. Hi from yr fellow Bostonian! I was just there 2 wks ago. I had also started a thread, so check that one out. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott, right across from City Hall. There is a little Italian sandwich shop next door. I had the roasted veg panini, and it was great! You don't have Chinese listed as an option, but we found thru CH some great places. All within walking distance.

            1. former bostonian here (one who long benefited from your posts over at that board). i've found that philly and boston (at least the boston of 2007) are diametrically opposed eating towns. they each excel where the other is weak. in philly's case, we have a really strong collection of reasonably priced byob / bistro places - the sort of place that's perfect for a casual friday night dinner in a chic atmosphere.

              - melograno - echoing others' recs. i love this place; it's our local trattoria toscana (and frankly, it's even a little better)
              - garces trading company - european bistro, including pizzas and pastas
              - branzino - closer to the red sauce end of the spectrum, if you're craving that, but i'd pick melograno over it every day of the week

              burger - if you do nothing else, go to village whiskey.

              cheesesteak - i really don't get the appeal of crappy meat and cheese whiz. spend your calories at paesano's as others have suggested. the gustaio (lamb sausage, mustard sauce, gorgonzola, fennel and arugula) will blow your frickin' mind.

              other, off-topic stuff:

              chinatown: we have a few hidden gems. at least two places serve xiao long bao that is better than anything i ever had in boston, including gourmet dumpling house in its prime. one is dim sum garden (super chowish place on a dumpy street next to the chinatown bus depot), and the other is sakura mandarin. try dim sum garden for their hand-made noodles as well.

              szechuan: han dynasty in old city is one of my favorites right now for spicy invigorating szechuan. quick list: dan dan noodles, sesame noodles, fried taiwanese sausage, fish dry pot style, and lamb cumin style. bring extra napkins to wipe the sweat off your brow.

              other: kanella (greek / cypriot - think of it as a cheaper oleana), matyson (new american - recently had a curried duck breast dish and a veal cheeks dish that almost knocked me out of my seat), meme (mediterranean)

              bars: the mixology scene is starting to get interesting. we've got two NYC-style speakeasy places - franklin mortgage & investment co, and the ranstead room. there's also a great place called southwark but it's way out in south philly.

              8 Replies
              1. re: coookie

                coookie, I don't want to derail the thread but in what areas does Boston excel where Philly is weak? I would love to know for my next visit.

                1. re: barryg

                  i really like tiffin, ekta and erawan, but boston's indian and thai restaurants are, in my opinion, much better (and much more diverse).

                  the other area is in splurge haute cuisine. philly isn't weak, just limited by the size of the city. we top out here at a handful of places: vetri, le bec fin, fountain, lacroix. don't get me wrong: i'm just as happy eating at han dynasty as i am breaking the bank at vetri, but right now we're struggling to find a reservation for a certain special dinner because all the usual places are booked up. boston has at least 2-3 times as many of these caliber places. there, you've got no. 9 park, l'espalier, clio, uni, o ya, menton, mistral, salts, oishii, locke-ober, craigie street, hamersley's, prezza, etc. that's just off the top of my head and not counting places that have closed in the past few years.

                  or you could look at it from price. i think philly has more interesting options than boston in the $15-20 entree range. boston has more options in the $20-$26 and definitely more in the $27+ ranges.

                  1. re: coookie

                    Thanks. Philly is much larger than Boston, though--almost a million more people in Philly proper vs Boston, and almost 1.5 million in Philly metro over Boston metro. So the lack of splurge options isn't limited by size--maybe wealth and education, or just culture, tastes and preferences.

                    We do have quite a few expensive steakhouses you didn't mention--but they aren't that interesting from a chow perspective.

                    1. re: barryg

                      another boston strength is seafood - i do enjoy philly's oyster house quite a bit, but if you're in boston you definitely should check out neptune oyster in the north end. fabulous oysters and lobster rolls (try the hot, butter-drenched version, which is harder to find than the cold versions and absolutely delicious).

                    2. re: coookie

                      I don't really see it coookie. I only moved to Philly from Boston <3 months ago, and I think Philly's high-end dining scene is much better. Add in all the amazing places that also happen to be BYOB, and Boston is left in the dust.

                      And I love Boston (never thought I'd leave).

                      Admittedly, the sushi can't compete (3 of the places you mention are sushi). Not that either city is much of a sushi mecca (Boston wouldn't even rate a mention, if it were not for O Ya).

                      But Philly's deep, dark, untold secret is that we'd all really rather be eating lobster rolls than cheesesteaks!

                      1. re: Tir_na_nOg

                        i hear you on the lobster rolls...

                        don't get me wrong. i don't think philly has a bad high-end dining scene, not at all. bibou is one of my favorite places to eat, ever. but i do believe that if you stacked them up side-by-side and counted, philly would simply have fewer of these types of places.

                        i also think they're qualitatively different notions or levels of "high end" - though the difference is difficult for me to articulate. let me put it this way: who is philly's barbara lynch, the kind of restaurateur - love her or hate her - who is always excitingly balanced on the edge of thrilling (good) and preciousness (bad)? do we even have one? vetri? garces? i don't know.

                        for the record, i love eating in philly, and the above is all academic.

                  2. re: coookie

                    I wouldn't call Southwark "way out in south philly" - 4th and Bainbridge? . People are suggesting Famous 4th Street deli and it is right across the street!

                    1. re: Bigley9

                      you're right - i was being excessively strict about the "near city hall" parameter.

                  3. Ok it's touristy but you can't miss the Reading Terminal. Our secret local fav is Sazon - Great Venezuelan at 10th and Spring Garden

                    For cheesesteaks we like Jim's at 4th and South.

                    Paesanos is a can't miss

                    1. Thanks, everyone! The places you suggested will probably cover most of our meals! One other question--are there any good dive bars near City Hall where we can park ourselves for a few hours and have some beer without having to deal with tourists or people who might be looking for a fight? :-)

                      7 Replies
                        1. re: Bigley9

                          In addition to meeting your bar criteria, Good Dog has a pretty darn good burger.

                        2. re: hiddenboston

                          +1 Good Dog. Oscar's (1500 block of Sansom) and Fergie's (1200 block of Sansom) are other ideas. None are true dives, but relaxed and filled with locals. Oscar's the cheapest of the three.

                          For a real dive and local institution, check out Dirty Frank's at 13th & Pine. At least you can say you went.

                          1. re: barryg

                            my god - sending someone to Dirty Franks without a local escort!?!

                            1. re: barryg

                              Or McGlinchey's on 15th and Locust (another true dive).

                            2. re: hiddenboston

                              Bob & Barbara's on South Street is my favorite dive bar. Great place to hang and just drink.

                            3. Thanks for your suggestions, everyone! We ended up going to a number of good places, including Jim's Steaks, Salento, and Brauhaus Schmitz. There were a few duds, but for the most part we had some great meals.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: hiddenboston

                                Thanks for reporting back. I'd be curious to hear about the duds, I promise not to get offended :).

                                1. re: barryg

                                  The cheesesteak at By George in Reading Terminal wasn't very good. :-)