Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Philadelphia >
Oct 23, 2010 02:04 PM

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Near Penn (Solo)

Hi Philly board-

I'll be in town in November for a couple of days, staying near University of Pennsylvania. I've never been to your city before, so I'm pretty excited. I'm adventuresome, and willing to eat anything, so no restrictions. I'll be solo, so my only preference is that the restaurant feel as un-awkward as possible in this situation. No real price restrictions, either (knowing that solo dining usually means fairly casual).

I'd like the keep most of my meals within walking or a reasonable cab ride distance away from the Penn campus, but will also be exploring the city at least one day, so if there are some great spot in areas that you think I should check out during my trip, I'm all ears.

Sorry for the vagueness. I'm a CH regular, so I know how obnoxious this is, but the trip came up suddenly, and I have an open mind...any ethnicity, and anything from a food stand/truck to a multi-course meal. Thanks.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Center City is not far from Penn at all, you can walk, take the subway, or grab a cab easily. In University City, I'd recommend Distrito, the bar at the White Dog Cafe, and the newest addition to that neck of the woods (although, I haven't been yet) JG Domestic in the Cira Centre (adjacent to 30th street station). JG is Jose Garces, iron chef and local restaurateur, and also the proprietor of Distrito.

    2 Replies
    1. re: urbanfabric

      I'm having trouble of thinking about really good solo dinner options in UC. White Dog is ok at the bar, but it's not a great dining experience. Distrito can be, but the bar is in their "cantina" where the menu and food (and prices) are pared down considerably from the full restaurant upstairs. If you sit at the bar, ask if you can order off the full menu, the cantina menu isn't that great.

      For really casual meals, you could walk to Tampopo on 44th near Spruce; it's like an Asian noodle house. It's also right near Local 44, a nice, comfortable bar with ok food but a great beer list. There is also Kabobeesh at 42nd & Chestnut for awesome Pakistani food. It's an order at the counter affair in an old diner. There are a couple sketchy blocks between Penn and Kabobeesh, but it's not that bad. There's a new branch of Sang Kee closer to Penn, which is good for noodles and soups, but I haven't been to this location.

      But really, many of these places are not all that much closer than the west part of Center City. See this recent thread for ideas there--these restaurants are nicer and generally better than the options in UC I've given you:

      Also depending on where you are and where you are going, the trolley may be a better option than the the subway (Market-Frankford Line) to get downtown. It can drop you closer to places near Rittenhouse, and ends right at City Hall. You can also transfer for free to the MFL there if you need to.

      Lunch, on the other hand, you can do pretty well at the numerous food trucks and carts around. I haven't worked out there in while so I'm rusty, but look into Magic Carpet, the crepe truck near 33rd & Market, Mikey D's, Honest Tom's, KoJa, and Yue Kee. This might help too:

      For breakfast, just get breakfast sandwiches from any street vendor, preferably on a long roll.

      1. re: urbanfabric

        I also second Local 44. Local 44's food is definitely just regular pub food, but they have a great chili mac and cheese (mixed together!), and as barryg said a nice list of great beers. Also near Local 44 is Rx Restaurant - good for lunch/brunch food.

      2. Awesome. Thanks for the helpful recs, urbanfabric and and barryg. I am more than willing (and hoping) to travel, as well, especially for places that are in interesting or fun neighborhoods, so I can check out the area at the same time. I guess I need to do some more research and acquaint myself with the city and transportation. Also, I have heard that some areas surrounding the Penn campus are on the sketchy side. I don't mind (and am used to) a bit of sketchiness, but if there are any outright "don't go there" zones between me and restaurant, feel free to let me know.

        Keep 'em coming.

        5 Replies
        1. re: crsin

          I was just at the cantina at Distrito in the last 2 weeks and they do offer both menus.
          Downtown Rittenhouse (20th-Walnut/Chestnut), Village Whiskey, Noble, Melograno(BYO) and ok, 18th and Sansom, Tria or Tinto.
          For good sandwichs, during your day in center city, depending where you are, Paesono's in N. Liberties or S. Philly or D'Nics pulled pork wet w/ broc rabe at Reading Terminal Market. Have fun!

          1. re: bonappetite

            If you don't mind taking a cab or quick subway ride, then head to Rangoon in Chinatown--there are also other excellent options in Chinatown. So many amazing BYOs (not in U City) to explore as well that have all been discussed on the board.

          2. re: crsin

            I'd say your food options drop off considerably (and you wouldn't necessarily want to walk alone at night):

            - to the south past Baltimore and 50th Street (Dock Street Brewing and Satellite Cafe), but there are a lot of great food options on Baltimore Ave, including Ethiopian, West African, some Vietnamese, and coffee.
            - to the west at around 42nd/43rd Streets

            Other than that most of the other options identified here are in/around University City (<5 blocks in any direction of Penn) or Center City

            1. re: andrewlee

              Hey now. I happen to like my neighbourhood spots of Rx (45th & Spruce) and Marigold (44th and Larchwood). Not to mention Kaffa Crossing (44th & Chestnut) and Saad's (45th & Walnut), as well as Abyssinia (45th & Locust) and Ethio Cafe (45th, between Locust & Walnut). If you're going west, I'd extend at least to 45th instead of dropping off at 43rd (and really, if the OP is particularly adventurous, there are some really interesting options west of 45th in only somewhat sketchy locales - as in, not really sketchy but sketchy-ish feeling because there's a distinct sense of something different in the air).

              On the other hand, for someone entirely new to the city, I'd encourage exploring Center City and those offerings before venturing out to the neighbourhoods.

              1. re: Ali

                We agree with Ali relative to taking a few extra minutes and/or a small cab fare to get to the Center City food choices. With limited time and opportunity to dine one can easily visit those establishments for the potential of an interesting and tasty meal! Good advice here also on Distrito, go upstairs for the full menu and be selective with the special cocktails as we have found them to be expensive and just ok. Some nice friendly small plate places for an extra few buck for the cab are Zahav, Amada and Tria on Rittenhouse. You would be very comfortable there and enjoy great food selections and most likely friendly conversations.

          3. We enjoy Nan, at 40th and Chestnut. Thai/French, byob.
            Not a "jumping" kind of place, more subdued, but the food is delicious
            and the atmosphere is pleasant.
            An easy walk from Penn.

            2 Replies
            1. re: sylviag

              I'd second taking the trolley to City Hall and having a meal or two at Reading Terminal. Plenty of solo diners there (it's even an advantage when you are eating at the stalls with counters) and lots of good choices (Dutch Eating Place for pancakes, DiNic's for roast pork). No dinner at the Terminal of course.

              I'd also suggest giving Zahav a try and getting the prix-fixe meal with the lamb shoulder. It will run you $42 I think but since you are dining alone, they will more than likely pile you on with lots of food.

              1. re: bluehensfan

                I'd say Reading good for lunch, but they close at 6p, so unless you're looking for an early dinner, look to the other recommendations for dinner.

                And yes - I'd agree - 45th to the West, I was off by a couple of blocks...

            2. Saad's is fantastic, but I also wouldn't overlook the Restaurant School at 42nd and Walnut. They have a pastry shop that opens at 7:30 am - lunch in the European courtyard and dinners in themed restaurants.


              It's very laid back, and as your servers are the students, you will definitely not feel awkward!!

              (disclaimer - my son goes to school there, but seriously, I am not biased).

              3 Replies
              1. re: Imalaffer

                A goupr of us from work went a couple of years ago and are talking about returning shortly--it was great. And it was nice to see the students learning their job. Good for your son....maybe he wil be our server next month!! Oh, actually, i think it's this month!!

                1. re: bonappetite

                  Thanks bonappetite!!!! Ahh, this weekend he had to practice sauces - his bechamel is fantastic! The hubs just wanted to drink it up ;)

                  Anyway, they rotate terms in the restaurant, and he just did a tour of duty last month (ha ha) - but I've a heads up:

                  Holiday Buffet
                  Each year The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College turns into a winter wonderland for the holiday season. Not only is each building decorated with lights, trees, ornaments, wreaths, and pointsetta's, but the restuarants exudes holiday spirit as well. Be sure to make your reservations now for our exclusive Holiday Buffet menu which runs from December 1-18, 2010. Seating is limited, so make sure you plan ahead!

                  Here is a link to the menu - it's $35.00 pp:

                  1. re: Imalaffer

                    thanks, will pass this on to the person planning our group dinner! good for your son!

              2. You said food trucks? I have eaten from Sugar Philly's truck- macaroons and other French style pastries + La Columbe coffee. I believe they are parked on 38th street next to KoJa's truck (Korean).

                There are a bunch of trucks parked near Drexel as well.

                If it is nice, walk to the Left Bank apartment building. Almost at the bridge to Center City on Walnut Street. There is the new BIBA wine bar (from the creators of Tria)- been in Cali, so have not tried it yet- communal table. Chill vibe- light food. Also in the building is Picnic. Take out or eat in at one of the few tables. There are bar stools facing the street for solo diners with a selection of magazines. Delicious soups and salads and sandwiches. There are these $0.30 thyme lemon cookies in a jar at the checkout that I LOVE.