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Sep 21, 2011 09:04 PM

NYer in Philly - Looking for the real, soul of the city

Hey everyone, I've put posts up like this before in Montreal and Pittsburgh, and it's worked out great each time. I fell in love with both cities, and hope the same will be true for your city.

Basically, I'm coming in for about 4 days next week. I've always thought of Philly as being a bit gritty with a lot of character, therefore it must have some great food. Right??

I'm asking for your help in finding some great, real, local places to eat. What I appreciate are the cuisines which tell the character of the city. I'm coming from Queens, NY so please keep in mind the food that I used to eating. I probably won't be eating your best sushi or Mexican food, but I'm really looking forward to some awesome hoagies, roast pork, and vietnamese food. Anything regional and street based are great too. Also, what immigrant populations and heritages are specific to Philadelphia? I'm a pizza hound in NYC, but am always interested in regional styles too.

I'm supposed to meet one of my heroes, Holly Moore of, who I've already gone through his Philly list and scrubbed it for my best interests. I will continue to search out more great places to eat, and things to do. Here is my map of places that I want to go to:

You can see more about the type of places I eat on my site linked in my profile.

Your help is much appreciated. I'm scrubbing the boards now for stuff that sounds interesting, let's see what more we can come up with. (recommendations outside food are appreciated too, I know very little about the city as of today).

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  1. Make sure to get roast pork at DiNic's at Reading Terminal Market. The market is great place to browse and grab a bite here and ther but make sure to visit when the Amish merchants are at the market (Wednesday through Saturday). If you wake up early enough grab some pancakes at teh Dutch Eating Place.

    Holly's very knowledgeable about what's good in town and I am sure that he will take you to all of the local haunts like Paesano's that are not fancy but serve up some great food.

    Pizza-wise, Philly is no NYC but we have some good examples at places like Zavino.

    1. this is pretty awesome list- will you be doing any fine(ish) dining?

      anything else that youre looking for specifically? where will you be staying? does good espresso interest you?

      im a huge fan of our taqueria offerings near the italian market.

      i would add han dynasty on this list too- havent really found something similar (authentic szechuan) in the ny chinatown

      1 Reply
      1. re: InSearchOfTacos

        I will have 2 days there with my girlfriend and her sister. So we might do one or two fine dining. Everything on my map are possibles, haven't gotten to making priorities yet.

        I think I'm staying around the northern side (haha, no idea what areas are called yet). I will be on bike, so I will be maneuvering around the city without concern for parking or safety .

        espresso I'm open to, but I'm not obsessed or anything with it. I just started drinking the stuff this year.

        We do have a few Szechuan, but I haven't really been zinged by any yet. han dynasty looks good. especially those dan dan noodles. I'll only be able to go there once though, so I'm taking recommendations...

        I will check out the tacquerias, but we have such good mexican by me and in the bronx, and other spanish food that it's going to be hard for me to make a meal out of one. I'm not sure I should even be tempted because roast pork is basically irresistible.

      2. The list on your map looks a bit heavy on meat sandwiches - and way too many for a 4 day trip (unless you are planning to eat cheesesteaks, etc. for breakfast, lunch and dinner!) [

        As far as the soul of Philadelphia, the cliche is that Philadelphia is a "city of neighborhoods" each one has a different personality. If it were me, I'd plan my visit around trips to different neighborhoods to sample the food and atmosphere or each place. Some are very upscale, some may be gritty, some hipster, some ethnic, etc. Safety is an issue in some areas, but I take it you are going with a local who can guide you to which areas/blocks are safe.

        Is sampling local beer at all an interest of yours? If so, I'd recommend that you check out some of the places in Northern Liberties and Fishtown. Standard Tap and Johnny Brenda's come to mind.

        Chinatown is also worth checking out though its much smaller than the NYC version there are some good eats there. You can just walk around and see what interests you. Look for the places where real Chinese people are eating!

        These are just a few ideas and hope that you have a great trip to Philly!

        2 Replies
        1. re: rocknroll52

          That list is mainly from Holly as of right now. And I haven't whiddled them down yet. So if we could eliminate some sandwiches, that'd be great.

          I don't really drink that much. Beer kills my stomach sometimes (no idea why), and I'm trading beer for coffee as my sin drink.

          The Chinatown does seem interesting. China is huge with so many regions. I'd like to see where is represented in Philly.

          1. re: Jeffsayyes

            Philly Chinatown is tiny compared to Manhattan's - which is the largest Chinatown in the western hemisphere. It is predominately old world Cantonese with one Fujian Noodle shop and at least one Taiwanese joint. No Henan, Hunan, Manchurian, Shandong, Tianjin or Xian as found in NYC.

            If you've been to Szechuan Gourmet, Lan Sheng, Little Pepper, Spicy and Tasty in NYC you will find Han Dynasty's menu very very narrow.

        2. NYC's Chinatown has two fairly recent and decent Sichuan additions (Famous Sichuan and Old Sichuan) in addition to Szechuan Gourmet in midtown. The OP is from Queens and is quite familiar with the excellent Chinese dining scene in Flushing and Elmhurst etc. While Han Dynasty is on my list to visit, it's menu offerings (at least their online menu) are quite limited compared to what is available on Sichuanese menus in NYC.

          16 Replies
          1. re: scoopG

            good point about the op's access to good chinese in flushing and elmhurst. i dont think the offerings in nyc (famous sichuan, old sichuan, szechuan gourmet) compare all that favorably to han, but it's been awhile since i went to those

            1. re: InSearchOfTacos

              First of all you are in great hands if you are going to be spending time with Hollister of HollyEats. Not only is he a Cornell Hotel School Grad (Go Big Red) but he was part of the original Philadelphia restaurant renaissance.

              Pizza - choose among Zavino, Barbuzzo Pizzeria Stella and Osteria. Too bad you wont be here when Nomad opens.

              Vietnamese - Stick to the Washington Ave area.. Nam Phuong would be my first recommendation..

              For the Chinatown area I would look to unique restaurants like Rangoon for Burmese food.

              Someone above mentioned we are a city of neighborhoods.. I would get to Port Richmond and explore the legacy of the Polish population at places like Syrenka's, Swiakis, and Czerw's.

              The Italian Market is not to be missed... but also around there are some very good Tacquieras. Find one that serves Cabeza and lenqua and maybe a pasole. There was a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about tacquieras in Philadelphia.

              Roast Pork - DiNics is a must at the RTM. Johns Roast Pork is another place not to be missed.

              Two other themes for dining in Philadelphia these days are gastropubs and BYOs. For gastros they already mentioned Standard Tap which is fabulous. I would also consider Southwark, South Philly Tap Room and Kaiber Pass.

              For BYOs Modo Mio (good italian), Koo Ze Doo (portugese) Kanella (Cypriot), Bibou (French).

              Places that hearken to a historic Philadelphia - Oyster House with its snapper soup and shuckers, Franklin Fountain for an old time ice cream fountain, and get Holly to find you a place that serves a hot dog with pepper hash another old philadelphia tradition, washed down by a Champs Cherry soda.

              1. re: cwdonald

                Go to Moe's on Washington Ave & Greys Ferry Ave for the hot dog with pepper hash (they also have Champ Cherry). You can even get the Philly surf n turf sandwich there (a hot dog and a fish cake in one roll).

                1. re: Philly Ray

                  Oh my gracious, you just made my product-of-Northeast-Philadelphia-in-the-1970's heart skip a beat!!! Is it a tasty fishcake? And do they have good pepper hash?

                2. re: cwdonald


                  You put together an excellent list, well done!

                  1. re: cwdonald

                    The pizza DOES look good at Zavino. They aren't exactly regional, as opposed to just being really good though. The guy was a Jim Lahey protege... that's a very good sign. I probably won't go b/c it seems too similar to NYC. barbuzzo looks great too.
                    Wow, loook at this one
                    That looks different!

                    Great recommendations! this is exactly the type of stuff I am looking for.

                    This pepper hash is interesting. I've never heard of that before. I gotta do that once. sooo, choices are Moes, Johnny Hots, or Lennys?
                    This combo stuff is crazy. I can't imagine having a fish cake in it with the hot dog. But I will.

                    As for the gastropubs, I also had village whiskey on my list. Is that in the same vein? Should I consider swapping it out for Standard Tap ? I'm not totally likely to do a gastropub, but you never know.

                    The polish section, is it very big? From czerw's to syrenka's is pretty far, right? I guess I'm asking is the section concentrated? I don't have trouble traveling, I prefer it.

                    1. re: Jeffsayyes

                      Village Whiskey has great burgers, but the menu feels more limited to me than your average gastropub (not to mention the endless wait for a seat). If you want a good gastropub, go to the South Philly Tap Room (SPTR).

                      You could spend one day working your way north to south, start in Chinatown/Reading Terminal Market, bike south towards the Italian Market/Washington Ave, then further south to East Passyunk and on to Newbold (where SPTR is). 10th and 13th Street are our new south, north (respectively) dedicated bike lanes through Center City. They connect lots of good eats.

                      1. re: urbanfabric

                        IMO South Philly Taproom is by far the best gastropub. I just tried the grilled haloumi and galia melon salad with roasted jalapeno yogurt dressing and it's right up there with the best fine dining in Center City, actually better and more creative than much of it, and cheaper to boot. Order off the specials menu, except for said salad and the wild boar tacos (not to be missed). The menu online may look boring but specials are things like soft shell crab tacos (amazing), grilled duck hearts, tripe soup. The fish entrees on the specials menu are always excellent also and always local and sustainably caught.

                        Sorry to gush but I just had another excellent meal at SPTR and chef Scott Schroeder is really leaving the other gastropubs in the dust. Also, it's across the street from Ultimo Coffee, which is probably the best espresso in the city. But make sure you hit SPTR for dinner when you can get the specials. It's also right by Hardena for killer and dirt cheap Indonesian.

                        (photos swiped from and I think Drew Lazor took them.)

                      2. re: Jeffsayyes

                        Re pizza... if you are looking for REGIONAL, as opposed to just excellent quality, Tacconelli's and perhaps Marra's would be the only two places I would consider. Otherwise I would look for a Tomato pie.. there are two versions, the cold tomato pie that a place like the Conshohocken bakery does well, and a variation on the Trenton Tomato pie, (see Tonys Tomato Pies in the Frankford section of Philadelphia.)

                        Re Port Richmond aka the Polish neighborhood. All within a five block radius. Not close to center city but once you get there, its walking distance. There are also bakeries in the area that you could consider. And on the outskirts the Warsaw Cafe is good too. Stretches from 95 to the Lady of the Black Madonna Catholic Church along Alleghany Ave.

                        Re Pepper Hash, allow the Philly king of Hot Dogs (Holly) to guide you. PhillyRay had a great suggestion.

                        Village Whiskey is a good bar. Very small. Very crowded. Run by a celebrity chef. If you want more down to earth kinds of food, go to SPTR like barryg suggests.

                        For me I like to go to Standard Tap not for a burger but either for brunch or for esoteric things like the fried smelt. Not everyone's cup of tea, but Standard Tap is one of the few places to still have it. Re Village Whiskey vs Standard Tap .. think of it as the difference between having a burger in the Financial District versus having
                        a burger in Flushing. Two different crowds. Both good.. but atmosphere matters.

                        Wanted to make one comment on your target list of Sweet Lucys. Thats way up in tthe Northeast ie train/and bike. IMNSHO not worth it if thats the only place you are going to go. If you have a driver/friend going with you.. go there, and then also go to Chinks Steaks. Chinks is a great lunch counter kind of a place with great cheesesteaks and very good milk shakes. Definite throwback. Worth the huff but only if you go to both. Otherwise Sweet Lucys quality doesnt justify going out of the way for it. Mind you,. I did grad work in the midwest and I judge BBQ by Arthur Bryants, LCs, Oklahoma Joe's and the like. Very few places north of the Mason Dixon line and East of the Smokies do great BBQ on par with KC, Memphis, or Carolina.

                        1. re: Jeffsayyes

                          The Lenny's location on Street Road, which I wept with joy to see (I grew up less than 2 blocks from Lenny's Hot Dogs on Castor Ave) gave me such lousy food I actually wanted to cry. I ordered a combo with pepper hash. Somehow, nothing on that bun had any flavor or texture whatsoever. The memory still makes me sad.

                          1. re: StrandedYankee

                            Lennys used to be the only place making pepper hash and actually distributed it to different places. Now there are other places making it in house. You can get a combo at a few places now.. Levis in Jenkintown, Hot Diggity, and Underdogs all serve a combo that includes pepper hash. For the best discussion of Philadelphia hot dogs, check out

                    2. re: scoopG

                      Thanks ScoopG!
                      I'm only going once, so a limited menu is doable. Did you see those dan dan noodles?? The pictures look pretty good.... I'm intrigued, maybe the level there is different. I haven't been blown away anywhere in NYC by szechuan, I think... I can't keep track.

                      1. re: Jeffsayyes

                        Han Dynasty is not worth going just for the Dan Dan noodles. Half of the fun of Han Dynasty is interacting with Han, and also eating some of the more exotic dishes on the menu, such as the beef and tripe, or the tendon. I recently was at their 20 course dinner in Royersford, and do feel that they dialed it down for the 'burbs.

                        Highlights of our chinatown are Sang Kee Duck house for Peking Duck, Nan Zhou for hand drawn Noodles, and one of several places for Juicy Buns.. (not quite up to par with Joes or some of the better Shanghai places in NYC or Queens), I personally would go for what is different like Rangoon, and Penang if you havent been to one of them in NYC.

                        Frankly if you want to try some different type of Asian food go to Indonesia or Hardena in South Philly.

                        1. re: Jeffsayyes

                          I can relate about Dan Dan Noodles as I am quite critical of most preps. I think the Philly Chinatown is great but will come up a bit short compared to NYC. Personally I'd focus in on the other recs appearing here...

                          1. re: Jeffsayyes

                            Perhaps you do need to check out Han Dynasty's Dan Dan Noodles!

                        2. From the list you provided l would heartily agree with the following

                          Reading Terminal Market
                          John's Roast Pork
                          Chickie's Deli
                          Tacconelli's- The only pizza l eat in Philadelphia, my opinion only

                          The can't miss not on your list is Nick's Roast Beef at 20th and Jackson.
                          My fav cheesesteak is Chinks.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            Thanks so much everyone, this is really shaping up. I'm continuously updating my map. I've put in Red must-have places, and the blue ones will be where I will go if I'm going by them.

                            I'll spend about 4 days there. not sure if I can hit all of them, but I'll do my best to be awesome. keep the discussion open. I've also enlisted the help of I think we have very similar taste.

                            village whiskey is off , replaced by south philly tap room. Also, thanks to phillyphoodie, My Tho crawfish and Christo's falafel seem are really interesting picks just added.

                            1. re: Jeffsayyes

                              Your trip looks amazing.

                              Are you doing all this on bike? Do your local guides know the neighborhoods and what streets are best for biking? You are hitting some really diverse areas. If you want some help planning safe and scenic bike routes swing by and ask, you'll get lots of great advice.

                              1. re: barryg

                                Thanks! I'm possibly staying with 2 couchsurfers, but they will probably be working. And I'm supposed to meet holly and philly phoodie, but it's not like they are going to guide me around the place or anything. well, I don't really know what's going to happen.

                                Yes, I'm doing it all on bike. I'm riding down from NYC on it on wednesday.