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Where's great in Philadelphia

Hi, I am from London and currently planning a trip for next Spring to travel from Boston to New York and on to Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. Please can anyone help to suggest anywhere that's good? I'm open to all cuisines, but authentic Philadelphia would be great.

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  1. I am guessing that you should at least try eating a Philly Cheesesteak since it is from Philadelphia and it so iconic.

    1. We have other dishes that are emblematic of Philadelphia in addition to the cheesesteak. I would suggest that you consider going to the Reading Terminal Market, a large building with lots of food vendors and places to eat. I would eat at the Dutch Eating place and experience Amish style food. I probably would order chicken and dumplings.

      Another dish strongly associated with Philadelphia is snapper soup. The best version these days in my opinion is at the Oyster House.

      If you want to experience Colonial style cooking, you could visit CIty Tavern in Old City Philadelphia.

      And since we have a large italian immigrant population here, you would do well to try some of the "red gravy" italian restaurants in South Philadelphia. One of the most famous is Ralph's, And you should go to either Termini's or Isgro's bakery and have a cannoli.

      I am sure others will have suggestions for other iconic foods in Philadelphia.

      1. Philadelphia has good regional food access so one of the farm to table type restaurants could give you a really good taste of the area

        There is also a lot of local beer here that if you like beer is worth trying -

        There is good Italian food (philly would claim Italian as it's own) Modo Mio and LeVirtu come to mine

        To experience Philly for Philly to me is to enjoy some of the smaller casual neighborhood places. If you have time I would get out of Center City and visit a few of the close in neigborhoods - where much of the culinary action has been happening - Fishtown/Northern Liberties. East Passyunk. and Fairmount are all full of good 'authentic' neighborhood eateries that are tourist worthy.

        1. +1 to Reading Terminal Market, that is a must.

          I'd suggest Eater's lists for a starting point to explore:
          "Philly's 20 Most Iconic Dishes": http://philly.eater.com/archives/2012...

          "38 Essential Restaurants": http://philly.eater.com/archives/2014...

          "Where to Eat Right Now": http://philly.eater.com/archives/2014...

          1 Reply
          1. re: barryg

            those are good links - especially the 2nd two - good broad overview

          2. I'd concur with all those posts below. Since you're from London, I'd chime in on a few other points:

            - Zahav -- You're probably very experienced with Middle Eastern cuisine, and this is Philadelphia's take on it. IMO, some of the best tastes in the city. The chef is really engrained into the Philly foodie fabric (he has a series of donut and fried chicken restaurants called Federal Donuts, that are oh so Philadelphia right now). So, if you're getting a craving for Middle-Eastern, this is a great stop

            Vedge -- Philadelphia has a big vegan community. I don't think veganism is as big in Europe. Vedge is like the haute-cuisine of vegan. Don't worry, the taste quotient is very high

            Unfortunately, we don't do well on the Indian-food front. You'll be hard pressed to find anything that compares. If, however, you're trekking from Philadelphia up to NYC, you might want to stop in between in an area of Northern New Jersey called Edison. It's the Indian-food mecca of the United States. Great southern Indian, dosas are wonderful, IME, and of course a bevy of Northern dishes which are more plentiful here.

            1. Osteria, Matyson, Morimoto, Capogiro Gelato.

              1. Definitely agree on Zahav and Capogiro, and would 100% recommend skipping City Tavern (extremely forgettable colonial food) or even the Italian spots mentioned.

                I think Philly has some interesting modern one off restaurants that you cannot find elsewhere, particularly in the other cities you are visiting. Philly cheesesteak is definitely iconic and good to eat once, but it's definitely gut busting casual eating.

                21 Replies
                1. re: kasiav

                  also should add Kanella for brunch/lunch and if you enjoy cocktails, hop sing laundromat

                  1. re: kasiav

                    Oooh, forgot about cocktails. Franklin Mortgage Co. is a favorite. Must try hop sing next time!

                  2. re: kasiav

                    Name me one restaurant we have here you cannot find in London.. they have restaurants doing similar food to Zahav, there certainly are vegetarian, italian, sushi. I would not even mention any other indian restaurant relative to what London has, and their chinatown is much better than ours too. But there is hardly anything here except for things that are typically american comfort food that you cannot find in London.

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      Volver? I'm unfamiliar if "performance" type of cuisine can be found in London similar to the Alinea model.

                      1. re: cwdonald

                        Certainly a city like London has restaurants of every stripe (though I wonder if they do have a Burmese?) but I think the point of the post is that Philly has some great chef driven restaurants like Serpico, Fond, Ela, etc and that experience is unique to the restaurant.

                        1. re: barryg

                          I know for a fact they have 1 Burmese. I have eaten there, and the owner actually is good friends with the owner of Rangoon.

                          I think you are right about the chef driven restaurants.

                          1. re: barryg

                            Burma being a former British colony, I'm pretty sure there are plenty of Burmese restaurants in London.

                            1. re: SP1

                              I think Burma is famous for avoiding colonialism as it was a nice divide between British and french aspirations. Could embarrassingly be mixing up the country though

                              1. re: dndicicco

                                You're thinking of Thailand. Right next door to Burma. It separated French Indochina from the British Empire.

                                The Philippines were an American colony, but you'd be hard pressed to find that cuisine in Philadelphia.

                                1. re: Boognish

                                  There is at least one: http://citypaper.net/article.php?Phil...

                                  I had been to a place called Manila Bay some years ago in the Northeast too but it seems to have closed.

                          2. re: cwdonald

                            Authentic Philadelphia, that is a tough one. With the immigrant nature of our population and thus the origins of their foods, most food have origins elsewhere. Finding interesting food with variations is another question and should be easily found in our fair city. With the 60 year rule of the British in Burma, I would bet a quid that there are Burmese restaurants in London even beyond the one noted here. British Empire immigrants have been bringing their culture and food to London for centuries, they have it all!

                            1. re: Bacchus101

                              There may very well be. Several tour guides, and newspaper articles tout it as the only burmese restaurant in london. I am sure there are burmese restaurant owners, but they may be serving, pan asian, thai, indian, etc food, rather than just food from their homeland. How many so called Japanese restaurants are run by Korean or Chinese families?

                              That said, it is an interesting question when someone asks what is authentic to Philadelphia. I love the list of dishes that barryg posted a link to, but for the most part there is nothing intrinsicly Philadelphian about it. Good food nonetheless. Or have we gotten to the point where regional homoginzation is so great there are fewer and fewer unique dishes in a city like Philadelphia?

                              1. re: cwdonald

                                Strange topic to be discussing on Philly CH but here are two more Burmese in London. The Mandalay restaurant on Edgware Road is the best-known Burmese restaurant in London, there is the Yadana Café near North End Market in Fulham. For take-away Mum’s House. I would suspect there are many more neighborhood Burmese not noted. I have often seen an original Pennsylvania foods notation on CH and am a bit amused by the lists that are presented. All foods or variations of food of other origins. Perhaps a Corn dish? Is that the only true food of American origin?

                                1. re: Bacchus101

                                  Mandalay is where I have eaten multiple times and spoken with the owner about his experiences in Philadelphia. They have been there for 20 years.

                                  Snapper soup is definitely regional though you can find it down in Maryland. She crab soup, again though probably better near the shore. Amish food though that really has more origins in Lancaster county and other more rural areas.

                                  Soft pretzel, goldmans chews, tasty kakes and cheesesteaks are what is most oft associated with the city. The gastropub is well done here but that really has its origins in london and then the Spotted Hog in NYC.

                                  And then the BYO restaurant....

                                  1. re: cwdonald

                                    Assuming you mean the Spotted Pig, Standard Tap here predates it by several years. I think Royal Tavern predates it as well, but not 100% sure when they opened. I think Standard Tap is the first gastropub in the US (though it's a tough concept to pin down).

                                    1. re: barryg

                                      Thanks for the correction on the name. I was just parroting what I have read in numerous articles with regards to the gastropub in the US. Standard Tap definitely predates Spotted Pig, though the food and atmosphere at Spotted Pig are on a different level. That said, Philadelphia is definitely a great representative for the American gastropub, and craft beer culture in general.

                                      1. re: cwdonald

                                        The gastropub is one American food trend NYC cannot claim, even though they try. I have not been to Spotted Pig but what is great about Standard Tap is that it retains a corner pub atmosphere and prices are very reasonable. It's not a fine dining restaurant with a pub theme, it's a pub with good food and beer. The food these days can be hit or miss, but the hits are still very good.

                                        1. re: barryg

                                          The Standard Tap? - Nobody goes there anymore it's too crowded! LOL

                                          I remember being taken there - years ago before Northern Liberties had quite "Happened" before the word "Hipster" was common parlance - it felt so cool and OBT, they were definitely a frontrunner on that trend. Now it is exactly what its name implies - a good neighborhood standard, as is the formerly painfully hipster Johnny Brenda's. While it seems sort of silly to tell a Londoner to go to a pub local joints like Standard Tap, JB's etc definitely are as "authentically" Philly as it gets in atmosphere, menu, and beer list. (local, local, and local) Local & Neighborhood based is what Philly does best and these are the type of places to get a feel for how the city lives.

                                          There are a lot of good gastro-pubs to choose from but making one part of your visit would be a good call.

                                          1. re: JTPhilly

                                            You know I was just at ST last week and I was surprised to see that the inside seating was almost deserted. There was a wait for the patio, though.

                              2. re: cwdonald

                                do they? personally i think modern/high end israeli is not something most cities have.. and even then, do they do it notably well? probably not.

                                the op is visiting a number of other cities that also do american comfort food well, and i would think it makes sense to mix it up with a few options certainly unique to our city that i would also rate as top tier.

                            2. Was wondering...would some of our very casual Washington Ave tacquerias be of interest? Certainly not indigenous to Philly but possibly something you can't easily get in London, particularly those that are more Pueblan...

                              1. The Oyster House on Sansom Street has snapper soup and chicken salad and fried oyster platters - authentic Philadelphia dishes from back in the day. They also have excellent raw oysters. City Tavern is the only restaurant I know that still serves Philadelphia pepperpot soup. Although the Tavern is not itself authentic, it's modeled on an 18th century tavern that stood in the area and features recipes based on 18th century ones. The servers are all in costume. Reading Terminal Market is the place to go for Philadelphia sticky buns (Beiler's bakery), Pennsylvania Dutch food, Bassett's Philadelphia style ice cream (try the Gadzooks or the Guatemalan Ripple, flavors thought up by two Philly disc jockeys), Tastykake snack cakes (try butterscotch krimpets or the chocolate covered peanut butter Tandy Takes), Goldenberg's peanut chews candy, and Herr's potato chips. The Down Home Diner there also serves Philadelphia scrapple or pork roll for breakfast. Get a roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe at DiNic's. I like the cheesesteaks at Jim's on South Street, but you could also visit Pat's and Geno's in South Philly- they have had a long standing rivalry that's been well publicized. They'll ask you if you want your steak "with" or "without" fried onions. Visit the nearby Italian Market for cannolis and other Italian baked goodies from Termini's bakery. Walk around and look at the various vendors - Fante's kitchen products, Esposito's meats, etc. John's water ice is also in South Philly. For authentic South Philly red gravy dining, try Ralph's or Dante & Luigi's, two of the oldest restaurants in the city. I might also visit McGillin's Old Ale House, the oldest Irish pub in Philly. On Market Street, Franklin Fountain has excellent ice cream, sundaes and milkshakes all made from local ingredients. I might also have drinks on the Moshulu, an old sailing ship docked permanently on Columbus Avenue, and look out over the Delaware River from their deck. I wouldn't necessarily eat there, though. I would also save room for a donut at Federal Donuts. Have drinks at Hop Sing Laundromat. Although I have never eaten there, the Waterworks restaurant looks out over Boathouse Row, a beautiful area of the Schuylkill River, and the boathouses are usually lit up at night.

                                2 Replies