Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a true “foodie” town, full of varied dining choices and culinary delights. Whether your tastes run towards the gourmet, or you prefer simpler street fare, Philadelphia has something to delight and tempt any food lover. Living in this city for over fifteen years, I’ve had plenty of time to taste my way around Philadelphia and its various neighborhoods, from West Philly to Old City to Queens Village. There are certain dishes at my favorite Philadelphia restaurants that I just can’t resist ordering every time I go there. These are my picks for the dishes you shouldn’t miss either, whether you are visiting Philadelphia as a tourist or are a new resident looking to explore the city. From appetizers to entrees, to snacks and desserts, these are twenty dishes that will make you realize that Philadelphia is not just the City of Brotherly Love, but the City of Culinary Love as well.
1. The Roast Pork sandwich from DiNic’s.
51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-2954
Forget about cheesesteaks. If there’s one sandwich that defines Philadelphia according to most local foodies, it’s the roast pork sandwich at this famous stand in Reading Terminal Market. Wait in line at DiNic’s and order this delectable sandwich “wet”, with broccoli rabe and provolone cheese. You’ll never want a cheesesteak again.
2. Macho Nachos at El Vez.
121 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Sit at the bar, order a margarita and then a plate of these amazing nachos while taking in “the scene” at this colorful Steven Starr joint in Center City. Lots of places in Philadelphia serve up nachos, but few do it as good as El Vez. Their version features shredded steak, black beans, smoked chili salsa, and creme fresca. They achieve just the right balance of chips, toppings and cheese to keep the tortillas crisp while giving you plenty of goodies for dipping, scooping, and savoring. The Macho Nachos may be listed as a starter on their menu, but it more than makes a generous meal for one.
3. Fried Calamari at Novita Bistro.
1608 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146-1542
Fried calamari is another dish nearly every bar and Italian joint serves up in Philadelphia. But at this quaint mediterranean BYOB on South Street, Chef Hassan Zanzoul puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. His generous plate of tender calamari rings is drizzled in a deliciously sweet and sour balsamic reduction, with cherry peppers tossed in for heat. It’s my favorite fried calamari preparation not just in Philadelphia, but anywhere in the world.
4. Vermicelli Combo at Vietnam Palace.
222 North 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-1721
This is a platter meant for a king – only right, then, that it’s served in a “Palace.” Vietnam Palace is a long-standing Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, favored by many for their well-prepared food, good value and friendly service. Vietnam Palace’s Vermicelli Combo plate features a delicately-fried spring roll, charbroiled shrimp, grilled stuffed grape leaves, and sweet-sour meatballs piled high on vermicelli noodles. Picked vegetables and a perfect dipping sauce round out this amazing place, an absolute bargain at only $15.
5. Salt-baked Branzino at Cichetteria 19.
267 South 19th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
If they have branzino as a special for the night, you must get it here. While lots of Italian restaurants in Philadelphia serve up a whole branzino, nowhere else but at this Rittenhouse Square establishment can you get it Venetian style, baked in a thick salt-crust. You’ll watch in amazement as the salt crust is cracked and peeled away, and the fish carefully filleted table-side for you. The salt crust leaves the meat unbelievably sweet and tender, yet not salty at all. Order the branzino for two and you’ll enjoy a magical meal.
6. The Windsor Burger at Pub & Kitchen.
1946 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146-1411
The battle for best burger in Philadelphia rages on, but my pick is the amazing Windsor. Homemade maple bacon and delicious cheddar top this well-dressed, ample-sized, quality-meat hamburger. It’s served with terrific shoestring fries and is enough food to last you an entire day. Pub & Kitchen’s charming gastropub interior makes this Center City West establishment a great place for late-night eats, or an early dinner before an evening out on the town.
7. Pork Belly Buns at Chifa.
707 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Iron Chef Jose Garces’ unique Peruvian-Cantonese restaurant, Chifa, serves up the most amazing pork buns. Delicate, sweet, and oh-so-tender, you may want to order multiple plates of these, especially if sharing – no one will be satisfied with just one serving of these beauties. These steamed buns are truly what dreams are made of and are easily my favorite dish I’ve tasted at any of Garces’ Philadelphia restaurants.
8. Crab Fries from Chickie & Pete’s.
Various locations including 11000 Roosevelt Blvd, Philadelphia PA 19116
If you’re going to a ball game at Citizens Bank Park or an event at the Wachovia Center, or watching the game at one of Chickie & Pete’s other Philadelphia locations, don’t miss getting a bucket of these addictive fries. The Old Bay Seasoning may seem a strange pairing with fries at first, but one bite of these perfectly done fries and their melted cheese sauce and you’ll be hooked for life.
9. Vitello Milanese at Roberto Cafe.
2108 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146-1227
Veal Milanese is a classic staple of Italian cooking, but it’s surface simplicity belies how difficult it can be to prepare it well. Roberto Cafe, a charming Italian BYOB on South Street in Philadelphia, executes this dish consistently to perfection. The veal chop is always well-cooked and tender with a crisp, breaded crust, accented by a light salad of fresh arugula and tomatoes. Order this dish to be immediately transported to Italy.
10. Whole Grilled Artichoke at Mercato.
1216 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
When visiting Mercato, a bustling Italian BYOB on Spruce Street, there is one dish you must get when it’s on the menu: the Whole Grilled Artichoke. Peel off each leaf and dip it into their wonderful aioli dipping sauce…it’s perfect for sharing before your main meal.
11. Bitter Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Gelato at Capogiro.
Various locations including 117 S 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Capogiro Gelato is a Philadelphia favorite, serving up wonderful Italian-style gelato prepared daily at their various locations. Philadelphians love Capogiro so much, there is even a food blog devoted to singing its praises! Capogiro’s flavor selection is diverse and always changing, but some favorites are almost always available. Sample as many as you like, then mix and match to come up with unique flavor profiles all your own. One of my favorites is to combine the Bitter Dark Chocolate and the Sea Salt gelatos. This combination may seem strange at first, but if you love salty-sweet foods then you are in for a treat. The delicate salt flavor brings out the intense dark chocolate amazingly well.
12. Dolsot Bi Bim Bap at Giwa.
1608 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
This small neighborhood gem on Sansom Street delights the lunch crowd of Center City with well-prepared and nicely-priced Korean staples. Best of all is their excellent Dolsot Bi Bim Bap. Sit at the counter and watch them prepare it right before your eyes, as rice, fresh vegetables, and then the meat of your choice (or tofu) is piled high in a sizzling hot stone bowl. Mix it all together with some spicy sauce and then wait for the heat of the bowl to give a nutty, burnt “crust” to the rice. Giwa’s Dolsot Bi Bum Bap is not only delicious but beautiful in presentation, and a hearty meal to get you through the workday.
13. Apple Fritters at Square 1682.
121 South 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Hotel dining soars to trendy heights at Square 1682, the new restaurant at Center City’s Hotel Palomar emphasizing small-plate dining. But make sure to save room for dessert when you visit, so you can sample their wonderful apple fritters. Served hot and with apple cider caramel and Madagascar vanilla bean ice cream, these delicious fritters make for a great dessert to share – if you can bear to part with even just one off your plate.
14. Moroccan Plate at Bistro St. Tropez.
2400 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
For a wonderful taste of French-inspired Mediterranean cuisine, head to Bistro St. Tropez in Center City – and don’t miss this amazing appetizer definitely meant for two. Presented artistically on an elevated plate, this sampler dish includes hummus, eggplant caviar, roasted beets, grilled red peppers, asparagus, tomato, olives, lemon currant chutney, and crispy pita chips. It’s as delicious to eat as it is to look at – and an absolute bargain at $9.95.
15. Marinated Sardines at Amis.
412 S. 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147
Marc Vetri’s homage to the Roman Trattoria, Amis serves up a wonderful selection of Italian small plates inspired by the food of Rome. At this Washington Square restaurant, one of my favorite dishes is his excellently prepared marinated sardines. These are nothing like the tinned sardines most Americans are used to. Here, fresh sardines are lovingly marinated and served with pickled vegetables for a truly Italian taste.
16. Grilled Baby Romaine Caesar with crispy lavash and shaved locatelli at Audrey Claire.
276 S 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
This long-time favorite Center City BYOB features a seasonally changing menu, but when they have it don’t miss their unique take on the old favorite, the Caesar salad. If you’ve never had grilled romaine, you’re missing an absolute treat. This generous salad could easily make a light meal all on its own.
17. Irish Breakfast at The Black Sheep Pub.
247 S 17th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
This classic Irish pub on 17th Street in Philadelphia is the perfect place to nurse a hangover over a leisurely Sunday brunch. While there, nothing can cure the hangover blues better than their amazing Irish Breakfast platter. This plate comes overflowing with two eggs and rashers, bangers, baked beans, black & white pudding, Irish bacon, grilled tomato, mushroom and an English muffin. Not only is it a lot of food, but it’s excellently prepared as well.
18. Soft Tofu Chigae at Miran Korean Restaurant.
2034 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
Speaking of great hangover cures, another surefire fix is a steaming hot and spicy bowl of Korean tofu stew. I’ve loved this dish for many years and Miran prepares an excellent version of it, complete with raw egg to crack into your bubbling bowl to cook before your eyes. I’m partial to the seafood version, featuring shrimp and calamari. Miran’s banchan, or Korean small plates, are excellent as well, especially their kim chee.
19. Grilled Vegetable Salad at 12th Street Cantina.
51 N 12th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
12th Street Cantina is one of my favorite stops in Reading Terminal Market, and I almost always have to get this generous and tasty salad when I’m there. On top of a bed of refried beans they pile fresh romaine, grated cheese, salsa fresca, sour cream, grilled fajita-style vegetables and their homemade tortilla chips. It’s like a healthier version of nachos, and extremely filling.
20. Bacon Stack at Ants Pants Cafe.
2212 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146
This dish is one of my favorite breakfast picks, for Sunday brunch or even during the week. This excellent plate at the Center City West Ants Pants Cafe features toasted country white bread topped with bacon, tomato, arugula, sunny side up eggs and pecorino romano cheese. It’s a hearty way to start the morning off right, especially with a cup of their excellent brewed coffee and perhaps a side of sweet potato fries.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to some of the best things to eat in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Next time you visit, try some of them out – and let me know if you’ve discovered any new favorite things to eat in Philadelphia as well.