Philadelphia is a great food city with plenty to offer beyond cheesesteaks and pretzels. Here are my recommendations for 10 great Philadelphia eats:
10. Beer Gardens
Nothing says summer like a great beer garden, and they seem to be popping up all over Philadelphia. Somehow everything tastes better when you are outside in a beautiful setting. The Independence Beer Garden is steps away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Grab the Victory Summer Love on draft and play some ping pong. There is a fairly extensive food menu as well, but I usually stick with the beer.
9. Amish Food
There is a whole Amish section in Philadelphia’s famed Reading Terminal Market. The Dutch Eating Place is always crowded. The hot apple dumpling with cream taste like they are right out of grandma’s kitchen. The humongous blueberry pancakes are popular too.
Fried chicken and doughnuts seem to be a nationwide craze these days. Federal Donuts was one of the early successes, if not the originator of the concept. The fried chicken is available with some great seasonings or glazes and is accompanied by a honey donut. I generally prefer yeast donuts over the cake variety, but these are done well. The daily offerings include strawberry lavender, cinnamon sugar, and cookies and cream; and are cooked hot to order. The “Fancy” offerings including banana cream pie, blueberry pancake and burnt caramel; are excellent.
Many travel guides will recommend Beiler’s donuts in Reading Terminal Market. This place knows how to make a great yeast donut, but the toppings are generally too sweet for my taste. The original glazed is pretty good, but the popular maple bacon donut (usually my favorite) has a cloyingly sweet icing that is not even balanced by the salty bacon.
7. Coffee & Tea Houses
Most people associate Seattle with coffeehouses, but Philadelphia is a coffee town. There are excellent small coffee houses roasting their own beans all over town. La Colombe has grown beyond its hometown to New York, DC, LA, and Chicago; but the cafes still offer some great coffee. I will never turn down a pretty latte!
Tea houses of both the Asian and British variety are popular in the city. For something a little different, visit A La Mousse in Chinatown for a great Matcha Latte and Green Tea-ra-misu. The dessert presentation looks like it was directly inspired by the often photographed Matcha Parfait at Salon Ginza in Tokyo, down to the traditional Japanese masu and wooden tray. The ice cream that is served with many of the cakes puts a unique twist on a menu that otherwise include favorites found throughout Japan. A La Mousse describes it’s menu as “traditional confections re-imagined and spiked with a novel Asian flare.” I see it as the other way around.
6. Ice Cream
You’ve heard of a microbrewery, but have you heard of a micro creamery? Weckerly’s makes seriously good ice cream in small batches. Their pints and ice cream sandwiches are sold at gourmet markets all over the city. We picked some up at the Fair Food Farm Stand in Reading Terminal Market. The Vibrant Local Strawberries on Slices of Buttery Shortcake and Locally Grown Mint with Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge on Dark Chocolate Wafers were excellent. Vibrant is the perfect word to describe the intensely fresh strawberry flavor. The mint is distinctly fresh and herbal which matched perfectly with the sea salt and chocolate. These are complex, yet balanced flavors.
Most travel guides will recommend the Franklin Fountain. Located in Old City, the owners have done a fabulous job recreating the atmosphere of a soda fountain from another time. It’s worth a stop if you have a serious sweet tooth and don’t mind standing in a long line. Keep in mind that the line can be a good 30 – 45 minutes once you step inside the front door. The honeycomb ice cream is pretty good, but most of the flavors rank high on the sweet scale. Order a sundae and the sweetness is over the top. This place is particularly popular with young tourists!
Philadelphia has some great vegan restaurants that are winning a following among vegans and carnivores alike. Vedge is ranked among the top vegan restaurants in the US, and one of the best in Philadelphia overall. V Street is a vegan street food bar opened by the chefs behind Vedge. The food and drink menu take inspiration from around the world.
Our favorite cocktail was the Kyoto Cooler with shochu, yuzu, and umeboshi, garnished with a radish. The shishito peppers with togarashi and burnt miso “mayo,” had both Asian and Middle Eastern flavors. The seared market greens with pickled tofu was refreshing with a surprising kick of heat. The Peruvian fries with ahi amarillo, cilantro, dried olive and peanut may have been our favorite. The Dan Dan noodles offer just the right amount of spice and after trying the seared mushrooms, you may never go back to pork again. The havla soft serve with sour cherries was the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
One of my biggest tips for food photography is to use good lighting – natural is always best. Unfortunately you don’t have much choice when you go out for a candle light dinner. These photos definitely don’t show the beauty of V Street’s amazing food. We had such a great meal that I immediately ordered the cookbook. V Street: 100 Globe-Hopping Plates on the Cutting Edge of Vegetable Cooking.
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4. Dim Sum
Philadelphia has a thriving Chinatown, unlike some US cities where the majority of the population and restaurants have moved to the suburbs (I’m looking at you DC). Dim Sum Garden comes highly recommended, particularly for soup dumplings. The chef is said to be a descendant of one of the original chefs who created the original soup dumpling. The Chinese broccoli with garlic was very good. The chewy home pulled noodles with pork was the unexpected favorite. You could imagine someone’s grandmother making the noodles in the back. The real surprise was that I didn’t particularly like the Shanghai style soup dumplings that put this place on the map. I’ll choose the soup dumplings at Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung over these any day, but I will be back for the noodles!
The cheesesteak is probably the most famous Philadelphia sandwich but there are other great sandwiches in town too. If you’ve never had a real Philly cheesesteak, it’s worth trying. Anything that you’ve had in another city, particularly listed as a “Philadelphia Steak and Cheese,” is not the real thing. However another great local sandwich is the roast pork. Order it with provolone and broccoli rabe. The version at DiNic’s in Reading Terminal Market was named as “best sandwich in America,” by the Travel Channel.
You can get bunch anywhere, but Philadelphia has some really great options. On our most recent trip we had a delightful brunch at High Street on Market. The restaurant is well known for some unique breakfast sandwiches, but after a few days of eating out we wanted something lighter. The Philadelphia Fog is an Earl Grey milk tea with lavender. The house-made ginger yogurt is served with pistachios and seasonal fruit. The cardamom honey takes it to a higher level. Rhubarb and ricotta on toast with pepper and rosemary is almost as savory as it is sweet. It’s hard to pass up the bakery items – we ordered a strawberry ricotta hand pie and almond date cake to-go.
1. Set Menus
Set Menus, Pre Fixe, Tasting Menu. . . they are popping up at restaurants all over the city. Talula’s Daily is a great market and cafe that turns into a “Secret Super Club” in the evening. The market becomes a magical place with tea light candles sprinkled throughout the pantry shelves. A seat for two next to the great cheese selection is somehow romantic, with the lights reflecting in the glass case. There is one set menu per month , with an optional beverage pairing. The staff is absolutely delightful. Andrew, the table manager, and Nicole, our expert server elevated the evening with their clear passion for food and extensive knowledge of the wine.
The May menu started with a crispy vegetable tempura with a cucumber miso sauce. The crisp batter was perfectly light and perfectly seasoned. The wine paring was a delightful Fuchs 2015 Grüner Veltliner. Nicole transported us to asparagus season in Austria with her knowledgeable description of the wine.
We opted to add the Chef’s feature as a sixth course. The pork belly sliders were glazed with the most flavorful tamari based sauce that I have tried.
The rest of the menu was just as special and the wines paired perfectly. We had fettuccine with peas and preserved lemon, garlic bread, seared salmon with sorrel-basil pistou and creamy potato, and baked brie with strawberries and almonds. The meal ended with a really enjoyable coconut milk cake with curry cashews and lime. I usually lean towards trying new restaurants when I travel, but the really great food, atmosphere and staff will keep me coming back to try new monthly menus!