The flavor goodness that is Philadelphia still has me drooling in my dreams. And, I barely scratched the surface of this urban food metropolis!
(Yep. I went to cheer for Alice and spent most of the time stuffing my face. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Because if you take one piece of advice from this post, let it be this: Arrive hungry and eat your way through Philadelphia!)
Despite the humidity (and mosquitos!), Philly has me smitten. Its flat terrain encouraged wandering from eatery to eatery. The residents were pleasantly warm and welcoming. (One of our Lyft drivers attributed this to the Eagles winning the Super Bowl. I like to think it’s because Philadelphians are on a constant food-high.)
Oozing history, the City of Brotherly Love’s cobblestone streets and quaint townhouses made me giddy.
There’s still a lot left to sample. Like Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop, Ishkabibble’s Eatery, and Del Rossi’s Cheesesteak Co. for round two, three, and four of Philly Cheesesteak. Federal Donuts, for more fried dough goodness. Pretzels from a street vendor. Bagels. All of them. But, there were some pretty epic bites I would love to repeat.
What follows isn’t meant to be an authoritative I-know-everything guide. Rather, it’s more like ‘here’s some good spots where I grubbed and loved my way through Philadelphia.’
Not all places have pictures, because the lighting often made taking them pointless. Guess you’ll need to go see for yourself…And because I was wordy, here’s the quick rundown. Click to jump to what you love best.
SouthGate (Modern Korean)
Franklin Fountain (Ice Cream!)
High Street on Market (Farm-to-table season fare)
Yards (Philadelphia Craft Brewery)
Jim’s on South Street (Philly Cheesesteak)
Double Knot (Japanese + Sushi & Best All-Around Meal)
Tredici Enoteca (Pasta Goodness & Favorite Bite of the Trip)
Reading Terminal Market (historic landmark)
Spruce Street Harbor Park (Riverfront Amusement Park and Beer Garden)
Franklin Court Printing Office (historic landmark)
Liberty Bell (historic landmark)
I loved this little corner joint, with its moody interior lighting and breezy patio seats. The menu as SouthGate took the best of Korean fare and gave it a modern American twist — often dressing up traditional street food with a bit of elegance.
Far and away, our favorite dish was the Pajeon – a Korean style ‘pancake.’ Pan fried, this savory dish can come with any number of fillings. We ordered the one spiked with kimchi and pork belly.
My second favorite was the Japchae – a sultry bowl of glassy noodles loaded with spinach, carrots, onions, scallions, cabbage, and sesame seeds. We added beef. It was moist and flavorful.
We also had the eggplant AND the Bibimbap! If the name doesn’t make you smile, the presentation’s sure to impress. This hearty dish is served in a sizzling hot stone pot.
It’s a texture bomb of rice and veggies, topped with a sultry fried egg and gochujang (a slightly spicy red sauce). We ordered ours with tofu, a choice I was hesitant about, but found surprisingly enjoyable. The tofu had some bite to it and soaked up the flavors from the bowl.
SouthGate Happy Hour
We missed the Happy Hour from 4 – 6 PM, but it looks like a killer deal. I’d try and plan to make it there for that next time.
Franklin Fountain (CASH ONLY)
Franklin Fountain’s soda jerks (a name the counter assistants wear proudly) are a sweet scooping reminder that old school is still cool. At the turn of the 20th century, courting couples would come to such establishments to make eyes over whip cream topped shakes and large bowls of vanilla and chocolate.
Franklin Fountain was so good we went not once, but twice! The Franklin Mint Chip, a White Peppermint ice cream was oh-so-creamy and studded with just the right amount (read A LOT) of chocolate. I had it in a fresh, crispy waffle cone, which (much to my surprise) didn’t become a dripping mess.
Their Hydrox Cookie serves as the Fountain’s version of cookies and cream. It too had an impressive cookie to ice cream ratio. This one I ordered in a ‘box’ — only because I was lacking the room for a cone and a scoop. But, the Chinese-style takeout boxes offered a fun alternative to the boring cardboard bowls you typically get at an ice cream shop.
Dietary Friendly Ice Cream
The Fountain also does a really good job of catering to those with dietary issues, offering dairy-free and sugar-free options. Alice had the vegan Pumpkin, a seasonal flavor. It was so good I never would have known it was dairy-free!
Additional Franklin Locations
The original location on the corner of Market and Letitia is cash only. Halfway down the block on Market, you’ll find the Franklin Ice Cream Bar, where true to their name they serve ice cream bars (and accept credit cards).
At Pens Landing (learn more about this fabulous spot below) has two additional Franklin sweet treat vendors. The SS Franklin Fountain where you’ll find ice cream milkshakes, floats, and hot buttermilk waffle ice cream sandwiches. The Franklin Sugar Shack dishes up real fruit fancy ices, freshly pressed sugar cane juice, custard, and a selection of mocktails.
Named among ‘America’s 20 Best Dessert Spots’ by Fodor, Belier’s Doughnuts has been frying, glazing and filling handmade treats for more than 30 years. This Amish bakery originally opened in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market (more about this below), but has since expanded to include three additional locations.
We sampled a large selection, including the classic Apple Fritter. It delivered a hint of apple and a light interior. The Chocolate Coconut Iced offered textured, chocolate sweetness that hinted at an island getaway. But it was the sour cream old fashioned that really did it for me. Like a grownup version of my childhood go-to, it was moist with a bit of tang that hit the spot in all the right ways.
High Street on Market
Low lighting, rustic décor, and an open kitchen set the stage for High Street on Market’s intimate dining experience. Their knowledgeable staff was quick to help navigate the menu, whether that be tailoring dishes to meet food allergies or helping to manage portion sizes.
The Grilled Peaches offered a unique twist to the succulent stone fruit, pairing them with amaretto spiked yogurt and radishes. The Burrata (a personal favorite) came loaded with bright plums and a generously sliced whole grain toast. It. Was. Exquisite.
Main courses were generously seasoned. The Bucatini had a toothsome bite. It was studded with heirloom tomatoes, a welcomed touch of acidity. The grilled branzino was beautifully presented, the tail and head intact. And the hangar steak can with crispy tater tots – a whimsically delightful addition.
A modernized version of Seattle’s Queen Anne Beerhall, Yards’ Tap Room is filled with long communal tables and a jovial vibe that encourages toasting. The site is also home to their active brewery, which dominates the 70,000-square-foot facility. (Tours are available, but we didn’t have time to take one.)
Founded in 1994, the Spring Garden Street home is a new location for the brewery, which originally began in a room no bigger than the average garage. The menu features a variety of regular and seasonal pours. Pre-determined beer flights allow you to sample multiple pours. And as is expected of a Philly food menu, the dishes didn’t disappoint. We were more than satisfied with our basket of boneless chicken wings.
Jim’s South Street (CASH ONLY)
A quintessential Philadelphia experience, even just winding your way to the grill at Jim’s South Street feels like you’re embracing a bit of Philly life. Moving in steady rhythm, the line cooks take orders as patrons request American, provolone or ‘whiz’ (cheese whiz that’s kept in a large vat on the stove).
Go to Double Knot when Dave is working. Sit at the bar. Order the tasting menu. You won’t be disappointed.
This was, hands down, the best all-around meal we had in Philadelphia. Among the top picks from the night were the Japanese Fluke – a sashimi grade cut that arrived marinated in a bright splash of oil and herbs. The Double Knot Big Eye Tuna roll was topped with an avocado mouse gently spiked with wasabi.
The Crispy Brussel Sprouts were not to be missed, dressed in a tangy fish sauce. The same can be said of the Duck Scrapple Bao Bun, which combines French, Chinese and Philadelphia cuisine into an ultra-satisfying hand-held treat.
The blanched duck patty is made by stripping the meat from the bones and poaching it in its own fat. The bao bun was light and airy, as a good bao bun should be. And the everything bagel seasoning on top is, ‘Philly as hell,’ as Dave adequately put it.
The fact lunch was my favorite bite of the entire trip feels a bit shocking, but there you have it. I’m smitten with Tredici Enoteca. Their bright and airy restaurant. Their olive complimentary starter. Their Sweet Pea and Truffle Ravioli.
Did I mention the Sweet Pea and Truffle Ravioli? The pillowed pasta rounds were stuffed with a smooth sweet pea and ricotta filling. They came in a light cream sauce and topped with sweet peas and pea shoots. Each bite was like walking through a garden made of sunshine hugs.
Alice had the beets, sans whipped feta. They too looked delightful. Pickled golden beets tossed with toasted walnuts and arugula. Talk about an antioxidant-rich pick-me-up.
Things to do in Philadelphia
This one’s not for the faint of heart y’all. CorePower Yoga is no joke. It kicked my butt, in a good way. (Read, made me feel less guilty about eating all the things.) As a new visitor, we got one week of free classes. And for our very first class, we got a mat, towel and lock rental for free.
Reading Terminal Market
Food vendors and micro-restaurants stretch from wall-to-wall at Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal. Freshly baked Amish donuts. Draft kombucha. Hand-filled cannoli. Rubens so big they swallow your face. Curry. Roast duck. Falafel.
Even without a sea of people, exploring the deliciousness within this 75,000 square-foot market hall can be overwhelming. Be sure to go early, when there’s still space to wander from stall to stall.
But even if you can’t go early, go. Founded in 1893, the Reading Terminal (Pronounced red-ing), is the oldest farmer’s market in the United States. It’s home to some of the city’s most iconic eateries, including Beiler’s Doughnuts listed above. And, it’s the perfect place to grab a bite and pick up fresh goodies for a scrumptious homecooked meal. (Shout out to Alice for making us a sausage and egg extravaganza.)
Spruce Street Harbor Park
Tucked at the heart of Penn’s Landing, the spot where William Penn stepped ashore in 1682, the Spruce Street Park offers an escape from reality. This riverfront destination could very well have been plucked from The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. (If you haven’t read it, you should.)
On the water, landscaped barges surround a floating garden. At night, the foliage is lit by a rainbow of lights. The boardwalk is lined with everything from hammocks and bocce ball courts to ping bong and shuffleboard. Throughout the park, food vendors offer everything from draft beers and ice cream to buffalo battered chicken and brats. A collection of shipping containers have been converted into an arcade.
But it’s the center of the park I loved the most. The series of icicle-like lights have been hung throughout the trees. Dangling beneath the leaves, they create a wonderland effect as they change colors throughout the night. This is where you’ll find the majority of the park’s 50 colorful hammocks.
Franklin Court Printing Office
We stumbled across the Franklin Court Printing Office by accident on our way to dinner the first night. Framed by a large shop window, a replica press sat facing the street. (I may or may not have stopped in my tracks because it was so beautiful.)
It won’t take all day to visit this National Historic Park. ‘Tours’ are limited to a demonstration of the press in action and a few small viewing areas. But seeing the ink pounded into the lettering, the press hand cranked into position and the paper delicately hung by wooden peel is something any lover of printed material will relish. Admission is free. And, it’s close enough to the Liberty Bell, it’s easy to combine the two!
Do you know how the Liberty Bell was cracked? Turns out no one does. The initial ‘crack’ is believed to have developed in the early 1840s due to hard use. The wide “crack” we see today is actually the repair!
Metal workers widened it in hopes of preventing a further spread and to restore the bell’s tone. Unfortunately, the repair failed. A second crack developed that’s so difficult to see, you’ll want to ask one of the helpful bell attendants to point it out.