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Eat Like a Local in Philadelphia

March 3, 2020

Mélange of Menus

Philadelphia is a melting pot of global cuisines and an alluring destination for dining thanks to the roster of renowned chefs and restaurateurs in the city including Jose Garces, Michael Solomonov, Steven Starr, Marc Vetri, Nicholas Elmi, Michael Schulson, and Greg Vernick. Whether you want to treat yourself to a sure-to-be-unforgettable gourmet meal, chow down on the city’s trademark cheesesteak or try something new and different, the Philadelphia dining scene is diverse enough to suit every taste.

Home to creative mixologists with special signature cocktails, Philadelphia has over a thousand bars and restaurants in Center City, with many offering outdoor seating that allows you to pair your fresh cocktail with fresh air. Additionally, Philadelphia is considered the BYOB capital of North America, with hundreds of restaurants that allow patrons to bring their own bottles of wine and beer.

The 9th Street Italian Market is one of the largest and oldest open air markets in the country. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

City of Neighborhoods

With a broad range of cultures, Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods with each associated with certain styles of food. South Philadelphia, the historically Italian section of the city, offers numerous red gravy Italian-American restaurants, sandwich shops, and pizza places. Chinatown, the second largest on the east coast of the United States, offers a fusion of Asian cuisines. The Reading Terminal Market is one of America’s largest and oldest public markets, housed since 1893 in a National Historic Landmark building in the heart of Center City. Philadelphia also has a vast assortment of family friendly restaurants, sports bars, vegan options and much more. With hundreds of restaurants throughout the city, you’re sure to find something to whet your appetite.

Campo's Cheesesteaks. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

Eat Like a Local

If you’re looking for something truly authentic, nothing says Philadelphia quite like these local favorites:

  • Cheesesteaks: Fresh, soft and squishy Italian rolls, typically 12 inches long, filled with melted cheese and tender pieces of beef are the main components of this truly Philadelphia sandwich. Most establishments offer a choice of Cheez Whiz (most popular choice, “whiz with”), American or Provolone cheese and the option of adding fried or raw onions to the steak. Popular cheesesteak shops include the iconic Pat’s and Geno’s, or Jim’s in South Philadelphia, or Campo’s in Old City.
  • Roast Pork Sandwiches: These juicy classics, made with a soft roll, sliced roast pork, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and long hots, are a true crowd-pleaser. The most famous version, available from DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market, was once dubbed the “Best Sandwich in America.”
  • Crab Fries: Combining hot and spicy with one of America’s favorite dishes Crab Fries are a real treat. Available at multiple restaurants and venues across the city, Chickie’s and Pete’s take on the dish is a Philadelphia favorite.
  • Hoagies: The “Official Sandwich of Philadelphia,” hoagies are a regional concoction and overwhelming favorite. These mouth-watering sandwiches are more than a mouthful, packed with lettuce, tomato, onions, peppers, oregano, oil dressing, cheese (Provolone or American, usually) and of course, delicious Italian lunch meats like dry salami, mortadella and capicolla – hence the nickname, “Italian Hoagie.”
  • Soft Pretzels: These soft and chewy, hand-twisted baked goods are the ultimate comfort food for Philadelphians. Baked fresh everyday and available at street vendors, local stores, or directly from the factory, these salty satisfiers are delicious with a little spicy mustard. Several stalls inside the Reading Terminal Market offer freshly baked pretzels, as does the Philly Pretzel Factory (multiple locations). The Pennsylvania General Store also ships soft pretzels nationwide.
  • Water Ice: Nothing says summer in Philadelphia better than water ice (also known as Italian ice). This cool and refreshing frozen treat is a smooth mixture of ice, fruit juice and fresh fruit.
  • Irish Potatoes: Tiny balls of coconut cream rolled in cinnamon are the farthest thing that comes to mind when hearing the name of this dish for the first time. Though they’re not an Irish dish (or a potato) this dessert is usually available around St. Patrick’s Day. Find them at Shane Confectionery—the nation’s oldest candy store—in Old City.
  • Scrapple: Hailed as the first pork food invented in America, this local invention is a fried treat at any meal. A mishmash of pork, cornmeal, flour, onions, herbs, spices and other seasonings, scrapple is packed into a loaf before being fried to perfection for your taste buds.TIP: Try the scrapple fries at the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market.

City Tavern. Photo by K. Huff for PHLCVB.

Dine Like an 18th Century Local

The City Tavern is housed in a historic building that and once served as the “unofficial” meeting site for the First Continental Congress. Just ask your server for some of the history and he or she will surely describe the number of historical figures who frequented the tavern including George Washington. Try the Pepperpot Soup, a delicious brew of tripe and vegetables that has a history dating back to the Revolutionary War, served to soldiers as a warm heartening meal.  The 18th century-inspired children’s menu is award-winning and includes a Colonial chicken pot pie, meat and cheese pie and apple cider.

Culinary Tours

A fun way to explore Philadelphia’s culinary scene is to take a food tour. StrEATS of Philly will take you through the Italian Market and along appetizing East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, while Taste of Philly Food Tours specialize in sharing the history and the menus of Reading Terminal Market. Philly Tour Hub offers a collection of walking, driving, and segway tours throughout the city, with stops at iconic eateries along the way. Those looking for a more beer-focused journey should find satisfaction in City Brew Tours’ offerings.

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