A guide on where to dine in the City of Brotherly Love
From the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia to the James Beard Award-winning “Best Restaurant in the Country,” here’s a bucket list of restaurants in Philadelphia you don’t want to miss.
What they are saying: “These communal plates all foster kinship, further cultural understanding, and of course bring immense enjoyment,” Bill Addison, Eater, on naming Zahav one of 38 essential restaurants in America.
Signature dishes: Fried cauliflower, hummus – especially Turkish
Michael Solomonov and his business partner, Steve Cook, were early to embrace the concept of modern Israeli cuisine. Chef Solo, as he is known, lifts simple salads, luffa bread, and hummus to the sublime. The menu offers small plates (mezze) as well as a variety of grilled vegetables and meats. Each dish is a flavor surprise. The wine list offers obscure but interesting discoveries from Israel and other lesser known regions. Reservations should be made months in advance – Zahav has won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant.
What they are saying: Rustic authentic Italian food— “Marc Vetri did it first. And better. And still is all these years later,” Alex Lau, Bon Appetit.
Signature dish: Handmade pasta, especially the spinach gnocchi
From the moment you sit down in this intimate 32 seat restaurant, you are in the hands of perfectionists. The lavish tasting menu at Vetri Cucina will bring you one incredible dish after the other and the service will make you feel like royalty. Spring for the top tier wine pairing, as the cellar contains great vintage bottles. Plan ahead as reservations are a tough get and it is definitely a special occasion destination.
What they are saying: “This elegant, iconic Old City New American offers a sublime menu full of interesting dishes, paired with unparalleled service,” The Zagat Review.
Signature dishes: Muscovy duck, the entire duck prepared in a variety of ways or dry-aged porterhouse
In two decades, this enduring restaurant has changed with the times and the neighborhood. Fork‘s menu is contemporary and smart, focusing on local products of the rich Delaware Valley farms. There is a quiet elegance to the dining room and is the perfect setting for a romantic meal. Attached to Fork is the bustling High Street on Market, an all-day casual restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as one of the best brunches in town. Both are known for fabulous in-house breads and baked goods.
What they are saying: “….the little things—desserts and salads, fresh-baked goods including house-made macaroons, and excellent onion soup—stand out,” Fodors Review.
Signature dishes: Any of the French classics such as steak frites, roast chicken or baked goods
A jewel in the crown of the Starr Restaurant Group, Parc is located right on Rittenhouse Square. You might very well think you are in Paris if you people watch at a sidewalk table and linger over un café. OpenTable rated Parc one of the most scenic restaurants in the U.S. Inside, the restaurant is appointed with imported design elements of a brasserie. Its popularity makes for a boisterous crowd but despite being busy, the service remains some of the best in the city. Plus, it is conveniently open for breakfast, lunch, a midday pick me up, or dinner.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House
What they are saying: “This 158-years-young Philly institution, on a narrow alleyway between Sansom and Chestnut streets, is the place to be for approachable eats, cheap drinks, and good vibes,” Conde Nast Traveler.
Signature dish: Beer, beer and shepherd’s pie. Oh, and did we mention beer?
If you want to experience local atmosphere, head for the bar at McGillin’s. Many of the wait staff have been serving the clientele for almost as long as the bar has been open (not quite but the establishment is touted as the oldest continuously run tavern in Philadelphia and a family vibe permeates the service.) Definitely what’s on the menu here is atmosphere and is deserving of a selfie or at least a fond place in your memories.
What they are saying: “A century’s worth of footsteps have buffed the dining room’s floor mosaic as smooth as the inside of an oyster shell…the idea of a regular customer takes on a genealogical hue,” Trey Popp, Philadelphia Magazine.
Signature dish: Spaghetti and meatballs, of course!
Another iconic establishment, Ralph’s has been open since 1900 and tells the story of Italian immigrants. Gossip has it that Taylor Swift once left a $500 tip when she was in town performing. You don’t have to be that generous, but you’ll enjoy the classic evolution the Italian-American cuisine that has become known as red-gravy. From “to die for” sandwiches to giambotte (an omelet stuffed with many Italian ingredients making an entrance) to an array of classic pasta dishes, you won’t leave hungry.
What they are saying ” …the roast pork with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone served on a seeded roll at Reading Terminal Market’s DiNic’s is this country’s greatest sandwich,” Collin Keefe, Grub Street, announcing the Travel Channel award.
Signature dish: Roast pork sandwich
While this starring food stall in the Reading Terminal Market offers pork, beef, and sausage sandwiches, many flock here for the award-winning Roast Pork. Now operated by its fourth generation, the three-day process that goes into making the succulent pork foundation for this sandwich is in their DNA. After a day of seasoning, then a slow roast and rest, the meat is thinly sliced and soaked in stock. Perfect Italian rolls arrive every morning ready to be lined with provolone cheese, doused with stock infused roast pork, and then topped with broccoli rabe or roasted peppers. Magnifico!
What they are saying: “Despite its dauntingly complex concept and transporting ambience, what dazzles most is the kitchen’s talent to let its prime ingredients shine,” Craig LaBan, Philadelphia Inquirer.
Signature dish: any vegetable or meat off the robatayaki grill
If a restaurant could be a chameleon, that would be Double Knot. A coffee shop by day transforms into a cocktail bar evenings, while nights downstairs become an adventure in Asian fusion with sushi, sashimi, robatayaki, and a combination of small and large tapas. Best to opt for the tasting menu and avoid the task of menu decisions. A trendy spot, you don’t go here for a quiet meal, although the happy hour or lunch would be an option to tone it down a notch.
The Olde Bar
What they are saying: “pays respect to its predecessor with delicious offerings, including refreshing oysters and fantastic retro cocktails, coupled with a nostalgic atmosphere; the cozy, old-school saloon incorporates the original bar and banquettes, and excellent service enhances the great vibe,” Zagat.
Signature dish: Classic cocktails and raw bar
Housed in the landmark building that was once home to Old Original Bookbinders, where Philadelphia socialites celebrated business deals, debutantes, and anniversaries, the menu echoes the tradition of that venerable seafood house. There’s an emphasis on classic cocktails and a menu of traditional snapper soup or crab claws with some updated contemporary dishes such as an iceberg lettuce wedge with guanciale or deviled eggs with chicken liver mousse and chicken skin cracklings. Not to be missed at The Olde Bar is the gallery of pictures of famous guests from the past.
Cover photo by M. Persico for Zahav.