Since 1893, Reading Terminal Market has served as a public market even after its namesake railroad ceased operation. Here you’ll find locals picking out their weekly produce, office workers taking a lunch break, visitors enjoying a group tour of the market as well as conventioneers from the attached Pennsylvania Convention Center searching for a mid-conference meal, creating a microcosm of the people, history, and flavors of Philadelphia.
Below are just a few of the must-taste items you can find at some of the over 80 vendors found throughout the best public market in the nation, as voted by USA Today 10Best.
When it comes to sandwiches, Philadelphia is known the world over for its cheesesteak. But, another option popular among locals is the roast pork — traditionally featuring juicy cuts of pork, broccoli rabe, and sharp provolone on a freshly baked roll. Tommy DiNic’s in the Reading Terminal Market serves one of the most mouthwatering roast pork sandwiches in the city, and was even named Best Sandwich in America by the Travel Channel. Other sandwich options on the menu include roast beef, Italian sausage, and meatball.
With nearly 50 flavors of doughnuts and fritters to choose from, Beiler’s Doughnuts is a must-visit destination for anyone with a sweet tooth. Using Pennsylvania Dutch recipes and featuring luscious, creamy fillings made in nearby Lancaster, Pennsylvania, these donuts are among the most sought-after desserts in Philadelphia. The light, fluffy confections are rolled, fried and decorated by hand daily – a process you can observe as you wait for your turn to order. TIP: Visit on Fat Tuesday each year to enjoy their fastnachts — Pennsylvania Dutch potato-based donuts.
Ma Lessie’s Chicken and Waffles
Food so sweet and savory, it’s good for the soul. Ma Lessie’s Chicken and Waffles serves the ultimate comfort foods: baked mac and cheese, collard greens, peach cobbler, and of course, chicken and waffles. Customers can ask for their chicken fried or baked and choose from fruit-infused or specialty waffles to really shake things up. This Black-owned business is owned and operated by Perry Ison, former manager of KeVen Parker’s Soul Food Café, and his cousin Stacy McCarthy.
Perhaps the snack most synonymous with Philadelphia – the soft pretzel – is prepared to perfection at Miller’s Twist, who rolls, twists, and fries the dough by hand each day. Traditional twisted pretzels are available, for sure, but don’t miss their savory options like the cheesesteak or bacon, egg, and cheese wrapped in pretzel dough, or their sweet cinnamon sticks.
Bassetts Ice Cream
Bassetts Ice Cream was the first merchant to sign a lease at the market in 1892 and remains owned and operated by the original family to this day. From a taste of old Philadelphia vanilla ice cream to a modern twist of matcha green tea, you’ll want to linger at the well-worn original marble counter. TIP: Be sure to try their ice cream sandwiches, which feature a generous scoop served between two freshly baked cookies from fellow Reading Terminal Market vendor, Famous 4th Street Cookie Company.
Famous 4th Street Cookie Company
The Famous 4th Street Cookie Company has been serving fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies at Reading Terminal Market since 1982. These warm, homemade cookies have been named some of the best in the state and the country, with flavors such as chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, snickerdoodle, and others available individually, in assortments, or in gift boxes or trays.
Sweet T’s Bakery
Sweet T’s Bakery – the first Black-owned bakery in Reading Terminal Market’s history – is known for its delicious sweet potato treats. Sweet T’s offers sweet potato pies, cakes, cheesecakes and cupcakes, along with four signature drinks. Customers have the option to order their sweet potato pie with a traditional butter crust or a graham cracker crust. Just one bite and you’ll understand what all the hype is about. Wash those sweet snacks down with a cold glass of Sweet T’s homemade iced tea or lemonade, also available in strawberry.
Down Home Diner
Down Home Diner’s menu is inspired by meat and produce available in the Philadelphia area, with many breakfast, lunch, and dinner items made using ingredients found within the walls of Reading Terminal Market. The diner has taken scrapple (a regional dish made of cornmeal and pork scraps) and presents this dish in the form of fries, accompanied by a delicious sweet apple dipping sauce.
Molly Malloy’s offers a complete pub experience in the heart of Reading Terminal Market, with draft beer and a menu featuring items made using ingredients found at vendors throughout the market, including their sister store Iovine Brothers Produce. Not to be missed are the house made biscuits, served with a rotating lineup of fresh jams, or the jumbo pop tarts.
Dutch Eating Place
Grab a seat at the counter of the Dutch Eating Place to enjoy a big breakfast complete with scrapple, year round turkey dinner with the trimmings, and a plump apple dumpling served with a pitcher of heavy cream. The items on the menu are made in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fashion: from scratch and with local ingredients.
Really Reel Ginger
Another Black-owned business at Reading Terminal Market is Really Reel Ginger known for its ginger-based beverages. Founded by Iliyaas and Hadia Muhammad using an old family recipe, Really Reel Ginger was born out of a lack of and need for real ginger beverages. Made with ingredients like fresh ginger, hibiscus, tamarind, baobab, mint and lemon, Really Reel Ginger drinks are packed with antioxidants and provide a number of health benefits.
El Merkury, whose first location can be found at 21st and Chestnut streets near Rittenhouse Square, has brought their menu of Central American street food to the Reading Terminal Market. The concept, founded in 2018 by Sofia Deleon — one of Philadelphia’s trailblazing women restaurateurs — specializes in Guatemalan, Salvadorian and Honduran food made from scratch, such as pupusas, taquitos, tortilla chips with fresh guacamole, and roasted corn on the cob topped with cilantro crema, chili flakes, and queso fresco. Not to be missed are the made-to-order churros, available to be added to a cup of soft serve ice cream with a variety of additional toppings.
More sweets await at Flying Monkey, which is known for its buttercake and impressive lineup of whoopie pies. The centrally-located stand also offers fresh cookie and pie dough, along with fully decorated cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and other confections.
Old City Coffee
With two stands inside Reading Terminal Market (12th and Filbert, 11th and Arch), Old City Coffee is a must-visit for those looking to enjoy a cup of locally roasted coffee. 100% of the company’s Arabica coffees are still roasted inside Reading Terminal and bags of beans are available to purchase for those looking to bring home a souvenir.
Carmen’s Famous Cheesesteaks & Hoagies
No Philadelphia dining experience is complete without a cheesesteak and Carmen’s Famous Cheesesteaks and Hoagies has been serving up the iconic sandwich in Reading Terminal Market since 1983. Don’t miss their signature takes on the sandwich such as The Franklin (a cheesesteak topped with American cheese and Philadelphia cream cheese). The family-owned stand also offers vegetarian cheesesteaks made with seitan instead of beef, as well as an impressive selection of hoagies.
Careda’s Caribbean Cuisine
Take a trip to the Caribbean and savor authentic jerk chicken at Careda’s Caribbean Cuisine. This Black-owned business serves up dishes packed with flavor seven days a week. From jerked chicken, pork and turkey, to oxtails and seafood, Careda’s brings all of the Caribbean staples to one spot. Sauces and spices are also available for purchase.
Hershel’s East Side Deli
Hershel’s brings a New York-style Jewish deli experience to the Reading Terminal Market, including sandwiches piled high with corned beef, pastrami, brisket, and turkey that is carved to order for each sandwich. Other classic deli offerings include matzo ball soup, latkes, and bagels and lox.
Pearl’s Oyster Bar
Drawing from Philadelphia’s history as a port city, Pearl’s Oyster Bar is a go-to vendor for seafood classics such as snapping turtle soup or oyster stew. The fresh seafood on the menu expands into other breakfast, lunch, and brunch options such as crab cakes benedict, fish tacos, and oyster sliders.
To learn more about Reading Terminal Market, its vendors, and to view a map, click here.
For one-of-a-kind gifts, head to Amazulu. Marvel at the craftsmanship of metal workers from around the world, as well as the artistic creations of owner Charita Powell, who has been selling her handmade jewelry at the Market since she opened Amazulu in 1989. This Black-owned business features unique pieces far beyond jewelry, including lamps, dolls, sculptures and a world of home décor.
Cover image courtesy of Reading Terminal Market.