In South Philadelphia, savor famed local flavors and a mix of multicultural menus from an ever-expanding collection of restaurants, bars, and breweries.
Start with a coffee from one of South Philadelphia’s many cafés and coffeeshops, including Herman’s Coffee and vegan focused Grindcore House in Pennsport. Local roasters Rival Brothers, Reanimator and Ultimo Coffee also have South Philadelphia locations in neighborhoods such as Passyunk Square and Newbold.
For a sweeter start to your day, grab a donut – either of the fancy variety or a sugar-coated, made-to-order option – at one of Federal Donuts’ two South Philadelphia locations, including their original location along 2nd Street in Pennsport. Return later in the day to sample fried chicken coated in a variety of dry rubs and sauces or enjoy their signature chicken sandwich topped with a house “Rooster Sauce.”
For more breakfast or brunch, grab a table at The Dutch in Pennsport. This tiny restaurant next to Dickinson Square Park serves up brunch and lunch classics including cast iron Dutch baby pancakes, buttermilk waffles, omelets, and more. Closer to South Street, at the corner of 4th and Fitzwater streets, more early morning eats await at Fitz and Starts, whose all-day breakfast menu includes egg sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, a quiche du jour with seasonal vegetables, plus a bakery counter with grab-and-go pastries. Other area breakfast and brunch options include The Tasty, which serves plant-based takes on breakfast staples in an intimate diner setting near Columbus Park, as well as neighborhood favorites New Wave Café, Sam’s Morning Glory Diner, Green Eggs Café and Flannel.
South Philadelphia is also home to some of Philadelphia’s most recognizable – and hotly debated – cheesesteak shops, most notably Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, located across from one another at the corner of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. Pat’s is the “inventor of the cheesesteak,” having reportedly invented the minced beef sandwich coated in melted cheese nearly a century ago in 1930. Unmissable due to their neon signage, Geno’s puts forth a comparable sandwich, opting rather for sliced meat instead of chopped. TIP: Visit both with family and friends and decide for yourself whose version you liked better.
Though, as any local Philadelphian will gladly inform you, there are plenty of other popular cheesesteak options to seek out in South Philadelphia, including Ishkabibbles and Jim’s, both along South Street, as well as Angelo’s Pizzeria along 9th Street and Tony Luke’s on Oregon Avenue. One of the city’s most celebrated cheesesteaks comes from a rather unsuspecting stall in the middle of a shopping plaza along Snyder Avenue, John’s Roast Pork. As the name implies, this South Philadelphia staple serves up roast pork sandwiches as well as a hearty cheesesteak with 12 ounces of meat.
There is no shortage of excellent Italian eateries in South Philadelphia. One such option is Victor Café, a frequent setting in the Rocky and Creed films, where the servers double as opera singers that perform every 20 minutes. Open since 1900, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant is another neighborhood staple that serves up Italian American dishes including sandwiches and plenty of pasta preparations. Along East Passyunk Avenue – home to what is arguably the South Philadelphia’s most concentrated collection of eateries – sample dishes from Italy’s Abruzzo region while seated in the charming garden of Le Virtù, or take a short walk to Marra’s, a nearly century-old, family-owned restaurant featuring brick oven pizza and homemade gnocchi and ravioli.
Visit Sarcone’s Bakery and enjoy a tomato pie. This true Philadelphia delicacy consists of dense, focaccia-like bread topped with a flavorful tomato sauce (and maybe a dusting of parmesan cheese). For more traditional pizza, seek out Lorenzo & Son’s along South Street or Santucci’s near the Italian Market, the latter of which is known for their signature square pizza with the sauce on top of the cheese.
Other global flavors, including many Asian cuisines, help round out the South Philadelphia’s culinary offerings, such as the acclaimed BYOB Kalaya – Esquire’s Best New Restaurant of 2020. Opened in the Italian Market in 2019, Kalaya serves kang pae, khao pad, pad see eew, and other traditional Southern Thai recipes prepared by Chef Nok Suntaranon. Not to be missed are the Vietnamese and Korean restaurants flanking the Italian Market along Washington Avenue, such as the no-frills Pho 75, perfect for warming up with a both of hot pho in the winter months. In Queen Village, Royal Izakaya features a menu of dumplings, skewers, and other Japanese small plates, with a 10-seat sushi bar – Royal Sushi – helmed by Chef Jesse Ito in the back. Find more noodles, dumplings and bao buns at Bing Bing Dim Sum, featuring a small, artistic dining room and sidewalk seating along East Passyunk Avenue.
There are also plenty of Mexican and Central American options, including South Philly Barbacoa, where chef Cristina Martínez serves slow-cooked barbacoa-style tacos in a small, take-out-only space along 9th Street. Further north in the Italian Market, Alma del Mar – featured in season five of Netflix’s Queer Eye – features seafood-centric plates, including tacos, ceviches, grilled swordfish, branzino and more. Other nearby Mexican favorites include Cantina Los Caballitos and Pistolas Del Sur, both found along East Passyunk Avenue.
Enjoy wurst, schnitzel, and other German dishes alongside a tap list of 34 German beers – the largest such selection in Philadelphia – in a traditional bierhall setting along South Street at Brauhaus Schmitz. Inspired by classic French bistros, Bistrot La Minette in Bella Vista offers seasonal dishes made from scratch with a French countryside vibe. Chef Joncarl Lachman’s Noord specializes in Dutch cuisine, including Dutch meatballs, braised rabbit leg, and Amsterdam style mussels. Across the street from Noord, Chef Lee Styer’s Fond serves a rotating menu of contemporary American dishes that pair well with the restaurant’s specialty cocktails and inventive desserts.
Imbibers will discover plenty of local cocktail bars, craft beer bars, and micro-breweries in South Philadelphia. Easton, Pennsylvania based Separatist Beer Project’s Philadelphia taproom is found along East Passyunk Avenue, serving locally brewed beer by the pint (or in cans to go) alongside savory, London-style pies from neighborhood eatery Stargazy. Discover more local beer just west of Broad Street at Second District Brewing Company – along with a vegan-friendly food menu – and Brewery ARS, which operates out of a small garage space on West Passyunk Aveune.
Neighborhood bars also serve up pours from local breweries, such as the Pub on Passyunk East (P.O.P.E.), South Philadelphia Taproom, and American Sardine Bar. Tattooed Mom along South Street is a dive bar with bumper car seats, pool tables, and vegan snacks popular among local artists. If spirits and wine are more your style, check out In The Valley, an intimate cocktail and wine bar operating beside Top Chef Nicholas Elmi’s French-American restaurant, Laurel, along East Passyunk Avenue. More wine and specialty cocktails are available a short walk away at Stateside, and nearby Barcelona Wine Bar serves 40+ wines by the glass with over 400 available by the bottle.
One of South Philadelphia’s most unique dining and drinking destinations is Bok Bar, found atop a former high school that now functions as a mixed-use space home to artist studios and small businesses. The 9th floor setting is one of the tallest points in South Philadelphia and presents breathtaking, panoramic views of the Philadelphia skyline and surrounding neighborhood. On the southern end of the same roof is Irwin’s, a full service restaurant serving modern Sicilian dishes and handmade pasta. Bok is also the home base of Kampar Kitchen, which presents a diverse, rotating menu that spotlights under-represented and diverse chefs throughout Philadelphia, with featured cuisines including from West African, Haitian, Chilean, and more.
End your South Philadelphia dining crusade with a Philadelphia dessert favorite, water ice. Local favorites include John’s Water Ice at 7th and Christian streets and Pop’s Homemade Water Ice along Oregon Avenue. For more sweets, visit Termini Brothers. Founded in 1921 by Italian immigrants Giuseppe and Gaetano Termini, this bakery specializes in Sicilian pastries, cookies, cannoli, and other confections made by hand using traditional recipes.
Cover photo courtesy of Le Virtù.