The Definitive Guide to Eating & Drinking in Fishtown

Milkcrate Cafe
Courtesy of Milkcrate Cafe

Despite its origins as the center of the fishing industry in Philadelphia -- hence the name -- these days Fishtown thrives as one of the biggest up-and-coming neighborhoods in the entire city, located minutes from Center City and right next door to Northern Liberties. Aside from the booming real estate market (read: creeping gentrification), it’s also home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the City of Brotherly Love. Whether you’re looking at a move into the neighborhood or are just passing through for a night out or a show at the Fillmore, here are the essential places you need to know.

Loco Pez

Local favorite for SoCal-style tacos
Sure, there are a couple competitors, but Loco Pez is a neighborhood institution -- if you ask damn near anyone in the neighborhood where to get a good taco, “Loco” and “Pez” are usually the first two words out of their mouth. Aside from weekly dollar taco nights, powerful happy hour specials ($20 pitchers of margaritas!), and some of the friendliest staff in town, they also have not just the best tacos in Fishtown, but arguably all of Philly. If you want some “secret menu” action, order yourself one of the Gabacho Tacos, along with a cheese and bacon quesadilla. When they bring them out, stuff the taco inside the quesadilla, and you’ll have what is essentially a Cheesy Gordita Crunch from Taco Bell.

Johnny Brenda's
Courtesy of Johnny Brenda's

Johnny Brenda's

American bar fare and drinks in a perfect location
Another Philly institution, Johnny Brenda’s is one of those places that seems to have everything for everyone. Downstairs, you’ll find a happening little bar complete with live DJs most nights; an excellent selection of local beers and wines; a pool table; dark, divey lighting; inside seating with beautiful bay windows; and a brooding door man (just kidding; he's actually really nice). Upstairs, you have another bar, as well as an intimate stage that's played host to some of the world’s best musicians, including the neighborhood’s prodigal son Kurt Vile. Of course, all of this is secondary to the excellent location, on the corner of Frankford and Girard (possibly the city's most happening cross streets). The outside seating is idyllic in the warmer months, and while everything is great here (from brunch, to dinner, to their special blend of coffee), it’s all made better by the view outside.

 Milkcrate Cafe
Courtesy of Milkcrate Cafe

Milkcrate Cafe

Where the locals go to get their coffee (and buy their records)
Every article about Philadelphia’s best coffee shops usually includes a mention of La Colombe somewhere near the top of the list, and while the coffee is great and their brunch/lunch menu is delicious, there's no denying the supremacy of Fishtown’s own Milkcrate Cafe. Aside from the fact that the place is cool as hell and even features a full record shop in the basement, it's also got a delicious and playful menu that includes classics like the Notorious E.G.G., the Rock ‘N’ Pork Roll Sandwich, and the Bagella Fitzgerald; the custom tables are badass, too, featuring 45’s that have been laminated to the table tops. La Colombe is great (in fact, it’s the coffee that Milkcrate sells), but it's just not Fishtown unique anymore -- for locals, Milkcrate is the spot.

The Monkey Club

Cheap neighborhood corner dive with an upstairs game room
I’m about to isolate some really good friends and loved ones for letting this cat out of the bag: The Monkey Club, at the corner of York and Amber, is the new new spot. Yes, The El Bar has a vibrant crowd and killer outdoor patio in the warmer months, but Monkey Club is simply killing it and has been for some time now. Cheap drinks, friendly staff, a well-supplied jukebox, and a secret (er, until now) game room upstairs complete with pool, table tennis, and foosball set this neighborhood corner dive a step above everyone else.

Murph's Bar
Murph's Bar

Murph's Bar

Unassuming Irish pub serving some of Philly’s best Italian fare
Murph’s looks like another Fishtown Irish-style pub from the outside, but one look at the menu and you’ll realize you’ve been duped in the best of ways. It carries a sort of speakeasy-esque allure to it, in that you think you’re walking into a quaint neighborhood bar, but you’re actually walking into a restaurant with some of the most delicious Italian food not just in Fishtown, but in all of Philadelphia. Of all the times I’ve been there, I’ve never had anything short of phenomenal. Between the fried burrata, pear and cheese fiocchi, veal tortellacci, stuffed gnocchi, lobster ravioli, pork shank, and everything else, this place is the real deal.

Kung Fu Necktie

Centrally located dive with great live music and cheap drinks specials
KFN and its clientele are widely considered some of Fishtown’s “Old Guard,” and for good reason. In a neighborhood that’s constantly changing and being reinvented (in good ways and bad), KFN stands out not as a dying breed, but as a bastion of rich history and heritage in one of Philadelphia’s most vibrant neighborhoods. A perfect example of this is its dirt-cheap City Wide Specials, an infamous Philadelphia-only beer and shot deal. For $4, you can snag yourself either a 16-ounce can of PBR and a shot of Heaven Hill whiskey, or a can of Tecate and a shot of well tequila. If you’ve never been to the city before, a City Wide Special is a legitimate rite of passage.

pizza beddia
Adam Robb/Thrillist

Pizzeria Beddia

Local favorite with some of the best pizza in the city
This spot went viral a couple years back when Bon Appétit called its pies the best in the entire country, and they weren't wrong. Beddia undeniably has some of the best pizza in Philly, but it's also some of the hardest to get your hands on. Joe Beddia, for whom the joint is named, is a true craftsman in the art of pizza, but the shop is only open for five hours a day (5:30pm to 10:30pm), and the daily supply, though fresh, is extremely limited -- as in, they only sell something like 40 pizzas a day. It’s something everybody should experience once, though, and well worth the hoops you might have to jump through to get a taste.

That said, another shop worth mentioning is Thin & Crispy on Trenton and East Hazzard, which just opened up this past September and is run by Franco from Franco’s Pizza. The pizza here is consistent, delicious, and Brooklyn-style thin and crispy (it's in the name, remember?), just the way a good pizza should be.



Brand new BYO brunch spot off Frankford Avenue
Tierce is another new spot in the neighborhood, but it’s brought to us by Michael Griffiths and Kevin D’Egidio, the two guys responsible for the extremely popular Helm. Aiming to follow in Helm’s footsteps, Tierce offering incredible and unique menu items (think pork roll patty melts, lamb meatball toast, fresh pancakes), while utilizing ingredients that are locally and ethically sourced. You won’t have to wait an hour for a table on Saturday (...yet), and best of all, it’s BYOB. Let the Bloody Mary mix flow freely.

Capital Beer

American-style Chinese takeout with a superb beer selection
Philadelphia is one of those cities that has a greasy American-style Chinese food spot on every corner, but that’s not to say they’re all good -- in fact, some of them can be downright awful. Capital Beer, on the other hand, is nothing short of spectacular, with a menu includes all your favorites and classics, as well as exceptional wonton soup, real fried rice (none of that fake yellow crap with the peas and carrots in it), and delicious fried chicken (why do Chinese takeout spots always have the best fried chicken?). There's also an unbelievable selection of local, seasonal, and other hard-to-find beers and wines. You won’t find a better combination anywhere else.

 Joe's Steaks
Courtesy of Joe's Steaks

Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop

Local cheesesteak spot with excellent burgers and milkshakes
While you’ve probably heard of Geno’s, Pat’s, and Jim’s, there are a ton of delicious cheesesteak shops around town, and Fishtown undeniably has one of the best. By any measurable standard, this place has an excellent cheesesteak: the bread is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, the rib-eye is sliced thin and chopped perfectly, the wiz and onions are superb, and the crinkle-cut fries are absolutely to die for. And yes, everything you’ve heard (or haven’t heard) about their $5.95 milkshakes is true -- you won’t find a better one in the city. It's not just cheesesteaks here, though; The cheeseburgers (mixed daily from the same blend of ribeye that goes into their steaks) are acclaimed by critics and patrons alike. If you think rib-eye doesn’t make for good patty meat, think again, ladies and gents. Tender, juicy, perfectly seasoned burgers abound.

Lloyd Whiskey Bar

Low-key cocktail bar that serves way more than just whiskey
Lloyd brands itself as a whiskey bar, but it’s unlike most of the self-proclaimed “whiskey bars” you’ve ever been in. First impressions give off a standard modern cocktail lounge feel, but its wall of whiskey is robust, yet unpretentious. You’ll find everything from coveted bottles of Pappy Van Winkle (unless they get cleared out), to popular Japanese expressions like Hibiki, to basic American bourbons like Heaven Hill and Bulleit. You’ll even find local stuff from distilleries like Bluebird, New Liberty, and Dad’s Hat. The food is also particularly noteworthy here and includes gems like crispy fried deviled eggs, creole hushpuppies, bourbon-chili glazed chicken wings, mac and cheese, and a whole lot more. Lloyd is located a little farther north on Girard Avenue, right next door to Kraftwork (rotating craft beer menu, delicious comfort food).

Cook and Shaker

Off-the-beaten-path neighborhood bar with tasty vegetarian options
This spot combines the aesthetic of a local neighborhood corner bar with out-of-this-world elevated comfort food (including a ton of vegetarian options), an excellent local beer list, and killer cocktails. All of the ingredients are locally sourced, and menu items include bison and bean chili, pierogies and grilled kielbasa, fontina cheese and spinach ravioli with grilled chicken, filet tips, and a delicious bar burger. What keeps bringing locals back to this spot is anonymity, and the fact that you have to know about it to know how great it is. That is, until someone from Thrillist comes along and tells everyone that it’s located at 2301 East Albert Street. Whoops!

Philly Style Bagels
Courtesy of Philly Style Bagels

Philly Style Bagels

The inventors of the “Philly-style bagel” (obviously)
For some silly reason people think you can't find a good bagel outside New York, but Philly’s bagel game is on point, and Philly Style Bagels is a prized contender. This place earned a reputation for its distinctive and delicious beer-boiled bagels (using Philly’s own Yards Brewing Company), and for pioneering a whole new style of bagel that's turned even the snobbiest of bagel snobs into believers. These bagels are dense and chewy -- the standards by which all good bagels are measured -- and the local favorite is the Everything bagel, characterized by its extra mustard seeds and pepper flakes. If that’s not your style, try their classic lox bagel (Bon Appétit’s Sandwich of the Year in 2016). Still not sold? Every sandwich on their menu, be it the BLT, the hummus, or just a regular salt bagel with cream cheese, is going to completely blow your mind.

The line can be a little long in the mornings, but it moves quickly and is worth the wait. And if you want a meal with some scenery, Philly Style's located directly across the street from Palmer Park.

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Maxwell Barna is a Thrillist contributor.