When you think of Philly food, the first thing that comes to mind is cheesesteak, obviously. But what about pretzels? Or water ice... or Italian food... err, OMFGosh, it’s impossible to pick the most important thing! That’s why we picked the 17 most important restaurants in Philadelphia instead: hit these places and you’ll know what it means to eat/drink in Philly...
Want to eat at Top Chef winner Nick Elmi’s French-American BYO? Plan ahead. The intimate eatery takes reservations months ahead and requires some effort, but once you’re in, you’re set for a seven-course meal fixed at $85 a pop. Dishes have the perfect balance of being both refined and accessible, meaning you can eat those seven courses of cocoa-cured foie gras, Burgundy escargot, and roasted peking duck without feeling completely pretentious.
In a town dominated by hoagies and soft pretzels, it’s no wonder locals might start to complain about not being able to find any good pizza (though they would be very wrong). In an unexpected turn of events, Philly’s very own, relatively new no-thrills NoLibs Pizzeria Beddia was crowned the best pizza in all of the United States, which means getting a slice at the spot just became a lot more complicated. While you’re waiting in line around the block, muse over how you’re going to try everything possible while still obeying the spot’s two-pizza-per-party (not person) rule.
The oldest Italian restaurant in all of Philly and in all of the US has been up and running for 115 years and is still owned by the same family. Today, Ralph’s still ranks well for high-quality, authentic Italian cuisine, and its signature red sauce (best served with mussels) can’t be missed.
City Tavern isn't really one of Philly’s oldest restaurants and saloons: sure it was open in 1773, and delegates to the First Continental Congress did meet there, but in 1834, it was partially destroyed by a fire and didn’t became a bar/restaurant until 1994, when it became the touristy, but totally Philiadelphian, destination for 18th century cuisine and period costumes it is today.
One of the newer eateries in Northern Liberties/Fishtown is part butcher, part high-end eating experience. If you’re looking for fresh, locally sourced meats and poultry, this is your spot; if you’re looking to gorge yourself on rotating menus (depending on said locally sourced meats and poultry), as well as mouth-melting pasta and other dishes, well, this is also your spot. They might even seat you where you can see the in-house butcher, encased in a glass-walled room right in the restaurant.
Whether you opt for an extravagant dish of coal-grilled lamb and beef kofta, or keep it simple with the best assortment of hummus you will find in Philly, any dish at the Israeli mainstay is enough to qualify it as both an important restaurant in Philly... and the rest of the country. In the spirit of exclusivity, try to snag a seat at the chef’s counter for a more tailored experience.
We can thank Philly’s prolific restaurateur Jose Garces for breathing new life into the historic Old Original Bookbinder’s building. After the long-running seafood restaurant closed in 2009 (it had been open since 1898), Garces turned it into an oyster-heavy cocktail bar and restaurant (which includes a sweet late-night menu) that still pays homage to the original space.
Avenue of the Arts
Yet another Top Chef master, Kevin Sbraga, has elevated the Philly dining scene by opening his eponymous American eatery in 2011. Featuring both tasting and a la carte menus, the food reflects what’s freshest, but mainstay items include a pork belly-squid hybrid dish, and escargot inspired by Le Bec-Fin (RIP).
The essential Rittenhouse hole-in-the-wall is so much more than your typical brewpub: the Belgian-inspired menu is heavy on buttery mussel dishes, and boasts a wide selection of burgers and unexpected appetizers (frog legs and grilled scallops are a couple popular items). The spot has also received many awards for its unmatched beer selection, earning it a rep as one of the best beer bars in the city.
Cheesesteaks may be Philly’s signature sandwich, but the sandwich menu at American Sardine Bar is the real star of the city. The laid-back gastropub offers simple, yet creative sandos, including a $2 sardine sandwich (if you don’t opt to just order them sautéed, grilled, or fried). The sides are a shareable feast in themselves, so feel free to get a plate of the of cheese fries for the table.
Stephen Starr’s interpretation of pan-Asian cuisine and sushi is a match for the spot’s top-notch cocktail menu and dreamy, color-shifting ambiance. Dine in or carry out some of the city’s best sushi rolls (the Penn Roll and Pod Lobster Roll are not to be missed), or, if raw fish isn’t your thing, opt for one of the many dim sum options, or order a filet off the entree menu.
Obviously we couldn’t get through this list without at least one spot that offers killer cheesesteaks, as well as the roast pork that gives this spot its name, especially now that this South Philly favorite finally decided to keep its grill on past 2:30pm and start closing at 7pm instead of 4pm. Nonetheless, get there early (or call in your order ahead of time) to avoid the inevitable winding line you’ll find there, particularly during the lunch rush.
Center City West
One of the newer restaurants on this list is also one of the most unique, offering small plates inspired by the Jewish diaspora. The result is a fresh approach to classic Jewish deli food, where chopped liver, veal tacos, and matzo brei all feature prominently on the three-course, prix fixe menu, and there’s a special tasting menu devoted entirely to duck.
One of Philadelphia’s oldest, continuously running restaurants is also one of its best places to score a roast beef sandwich. Your experience wouldn’t be complete, though, without venturing off the roast beef menu and at least getting a side of the gravy fries and broccoli rabe.
Washington Square West
Leave it to Philly to make even vegan dishes feel completely decadent and self-indulgent: considered one of the best vegan restaurants in the country, Vedge offers dishes that even carnivores can love. You can opt for bar food (rutabaga fondue, anyone?), order off the menu’s Dirt List (featuring fingerling fries and salt baked turnips), or score Hot Kitchen items like the kimchee “Reuben.” The truth: it isn’t really a reuben.
This local chain is known for turning out the best Chinese food in the city, which is a tough feat considering our bountiful Chinatown options. The Dan Dan Noodles are an essential part of any meal you have there, but you should also try everything from the spicy crispy cucumber, to the Dry Fry Style beef, and the Crispy Rice Style chicken... and the noodles.
For an authentic taste of some of the city’s best Ethiopian food, Ethio is it. Situated in close proximity to a ton of other Ethiopian restaurants, Ethio gets the seal of approval for its perfectly spongy injera, savory pastries, and a shton of veggie entrees. Oh, and it’s BYOB, which is seldom a bad thing.
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1. Laurel1617 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia
2. Pizzeria Beddia115 E Girard Ave, Philadelphia
3. Ralph's Italian Restaurant760 S 9th St, Philadelphia
4. City Tavern138 S 2nd St, Philadelphia
5. Kensington Quarters1310 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia
6. Zahav237 St. James Pl, Philadelphia
7. The Olde Bar125 Walnut St, Philadelphia
8. Sbraga440 S Broad St, Philadelphia
9. Monk's Cafe264 S 16th St, Philadelphia
10. American Sardine Bar1800 Federal St, Philadelphia
11. Pod3636 Sansom St, Philadelphia
12. John's Roast Pork14 Snyder Ave, Philadelphia
13. Abe Fisher1623 Sansom St, Philadelphia
14. Nick's Old Original Roast Beef2149 S 20th St, Philadelphia
15. Vedge1221 Locust St, Philadelphia
16. Ethio Cafe225 S 45th St, Philadelphia
This Passyunk restaurant offers only one thing: a seven course tasting menu. The style is French-American fusion at this intimate spot, which is also BYOB -- so at least you'll save some money there, because the tasting menu ain't cheap, but it's damn good.
Joe Beddia's Fishtown shop is a serious pizza destination. The tiny seatless operation makes 40 pizzas a night, and people start lining up an hour before it opens to get their 16-inch pie. Beddia forgoes the wood-fired oven of many a Neapolitan pizzeria for a gas oven, which means the pies take longer to cook, but once you've waited in line for two hours, what's 10 more minutes? Note: Pizzeria Beddia is cash-only.
Family owned and operated since 1900, this historic Italian joint is the oldest one in the country, and serves up classic boot food like chicken cacciatore, meatballs with linguine, and more.
Though now mainly an 18th century-themed tourist spot, City Tavern is technically the oldest bar in Philly, and was even a hang-out for the First Continental Congress.
Meat is taken seriously at this industrial chic butcher/restaurant in Fishtown, where every animal is used head-to-tail, and every diner leaves not only full, but with a primer in butchery and meat-curing. Right when you enter Kensington Quarters, you'll see the on-site butcher counter and retail section. Once seated, order the mixed house-made charcuterie followed by braised pork shoulder, a hulking pork chop, or a ribeye with smoked cheddar. Don’t be a meathead and remember to grab a salami for home on your way out.
The interior of this modern Israeli restaurant is designed to resemble Jerusalem's network of hidden courtyards, with floors and walls built of gold limestone and tables hand-carved in dark wood. Zahav's food is equally reminiscent of the promised land: fresh laffa bread is baked to order in a wood-fired oven and lamb skewers are roasted over hardwood charcoal. The menu's true star is its hummus, a silky spread in which the key ingredients, chickpeas and tahini, share the flavor spotlight equally and aren't overshadowed by garlic, lemon, or olive oil -- though those three ingredients are surely present. The lengthy wine list includes a full section for wines with Israeli or Palestinian origins, and house cocktails incorporate Mediterranean notes like za'atar and pumpernickel-infused whiskey.
Jose Garces brought some much-needed life into the old stomping grounds of the locally loved Bookbinder’s, which closed during the not-great-economically year of 2009. Garces' reincarnation of the place is a nice polish to the original, and includes an open banquet room complete with dimly lit red booths, candles, and an oyster saloon serving snapper soup and fried belly clams. In addition to the nouveaux riche aperitif menu, the seafood-centric restaurant serves classics like dungeness crab, Maine lobster, and of course, champagne cocktails to pair.
Top Chef champ Kevin Sbraga's eponymous joint offers a predominantly prix-fixe global menu in an interior full of repurposed fir-planked walls, low-slung leather & tweed banquettes, and vintage-look Edison-style lighting.
Monk's Cafe is more of a dank beer pub than any kind of cafe, but it's become a Philadelphia institution thanks to its staggering bottled beer list (there are more than 300 local and global brews to choose from). Yes, the place is dark. Yes, it's cramped. But the draft selection of Belgian suds makes Monk's a national leader in the category: owner Tom Peters was actually knighted in Belgium to honor his dedication. Drinkers can pick up a "beer bible" from the bar, which could pass for a novela under the dim electric candles scattered throughout. Pub fare flows from the kitchen, and while the burger won't disappoint and you can order grilled salmon if that's your thing, the true must-eat dish is the pot of mussels, flavored with sour beer-sautéed jalapeños, peppers, and onions.
Point Breeze's best bar-with-a-fish-in-its-name has awesome beers and comfy seafood jawns like Marinated Shrimp Tortas and Drunken Krab Chowder, made with a crustacean whose claws were even more hammered than usual.
The best thing to come out of Miami since the song "Welcome to Miami", the Winter menu at Pod's the work of the Morimoto vet and Iron Cheffer behind Miami sushi hotspot Makoto, who's now bringing luxe sashimi toppings and a late night happy houring to U City.
Throwing down in the Philly cheesesteak arena is John's, local purveyor of delicious hot roast pork sandwiches. Arrive before 3pm to indulge in the cheesy, meaty wonders of this popular lunch shack. John's Roast Pork stands out in a city known for its sandwiches, and we are convinced that they serve up some of the best sandwiches of all time.
Inspired by the food of the Jewish diaspora, Abe Fisher breathes new life to typical Center City cuisine with small plates incorporating a creative range of goods, from shrimp fried rice to veal schnitzel tacos.
Old Original Nick's is an institution of Philly roast beef, serving up the sammies with au jus and Provolone, the way nature intended.
A laser focus is put on seasonal vegetables at Vedge, and the refined, entirely meat-free menu is creative enough to attract even the most ardent of meat-eaters, if the wait for a table is any indicator. When chefs Richard Landau and Kate Jacoby opened their restaurant in this historic building on Locust St in 2011, the city hadn't seen anything like it: a changing vegetarian menu served in a fine dining setting with a hyper-contemporary sensibility. Anywhere from three to five of the sharing plates can make a meal, from salt-baked beets with cured tofu that's topped with whipped cucumber to seared maitake mushroom with celery root fritters. Desserts like a Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with blood orange gel and bergamot dust are impossibly light while cocktails mixed with housemade syrups make use of healthful juices like grapefruit and lemongrass. In short: skip the veggie burger and make a reservation at Vedge.
If you're looking for Ethiopian food in Philly, Spruce Hill is probably the place to get it -- and Ethio Cafe is some of the best. The BYOB spot serves beef, lamb, chicken, and vegetarian Ethiopian dishes, plus breakfast and pastries.