DiNic's Roast Pork Sandwich
DiNic's Roast Pork Sandwich | Flickr/Wally Gobetz
DiNic's Roast Pork Sandwich | Flickr/Wally Gobetz
All-Time Greats

The 13 Most Essential Philadelphia Food Experiences

Go big or go home.

With 2020 upending any plans you may have had for finally crossing something big off your bucket list, here is at least one list you can still work your way through this year. As Philadelphia’s dining scene continues to constantly change and evolve, there are a few things that will always be essential food experiences in this city. From those famous sandwiches to go to the most polished of city-mapping restaurants, here are our picks for your 12 most important bucket list food experiences in Philly.

Get the tasting menu at Zahav

Old City
Michael Solomonov’s award-winning Zahav has been one of the biggest things to put Philly’s foodie scene on the map. If you’re going to go, go all in with the standard multi-course menu that includes hummus, mezze, charcoal-cooked skewers, and the signature Zahav lamb shoulder, which is only available through the tasting menu. Finish it off with yet award-winning desserts, add a bottle of Israeli wine, and you have accomplished a major task in the Philly food bucket list. 
How to order: Make reservations up to two weeks in advance for outdoor dining in the covered and heated patio

Power rank the best square pizzas

Multiple locations
Philly certainly has a thing for square pies, and sometimes for upside down square pies—area staples like Santucci’s is a go-to right of passage for introductions. In that vein, it’s worth checking out Circles + Squares , Pizza Jawn , Emmy Squared , Alice , and Angelo’s , all of which offer their own takes on thick square pies. 
How to order: Order instructions vary

Set sail on the Moshulu

Penn’s Landing
Moshulu sits on one of the oldest and largest rigged sailing vessels still afloat, offering plenty of ambiance and novelty, but with the food to back it up. The menu revolves around refined American dishes and a seafood bent, ranging from ahi tuna poke to burgers to the towering seafood plateau of shrimp, sushi, and oysters. 
How to order: Reserve for outdoor dining

Philly Cheesesteak
Philly Cheesesteak | John Doukas/Shutterstock

Sigh. Have a cheesesteak

Multiple locations
You may have heard cheesesteaks are kind of the thing in Philly. Great. Do it right by skipping the flashier spots and opt instead for the quality options that are no less iconic. Joe’s Steaks + Soda , Dalessandro’s , and Philip’s Steaks can get you started. And, if you’re so inclined, brush up on your cheesesteak history .
How to order: Order instructions vary

Or better yet, a roast beef sandwich 

Multiple locations
While everyone is busy debating the best cheesesteaks in town, keep your eyes on what many consider the actual signature sandwich of Philadelphia. DiNic’s and Nick’s Roast Beef are the two staple stops for this particular culinary venture, but most seasoned cheesesteak shops have a good roast beef or pork option, too.
How to order: Order instructions vary

End your meal with red velvet cake at Ms. Tootsie’s

Hawthorne
Much awarded Ms. Tootsie’s is best known for serving soul food classics, from lobster mac n’ cheese to fried catfish to wings and waffles. No matter what you get, it’s best to save at least a little room for a slice of ultra-rich red velvet cake. 
How to order: Order takeout online ; Uber Eats for delivery/takeout

Speaking of dessert, indulge in water ice

Various locations
You’ll hear it mostly pronounced wooder ice, but this slushy treat gets most Philly locals through the hot summers. The traditionally Italian combination of ice, fruit, and sweeteners can be found all over the city including John’s , which has been around since the 1940s, Siddiq’s in West Philly, and more modern versions like Autumn Pear at D’Emilio’s
How to order: Order instructions vary

Get the perfect fried chicken-doughnut combo at Federal Donuts

Multiple locations
It’s a sweet-and-savory combo that can’t be ignored. Go in for a fried chicken sammie or wings to enjoy alongside one of the shop’s signature or “fancy” doughnuts, which means you can get everything from powdered strawberry lavender to vanilla bean crème brulee.
How to order: Online for takeout

Have the ultimate Italian dinner at Ralph’s

Bella Vista
It’s pretty much impossible to determine what the “best” Italian restaurant in Philly is, so let’s instead turn to the oldest. For more than a century, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant has been serving favorites in South Philly with the accolades to keep them strong. Think housemade pasta, mussels, veal parm, and beloved sausage and peppers.
How to order: Caviar for delivery, reserve for outdoor dining

Sample essential Ethiopian fare at Abyssinia

Spruce Hill
This West Philly favorite is a must for meat and veggie samplers that let you try a bit of everything. You can pair your injera up with beef, chicken, lentils, collard greens, and so much more, all perfectly plated for sharing (or devouring on your own).
How to order: Call 215-387-2424 for pickup; Uber Eats for delivery

Warm up with pho from Thang Long

Fishtown, Kensington
Visit either location and awaken all your senses with a fresh bowl of simmering pho, whether you opt for chicken, veggies, beef, shrimp, or sub the whole thing for some banh mi and spring rolls instead. The menu offers a few vegan-friendly options too.
How to order: Call 215-425-0078 for pickup; Uber Eats , Caviar , GrubHub , DoorDash for delivery

Eat and drink the best of Belgium (and beyond) at Monk’s Cafe

Rittenhouse
This essential Philly bar is home to a massive Beer Bible that is extra amazing alongside its menu of elevated pub fare in the style of Belgium. Artisanal-quality burgers, pommes frites, mussels, and so many other delectable plates make Monk’s a must for any Philly visitor.
How to order: Walk up for outdoor dining; call 215-545-7005 for takeout

Feel Parisian at Parc

Rittenhouse
This long-running French restaurant right on Rittenhouse Square Park is a forever spot for people watching indoors and out. During Covid times, Parc has even been offering picnic baskets that sample the best of what Parc has to offer, in portable form -- think cheese, baguette, croissants, and a bottle of rosé.
How to order: Reservations for indoor/outdoor dining; call 215-545-2263 for pickup; Caviar or DoorDash for pickup/delivery

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Marielle Mondon is a writer from Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @MarielleMondon.