Food & Drink

An editor's guide to eating around town

Published On 04/19/2013 Published On 04/19/2013
Thrillist Philadelphia editor Adam Robb, eating

While Rocky used to tenderize ALL the beef, there's obviously way more diversity to Philly's food scene these days. Like donut-sided fried chicken, and pasta bowls buried under crushed cookies. Here to tell you where to get fat is Thrillist editor Adam Robb.
Favorite Restaurant:The best restaurant in a neighborhood comprised solely of everyone's favorite restaurants, Le Virtu on E Passyunk gets top honors for one single strand of pasta. Mind you, that bite's Maccheroni alla Mugnaia, an uncut, 3ft-long strand doused in garlic, hot peppers, and olive oil

Best Late-Night Eats: Choosing just one from a collection of two dozen hot dogs can be overwhelming at 4a on a Sat night. Fortunately, you can do no wrong with with the parm-, pepper hash-, and chili-topped brats at Underdogs

Best Cheap Eats: Do your daytime hot-dogging at South St's Hot Diggity, and wash down collab specials like a potato-piled Newark dog stuffed into Nomad Pizza bread with housemade Spicy PB&J soda.

Best Sandwich: Avoid the lunch rush and arrive early or late (not too late, they close at 4p) for a counter seat at DiNic's Roast Pork in Reading Terminal Market for garlicky roast pork piled with sharp Prov and roasted peppers

Best Dish: Also the best pasta your grandmother never spent all Sunday making, Le Virtu's porchetta-filled agnolotti's coated in a sage-and-black-truffle butter sauce, then topped with crushed amaretto cookies

Best Italian: Everything else on the menu at Le Virtu is amazing as well. Specializing in the hearty peasant food of Abruzzo's Medieval mountain villages, expect antipasti like spicy spreadable salame and porchetta-stuffed fried olives, plus pasta bowls topped with dried peppers scissor-cut tableside

Best Chinese: Head to Han Dynasty in Old City for Philly's most authentic Chinese comestibles (rabbit in chili oil, anyone?). On Mondays there's even a $25 tasting menu

Best Mexican: Sometimes I want the flavor of Mexico and none of the authenticity, so I score a booth at El Vez and throw down on some red-chili-honey-sauced fried chicken sided with aji amarillo mashed potatoes, blue corn bread w/ agave butter, and pickled Mexican vegetables, and throw back a few tequila-cinnamon Pineapple Canelas

Best Food Truck: There's no shortage of niche food trucks lining the sidewalks around Drexel and Penn, but The Cow and The Curd ventures out to Fishtown to sate late-night drinkers with plates of deep-fried cheese curds

Best Burger: There's no competition for fast-multiplying New York import Shake Shack. Its cheeseburger-topped-with-a-deep-fried-portobello isn't just one of the best in town, it's also one of the cheapest

Most Gut-Busting Dish: The Breakfast Bomb at Honey's Sit'n Eat sandwiches scrambled Lancaster County eggs and housemade sausage into a plate-sized pancake that's folded over, coated in powdered sugar, and saturated with maple syrup

Best Fine Dining: Fine dining in Philly doesn't mean white tablecloths and centerpieces. It means the refined local and seasonal fare at Vernick Food & Drink, like beef tartare & horseradish toasts, sea urchin w/ scrambled eggs, and a 28oz dry-aged bone-in strip loin for two

Most Romantic: The most romantic restaurant in Philly has chicken nuggets on the menu, but you probably shouldn't order those on a date after scoring a plush banquette beneath the dining room's woodland murals. Instead, opt for one of Fork's "for two" dishes like whole-roasted Peking duck

Best BBQ: Fishtown's Fette Sau's a beer garden-sized version of the Brooklyn original, where you can claim a picnic table and wash down Duroc pork belly, Angus brisket, and bacon brownies with 100+ domestic whiskeys

Best for Work: Steakhouses are where deals close in this town, and there's none better than the multi-level Del Frisco's, which fills the First Pennsylvania Bank building with prime ribeyes and the air of money

Best Lunch: Hit up Sansom St's The Corner Foodery for a porchetta hoagie or meatball sub you can incidentally wash down with 500+ beers by the bottle

Best Brunch: Head to Ela for cookie dough-stuffed French toast with bourbon-spiked Vietnamese iced coffee one weekend, and biscuits & bone marrow with kimchi Bloody Marys the next

Best Wings: The best known wings in the city may be from Fed 'Nuts (see below), but the best kept secret's Chick-A-Licious, a hole-in-the-wall opposite Thomas Jefferson Hospital, where the birds are double-fried Korean style and can be ordered 40 at a time

Best Donuts: There're three ways to do Federal Donuts: arrive when they open to score fast-selling Fancys like Spicy PB&J and Maple-Bacon; opt for made-to-orders fresh-tossed in Turkish mocha or strawberry-fennel sugar; or score a free honey 'nut with any order of fried chicken.

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1. Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse 1426 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19102 (Rittenhouse)

Located in what was once the lobby of the First Pennsylvania Bank, Del Frisco's Double Eagle is a show-stopping venue to go with heart-stoppingly good beef. The dining room at this Rittenhouse spot features sweeping three-story columns and a 40ft (1,200-bottle) wine tower at the center of the restaurant. In addition to its steak options, the menu offers a diverse seafood selection.

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2. Le Virtù 1927 E Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19148 (South Philadelphia)

This taste of Italy in Philly serves fresh fare crafted with local ingredients. And if it can't locate the elements for a dish locally, it'll import them from Abruzzo, a region in Central Italy that was the inspiration for the place.

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3. Underdogs 132 S 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Rittenhouse)

Underdogs in name only, this hot dog and sausage spot was popular when still in operation for its unwillingness to be satisfied with serving just average dogs. Their menu not only covered the traditional, but went wild with takes like a spicy merguez lamb dog with harissa mayo.

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4. Hot Diggity 630 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (South Street)

This Philadelphia dog joint will take you on a flavor tour of wieners from around the nation and beyond, featuring menu options such as the Chicago-style "Windy City"and the hot dog-meets-banh mi "Saigon Fusion."

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5. DiNic's Roast Pork and Beef 1136 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Market East)

Serving up hearty cuts juicy delicious goodness at the Reading Terminal Market, DiNic's is a must-try for every carnivore in Philly.

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6. Han Dynasty 108 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City)

Han Dynasty is a spacious Chinese resto located in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. With over 60 combinations of menu items, leaving unsatisfied is not an option.

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7. El Vez 121 S 13th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Midtown Village)

A Stephen Starr restaurant, El Vez is a vibrantly designed restaurant serving equally colorful, traditional Mexican food. This Midtown Village spot also quenches your thirst with an awesome, house-made margarita of your choice.

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8. Shake Shack 3200 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19104

The New York City equivalent to Los Angeles' In-N-Out, Shake Shack is the modern-day answer to the 50s soda shop and burger joint. The influx of college kids from the nearby UPenn campus will tell you, this is the chain to devote yourself to, for its ideally palm-sized, paper-wrapped, utterly Instagram-able burgers alone. The branded bag you get with your to-go order (with the milkshake flavor of the week, of course) makes an accessory any New Yorker would be proud of as you step across the block to eat in Hill Square.

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9. Honey’s Sit N' Eat 2101 South St, Philadelphia, PA 19146 (South Street)

Honey’s Sit N' Eat, a premier breakfast/Southern comfort food spot on Philadelphia's South Street, serves all of your favorite morning specials, and then adds three different kinds of bacon just to make you sweat. Made mostly of locally farmed and fresh ingredients, this eatery encourages sweet, gluttonous indulgence with a conscience. Normally it's one or the other.

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10. Vernick Food & Drink 2031 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Rittenhouse)

While Vernick Food & Drink is an upscale American eatery with a complex, innovative menu, the chef's standout mainstay is (drum roll, please)...toast. But this is not burnt wonder bread with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter -- this is toast 2.0. Vernick's chefs have created a number of spreads and mashes to dollop onto fresh baked sourdough, using everything from charred eggplant with chanterelles and broccoli-bacon jam to Bayonne ham with whipped brie and Maryland crab, all of which can be enjoyed at the bar alongside one of the numerous creative house cocktails. Beyond the sought-after collection of toasts, there are raw oysters, small plates, and plenty of meat and fish entrees, most of which are roasted in a wood-fired oven. The tables are built of thick, weathered wood, the waiters wear suspenders and bowties, and the whole place is engulfed in a warm yellow light.

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11. Fork 306 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (Old City)

Farm-to-table fare may sound cliche these days, but Fork has has been a pioneer of the food movement for since the late 1990s. The intimate restaurant breathed new life into Old City when it opened, and keeps the torch lit with American cuisine locally sourced from farmers located throughout the Delaware Valley. A woodland mural and dried branches in the dining room make for a woodsy yet elegant setting where the food is far too intricate to simply be foraged from the forest the decor nods to: vegetable-heavy starters like roasted carrots with bone marrow gremolata, precede housemade pastas and complex meat dishes like duck with persimmon and gingered rutabega.

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12. Fette Sau 1208 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19125 (Fishtown)

Fette Sau keeps it simple. Wooden tables, concrete floors, gourmet BBQ, craft beer and whiskey. No pretense. Sounds like the go-to spot for the most interesting man in the world, doesn't it? Named after the German phrasing for "fat pig," Fette Sau's obviously got pork on lock, plus other delectable, dry-aged and smoked meat comestibles. The Philly outpost of this Williamsburg standby is sure to satisfy.

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13. The Corner Foodery 1710-12 Sansom St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (Center City West)

Gourmet sandwiches and hundreds of craft beer is The Corner Foodery's DNA. Also, there are large, lacquered communal tables on which to chow down with a group of friends, when not waiting in anticipation of Executive John Taus's daily chef specials.

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14. Ela 627 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (Society Hillqueen Village)

An American restaurant directed by the steady hand of acclaimed chef Jason Chichonski, Ela serves cuisine that changes seasonally but is consistently innovative and crafted to perfection. With an extensive wine list and large collection of craft beers, something is bound to go well with your whipped foie gras.

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15. Chick-a-Licious 138 S 11th St, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (Midtown Village)

Chick-a-licious, located in Midtown Village, is exactly what it sounds like. Using fresh ingredients, this comfort food spot serves wings dipped and seasoned with dry rubs and features, wait for it, a fried chicken-finger sandwich.

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16. Federal Donuts 1219 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (South Philadelphia)

With several locations around the city, Federal Donuts has grown into a sugar-coated Philly favorite. FD's secret weapon is a "Donut Robot," a mechanical monster-mastermind that handles all the dough dispensing, frying, and flipping. The deep-fried dough rings are sweet, sinful, and eminently scarf-able -- coming in flavors like maple-bacon, lemon bar, spicy PB&J, Turkish mocha and, of course, classic glazed. Because specializing in just one caloric indulgence doesn't cut it, this spot slings famous fried chicken in a changing lineup of rubs and sauces (coconut curry, anyone?).