The secret is out: Philadelphia is a foodie destination. Successive waves of immigrants have brought Italian, Asian, Mexican, and other delicious food traditions to Philadelphia. Philly has a thriving farm-to-table movement. Plus, Philadelphia has a quirky tradition of Bring Your Own wine to restaurants (BYO), since lots of restaurants cannot sell liquor. The good news for diners is you can spend the money you saved on wine by buying better food. So come to Philly, and come hungry.
Pie Milkshake – Unique Philadelphia Treat?
Trust me on this: You may want to try a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, but you definitely want to try the pie milkshake at Magpie Artisan Pie Boutique. Choose your pie from the ever-changing seasonal list – fall selections include Pear Ginger Crumb and Chocolate Coffee Cinnamon Pecan, summer might be Bourbon Peach and Lemon Buttermilk. Magpie will blend vanilla ice cream with your pie and stick in a straw. Delicousness ensues. You can also eat your sweet (or savory) pies the usual way, equally memorable.
Farm-to-table restaurants in Philadelphia
Pumpkin in Center City Philadelphia offers American farm-to-table with an ever-changing menu focused on local ingredients. Choices might be chilled beet soup with salmon roe and crème fraiche or pork chops with white peach. Cash only, BYO. You won’t find better mushroom soup than at Philadelphia’s original farm-to-table restaurant, The White Dog, located in West Philadelphia near the University of Pennsylvania.
If your family is willing to splurge on a 3-hour feast, try the memorable 14-course tasting menu at Marigold Kitchen, a tiny restaurant in a converted row house in West Philadelphia. BYO, $90 per person tasting menu, for foodies only. Come hungry, settle in for good conversation, and take a food adventure with a menu that changes daily. You might try cauliflower pureed with browned butter, roast duck, pumpkin on crisped brioche, brussel sprouts roasted in duck fat, each course about 4 bites.
If your family would like a tasting menu that takes about an hour, try the delicious lunchtime tasting menu at Little Nonna’s in Center City. Three courses of Italian cooking with local ingredients and a Sicilian twist, $20 per person. Pillow soft gnocchi swimming in local mushrooms and butter, stuffed rice balls, bruschetta with roasted butternut squash, meatballs stuffed with cheese. If two of you get the tasting menu, you can try 6 dishes. If 3 of you get the tasting menu, you can try 8 dishes and – bonus – you won’t need to eat the rest of the day. (If your family’s taste runs more to free things, Philadelphia has lots of fun free things to do.)
Explore Philadelphia neighborhoods
Philadelphia has benefitted from waves of immigrants, each bringing different food traditions. In the last 10 years Philadelphia has welcomed 100,000 new immigrants from Asia, Mexico, the former Soviet Republics, and other parts of the world, each enriching the Philly food scene.
For traditional Italian pasta and meat dishes outside of South Philly and Center City, try Fiorino, in a residential neighborhood called East Falls. Fiorino is squeezed into a converted rowhouse livingroom and barely fits 10 tables. This is a classic Philadelphia experience, and serves delicious Italian food. BYO, noisy at night.
In South Philadelphia, Passyunk Avenue has a row of terrific upscale Italian restaurants. Paradiso is a splurge (about $50 per person, with wine) for classic Italian like house-cured meats, fresh pasta like gnocchi with local mushrooms and peas, Piedmont beef, and delicious Italian wines (not a BYO).
Are your kids adventurous eaters? South Philly also has very casual Mexican taquerias – where you can try goat or tongue tacos – plus inexpensive Vietnamese and Indonesian restaurants. Philly’s Chinatown, located in Center City, has lots of good low cost Thai, Vietnamese, Korean barbecue, and of course Chinese restaurants.
Burgers in Philadelphia
Burgers are big in Philly right now, and my family loves the design-your-own-burgers at the colorfully decorated Sketch Burger, in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Fishtown. Toppings include avocado, truffle butter, salsa verde, grilled onions, and sauces like aoli or wasabi, all served on local bakery buns. Deliciously messy! Sketch Burger covers its walls with drawings you create as you wait. No surprise, most customers are inspired to draw burgers.
Food from international groceries in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has specialized grocery stores that cater to our international populations. Along a stretch of Ninth Street in South Philadelphia – that you might recognize from Rocky’s iconic run through Philly – the open air Italian Market offers cheese, fresh pasta, sausage, produce, and Italian pastries. The H-Mart in Upper Darby is a supermarket selling Korean food. Several small Indian groceries are in West Philadelphia.
Bell’s Market, a supermarket in Northeast Philadelphia, has a massive deli selection of pickled vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, eggplant) and smoked fish. The onsite bakery produces pastries stuffed with cherries and feta, and loaves of dark, heavy bread. Best is challah still warm from the oven. In fact, grocery stores in Philadelphia can make you feel like you’ve popped into a foreign country. For 11 other places in Philadelphia that feel like a foreign country, click here.
Has your family discovered delicious or strange foods while traveling? Tell us about it in the comments.
Sarah loves discovering what’s unique about a place, its history, food, architecture and culture. She explores Philadelphia when she isn't traveling for fun or for work as a law professor. Both her college-age kids have been enthusiastic travelers since they were tiny. Follow her as Very Hungry Traveller on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter. Recent: Spain, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Chile, Israel, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, France, Croatia, London, Korea, New York, California.