GUEST POST: A little dirty. A bit brash. Philly’s all that and more. I started spending time there when my son enrolled at Drexel University and it was love at first bite. Seriously. The city has so many good restaurants, it can be daunting to choose one. I thought it would be helpful to engage the assistance of an expert. Sarah Ricks is a travel junkie and confirmed Phila-phile. We share a mutual friend who’s a travel editor. He encouraged us to hook up, so I guess this is technically our “first date”. I asked Sarah to share some of her favorite eateries located near Philly’s top tourist spots. I know I can’t wait to hop on the Turnpike and give these a try.
After visiting the Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings at The Barnes Foundation (where art is displayed alongside Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, per orders of the eccentric Dr. Albert Barnes), you can pick up a convenient picnic lunch a block away at Whole Foods Market. Eat outside the Barnes or nearby at the Swann Fountain. If your visit is timed to avoid weekend brunch lines, the upscale diner Sabrina’s Cafe is a good choice for salads, sandwiches, frittatas, challah French toast, and ever-changing eclectic mash-ups like “cranberry-basil cornbread topped with crispy applewood bacon, arugula, caramelized red onions, broccoli, and over easy eggs.”
A few blocks north, at the Blue Cat, you’ll pay more but will enjoy outstanding Latin-inspired dishes like spinach mushroom empanadas, arroz con pollo with sweet fried plantains, crispy roast duck in a peanut mole sauce, or the most popular entrée, fish tacos.
The crust for the strawberry/pear/rhubarb pie was so flaky and delicious, I personally thanked the pastry chef, Luli Canuso, co-owner with her husband, Chef Guy Shapiro. (Cash only, BYO from the wine store next door.)
If visiting Independence Hall has you hankering for chocolate, a block away is Lore’s Chocolates, where the bestseller is chocolate-covered pretzels, a Philly tradition. Or walk a few blocks to Shane Candy, which has been producing and selling candy since 1911. Its gorgeous, newly refurbished interior will transport you back in time.
A memorable meal close to Independence Hall is at Zahav, a James Beard award-winning Israeli and Mediterranean restaurant that is vegetarian-friendly and worth the splurge.
For an inexpensive but just as memorable experience, walk a half-mile from Independence Hall to the Reading Terminal Market. The Market opened in 1892 and currently is home to a jumbled maze of 100 independent local merchants offering all things edible, often locally sourced: roast pork sandwiches, burritos, sushi, artisanal cheese, Amish bakeries, along with butchers, fishmongers, and local farm stands. The Reading Terminal Market is a must-see destination in itself.
If you prefer a comfy booth to eating at a crowded table at the Market’s center, walk to the southwest corner to the excellent Down Home Diner, featuring cornmeal pancakes, sausage, home fries, and other organic diner staples.
University of Pennsylvania Museums
While visiting either the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology or the Institute for Contemporary Art, try The White Dog for organic American dishes. The White Dog is one of the original farm-to-table restaurants and, like most places, is more affordable for lunch. My favorite: flavorful mushroom soup made from local Kennett Square produce.
For a quirky meal of fried chicken and donuts – really, that’s all they have – try the third location of Federal Donuts, on the same block as White Dog, and mysteriously labeled with only a red chicken. These donuts actually earned a review in The New York Times. Get a donut cooked to order and eat it hot – or a fancy donut, like one frosted with chocolate and sea salt.
Gotta love Philly! Don’t miss the chance for a cocktail and nibbly bit in the lobby bar at The Ritz. Very centrally located. Fork is also a fav for dinner or brunch. And if you haven’t had the mushroom soup at FridaySaturdaySunday, well then, that’s worth the trip alone. And The Barnes Foundation is simply the best…and this from a museum-challenged, but gift-shop-loving, patron. Pure brilliance, full of meaning, and understandable by all.
Can you feel the love, Philadelphia? Thanks for the additional restaurant suggestions, Chris. Can’t wait to hit some of these over the next few weekends. I agree with you 100% about the Barnes-boutique museum+lovely gift shop=priceless!
What about if you’re thirsty too? Would you be interested in an amazing beer selection with eel and pomme frites? If so Monk’s Cafe would be another to add to your list.
I grew up and live in Philly, and I’ve sadly never been to many of these gems. But try El Vez next time you want Mexican. And I’ve personally always wanted to try the Franklin a fountain for old-fashioned soda and ice cream. I’ll get there eventually.