Sometimes when we look at a map of Philly, we imagine a bunch of old men dividing it up in the 1700s. Center City went to the most experienced architects and got a nice, tidy grid and neighborhoods that generally look like squares or rectangles. Old City and Queen Village went to the lower level guys - and they ended up with streets that were a little uneven and unpredictable. Then there was a kid sitting in the corner, maybe 12 or so, who was the son of someone important. And to appease his father, they gave him a little pet project. “You get North Philly!” they said, with a pat on the head and a condescending tone.
And here we are, hundreds of years later, with nonsensical street organization and neighborhoods that look more like animal-shaped clouds than actual distinct districts. Kensington is one of those neighborhoods, and while it’s tough to determine exactly where it ends and where Port Richmond or Fishtown begins, we’ve done our best. These are the best places to eat and drink in Olde Kensington and East Kensington - we’ll leave the mythical West Kensington out until we actually know what that is.
After one too many drinks at your last party, you felt inspired, announcing “I’m going to open a bar one day, fill it with everything that we like, and the people will flock to it, deeming me lord of Kensington and purveyor of all that is good.” And though no one took you too seriously, you’ll realize when you get to Martha that someone got the jump on you. The cocktails, wine, and beer are affordable (most costing less than $12), there’s a ton of outdoor seating, and the menu is full of your favorite things to eat after your third drink of the night, like hoagies, cheese, and pickles.
Although this Kensington bakery makes both traditional and vegan donuts in their shop, the ones made with coconut milk are somehow just as good - or even better - than the regular ones. The flavors change weekly, but range from classics like Boston creme to ones that sound like they were invented by a hungry 9-year-old, like banana graham cracker and black and white cookie cake. They’re also owned by the same people as ReAnimator, so you know they have great coffee, too.
Cadence isn’t somewhere you’re going to go every week, unless you’re the heir to the Slinky fortune or the 13th man on the 76ers. This small BYOB on Girard has a $65 tasting menu and feels nice enough where you could dress up or just come from work. You can go a la carte too, but whenever you eat here, the goal should be to try as many things as possible. Whatever else you order, make sure to get the roast duck, which will easily feed three people on its own.
We want to tell everybody we know about Soup Kitchen Cafe because this place has excellent and well-priced breakfast and lunch food - our favorites are the $8 shakshuka and the soup and half sandwich combo for $13. Plus, they have a full bar that’s stocked with local beers, and they make a couple of great house cocktails like the elderflower aperol spritz and a jalapeno margarita. It’s small and comfortable inside, and since it’s not a super popular spot for dinner, it’s a great place to know about when everywhere else has a 40-minute wait.
For a mid-week date night, Helm is your best bet in Kensington. It’s small and almost cafe-like, with the menu written on a chalkboard in colorful writing and an espresso machine sitting on the bar. And the fact that it’s BYOB makes it an easy and relatively inexpensive (the menu changes often, but usually nothing is over $25) option in the area. The best things are the shareable plates that range from things like rhubarb and soppressata wontons to chicken with a sunchoke confit. Everything is so good that you’ll wish you lived next door so you could have an excuse to pop in every night.
Some of the best restaurants in the city get their baked goods from Lost Bread Co. But the Kensington bakery only opens its doors to the public on weekends, and when it does, it sells out of everything within hours - whether that’s loaves of sourdough or salty-sweet pretzel shortbread cookies. If you want the best bread in the city, you should wake up early on a Saturday morning and go.
Evil Genius has some of the weirdest-named beers you’ll ever have, and while they’re served in tons of bars around the city, the best place to drink them is at their big brewery in Kensington. It has a huge indoor area where you can play Trivial Pursuit or one of their many board games, and in the summer, they open up their huge outdoor patio with a separate bar. Their selection is always changing, but you should know that most of their beers, from “The Floor Is Lava” to “Dorothy In The Streets, Blanche In The Streets,” have high ABVs.
Fermentary Form doesn’t have normal hours (you can find out when they’ll be open on their Instagram) or a listed address, so the only way to know you’re in the right place is the green light hanging above their door. Although they make beer, this place technically isn’t a brewery - the beer sold here is brewed elsewhere, but they add their own yeast and ferment the beer. The result is several excellent sours that they rotate out every few months that you need to try.
Street Side is a tiny Vietnamese BYOB on Girard that mostly does takeout, so when you end up working late and are too tired to even reheat the leftovers from last weekend, it’s a good place to stop at on your way home. Other than their pho (which is one of the better bowls of soup around), this place mostly does small things that are easy to eat on the go. Some of our favorites are the pork belly rice paper roll, the kroeung beef skewer, and the pork and chive dumplings.
Philadelphia Distilling has a 38,000-square-foot space right on the border of Kensington and Fishtown. On top of the huge tasting room downstairs, which serves everything from its own beer to ciders from the neighboring Commonwealth Ciders, it also has a big outdoor courtyard and a loading dock out back that doubles as an event space in the summer. While they don’t serve any food inside, they do have a rotating lineup of food trucks that hang out in the parking lot out front - so you won’t have to wander around the neighborhood to find a sandwich after hours of drinking IPAs.