Ever since South Philly started getting divided up into smaller neighborhoods, knowing exactly where you are in the area has gotten tricky. Your friends from out of town will likely tell you that their Airbnb is on East Passyunk or in Passyunk, and then you’ll have to explain to them that East Passyunk is actually a neighborhood. No, you don’t know why they decided that this portion of a road should be its own little neighborhood, and yes, even if it’s not on Passyunk Ave, it can still be in East Passyunk.
Regardless, this is one of the best places to eat and drink in Philadelphia, and basically every other storefront is some sort of BYOB or wine bar. What we’ve done here is filter all of those places down to our favorites, so the next time you’re in East Passyunk, you’ll know exactly where to go.
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Everybody loves a place that nobody can get into except for them. And since Palizzi doesn’t seem to be issuing new memberships anytime soon, you either hopefully already have the golden ticket or have a friend who you can barter with for a spot at their table. If you do manage to get in the door, the stromboli and experience of having dinner in what used to be a club for mob bosses are well worth whatever you did to get here. Or you can try your luck on Craigslist. Your call.
Depending on the time of year, Noord is good for a few different situations. When it’s warm, they open up the large windows in the front, which gives this Dutch cafe and BYOB a nice airy quality to it. And when it’s cold, it’s a great place to eat food reserved for months when you’re trying to stay warm, like fried pork croquettes and shellfish stew. It’s always pretty busy, but just grab a cocktail next door at ITV if there’s a wait
Laurel is a small spot in Easy Passyunk that’s both expensive and pretty formal, but they also serve one of the most interesting tasting menus in the city. It’s technically a French restaurant, and some of the things you see here will indeed feel French - you’ll probably get something resembling foie gras or escargot - but a majority of your dishes will be combinations of foods that seem to make no sense together, but end up tasting really good. The house-made kombucha shot with mustard seeds and the caviar and potato crisps dish that’s topped with ice cream and tastes like when you dip fries into a milkshake are two of our favorites.
If you’re looking for a spot that looks upscale, but is still casual enough for a post-dodgeball practice dinner, check out Barcelona Wine Bar. The food is good, the wine list is better, and the outdoor patio sets it apart from most other restaurants in East Passyunk. They serve mostly tapas, which makes it a solid choice for anything from a date to a bigger group dinner, and they also have a great brunch on the weekends if you find yourself in need of a morning pick-me-up in the form of more paella.
Sate Kampar looks like your average coffee shop - it’s got little tables, dispensers filled with different types of tea, and chalkboards hung on the wall with three different colors of chalk written all over them. And they do sell tea and coffee, but more importantly, they serve really great Malaysian food, mostly in the form of sate skewers. You can pick and choose which meats you want and what kind of sauce comes with them (the pineapple peanut sauce is worth putting on just about everything), and it makes for a low-key dinner that’s both delicious and affordable.
Bing Bing is a dim sum place that does things a little differently. They serve things like jade dumplings and everything bing bread, along with pitchers of cocktails that you should probably only legally be able to order if you have at least six people at your table. Their walls are covered with cartoon dumplings and string lights hang from the ceiling year-round. Even though all of this screams ‘big group party dinner,’ it’s actually a pretty small spot, and you’ll probably end up here at least a few times for a solo bowl of noodles or some dumplings if you live nearby.
There are a few truths in the world that we can all agree on: Gritty is the thing of nightmares, you don’t take I-95 on game day, and South Philly Barbacoa makes the best tacos in the city. There are only three things on the menu - barbacoa and pancita tacos, and a lamb consomme - and they’re all excellent. It’s also a pretty popular spot with both locals and tourists and they’re only open Saturday - Monday, so show up before noon if you don’t want to wait in a line.
Fond is exactly what you want out of a neighborhood restaurant: it’s a little corner spot with big windows and sidewalk tables for when it’s nice out, it’s always full, but you never have to wait more than a few minutes to sit down (even if you don’t make a reservation), and the contemporary American menu changes all the time, but everything on it is great. If you’re trying to be a little less casual, they also have five and seven-course tasting menus, but we typically just come here for some oysters and drinks.
You can come here any day of the week for a great dinner, and on most nights, the tiny Filipino BYOB is lined with two-tops of people on dates. But on Wednesdays and Sundays, Perla switches out their a la carte menu for a Kamayan feast. Tablecloths are traded for banana leaves and rather than using utensils, you eat with your hands. Your meal, which should easily feed four, is layered on the table with a base of garlic jasmine rice followed by a few different proteins and vegetables, like pork belly, fried whole fish, and bok choy.
When you think of a first date spot, ITV is probably exactly what you imagine, with dim lighting, lots of wine, and white string lights strung over top of the bar area. Unsurprisingly, about 90% of the crowd here on any given night is staring soul-searchingly into someone else’s eyes. True to wine bar form, pretty much the whole menu is shared small plates, with the most expensive thing on the menu (the grilled short rib, get it) topping out at $18. Unless you want the caviar service, but you should probably save that for at least a third date.
Le Virtu is where you go in East Passyunk when you want to eat some classic Italian food, but you don’t want to do it in a closet-sized room where you could end up caressing someone’s leg at the next table instead of your date’s. There’s a lot of space here, and they also serve some above average pasta, so it’s a good spot for a weeknight dinner date. Plus, they have one of the best patios in the city.
Cantina Los Caballitos is in the big orange and blue building on East Passyunk, and if you still can’t find it, look for the huge patio that takes up what should house a whole second restaurant. They serve solid Mexican food that tastes even better when you’ve had a few margaritas, and its where you should spend your Saturdays in the summer. Even if it’s not 85 and sunny outside, they still have a great Happy Hour where you can get $3 sangria and $15 pitchers.
Townsend was built for dates. The whole place is dark and there are more candles than they probably used on the set of Charmed. There’s an upstairs dining room where you should take your wife of three years for an anniversary dinner (they’ll even customize special occasion menus for you). There’s also a bar downstairs that’s ideal for a more early in the game date - especially because it’s open until 2am, leaving you with an extra couple of hours to ask each other philosophical questions like, “Do you sometimes lay awake in bed at night and think about how they 3D-print organs?”
Anastasi is part-restaurant and part-seafood market and it’s had the same big corner location in the Italian Market for almost a century. They have a full menu that you can order from, but what you really want to do is pick out some seafood from the market and have them cook it for you in whatever way you’d like. It can get pretty crowded, but you can always take it to go if you can’t find a table.
For the nights when you’d rather just get carryout, go to Hardena. They serve Indonesian food that changes up everyday, and it all comes over a big pile of rice. You can mix and match whatever looks good to you, but we highly recommend the beef rendang that’s caramelized and slow cooked in coconut milk, and the collard greens. There are a few tables where you can sit down and eat, but there’s no shame in taking yours to go and eating it while watching reruns of Golden Girls on your couch.
You should go to Will for dinner at some point, and it should be for a special occasion. It doesn’t look like much inside, but this place makes some of the best French food you’ll get in the city. Most days they do an a la carte menu where you can pick from combinations you probably haven’t seen before, like Burgundy snails that come in a miso sauce with a side of grits, but on Sundays they do a prix fixe menu where you’ll get a reasonably-priced $45 four-course meal. It’s the kind of affordable special occasion dinner spot you need when you spent your entire paycheck on a new sofa that comes with a storage ottoman, and totally forgot that your mom’s birthday is in a week.