The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In Philadelphia guide image


The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In Philadelphia

A complete guide to eating and drinking your way through your first visit to Philly.

From work trips and weekend getaways to music festivals or the random need to recreate M. Night Shyamalan movie scenes, there are more than a few reasons to come to Philly. Eating here is the most important one.

Our First Timer’s guide isn’t meant to be a definitive list of this city’s best bars and restaurants—it’s just what we’d do if we were in your shoes with a few days in town. Since we can’t give you every tip to get by in the city—please just avoid the PPA at all costs—the least we can do is point you in the direction of great places to eat and drink from sunrise to sunset.


Beiler's Doughnuts

There are a lot of donut shops in Philly, but Beiler’s is the one that you should make time for. All of their donuts are excellent, including the caramel apple that’s a doughy, chewy circle of perfection packed with apple glaze and coated with caramel icing. They have a counter in the Reading Terminal Market, and another location in West Philly, but you can also find them on delivery apps. So if you don’t feel like walking through a crowded market full of people asking where Market Street is at 10am, just order a bunch to your hotel room and eat them while you map out the rest of your day.

If breakfast for you means a bagel stacked with smoked fish, you should start your morning at Famous 4th Street Delicatessen in Queen Village. This Jewish deli is an institution, and definitely one of our favorite places for brunch in the city. They don’t take reservations, but there’s no one in town stacking corned beef higher or spreading cream cheese thicker. It can get as loud and busy on weekend mornings as 30th Street Station, but you can always order your enormous pastrami specials, challah French toast, or matzah ball soup to go.

K’far, an Israeli bakery in Rittenhouse, is another place that will likely have a wait. But you should know that you’re in line for some incredible breakfast food. We’d recommend almost anything on their menu, whether that’s the thick, buttery kubaneh toast topped with whipped brown sugar ricotta, egg sandwiches on crispy Jerusalem bagels, or delicious pastries like chocolate babka and gluten-free walnut cake. And considering you might have a tough time getting into Zahav for dinner, this place (by the same team) is a good substitute.

Middle Child Clubhouse is an all-day hangout that serves breakfast sandwiches with short rib and pillowy eggs in the morning, club sandwiches during the day, and shareable dishes like steak frites smothered in a smoky tamarind sauce at night. It’s an essential place to check out if you're spending time in Fishtown and are in the mood for cinnamony babka French Toast with Marvin Gaye playing in the background. You can also come back for a shareable dinner, complete with sake highballs and a few rounds of pool. No matter when you visit, you’ll be trying things that will make you feel as smooth and carefree as the vocals on “You’re All I Need to Get By.” 

If you want to have a fantastic sit-down brunch with something for everyone, Café La Maude in Northern Liberties is the place to go. And since everyone in Philly knows that and they don’t take reservations, be prepared to stand in a line as long as the security check at the airport on the weekends. The French-Lebanese BYOB serves brunch seven days a week, and offers everything from blueberry pancakes topped with caramelized bananas and rose syrup and petit steak and eggs to huevos rancheros covered with tender shreds of brisket. Even if you have to wait to be seated, it's worth it.

Ignore the locals eating soft pretzels before noon and head to Chinatown for shrimp dumplings, roast pork buns, and spicy beef wontons. You can have a dim sum brunch at Nom Wah every day (except Wednesday) with any size group you’re traveling with, since the booths here are big enough to fit a whole basketball team. They also have a lengthy tea menu that includes blends like chrysanthemum, oolong, shou mei, and jasmine that you can sip on for a morning pick-me-up that doesn't include a shot of espresso. This is also a place that you could pair pan-fried chicken and cabbage dumplings with a morning beer—and nobody would think twice.


You can’t come to Philly and not get a cheesesteak and a hoagie. But you also can’t come to Philly and not hit some of the essential pizza spots. Luckily, at Angelo’s, you can get all three. The pizza to get at this cash-only Bella Vista spot is the Upside Down. It’s thick and square like a Detroit-style pie and drenches cheese under a chunky blanket of sweet basil tomato sauce. They also have one of the best cheesesteaks in the city, packed in sesame seed rolls they bake fresh daily, and its Italian hoagie counterpart, The Pops. Take either the sandwiches or the pie with you to check out the Italian Market nearby. 

If you haven’t heard about how good the tacos are at South Philly Barbacoa, we can tell you that they’re the best in the city (and maybe the country). The Italian Market spot is only open for walk-ins on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and like the Liberty Bell, there will always be a line in front of it. But with a menu of barbacoa, lamb, and pancita tacos, along with a bowl of oniony consomme, a meal here is worth any Amtrak ride (even the one from Miami). Get one of each—they’ll come with all the toppings, salsas, and tortillas you could possibly need.

A vacation breakfast or lunch can be the most important meal of the day—especially in a walkable city like Philly. Make it count by popping into Honeysuckle Provisions in West Philly. Come here for creamy grits and eggs, buttery plantain snack cake, and an incredible smoked turkey hoagie on a Benne seed roll. There’s always a line at the Afrocentric cafe and market. But you’ll probably be standing in lines all day sightseeing, so you may as well pick one that’s actually worth it (unlike the Rocky Statue). 

People always associate Philly with the cheesesteak, but an arguably more iconic sandwich here is the roast pork. It comes on a hoagie roll with juicy roast pork, melty provolone, broccoli rabe, and long hots—and John’s makes the best one in the city. Their South Philly location isn't super close to downtown, but since it’s your first time here, you shouldn’t skip it.

You were probably already planning on walking around Rittenhouse Square. So, while you’re there, stop in at one of the area’s longest-standing restaurants: Parc. This French bistro has a bunch of sidewalk seating that makes for the perfect people-watching situation, especially if you want to see a lot of dogs who look exactly like their owners. And because it’s one of the most popular spots to eat outside, it can get busier than a Christmas tree lot in December. If you don’t mind the wait, you should start with the French onion soup (arguably the best in town), or the lemony warm shrimp salad. If you’re really hungry, though, you’ll want to order the steak frites with perfectly crispy fries, or the cheeseburger with pungent raclette and grilled onion.


Before they closed, Bella Vista’s Kalaya was the first place we thought of when we wanted to impress out-of-towners. And based on the crowds since they’ve reopened, the entire city felt exactly the same. The former BYOB got a gorgeous Fishtown makeover that includes a full bar, a large dining room with 14-foot palm trees, and an open kitchen where plates of tender peppercorn steak, flower-shaped dumplings, and curries (like the sweet and peppery massaman nua) are made to perfection. The lively restaurant is a place where you can sit back in a booth with friends, sip on coconut milk cocktails, and order an unforgettable lineup of wok-fried dishes and mounds of shaved ice.

If you’re planning on eating at Zahav, you either have to make a reservation months in advance or show up about an hour before they open and hope to get a counter seat at 5pm. But it’s worth it, because it just might be the single greatest meal you’ll ever have. The Israeli icon has a tasting menu full of things like cloud-like laffa bread, silky hummus, an assortment of salatim, and pomegranate lamb shoulder that falls off the bone. It’s $75 a person, you get five courses including a dessert, and if you get the wine pairing for another $45, the wine breakdowns from the staff will have as much history in them as the plaques at the Constitution Center.

Her Place feels like the next generation of supper clubs—fantastic food in an atmosphere that feels more like a friend’s dining room than a restaurant—and it easily stands out as one of the best in the city (and across the country). The $75 four-course meal at this Rittenhouse spot is alone worth a visit to Philly. The menu changes weekly but you can expect dishes like escargot floating in a garlicky pesto, a savory potato leek lasagnetta that’s drenched in a cream sauce, and a lemon profiterole that’s fluffy and light. The entire place turns into a group hangout each night, so even if you come solo, everybody around you (including people in the kitchen) will keep you entertained throughout your meal.

When you need a great restaurant for a special date, go to Friday Saturday Sunday. Located in a Rittenhouse Square brownstone, this intimate, tasting-menu only spot’s main dining room is upstairs, but the downstairs bar is more fun and you can still order every dish. The menu changes frequently, but you can expect dishes from the raw bar, housemade pasta, and small plates like an excellent sweetbread katsu sandwich. And their cocktails are some of the best in the city—don’t miss out on the smoked eggplant spritz with tequila, cappelletti, lime, smoked eggplant syrup, and soda.

Pizzeria Beddia used to be a small counter-service shop with lines that were famously up to six hours long. But don’t worry—you no longer need to spend that much time in Philly standing in line for pizza. Beddia now has a much bigger space in Fishtown—and they have more than just excellent pies. It’s a full sit-down spot with a long natural wine list, a few starters, and pizza (which, yes, is just as good as it's always been). There’s also sweet cream and espresso soft serve that’s better than any soft serve we’ve ever had before.

Every time we take our friends from out of town to this Italian Market pasta bar, they beg us to overnight ship them a plate of the rigatoni immediately after they get back home. It’s the kind of old-school place that’s filled with the scent of garlic, sausage, and the rising steam wafting from plates that you’ll want to grab as they whiz by you. Start with the chicory salad with pears and a creamy gorgonzola dressing, and finish with a few plates of sausage ragu rigatoni, ricotta gnocchi topped with fig slices, and a tagliolini with clams swimming in a lemony prosecco sauce. Even if the weather takes a turn for the worse, they have a covered, heated patio where you can watch people go by and sip your wine as you watch the pasta roll in.

Tabachoy is a delicious, casual, soon-to-be Philadelphia staple. That's because we think of the Bella Vista spot for pretty much every occasion. Craving juicy fried chicken? Want a creamy, dreamy ube soft serve? The Filipino BYOB has it all—including a community fridge if you forget a bottle. Whether you want to pop in for a citrusy bowl of pancit bihon, a vinegary braised pork shoulder, or to celebrate the milestone of finally knowing what “jawn” means with crispy pork spring rolls, this restaurant works for everything and everyone.

Sang Kee has been serving its crispy-skinned Peking duck since 1980—it’s no surprise, since it’s the best in the city. If you have one dinner in Chinatown, this should be it. The two-story, bare bones restaurant is packed with seemingly endless rows of tables. Of course, the couples, families, and groups of friends at those tables are sharing platters of the glistening duck with scallions and hoisin sauce, but the supporting actors here are just as impressive as the star of the show. Sang Kee also specializes in Hong Kong style BBQ, noodle soups, and traditional Cantonese stir fry. 

The menu at Amma’s South Indian Cuisine is lengthier than the number of people in Philly that would invite Jalen Hurts to their wedding, so you can expect to find something for everyone. At the casual Center City spot, you can feast on specials like mutton curry with spicy onion and tomato gravy, a creamy paneer butter masala, and dosas as long as a kid’s Fisher Price baseball bat. All of their incredible entrees are under $20—which is why this is one of our go-to’s for casual lunches with friends or spur-of-the-moment family dinners.

Saloon is an Italian restaurant, but it’s also a quintessential South Philly dining experience. It’s been around for 55 years, and is still outfitted with dark wood walls and candlelight, stained glass windows, and paraphernalia from 19th and 20th century Philadelphia. The staff has as much personality as the building itself (and most have been around just as long). The menu ranges from traditional steakhouse dishes like clams casino and petite filet with mashed potatoes, but we’re partial to the Italian house specialties, like the linguine pescatore with jumbo shrimp and a buttery lobster Francaise.


Tattooed Mom is your no-words-needed introduction to South Street—a place that’s stuck in the grungy, seedy world of the ’90s in the best way. The walls, top to bottom, are covered in years of stickers, spray paint, and sharpie, and it would take an exhaustive “I Spy” search to find all of the different murals by both famous and local street artists. They make drinks with cotton candy and Pop Rocks, put on Sunday night craft nights, and have a sticker- and marker-covered bumper car in the entrance. It’s the kind of place you’ll only find in Philly, and one that’ll impress your friends just for knowing it exists.

Bok Bar is the only rooftop you should be drinking at when you visit Philly for the first time. It’s on the top floor of the Bok Building, which is a converted school in South Philly, and you have to walk through a gym and a bunch of graffitied hallways just to get to the elevator. But that’s all a part of the charm. Once you get up there, you’ll have some incredible views of the city, plus great drinks and small plates like za’atar fried chicken bites and quinoa fritters. If you want a more substantial meal or just want to sit down somewhere less crowded, Irwin’s is right across the hallway and has excellent, shareable Sicilian food.

Besides being one of the oldest bars in Philly, McGillin’s is also the entire city’s favorite place to day drink and watch sports. The beer hall has rows of long picnic tables, projector screens playing whatever game is currently on TV, and no matter what time of year it is, you’ll see big groups cheers-ing each other with pints of whatever’s on draft. They also have two fireplaces, so it’s especially relevant in the winter, when all of the outdoor beer gardens are closed and day drinking options have dwindled.

Philly has some great breweries, so it would be a mistake to skip town without stopping by its biggest one. Yards Brewing Company is full of cafeteria-style tables, all of which have great views of the TV screens. But with things like savory beef chili and pale ale half chicken on the menu, and a beer list as long as the body count at the end of The Red Wedding, you could end up passing more time at this laid back spot than anywhere else in the city. Stop by their outdoor beer garden before catching a show at Union Transfer or to sip away the shock that Franklin Music Hall nearby isn’t a historical site that houses Ben Franklin’s violins and flutes.

Fishtown’s R&D cocktail bar is a great place to pass time while you’re waiting to get into Beddia and Kalaya, or if you just want to unload your story about your train delay over a vodka cocktail mixed with crème brûlée and black cherry. Outside of the eight rotating specialty cocktails that can range from paloma milk punch in the spring to warming drinks like their smoky and lemony Oaxacan Penicillin, they also have a small beer list with some drafts from local breweries and some bar snacks like hummus, whipped ricotta, and a charred longshot labne. It’s a dark space with deep cherry lighting, filled with two-tops, candles, and a lot of velvet—making it one of the better places to take someone for a date.

There is nowhere else in Philly like Andra Hem. The chic Swedish cocktail lounge has a friendly guy waiting outside to bring you in, artwork of Scandinavian royalty next to framed beer cans, and perfectly blended drinks. Unlike most popular bars, this Rittenhouse hideaway is rarely crowded to the point where you hear a stranger’s take on pro wrestling while ordering a drink. Grab a crispy potato pancake, a massive cheese board, Swedish punsch, and forget about whatever it is you didn’t pack.  


You’ll need something rewarding for surviving the Old City gauntlet of tripping over cobblestone streets and Betsy Ross teaching you how to churn butter.  That’s where The Franklin Fountain comes in. The throwback ice cream parlor and soda shop has antique fixtures like old hanging lamps and cashiers and serves scoops of flavors like cotton candy, pistachio, and peanut butter. If you take something to go, it will come in a Chinese takeout container—which you’ll appreciate on a sunny day when you don’t have streams of ice cream running down your hand from a cone. The most popular flavor here is Hydrox, which is like cookies and cream from the early 1900s. Each spoonful is velvety and easily the tastiest history lesson you’ll get in that neighborhood.

There are a few reasons to head to West Philly on your first trip here: to geotag your “in West Philadelphia, born and raised” picture, to check out some of our great African restaurants, and to get the city’s most treasured dessert from Siddiq’s. We're talking about water ice, which is basically an ice so finely grained it’s whipped, in flavors ranging from classics like lemon and watermelon to some creative ones like white grape and strawberry daiquiri with bits of real fruit. They also serve other snacks that will transport you to the Jersey Shore, like funnel cake and cotton candy, all of which can be eaten under the umbrellas out front.

Termini Bros. is a place of legend. It’s been around since alcohol was illegal and F. Scott Fitzgerald was hitting up clubs with Ernest Hemingway, and it’s one of the best bakeries in the city. Their South Philly location is only a short walk away from the sports arenas and it stays open until 9pm, which means you’ll be able to get a box of ricotta cannolis after any mid-day Phillies game. There's also a location in the Reading Terminal Market, so you can get chocolate chip poundcake or a box of biscottis no matter where you're staying.

1-900-ICE-CREAM makes soft serve on site at their tiny Rittenhouse shop, with flawless textures and flavors that send us to the moon and back. It’s the best soft serve—dare we say, ice cream?—in town, and comes in flavors like sort-of-salty chocolate, vanilla, strawberry shortcake, and lemon cookie. When it’s nice out, you can expect a line, but this unbelievably creamy treat is worth it.

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photo credit: GAB BONGHI

The First Timer’s Guide To Eating & Drinking In Philadelphia guide image