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, tattoo forums at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, music festivals, or the random need to recreate some M. Night Shyamalan movie scenes, there are more than a few reasons to come to Philly. And we know that trying to take pictures of tourists at the LOVE sign can make you exhausted and really hungry.  

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 PPA at all costs—the least we can do is point you in the direction of some good spots to eat and drink at from sunrise to sunset.


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Middle Child Clubhouse


1232 N Front St, Philadelphia
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Fishtown’s Middle Child Clubhouse serves one of the best sandwich shops in the city, and is a must when you’re in need of a fluffy egg sandwich to make it through another trip with your cousins. It’s an essential place to come if you only have one morning in Philly, and you want to spend it with some cinnamony babka French Toast and Marvin Gaye tracks playing in the background. You can also come back for a shareable dinner with things like steak frites and mussels covered in a garlicky XO sauce. Whether you go for dinner or stop by in the morning for The Herschel–a sandwich with stacked eggs, American cheese, and strips of short-rib corned beef–you’ll be trying things that will make you feel as velvety and happy as the vocals on “You’re All I Need to Get By.” 

Ignore the locals on the subway and streets eating soft pretzels before noon, and head to Chinatown for some 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 of friends 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 somewhere that you could pair pan-fried chicken and cabbage dumplings with a morning beer, and nobody would think twice.

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photo credit: GAB BONGHI

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Philly Style Bagels

You probably didn’t come to Philly for bagels, but if you knew about this place, you might have. The tiny Fishtown shop boils their bagels in beer, which makes them extra crispy on the outside (so there’s no need to toast them). It’s also not a bad option when Suraya is booked for brunch nearby and you have a few things lined up in your day like tour bus rides and dancing while Philly Elmo drums. They open as early as 7am from Thursday to Monday, so if you’re here for a long weekend and want to get a stacked bacon, egg, and cheese or a za'atar bagel slathered in a smoked salmon cream cheese, head here.

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 and chewy circle of perfection packed with apple glaze and coated with a 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 you want to have a real, sit-down brunch, Café La Maude in Northern Liberties is where you should go. And since everyone here 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 is a Northern Liberties spot that serves brunch seven days a week including everything from blueberry pancakes topped with caramelized bananas and rose syrup, petit steak and eggs, to huevos rancheros covered with tender shreds of brisket. And even if you spend a few extra minutes waiting for a table, there’s a park nearby where you can waste some time.

Booker’s Restaurant & Bar imageoverride image

Booker’s Restaurant & Bar



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If you’re on a work trip, or just got off an early morning Amtrak ride, making time for breakfast might not be on the top of your list. But this Baltimore Ave. spot has a menu full of things like Southern-style grits with fish, shrimp, or sausage, and fried chicken and waffles with strawberry butter that are just as comforting as your hotel’s pillow. And if you ignore the first eight alarm attempts of your day and head out past noon, brunch here goes until 2:15pm every day. Not to mention they have outdoor seating for days when you’ve been inside all day or when you just landed and want some fresh air, a cup of coffee, and a spoonful of sweet limoncello cake.

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.


Mission Taqueria is the kind of place where you come for a few midday tacos, lose track of time, and then realize you might be in danger of missing your 7pm flight out of town. We know that sounds stressful, but that’s just really how much fun this place is. Full of long flowing flowers, neon signs, shuffleboards, and the best tacos in Center City, it’s the place to go for tequila and mezcal margaritas, tacos topped with things like coconut-hazelnut salsas, and plantain empanadas filled with queso Oaxaca that are perfectly crispy. A short walk from City Hall and Dilworth Park, it’s a centrally located spot where you can even stick around for one of the most popular Happy Hours in the city and make some new friends.

The Suya Suya combination platters remind us of trips to a buffet as a kid when we loaded up ice cream sundaes with every cherry, jimmie, and marshmallow whipped cream in the joint. At the Northern Liberties fast-casual West African spot, you can put everything from soft jollof rice filled with diced beef, plantains fresh out of the pot, and grilled chicken and sizzling steak into one bowl. The bowls are $13 or under and each comes with a side, and it’s a low-key place that has walk-in-friendly counter service where you can grab a quick meal when you just can’t eat another cheesesteak.

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 and Sunday, and like the Liberty Bell, there will always be a line in front of it. But with a menu of barbacoa and pancita tacos, which you dress yourself, and a bowl of oniony consomme, a meal here is worth any Amtrak ride (even the one from Miami). Get all three and order the barbacoa tacos by weight—they’ll come with all the toppings, salsas, and tortillas you could possibly need.

You can’t come to Philly and not get a cheesesteak. But you also can’t come to Philly and not hit some of the essential and increasingly good pizza spots. Luckily, at Angelo’s, you can do both. The pizza to get at this South Philly cash-only spot is the Upside Down pizza. 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, with sesame seed rolls they bake fresh every day, and thick cuts of cheesy beef. Take either the sandwich or the pie with you to check out the Italian Market nearby. 

Philly has plenty of Cambodian spots, especially in South Philly, and even though they all appreciate our need to have a bowl of noodle soup, I Heart Cambodia is the one you should prioritize. The South Philly neighborhood restaurant is a place that you can walk in for a solo meal or a group lunch full of crunchy whole fish, papaya salads, and spring rolls with jumbo shrimp that you’ll want to generously dip into tangy peanut sauce. Their whole tilapia is perfectly crispy, light, and comes with strips of ginger and a tamarind sauce that will actually make you happy your boss chose a working lunch on this trip.

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

You shouldn’t leave the city without stopping at Hardena—a South Philly Indonesian BYOB counter-service spot with excellent Indonesian food. They have limited seating and don’t take reservations, so to get your hands on a plate of collard greens, curries, and jackfruit stew, you’ll need rock-paper-scissors with your friends for who’s gonna come down early to put your name down and wait it out. The reward will be tender beef rendang, the bottles of wine you’ll show up with when you meet them, the massive portions, and the fact that everything costs under $20.

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 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 go with seafood to start—there’s an excellent raw bar with things like oysters and shrimp cocktail. If you’re really hungry, though, you’ll want to order the macaroni au gratin that has a nice crunchy topping, or the cheeseburger with raclette and grilled onion.


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 might just be the single greatest meal you’ll ever have. The Israeli spot has a tasting menu full of things like cloud-like laffa bread, silky hummus, sauteed carrots with a honey drizzle and a fluffy mound of feta, and lamb shoulder that falls off the bone and is coated in a pomegranate glaze. It’s $72 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.

Every time we take our friends from out of town to this South Philly pasta bar, they beg us to overnight ship them a plate of rigatoni immediately after they get back home. It’s the kind of place that’s filled with the scent of garlicky sauces, sausage, and the rising steam wafting over plates that you’ll want to grab as they whiz by you. Start with a light chicory salad that has a honey-like sweetness from the pears and comes with a creamy gorgonzola sauce, and end your night with a few plates of sausage ragu rigatoni, ricotta gnocchi topped with fig slices, and a tagliolini that has clams swimming in a lemony prosecco sauce. Even if the weather decides to turn for the worst, they have a covered heated patio where you can watch people go by and sip your wine as you watch the pasta roll in.

If you can’t get a reservation at Zahav or don’t want to wait in a line just to eat at 5pm, Suraya’s an excellent plan B. The Lebanese spot in Fishtown is one of the most attractive restaurants in the city, with a colorful dining room filled with shelves of pottery, an open kitchen that spans the entire space, and a back garden with a fire pit and its own bar. The plates are small and meant to be shared, so you should try as many things as possible, but the whole grilled dorade and hot mezze with eggplant, toasted pita, and tahini should be on your table. And since they also have one of the best brunches in the city, you can also head here in the morning after a long night out.

When you need a good spot for a date, one that’s small, dark, and has really good food and cocktails, go to Friday Saturday Sunday. Located in a Rittenhouse Square brownstone, this American spot’s main dining room is upstairs, but the downstairs bar is more fun and you can still order the full menu. Most of the food is shareable, with a raw bar, 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.

Sometimes when you’re in a new and exciting place, you want somewhere that matches that energy. This brightly-colored Mexican restaurant flowing with neon lighting, tall trees, and a private listening room with a curated playlist is the place to come when you don’t know if you want to hit a bar or club, so you end up here because it gives you the feeling of both. From the fried shrimp that swim in a fiery and masala-flavored sauce to the suadero tacos that come filled with chunks of tender beef, the dishes here will probably make you start looking up rental properties nearby in Fishtown. A night out at this spot that’s always buzzing with chatter, flowing with mezcal and tequila, and has nude party photos on its walls, will transform your trip’s recap from “that time I went to Philly” to “that time I went to LMNO and Philly was there too.”

Pizzeria Beddia used to be a small counter-service shop with lines that were famously up to six hours long. Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend that much time in Philly standing in line for pizza. Because now, Beddia 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.

This Filipino BYOB on East Passyunk does kamayan feasts every day, and it’s some of the most fun you can have at dinner in the city. They replace the tablecloths with huge banana leaves and, rather than using utensils, you eat with your hands. A layer of garlic jasmine rice is spread out on the table, and topped with a few things like pork belly, fried whole fish, and bok choy. Try all the homemade sauces on the table to customize each bite, and don’t be surprised if you need a to-go bag for your leftovers.

Abyssinia in Spruce Hill serves Ethiopian platters, and is a great place to take a group after sightseeing. They have things like stewed lentils, oniony sauteed greens, and spicy beef tibs, all of which you should eat with their spongy injera. Many platters here are $15 and under so you can get a dish that’s large enough for two people and usually has a peppery berbere sauce that you won’t stop thinking about. Plus, you can get it all for under the cost of a soft pretzel t-shirt or those LOVE sign earrings you just bought.

You can spend your night at South Street’s Rex at The Royal listening to singers on stage, sipping a glass of wine and staring at their massive chandeliers, and being thankful that there’s a place in Philly that’s actually open on a Monday. Serving Low Country dishes, like crawfish pot pie, black-eyed pea fritters, and shrimp and grits, this spot is a must when you’re looking for a hearty meal and some entertainment, all in the same spot. Whichever night you go, you should never leave without an order of their skillet mac and cheese that blends cooper sharp cheese, smoked provolone, and gruyere, or their juicy chicken in dumplings that comes with mounds of sweet potatoes that are way softer than any mini airline pillow.

Irwin’s has one of the best views of the city along with some really good bowls of pasta to match. It’s located inside an old South Philly school that now has bakeries, cafes, and things like a bike shop inside—so don’t be surprised if you have a plate of bucatini while sitting in a chair you haven’t seen since kindergarten. The Sicilian spot features things like handmade pastas, whole fish that’s served with grilled lemons and salsa verde, and a charred agrodolce chicken that’s the best roasted chicken dish in Philly—the meat is tender and the sweet vinegary sauce is made up of honey and orange blossoms. While you probably weren't going on vacation just to be inside a school again, Irwin's is the kind of restaurant that's completely one of a kind.

Sometimes you spend so much on a flight and hotel that your bank account barely has a pulse. Head to Chinatown’s Ocean City for $3 crystal shrimp dumplings, $2 shrimp rolls, and $2 pork dumplings with chewy and doughy skins that come in orders of four. Like most dim sum spots, they use carts and have a ton of different seafood options on their menu. The biggest reason to come to Ocean City, though, is for the congee—which has salty, savory pork and a salty preserved century egg.


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 Sciiclain food.

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 has 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 Suraya, 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.


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 fountain spot 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 a velvety cookies and cream from the early 1900s. Each spoonful is velvety and it’s 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 African restaurants, and to get the city’s most treasured dessert from Siddiq’s. Water ice, which is basically a finely grained ice to a point where it’s whipped, flavors range 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, which can all be eaten under the umbrellas out front.

Whether you need something sweet after a night at the bars or you’re still up after you sprint up the Rocky steps, a late-night snack may come in handy. Open until midnight and 1am on the weekends, this Chinatown spot has a menu full of crepes, pancakes, and plenty of mango-themed treats. Plus, they’ve got a massive upstairs lounge area that’s perfect for a large group of friends that believes that the best breakfast is matcha green tea ice cream paired with a nutella-drenched waffle. 

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