PHLGuide

The Best Restaurants In Bella Vista

You're going to end up in Bella Vista one day. Here's where to eat.
This is a spread of panzerotti, breakfast sandwiches, and pastries from Paffuto.

photo credit: GAB BONGHI

If you’re ever (somehow) still hungry after shopping in the Italian Market or want an edible reward for finding a parking spot in South Philly, the restaurants of Bella Vista are here for you. The area is home to some of Philly's most iconic places to eat, whether you want incredible Cambodian skewers, a cheesesteak despite the swarm of suburban Flyers fans who don't know how Angelo's ordering system works, or the best water ice in town. 

THE SPOTS

photo credit: GAB BONGHI

Italian

Bella Vista

$$$$Perfect For:PastriesBYOBCoffee & A Light BiteWalk-InsTakeawayLunch

While Italian sandwiches and pastries are about as common in Bella Vista as shoppers lugging two-wheeled carts, this new all-day cafe stands out for its panzerotti—including a very good breakfast version with scrambled egg and melty cooper sharp. Paffuto, formerly a pop-up series and now a brick-and-mortar on 8th Street, is the Italian cafe of our dreams. By that we mean a place to eat chicken cutlet sandwiches, work on our laptops, and watch as our productivity levels lose the battle against puffy, cream-filled maritozzi.

photo credit: GAB BONGHI

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If you hear someone complaining about being bored of their restaurant routine in Philly these days, send them to Mawn and just smile smugly. This BYOB Cambodian noodle house only has 10 or so tables inside, so while you can walk in without a reservation, we wouldn’t recommend it. Mawn serves unforgettable Southeast Asian dishes, including soft-shell shrimp, khao soi with punchy pickled greens, juicy whole fish, and marinated, citrus-y ribeye skewers.

Blue Corn is one of the first places we send people for margaritas and tacos in Philly. Almost everything at this lively, tiny restaurant is made on site—from the two salsas that appear on every table, to the corn tortillas used for their tacos, quesadillas, and huaraches. And while you might find al pastor tacos and ceviche on lots of menus in Philly, Blue Corn does the basics better than almost anyone else. Bring cash or plan on using the ATM inside. And if you see the fish tacos as specials, pounce.

This tiny pasta bar from the Vetri team is, in fact, as good as you've heard. And also very hard to get into. If you snag one of the few bar seats inside, you’ll get a view of the cooks making ricotta gnocchi, braised lamb pappardelle, and their legendary sausage rigatoni. Bring some out-of-towners here if you want to impress them while simultaneously ruining all other ravioli they've ever eaten.

A neon-lit pig above the kitchen. A communal beer fridge if you forget to BYOB. A caesar salad variation we can only describe as "bangin." This is what you're in for when you come to eat Filipino food at Tabachoy. The space is small and usually quite booked. Make a reservation beforehand and follow your nose (or just our advice) to dishes like unbreaded fried chicken with a soy vinegar sauce, pancit bihon that perfectly balances heat and citrus, and a very good ube sundae.

photo credit: EMILY SCHINDLER

If you make the best cheesesteak in Philly (and some of the best pizza), you deserve the key to the city. In this town, that title belongs to Angelo's. The cash-only South Philly spot is the only place you should go to when you can’t choose between the ribeye cheesesteak on crackly seeded rolls (that they bake in-house) or a classic margherita pizza with the creamiest fior di latte in the city. If you survive the line at this takeout-only spot, you deserve one of each. 

Paesano's on 9th Street gets less attention than the famous, old-school Italian restaurants in the neighborhood. But we find their food—like beefy sandwiches, arancini, and bucatini with a super savory amatriciana sauce—is much more reliable. Come for a casual sit-down lunch and watch someone sniff a melon like it's a scented candle through the windows.

There are only a few things on the menu at this legendary Mexican spot in the Italian Market: barbacoa and pancita tacos, a lamb consomme, and specials like tamales and quesadillas. They're all very good, especially the juicy, fatty lamb barbacoa. It’s a pretty popular spot with tourists (thank you, Chef's Table). So show up before noon (they open at 5am) or later in the afternoon if you don’t want to wait in a line.

Philly didn't have much in the way of breakfast tacos. And that was sad for us. Then Taco Heart opened, serving little Austin-style marvels on puffy, homemade flour tortillas. Our favorite version is the Migas Maximus with scrambled egg, sausage, jalapeño, queso, avocado, and half-crunchy-half-sogged tortilla chips. Get a couple of those and load up on salsas. That's called a perfect Saturday morning.

This neighborhood French spot works just as well for a casual Friday night dinner with friends as it does for a first date on a weeknight. Get the martini, an order of crispy socca, and some steak frites. Will the food move you to tears? Probably not. But it just feels good to sit in the dim-lit room and forget about your 40 unread text messages. That's why you'll keep coming back.

The main thing that differentiates Alice from Philly's other seasonal American small plates paradises is its charcoal oven. So follow the smoke when you're ordering and you'll be in good shape. The restaurant is nice enough for that double date with your neighbors who appear to be more successful than you are, but it's not stuffy or fancy. There's an excellent burger on a challah bun that soaks up all the drip from a dry-aged patty and melty cheddar.

Open since 1899, this is (arguably) Philadelphia’s oldest Italian restaurant. Between the chandeliers, black and white photos, and converted rowhome dining rooms, you’ll feel the old-school charm right away. Eat something classic, like gnocchi romano, fettuccini filetto with filet mignon and sun-dried tomatoes, and baked lasagna. And even though the interior looks kind of formal, you can eat here without dropping some serious money—none of the entrees cost more than $30.

A meal at this Bella Vista Japanese restaurant means neon lighting, ocean waves murals, and good bowls of ramen. Our favorite is the spicy chicken shio, but they have a decent variety of styles for whatever mood you’re in. The sushi isn’t memorable, so just stick to the noodles the next time you're near the Italian Market looking for something warm.

Most Italian places in South Philly, even the OGs, feel more like tourist traps than they do old-school Italian hangouts. Villa Di Roma is an exception. Walk into this spot in the Italian Market, and you’ll see pictures of families hung up on the walls and tables of regulars who’ve been eating veal parm here since it opened in the ’60s. The menu is long and has everything you’d expect from a red-sauce joint, including their famous (and genuinely good) meatballs in gravy.

Saloon is an Italian restaurant, but it’s also a quintessential South Philly dining experience. It’s been around for decades, 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—picture heeled, Delco-accented servers reciting three minutes' worth of specials. Though the menu ranges from traditional steakhouse dishes like clams casino and petite filet with mashed potatoes, stick to the Italian specialties like the linguine pescatore with jumbo shrimp and a buttery lobster francaise.

This South Street restaurant and shop serves—you guessed it—bánh mì and beer. But they also have cocktails, along with an extensive menu of Vietnamese street food and snacks. Get the crispy chicken wings and the spicy stuffed clams. Weekends can be busy, so you might have to wait if you're with a group

Meet the Portuguese-ish corner bar with paint-chipped ceilings, chalkboard menus, and a space so tiny that it feels like everyone inside is sharing one mega conversation. You're bound to graze elbows with a stranger or someone you haven’t seen in years. That tightness, plus the cava and piles of potato chips with salami draped on top, makes Grace and Proper fun. The later you drop by, the rowdier the crowd gets.

At Lazeez Indian Cuisine, you'll eat candlelit tandoori shrimp and chicken curry on a white tablecloth next to golden Patachitra paintings. And you'll be happy you did—especially when it's Wednesday and the idea of cooking something at home feels out of your depth. We always end our meals here with a subtly sweet badam kheer or the super rich rice pudding with cardamom, almond, and pistachios.

There are mornings when you feel invincible. You know, meditation at sunrise, early morning yoga, post-class green-juice mornings. And then there are mornings when you need a plate of cheesy eggs and potatoes, served with a side of more fried things. For the latter category, Sam’s is the right choice. This brunch institution has been around for more than two decades. Just don’t schedule any plans afterward, unless those plans include a nap and leftover pancakes.

John’s is a classic. The Christian Street spot has been around since 1945. While the flavors change occasionally, they always have their classic (and best flavors) available: lemon, cherry, and chocolate. Plus, they have housemade ice cream that they use for their gelati. There’s usually a line—a long one, akin to waiting for the most popular ride in Dorney Park—so be prepared. Especially on hot days.

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