The Best Restaurants In South Philly guide image


The Best Restaurants In South Philly

The 20 best sandwich shops, taquerias, Italian restaurants, and pho spots in South Philadelphia.

People are always going to argue about which neighborhood in Philly has the best restaurants. Center City has fine dining and tacos spots like Mission Taqueria, while Fishtown has good ramen and a lot of spots to grab food on the go (when it’s not Monday). But once you get people to list out their favorite places to eat a plate of pasta, bite into a slice of pepperoni pizza, or get a warm bowl of phở that’s so good that they would order it on a 90-degree-day, there's a good chance they'll list out somewhere in South Philly. And here are the 20 best spots in the neighborhood.



Let’s be real: Whether it’s HBO GO, HBO Max, or just Max, we’ll all download it because that’s where we go to watch The Last Of Us and The Sopranos for the 100th time. In the end, a re-naming is completely fine when people can’t get enough of what you’re selling. The same goes for Laurel on East Passyunk—an intimate French restaurant that went from a high-end tasting menu to a la carte. They still have the same elements that made it our favorite restaurant in the city—stellar service, chic interiors that include backlit mirrors and plants, and dishes we can’t get enough of. Save it for a celebratory meal of mussels with a paprika aioli, tender dry-aged beef, and scallops in an oyster cream sauce you’ll want to bottle.

​​When you first sit down at River Twice, you’ll notice that every table has built-in utensil drawers. Everything at this East Passyunk corner spot is that thoughtful, especially their $98 tasting menu that changes every single night. It's all interesting—dishes use ingredients and combinations that you won’t see at a lot of other restaurants. We’re talking about things like chawanmushi toast with Maine uni and ricotta or Firefly squid escabeche. While most of the menu focuses on seafood, but you can (and should) add on The Mother Rucker burger, which is the best in the city.

Fiorella is the kind of place that appreciates our urge to eat carbs every day of the week. Their handmade pastas come in shareable portions as large as Big Foot’s shoe size, so lean on the waiters to recommend how many dishes you should order (we usually go with four). They have seven pasta dishes that range from a lemony, lobster-stuffed conchiglie to pumpernickel pappardelle with duck ragu that has sugary huckleberries sprinkled throughout. Both of those make for great dishes to try in their small dining room or on their outdoor patio on days when the weather doesn’t choose violence.

Townsend is a French spot that used to be in Rittenhouse but relocated to East Passyunk Avenue. It’s full of dim-lighting, white tablecloths, and you get the general romantic feeling here that someone might propose or start making out at the table at any minute. From seared NJ skate served with a crunchy savoy cabbage to venison swimming in a red wine sauce, the menu here is what you might expect from a fine-dining spot. The bar closes at 2am, though, so it’s a great place to seek out the three times a year you stay out past 1am. 

If we were to make an award for somewhere that's serving both extraordinary cheesesteaks and pizza, Angelo's would easily win. When you go, don't for a second be tempted to recreate a Philly taco—just get the Upside Down pizza. It’s thick, square, and has a layer of cheese buried beneath a mountain of tomato sauce. They also have one of the best cheesesteaks in the city due to a blend of crackly bread, melty cheesy, and beef. Just know Angelo's is cash only.

Life is full of mysteries, like why some commercials get louder than others and why we can’t effectively park our car without turning down the music. But there’s no mystery as to where to find the best tacos in Philly. It’s at South Philly Barbacoa, where they only have a few items on the menu—lamb, veggie, and pancita (made out of lamb and turkey) tacos, a quesadilla, a tamale, and consomme. But since they’re only open on the weekends (starting at 5am), you may have to wait through a line of people who have the same plan as you. You should go for everything, including the oniony broth swimming with rice and chickpeas.

Messina is a 30-seat members-only club serving some of the most innovative food and drinks in South Philly. Nestled in a century-old townhouse, the menu is part-American, part-European, and all experimental. It spans from small plates, like the silky poached scallops with apple and braised beef toast, to the larger gemelli with pungent vadouvan and crispy Elysian lamb schnitzel. There are still some old-school touches, but it feels more like a modern dive bar. While the vibe is decidedly casual, every plate is thoughtfully and beautifully composed, making it the perfect balance for an impressive date or Saturday night with friends. Take our word for it—this is one club you definitely want to join.

Passyunk Square's El Chingon is an all-day Mexican cafe and BYOB restaurant. It's a plant-filled corner spot perfect for grabbing coffee and conchas before work or sharing a bunch of tacos and tostados on a casual date night. The whole menu is worth exploring, but the real specialty here are the Pueblan-style cemita sandwiches. We can't stop thinking about the Clásica, which comes stacked with crisp fried chicken, avocado, chipotle peppers, and stringy, salty quesillo cheese, all on housemade rolls. Chingon's chef/owner started the bread program at Parc, so you know those buns are good.

We’d eat bowls of the bucatini at Irwin’s in the parking lot of the mini-mart nearby if we had to. But thankfully, the converted Mifflin Street school building has a gorgeous dining space full of retro furniture where we can sit back and eat some tasty pasta. Located on the eighth floor of the Bok Building, the South Philly Italian spot has mains like a juicy whole fish topped with citrusy salsa and an orange-glazed half agrodolce chicken—both of which are just as beautiful to look at as they are to eat. Head to their outdoor patio that’s perfect for catching the sunlight while sipping on some rosé.

When we’ve had a hard week of seeing all our friends’ vacation posts, we head to Hardena. And with limited seating and no reservations, we suggest you plan ahead before stopping by this South Philly Indonesian BYOB. Whether we’re ordering our favorite beef rendang to go or uncorking a bottle of wine with a few friends, the great service, massive portions, and tenderness of the caramelized beef can’t be beaten. Plus, you can get a plate of food here for under $20.

When we stumble upon a taco truck as good as Mi Pueblito, it’s tempting to only tell the friends who know our phone passcodes about it. But when this family-run Jalisco-style truck popped up on Front and Dickinson in South Philly, selling everything from homemade agua frescas and pozole to al pastor tacos, we knew we had to share it with the world. Since Mi Pueblito is only open three days a week (Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday), plan accordingly, and make sure to bring comfortable shoes since you’ll almost certainly be standing in line.

Mike’s BBQ in South Philly is in the running for our favorite barbecue spot in the city. They do sandwiches with shreds of pulled pork and have a very creamy gouda mac and cheese side, but our favorite thing here is the juicy and smoky 14-hour brisket. Plus, you can get it plain or covered in their sweet Carolina barbecue sauce—both options better than whatever is happening at a summer barbecue run by your cousin who learned how to grill on YouTube. 

With almost too many meat combination options here, this spot located in the strip mall right off Washington Street is the first place we think of when we want a warm bowl of phở. Feel free to get whatever feels right, but the well-done beef brisket is what we always get. It has long strips of meat floating in a soup packed with scallions and Thai basil. Bring a few friends, take in the view of TVs in the corner as you eat, and join the people huddled up at tables like a HS cafeteria.

Happy hour, tacos, and mezcal is the trifecta we never knew we always needed. This neighborhood spot in Point Breeze should be your go-to for guacamole with crunchy beet and cactus tostadas, red snapper tiradito swimming in a mix of peppery chiltepin, lime, and cucumber, and $8 margaritas. Whether you’re hungry for La Montada, a huarache topped with grilled ribeye, cactus, and refried beans, or just want to sip on a mezcal cocktail, this is a fun and laid-back place to do it.

With a mezcal and tequila list as long as the line around the Rocky statue, and a kitchen that (unlike most places in the city) stays open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, this South Philly cantina is a place we go to for a celebratory round of margaritas, mole-soaked chicken, and Mexican street corn. Come here on a casual weeknight and start with light things like a shrimp and scallop aguachile verde which mixes refreshing cucumber and lime juice with spicy habanero peppers. Then move on to their juicy pan-seared branzino that comes topped with tomato sauce, olives, capers, and bell peppers.

This Filipino BYOB only one option: the 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 people, 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. Sort through 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.

Blue Corn is a small, 10-table Mexican restaurant in the Italian market, and it’s one of our go-to spots when we want a fun night out that starts with good margaritas and great tacos. Everything here is made in the small, open kitchen—from the two semi-spicy salsas that appear on every table to their blue corn tortillas that form the base of most of their tacos, quesadillas, and huaraches. Just remember, it's cash only.

Le Virtù is where you go in East Passyunk when you want to eat Italian dishes like grilled lamb skewers with spicy Abruzze spices and a lemony branzino, but don’t want to do it in a closet-sized room where you could end up caressing someone’s leg at the next table. There’s a lot of space here—including garden seating on sunny days—so it’s a good spot for a weeknight group dinner where you pass a plate of garlicky tagliatelle around the table and people-watch on one of the best patios in the city.

Located in an old hardware store in South Philly, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria is an Italian BYOB that checks all the boxes: homemade pasta cooked in a one-woman kitchen, furniture and decor that were probably there when they moved in, and a staff that acts like you’re part of their obscenely large family (for better or worse). The one problem is that it’s only open on weekends, so you have to wait a few days to get your hands on their charred octopus swimming in a garlicky broth and a spinach ravioli that packs lemony ricotta into the warm pouches. Since they’re only open for a few days, either get there early or call on a day that they happen to be picking up the phone for a reservation.

People in this city take cheesesteaks very seriously, like way too seriously for something that is literally chopped steak and cheese on a long roll. But if you want to do a classic cheesesteak the right way, go to John’s. They’ve been around forever and they actually use real cheese instead of the questionable “wiz wit.” The bread is warm and is the perfect chewy host for this matchup of tender beef and gooey provolone.

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photo credit: GAB BONGHI

The Best Restaurants In South Philly guide image