The Best Restaurants In South Philly
The 25 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 25 best spots in the neighborhood.
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.
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 handmade 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.
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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.
photo credit: Rachel Lerro
South Philly Barbacoa
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.
Laurel is a 24-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant on East Passyunk that will cost you about the same price as a last-minute Amtrak ticket to Boston ($135). Instead of heading north to boo the Celtics on a random Tuesday night, you should come to Laurel. The six-course meal includes dishes like a l'arpege egg served with caviar, braised lamb with pickled berries, and poultry sausage with a honeynut squash custard that tastes like a Honeycomb cereal milkshake. It's also a perfect place for a fancy date night with someone you like enough to wear your one good shirt for.
photo credit: Gab Bonghi
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.
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.
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.
Mi Pueblito Tacos
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.
photo credit: Sydney McElwee
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.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
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.
photo credit: Gab Bonghi
When you first sit down at River Twice, you’ll notice that every table has built-in utensil drawers. Everything at this East Passyunk BYOB is that thoughtful, especially their $120 tasting menu that changes every single night. Not everything is great, but it’s all interesting, and the dishes use some ingredients and combinations that you won’t see at a lot of other restaurants. We’re talking about things like beef tongue with a fruit and nut mole, $45 mashed potatoes topped with golden Ossetra caviar, or a red miso and amaro-soaked apple dish for dessert. Come here on a date to celebrate your first couple hike through the Wissahickon.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
La Llorona Cantina
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.
From Wednesday through Sunday, this Filipino BYOB has the option for you to forego 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 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 Restaurant
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.
Mr. Martino's Trattoria
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.
John's Roast Pork
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.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
Café y Chocolate
There are only a few things that get us out of bed when we’d rather be sleeping: a fire alarm because our apartment neighbor can’t make toast, the thought of avoiding a long line at the carwash, and an order huevos motuleños especiales from Café y Chocolate. Bathing in spicy salsa verde, each tortilla also comes sandwiched with refried black beans, a poached egg mixed with ham and mozzarella cheese, roasted poblano rojas, caramelized onions, and tomatoes. Besides that, their menu is full of other things that help us make it through the day, like Mexican hot chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon, crispy churros, enchiladas, and tortas.
Barcelona Wine Bar
There’s a lot to like about Barcelona Wine Bar. The food is good, the wine list is better, and their massive outdoor patio sets it apart from most other restaurants on East Passyunk. Not to mention, we feel comfortable enough to show up here in whatever we wear during laundry day and nobody would blink. They serve mostly tapas like eggplant caponata, patatas bravas, and steak paillard covered in peppery vinaigrette, which make it a perfect spot to go with a bigger group of people. And they’ll even split the big paella dishes by however many people you’re with. Stop by for a glass of wine before bar hopping around the neighborhood.
There are plenty of old-school red sauce places in South Philly, but L’Angolo handles groups better than almost all of them. They take reservations, which is a huge advantage, and have a few separate rooms in the back for when you bring a group of friends here and argue about the ending to The Sopranos. Plus, their menu is full of fresh pasta and seafood dishes that are big enough to share. For a little bit of both, you can get the spaghetti scoglio that tosses clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari in red or white wine sauce.
photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo
If we had a genie at our disposal, our second wish (after asking for infinite wishes, of course) would be for endless portions of gà xào lăn from Nam Phuong. And even though we know that having too much of anything could get tiring, we’d happily accept the challenge. Plus, since this Vietnamese spot opens at 10am, grabbing an order of that juicy curry coconut chicken (for under $14) is highly-encouraged breakfast behavior. Even better, the family-run restaurant has over 40 other unforgettable dishes like their shrimp and vegetable-packed bánh xèo that will put the rest of our endless wishes to work.
This Dickinson Narrows deli shop has a steady rotation of sandwiches, like a stacked Italian hoagie or “The Pooh Bear″—a sandwich layered with honey turkey, honey ham, and a honeyed mayo that we’re sure Pooh would abandon his honey jars for. And for non-meat eaters, they have their “The Henry Vegetarian” packed with grilled eggplant, rabe, and roasted peppers.
This BYOB right off Passyunk Ave has a handful of pastas, some family-style mains like chicken milanese and lamb shank plopped on a mound of pesto risotto, and a dining room that (on a sunny day) gets a ton of natural light coming through their massive windows. When you’re there, make sure you have one or two pastas on the table. With shareable options like their fettuccine tossed with jumbo gulf shrimp and a buttery cream sauce, it’s a great place to spend your birthday with a few glasses of wine.