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.
We know it's a big area that includes Bella Vista, Passyunk, Pennsport, and beyond, so we put together a guide of the best taquerias, Vietnamese spots, Italian places, sandwich shops, and more below Washington Ave.
Le Virtu 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.
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.
This neighborhood 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.
We hate lines, but we love South Philly Barbacoa enough to stand in one. Or we come early enough (since they open at 5am on the weekends) to beat the line and have tacos for breakfast instead. Whichever way you do it, South Philly Barbacoa is where you should go for the best tacos in the city. There are only three items on the menu—lamb tacos, pork belly tacos, and consomme—but it’s a big 3 that's perfect. The broth, which is mostly an oniony bowl with some rice and chickpeas, is something we think of any time the weather calls for a scarf. Top the tacos (served on freshly-made corn tortillas) yourself and grab a seat at one of the few tables inside, or get them to go and walk around the Italian Market.
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.
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 full plate of food here for under $20.
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.
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.
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. And while things like tortilla soup and ceviche are things you might find in other places, you’ll also see ingredients like nopales and beef cheeks that you won’t find at other other taco spots in the city.
Kalaya is one of our favorite BYOBs in the city. The 30-seat Bella Vista Thai spot serves curries, wok-fried dishes like their duck salad, and a few other things we like to share with the three people we can stand to be around after work. And from sides like coconut, sticky, or jasmine rice and oniony eggplant that’s tossed with some chilis, there’s a bunch of things to pass around until everyone’s happy. One thing we always order when we come here is the massaman nua. The broth and tender beef in the curry combine for an earthy and sugary sweetness that makes us scoop in a few extra spoonfuls while the rest of the table is distracted by their phones.
With almost too many meat combinations options here (there’s like 50), 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.
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.
There are times when a night of celebrating gets away from you, and what you thought might be a casual dinner snowballs into your friends planning an all-night dance-off at the Dolphin Tavern. It’s a good thing you already made reservations at this BYOB, because you’re going to need to put something substantial in your stomach before letting loose. The eggplant rollatini and shrimp and lobster ravioli should both be on your table, along with a few bottles of wine that go well with the pockets of pasta bathing in a creamy lobster cognac sauce.
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.
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.
The Dutch is the little neighborhood breakfast spot that everyone wishes they had around the corner from where they live. They serve brunch Wednesday through Sunday from 8am until 3pm with everything from omelets to classic sandwiches like a reuben. Although it’s known more for its brunch and breakfast for dinner-themed menu, they do have some detours like Thai mussels, fish and chips, and a tender pork belly that’s covered in a homemade chimichurri. Come by during the week to avoid a long wait, or stop by Grindcore House down the street to get a coffee in the meantime.
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, soaking almost everything in consomme, 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.
Bing Bing Dim Sum has dishes like pork soup dumplings and a roast pork bao but they also serve some dim sum classics with a Jewish twist–like smoked whitefish on everything bing bread and turnip cakes made with matzo. The Passyunk Ave. spot is a little small but it’s still somewhere we’d come for a group dinner and order five or six rounds of dumplings for the table. They also have a few sake options that go with them all, but if you’re not in the mood to share a carafe of fruity junmai, you can just as easily come here for a solo casual weeknight dinner instead and bring your dumpling order down to three.
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.
Pizza Plus has the same crispy Detroit-style pies as their sister restaurant Circles + Squares, now you just don’t have to venture past North Broad to get them. Here, the deep dish pizzas are round and they load doughy and spongy slices with buffalo chicken, homemade pesto, or plenty of melty cheese for $25 and under. It’s a great spot to call for takeout and get your order in under 20 minutes, whether you’re grabbing some chicken parm with tangy tomato sauce or a meatball sub.
With pig’s head, a silky pork mousse, and pig’s blood cannoli on the menu, this South Philly spot has a few dishes you’ll only be able to find at Ember & Ash. And just like its name, virtually everything here is charred or touches the flames in the open kitchen, including one of our favorites: the beef shin. It’s massive–it comes in an oval-shaped pan as big as the eggs in Jurassic Park–and you should take some of the curry-glazed shreds of beef and eat them in the accompanying lettuce wraps. Entrees here can cost up to $80, so it’s a great place to celebrate an anniversary or some other special occasion—like finally figuring out how to put Ikea furniture together on your first try.
Musi is an Israeli-inspired BYOB that’s one of the best restaurants in an area that’s otherwise full of casual cafes and a Pizza Hut inside of Target. The Pennsport tasting menu changes as often as a four-year-old’s favorite snack, but you can find things on their $65 per person menu like silk chili bowties and celery heart tartare that’s made up of chilled root vegetables. You can add additional dishes for around $15, which make it a great special occasion spot to taste a few extra plates of pasta and moist sunflower oil cake.
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.
Fiorella is the kind of place that appreciates our urge to eat carbs every day of the week. Their handmade pastas come in massive 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.
There are a few things that surprise us every time we end up at Stina. One is that, even though they have great brick-oven pies, pizza really isn’t the focus since this place serves some of the best Mediterranean food in town. The other thing is that there’s so much framed art on the walls that it feels like you’re at a dinner party at the Philadelphia Museum of Art—or based on the size of this place, a small gallery. One thing that deserves its own exhibit is the merguez pide. The canoe-shaped Turkish flatbread has a soft dough that cradles the perfect mix of spicy lamb sausage and mozzarella. Plus, with everything on the menu costing under $20, a meal there is less expensive than a few other spots nearby.
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.
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 across their 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 on the three times a year you stay out past 1am.
We don’t know if Stargazy will succeed in turning Philly into a Scotch egg and fish and chips type of town. But they have conquered our dreams with a sausage roll that has a perfectly buttery and flaky crust. The East Passyunk British spot serves meat pies, desserts like sticky toffee, and an eel and mash that comes topped with a parsley liquor that we think is the best British import next to Adele. It’s a low-key place to grab some comfort food while reading a book at one of the few tables inside, or you can get it all to go and have a picnic at Dickinson Square Park.
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.
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.
Known for their eclairs, croissants, and tarts, this neighborhood patisserie has plenty of brunch options like some of the best french toast in the city that’s topped with berry coulis and fresh berries. Enjoy it all on their picnic table-filled sidewalk patio, and for some post-brunch sweetness, don’t forget to grab a giant macaron on the way out.
This neighborhood BYOB serves dishes like veal parmigiana, chicken marsala, and some other filling family-style choices like a NY strip topped with seared scallops. And nights where you do bring half of your family, they have a massive double cut Sicilian pork chop that's a big as the plate. For $34, it's big enough for three, tender, and is smothered in a sugary balsamic glaze that you'll want to sneak extra scoops of when splitting it up. Plus, they even a couple of desserts like tiramisu that can come in handy when stopping by for a birthday or anniversary.
Fitz And Starts is an all-day cafe that has more “feel good factor” than most other places in the city combined. It also has enough hanging plants to make you consider becoming a full-time plant parent, and the only communal tables you’ll ever enjoy. They do a brunch menu until 3pm, and from the vegetable quiche to raspberry pastries, it all tastes like something your friend who is a really good cook would make. It’s also one of the few places in the city where you can dive into a plate of fluffy pancakes past noon and nobody would look at you funny.
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.
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.