photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
The Best Restaurants In West Philly
18 of our favorite spots to eat west of the Schuylkill.
West Philly is a lot more than just the opening bars in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song. From University City to Spruce Hill, many of the neighborhoods on the west side of the Schuylkill are filled with amazing shops, galleries, museums, and gardens. Plus, they have some fantastic restaurants and cafes where you can eat unforgettable Ethiopian food, grab your morning donuts and bagels, or spend a date night splitting ginger shredded duck. These are our 18 favorite places to dine in West Philly.
photo credit: Haamza Edwards
Maybe you watched Netflix’s High on the Hog, or maybe you just really love sandwiches, but either way, there are lots of reasons to join the line outside Omar and Cybille St.Aude-Tate's Honeysuckle Provisions. The Afrocentric grocery store and all-day cafe has a menu full of products sourced from Black farmers, including everything from a sausage, egg, and cheese on a sweet potato english muffin to a satisfying cornmeal hot pocket packed with stewed collards. It might be hard to choose, but if you only get one thing, go for the dollar hoagie (which actually goes for around $12). The roll comes studded with West African benne seeds, giving each creamy and turkey-filled bite a bit of earthiness. Stop by the casual shop for something tasty before your morning commute or after a walk in Malcolm X Park.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
If you’ve been to the original Vietnam Restaurant in Chinatown, then you already know it has incredible dishes like vermicelli rice noodle bowls, papaya salad, and lime chicken. Plus, the Polynesian cocktails are way stronger than they taste. The Vietnam Cafe in University City has pretty much the same food and drink situation, but it’s larger than the Chinatown location, and there’s always a table open—even if you show up with your entire spin class.
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With bright neon pod seating in the corner for private dinners, a long sushi bar, and lots of tables, you can fit a group of any size into this University City restaurant. But outside of the colorful dining space, they also have some shareable plates like a crispy seafood pancake with shrimp, crab, and scallops, Korean fried chicken coated with a chili glaze, and a selection of hand rolls that you should get for the table. And since there are a few murals on the walls and movable mini lamps on the table, you already have a cool backdrop and good lighting if your group wants to take pictures to remember the night.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
With South Indian and Indo-Chinese choices on the menu, your spread at Virasat Haveli can be filled with everything from crispy dosas to pan-seared chicken momo dumplings. Like most Indian restaurants in the city, there’s a lengthy vegetarian menu full of perfectly-spiced cubes of cheese cooked in a creamy tomato sauce or chana masala with tender chickpeas in an onion paste. The streamers hanging from the ceiling and rainbow-striped walls make us feel like we’re at the best-smelling New Year’s Eve party of our lives.
You just had a stop-and-chat with your old high school friend, and you gave an enthusiastic but completely disingenuous “we should totally catch up soon!” But they followed up so now you’re stuck. Instead of going the wine-and-cheese route, take them to Terakawa. When it comes to ramen in University City, you can’t do much better, and the service is fast. Grab a bowl of the tan tan ramen that’s bathing in spicy miso and chicken broth and get out of there before they ask to meet your partner.
photo credit: GAB BONGHI
Dottie’s Donuts is not a shop that’s just good for vegan donuts—it’s a donut shop that makes great donuts, period. They sell everything from classic apple fritters to options like the glazed gingerbread that’s topped with a hunk of chocolate-apple spiced cake. Open until they sell out, try to make it there before noon if you want to get your hands on these consistently delicious and fresh doughy rings.
Abyssinia in Spruce Hill serves Ethiopian platters that get us more excited than hearing the food is ready on Thanksgiving night. Their stewed lentils, oniony sauteed greens, spicy beef tibs, and warm injera on their own are great, but when you want a nice big spread, their combination platters are the way to go—especially the Abyssinia Special 1. It’s under $14, large enough for two people, and the peppery kick from the berbere sauce has us thinking about it even in the late hours (thankfully, they’re open until 2am).
Aksum is a Mediterranean BYOB in Cedar Park with dishes like a vegetable tagine served over couscous—that’s one of our favorite vegetarian dishes in the city—and an especially large plate of lemon caper chicken when you’re extra hungry. It’s super versatile and affordable, with most of their shareable entrees coming in at $30, so you can use it for everything from a casual weeknight date to dinner with your in-laws.
Booker’s Restaurant & Bar
With seafood mac and cheese, blackened catfish, and stewed collard greens swimming alongside shreds of smoked turkey, this Baltimore Ave. spot cooks up a dinner spread significantly better than those coveted after-church platters. But for us, a trip to the Southern-inspired restaurant usually comes during their brunch hours (Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-2:30pm). The creamy shrimp and grits, which comes with a spicy, nutty etouffee sauce and a sunny-side-up egg, makes for one of the best brunches in the city.
photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO
If you’ve taken a Saturday or Sunday morning drive down Lancaster Ave., you’ve seen crowds of people in front of Bart’s Bagels. From grabbing an everything topped with nova smoked salmon for breakfast to a classic reuben for lunch, there are plenty of reasons why the line outside is a fixture in the neighborhood. Their bagels are remarkably yeasty and deep golden brown, and since they smoke their fish in-house, they have a bagel sandwich (our favorite is the Uncle Leo) list that’s longer than any other shop in Philly.
If you tried to eat at every good restaurant on Baltimore Avenue it would take a month of two-a-days just to get through the standouts. But the first and most important place to visit on that stretch is Vientiane Cafe. It’s a Lao BYOB that’s great for a casual date or group dinner and serves big portions of noodle and curry dishes. The best things, though, are Lao specialties, like the BBQ cornish game hen and the pan-seared tilapia wraps. Just know that it’s small and cash-only, so call ahead for reservations and hit the ATM before you go.
photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: SABRINA'S CAFE
Sabrina's Cafe & Spencer's Too
Sabrina’s Cafe in University City is one of the best places you can spend a morning in Philly. This brunch hotspot serves everything from lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes with a mixed berry compote—if you want a change of pace from drowning your pancakes in syrup—to breakfast tacos, and they do it seven days a week. On the weekend, you’ll likely spend at least 45 minutes waiting for a table, so come on a random Tuesday when you’re supposed to be at a “doctor's appointment” instead to avoid the lines.
Walnut Street Cafe
Walnut Street Cafe is an all-day cafe right near 30th Street Station that has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides—we wouldn’t blame you for mistaking it for a home you saw on Pinterest. After a long day and a ride on the Acela, head here for the steak frites or burger dripping with porcini truffle aioli. They also have good Happy Hour snacks, like caramel popcorn, red beet hummus, and sour cream chips and dip from 4-6pm on Wednesday through Saturday. If you want something a little more substantial, try the meatballs or salmon tartare with avocado and sesame.
White Dog Cafe
White Dog Cafe is the kind of place you take your parents to when they’re in town. It’s been around forever, the menu has something for everyone, and the rooms look like they were designed for HGTV. You’ll probably pay a bit too much for your spicy lamb bolognese ($27) or Thai steak noodle salad ($29), but the important thing here is that you're bonding with your parents (and they’re footing the bill).
photo credit: Nicole Guglielmo
Saad's Halal Restaurant
Saad’s Halal is a Middle Eastern shop in Walnut Hill serving things like shawarma, falafel, baklava, vegetarian platters, and some of the best cheesesteaks in town. And with an open counter at the front, you can have a front-row seat to folks in the kitchen creating something as beautiful as another Sixers championship trophy. If you do go with a cheesesteak here, you’ll end up with one that’s packed with so much meat, pickles, and provolone that without tight wrapping, would easily fall apart. Even though you’ll probably want to head right to bed after eating one, the bonus is that you’ll be full for the rest of the day.
photo credit: PHOTO CREDIT: NICOLE GUGLILMO
Food-wise, the Loco Pez in University City is basically the same as the one in Fishtown. It has the same great al pastor, carnitas, and shrimp tacos, and if you come during Happy Hour, the margaritas drop to $5. The location near Penn’s campus, though, feels much less divey and is somewhere you wouldn’t feel weird bringing your in-laws to.
photo credit: Kerry McIntyre
The West Philly Han Dynasty checks two important boxes. It serves some of the best Sichuan food around, and it’s a full-on sports bar to watch whatever game happens to be on TV. We love the spicy dan dan noodles with pork (but if spicy isn’t for you, they can bring down the heat). There are countless other delicious items on the menu, like dumplings in chili oil, scallion-style lamb, and tender ginger shredded duck. Order a bunch to enjoy while you watch the Flyers lose.
photo credit: Jezabel's
Jezabel’s is a cozy Argentinian cafe that always smells like coffee and fresh-baked pastries. Open daily, it’s an easy place to start your day with a cheese- and ham-filled mafalda, buttery medialunas, or a creamy ricotta torta. But the oven-baked empanadas are really the headliners. You can get them stuffed with cuts of beef, juicy chicken, tangy root vegetables, spicy lentils, and more. They’re all good choices and are ready in under 10 minutes. With a handful of tables, Jezabel’s is an easy place to grab something sweet and savory for under $11.