PHLGuide

The Philly Good-Ass Shrimp Guide

There are a lot of good shrimp dishes in Philadelphia. These are the 10 best.

The Philly Good-Ass Shrimp Guide guide image

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

A great man once said that shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it. Shrimp kabobs, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, shrimp salad, shrimp sandwich, and good-ass shrimp.

Okay, so Bubba in Forrest Gump didn’t say the last part. We did. From a classic cocktail to a spicy bang bang, we can’t get enough of this tasty pink crustacean. We rounded up a list of the very best shrimp dishes in Philly, whether you’re in the mood for something down and dirty, elaborate and elegant, or just want to channel your inner shrimp boat captain.

THE SHRIMP

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

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Kalaya Thai Kitchen

You won’t find fresher shrimp in Philly than what’s being served at Bella Vista’s Kalaya Thai Kitchen, one of the best restaurants in the city. Their pad phed goong sator needs to be at the top of your list–it’s served in a big bowl filled with stinky beans (a.k.a. petai beans) and a spicy broth that’s balanced by the hint of coconut in each spoonful. The shrimp are huge–you’ll find around eight or nine packing the bowl, which makes it great to share. But the second you pour some of the sauce over a steamy serving of sweet jasmine rice, you’ll probably want to keep this dish for yourself.


This South Street Low Country cuisine spot is a place that works just as well for dates as it does for a live music hangout or a weekend brunch. And even though you’ll want a plate of crab fondue (our favorite appetizer in town), crawfish pot pie, and smoked brisket, skipping the shrimp and grits would be a huge mistake. It has eight jumbo shrimp, andouille sausage, and crab sitting on a bed of grits. The dish is coated with a shellfish gravy that gives each spoonful a flawless balance of rich creaminess and butteriness. Within a few bites, you’ll be slotting this dish into your weekly routine like searching for that dream house on Zillow you can’t afford. 


photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

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La Llorona Cantina

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Okay, so we put this Mexican cantina on our best restaurants in South Philly, margaritas, and East Passyunk guides. But when we taste something as life-altering as their tropical shrimp, we have no choice but to add it to this list as well. The sauce is rich and thick, and tastes like someone shook up a mango puree with crisp red peppers, daiquiri-style. It coats juicy charred jumbo shrimp, making it a shrimp dish of the highest form: a little heat, a touch of spice, good crunch, and waves of sweetness. 


There’s no shortage of seafood spots in the Northeast, but if you want the best, go to Wild Crab Cajun Seafood. Located in a shopping complex, this seafood shack serves some great dishes like crispy calamari, oysters, and crab cakes, but it’s their seafood boil that deserves all the attention. It’s the perfect entree if you come here with a big group to watch a game or just want a steaming bag of crab legs, corn, broccoli, potatoes, and, of course, massive shrimp. We always get ours dripping in the rich and herby garlic butter sauce, and the dish pairs well with anything we pick from their extensive beer list.


The charcoal grilled shrimp at Sally are lemony, smoky, and completely unforgettable. Covered in a peppery chili oil, sprinkles of lemon, and parsley flakes, they’re the ideal way to start a night at this Fitler Square pizzeria, whether it’s while your group waits for entrees, or with a glass of wine on a simple solo night. While pizza is the main attraction here–it’s one of the best spots in the city to get it—the plump shrimp with great char lines and a campfire taste are making a bid to be the next headliner.  


On the weekends, the crowd outside of Southwest Philly’s Kingston 11 is bigger than the hordes of tourists around the LOVE statue. When you do eventually get to the counter, though, they’ll have things on display like gooey mac and cheese, oxtails, and curry chicken, but it’s the jerk shrimp that you need to order ASAP. The shrimp are grilled, smoked, and have a bit of sweetness from the tamarind sauce they’re drenched in. Served with a fragrant mound of jasmine rice, tender plantains, and peas, this tangy dish has us standing in line longer than when Costco gives away free cupcakes (yes, this is a thing).


When you’re heading to Fishtown’s LMNO, the key priorities are to drink near the neon-lit bar, people watch, and listen to music. But that’s why the fried cucarachas (yes, it’s shrimp) at the Mexican restaurant are the perfect things to go for. They’re small, crispy, and perfect to snack on between dancing to Doja Cat and waving to your friends (who can’t hear you). They come with an addictive chili dipping sauce and are indeed jumbo, so they’ll work as a shareable for any group you bring here.


When you order the gambas al ajillo from Old City’s Amada, it will be so hot that you’ll see the sauce simmering and plumes of steam rising from the clay bowl. Since it’s our go-to Spanish spot in town, we’re down for just about anything they conjure up with shrimp here–from their saffron rice bowl to tossing them in a spicy paella– but it's their garlic shrimp that we look forward to more than our vacation plans. They’re plump, perfectly lemony, and covered in herby flakes of parsley. And since the bowl comes with toasty bread to sop up the rest of the sauce, we usually don’t leave a drop behind.


At Logan Square's Thanal Indian Tavern, their gunpowder shrimp tikka is served on a bed of cabbage, carrots, and greens, topped with lime and cilantro, and has an eye-catching orange color (reminiscent of Gritty’s fur). While the presentation is impressive, it’s the shrimp itself that is the standout. They’re cooked in a tandoor which makes them beautifully tender with a smoky flavor, marinated in curry and chili powder, and each bite is earthy, spicy, and sweet. 


Philadelphians have been lining up at this North Philly corner shrimp spot ever since it opened in 1966. The “Colonel of Shrimp” serves every batch just one way: fried in a batter that’s perfectly seasoned with a hint of sweetness. Getting your hands on a dozen of these golden crispy shrimp fresh out of the fryer will leave you feeling more triumphant than finding an open parking spot on your first whip around Broad and Wyoming.

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