The University City Lunch Guide
All the best places for lunch in University City.
So you’re getting lunch in University City - where backpacks outnumber any other bag at least 5-to-1, and everyone looks stressed out all the time. Maybe you’re a freshman at Penn and need a short break from all the back-to-back classes you mistakenly thought you could handle. Or maybe you’re catching up with your doctor friend who prescribes all your low-grade antibiotics. Whether you want a sandwich to go or a sit-down lunch, here are our 15 favorite places to eat lunch in University City.
If you’ve been to Double Knot in Midtown Village, you know that they have some of the best sushi in the city. They also have a location at Franklin’s Table, Penn’s sort-of-new food hall, where you can get the same quality sushi in about three minutes flat instead of sitting down for an entire meal. They don’t have exactly the same selection at their to-go window that you’ll find at Double Knot, but you can still get a great box of sushi or sashimi with sauces, rice, and edamame. And, if you have about 30 minutes on your hands, they have a $35 mini-omakase that’s a step up from any other lunch available in the food hall.
Franklin’s Table might be a cafeteria, technically, but it’s also an outpost for some of the best restaurants in Philly. At KQ, Kensington Quarters’ spot in the hall, they serve a short menu of mostly sandwiches (plus fries and pickled vegetables), but the thing you really should get here is the classic burger. It comes topped with cheddar, KQ sauce, and roasted red onions, and is one of the best burgers in the area.
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Goldie is a fast-casual falafel shop from the people behind Zahav. In addition to their main Rittenhouse location, they also have an outpost at Franklin’s Table. Their menu is pretty short, with sandwiches, salads, and fries, but that’s because they do one thing really well - falafel. It’s crispy and full of spices, and you can get it with a few different sauces, but the harissa is our favorite. Also, you should save room for a tehina milkshake - they substitute ice cream and milk with tehina and coconut whip, and it tastes better than most dairy milkshakes.
Green Line on Locust
There are five Green Line Cafes in the vicinity of University City, which makes it the Stanley Tucci of restaurants - they’re everywhere, and you never really notice them, but you’re always happy to find one. Come here if you’re walking around UPenn’s campus in search of a good sandwich. Their menu rotates with the season, but they usually have a selection of vegan and vegetarian sandwiches, as well as things like turkey croissants and roast beef wraps. Most locations are small, so there’s not too much space to hang out, but you can usually grab a small table outside when the weather’s nice.
Don Barriga Mexican Grill
There aren’t that many great Mexican places in University City, and there are even fewer ones that are open for lunch. So when you have some time to sit down to lunch with a coworker or a friend who insists on having some guacamole, take them to Don Barriga. It’s a small shop on the corner of 45th and Spruce, and on top of dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas, they also do barbacoa every Friday through Sunday. It’s almost as good as the stuff from South Philly Barbacoa, and you won’t have to wait in a crazy line.
Walnut Street Cafe
When you’re waiting for a train at 30th Street Station, there aren’t that many places to eat besides Cinnabon and a newspaper stand with three-day-old muffins. But if you have some time to kill, Walnut Street Cafe is right next door and has significantly better food than what you’ll find in the station. It’s an all-day cafe with a bunch of floor-to-ceiling windows and looks like a house you would see on Pinterest. The menu has things like ricotta ravioli and avocado toast, but it’s exactly what you want if you’re looking for an alternative to a train station sandwich.
In addition to being a dog on PBS who taught literary history to children in the ’90s, Wishbone is also a fried chicken restaurant in University City. They batter their chicken in buttermilk and a crunchy pretzel coating, and it’s all delicious whether you get some wings or a basket of chicken tenders. It’s a fast-casual place, so there aren’t a ton of tables inside, but if it’s a nice day there are usually a few tables outside.
There are a few really solid sit-down pizza places in West Philly, and Clarkville is one of the best. It’s a bright, two-floor neighborhood spot on Baltimore Avenue that’s good for a casual lunch with a small group - pretty much everything on the menu is $15 or less. During lunch hours, you can order pizza by the slice for just $2. And they have a special for kids under 12 years old where they offer a mini-pizza and a milk carton for $6, which is great if you have small children or can pass for a particularly large 12-year-old.
Dim Sum House
While Dim Sum House is usually our go-to for late-night meals in West Philly (they serve food until 2am), it’s also a great spot for lunch when you’re around UPenn. All of their food is solid, especially the soup dumplings and beef-stuffed scallion pancakes.
Manakeesh Cafe Bakery
Manakeesh is part Lebanese lunch spot, part bakery. Whether you want to get some work done over a cup of coffee or are just catching up with a friend, it’s a quick and easy option with very good food. The flatbreads are perfect for sharing and are topped with everything from labneh and za’atar to lamb lahm bajeen. And no matter what you do, don’t leave without scanning the bakery cases. You can order a big box of baklava and basboosa that you won’t want to share with anyone.
The University City location of Loco Pez serves all the same food as the one in Fishtown - they have the same great Mexican food and cheap beers, and it’s hard to spend more than $10 on a few tacos. The biggest difference between the two locations, though, is that this one looks less divey - with floor to ceiling windows and spacious booths that can fit you and at least five other friends. If you don’t have to go back to class later - or even if you do - order a couple of their strong margaritas.
Koch’s Deli has been handing out sample deli meats in long lines since before Ronald Reagan was a California governor. It’s easily the best place in University City to get a sandwich, especially if you like meat. They pile up to four different types of thinly-cut meats in between fluffy Italian rolls, resulting in a sandwich so thick you’ll momentarily wish you could unhinge your jaw like a snake. And, if you’re still hungry after you finish your sandwich, you should get one of their thick, creamy vanilla milkshakes.
White Dog Cafe
White Dog Cafe is the kind of place you take your parents when they’re in town. The menu has something for everyone, so even if they’re tough to please, it’ll be hard for them to complain here. Inside, there are lots of different rooms with different design styles, and no matter where you’re sitting, the restaurant is always just the right amount of full. You’ll probably pay a bit too much for your grilled chicken sandwich or Thai steak noodle salad, but the important thing here is that your parents came into town to visit you, and are probably footing the bill.
You ran into an old acquaintance a few weeks ago and exchanged “We should totally catch up soon!” pleasantries. You figured they probably wouldn’t follow up, but they did. Instead of going out to a long dinner with lots of awkward pauses, take them to Terakawa for lunch. For a bowl of ramen in West Philly, you can’t do much better, and the service is fast enough that your meal will be over before their life update becomes more painful than listening to the Liberty Mutual jingle on loop.
Yes, Shake Shack is a country-wide burger chain. Regardless, it’s still a solid option for lunch in University City. The burgers are great, the cheese fries are even better, and if you leave without a milkshake, you’ve done Shake Shack wrong.