Where To Eat And Drink In University City

The 15 best places to eat near the college campuses.
Where To Eat And Drink In University City image


Whether you’re catching a movie, it’s parent's weekend, or your friend’s Grey’s Anatomy obsession led them to medical school at Penn, knowing where to get a bite in University City is crucial. Since there are so many spots serving up everything from brothy bowls of ramen and hamachi hand rolls to shrimp tacos and excellent Ethiopian dishes, we made a list of the 15 best places to eat and drink. 

The Spots

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO


University City

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We’re pretty much going steady with Doro Bet on Baltimore Avenue. The Sami Dan music they play has infiltrated our dreams, the bright wall covered in African art is now our lock screen, and we’re thinking of proposing to the chefs after eating a plate of doro wot. This Ethiopian spot serves pillowy mac and cheese, smothered wings, and teff flour fried chicken. It’s a great option for a quick lunch or casual weeknight meal when we’re craving peppery stewed chicken that falls off the bone.

This Black-owned brewery in University City has a relatively small beer menu, including a malty Nubian ale that even non-beer-drinkers might chug. But no brewery in Philly serves better food. Stay at the front bar near the TVs and HBCU plaques and order some Liberian jollof rice. Or head to the back area with communal tables and a menu by Liberty Kitchen. You can drink Two Locals’ beer regardless of whether you’re parking it with a hoagie or listing the top five Martin episodes while the game is on. Do both.

You 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 West Philly, 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.

If you tried to eat at every good restaurant on Baltimore Avenue it would take at least a month of two-a-days just to get through the stand-outs. 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.

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 $6. The location near Penn’s campus, though, feels much less divey and is somewhere you wouldn’t feel weird bringing your in-laws to.

Abyssinia, an Ethiopian spot right around the corner from Penn’s campus, has a lot of different vegetarian dishes. Your best bet, though, is the $17 Vegetarian Combination, which includes six of their most popular vegetarian dishes—like split lentils in berbere sauce and spicy sauteed collard greens—served on top of spongy injera. You can probably split one plate between two or three people because the servings are so big, or just get one for yourself and bring home the leftovers.

Aksum is a Mediterranean BYOB in West Philly serving things like a vegetable tagine over couscous (one of our favorite vegetarian dishes in the city), and an especially large plate of lemon caper chicken. It’s versatile and affordable, with most of their shareable entrees coming in at $25, so it’s great for everything from a casual weeknight date to dinner with your parents.



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You decided to visit your sister at Penn, and instead of the wild night you had hoped for, ended up binging true crime shows and crashing on her futon. Before heading back to your responsibility-filled adult life, head to Renata’s Kitchen for brunch. The Mediterranean menu has everything from peppery shakshuka to fluffy pumpkin french toast that will give you just enough energy to make it back to your apartment for your next nap. 

Manakeesh is part-Lebanese lunch spot, part-bakery, and a quick and easy option whether you want to get some work done over baklava or catch up with a friend. The flatbreads are perfect for sharing and are topped with everything from labneh and za’atar to lamb lahm bajeen. No matter what you do, don’t leave without checking out the baked goods. You can pretend the big box you leave with is to share with your coworkers, even though there’s a 0% chance that actually happens.

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 Chem 101 class.

With a menu longer than our DVR list after a long vacation, it may be hard to decide between truffle edamame lobster sticky rice or eggplant in garlic sauce when ordering at Dim Sum House. But if your group comes hungry, you should go for both dishes, plus a couple of noodle plates and a round of their crunchy salt and pepper wings. With massive tables throughout the dining space, you could probably fit your extended family and their extended family in here, especially if everyone’s down for soup dumplings and scallion pancakes.

We wait in line for new drivers licenses and a copious amount of water from the supermarket when there's a threat of two inches of snow. So we’re okay with waiting to get into Sabrina’s Cafe in University City for brunch on the weekends (they don’t take reservations). Get the lemon ricotta pancakes. These come with a berry compote, in case you want a change of pace from drowning your pancakes in syrup. All of Sabrina's locations are open every day of the week, so you could always ditch your group and head here for a solo Tuesday meal when you need some peace over pancakes.

The Han Dynasty in University City 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. 

Pod is a University City institution, much like the bushes on 40th and Spruce that students wake up in on Sundays. When they recover, most of them head to Pod to eat a spicy yellow tail roll in a neon rainbow booth. The menu is devoted to Japanese dishes—mostly sushi and robata plates. You’ll find standard options like crispy pork gyoza, spicy tuna crispy rice, and chicken teriyaki large enough to split with the table if you bring a group. It's not gonna blow your mind, but if you're in the area, it's a solid choice—even if you’re simply celebrating finding your favorite sunglasses among the shrubs after a wild night. 

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. Head here for the steak frites or burger dripping with porcini truffle aioli. They also have good Happy Hour snacks, like fried mozzarella and parmesan garlic chips with a peppery crème fraîche dip 4-8pm on Tuesday through Saturday. If you want something a little more substantial after the Acela, try the fried chicken sliders and three $5 beers.

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