Where To Eat And Drink In University CityThe 15 best places to eat near the college campuses.
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 16 best places to eat and drink.
The menu at West Philly’s KPod is long. If you told us they added a dish to it each day since the original Pod closed in March 2020, we’d believe you. But from the salmon and yellowtail hand rolls to shareable plates like their kimchi-butter shrimp, it’s a place worth heading to whenever you’re in University City. The neon-lit bathroom hallways and corner pod booths make you feel like a VIP at a Rihanna show, making it perfect for large group celebrations before a night out.
We’re pretty much going steady with University City’s Doro Bet. The Sami Dan music they play has infiltrated our dreams, the bright walls 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. The casual counter-service spot has plenty of plants, a big picture window near the front, and a handful of tables where you can devour the pillowy mac and cheese, smothered wings, or Teff flour fried chicken. It’s our new go-to for a quick lunch or casual weeknight meal when we’re craving peppery stewed chicken that falls off the bone. Open every day of the week (outside of Tuesdays), head there when you want incredible Ethiopian food, and rethink your (restaurant) relationship status.
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 $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.
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 $15 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 $30, so it’s great for everything from a casual weeknight date to dinner with your parents.
With a menu longer than our DVR list after a three-week 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.
There are a few really solid sit-down pizza places in West Philly, and Clarkville is one of the best. It’s a colorful, two-floor neighborhood spot on Baltimore Avenue that’s good for a casual lunch or dinner with a small group. Everything on the menu is $20 or less, and if you come during Happy Hour (which goes until 6pm on weeknights), you can get $4 beers and $5 wines. So have a few drinks before a night of pizza, shrimp scampi, and pasta and meatballs.
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.
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.
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.
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 spin class.
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 or Thai steak noodle salad, but the important thing here is that you're bonding with your parents (and they’re footing the bill).
People in this city are used to waiting. We waited 58 years for the Eagles to win their fourth Super Bowl. So we’re okay with waiting to get into Sabrina’s Cafe for brunch on the weekends (they don’t take reservations). The lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes are a favorite of ours and come with a mixed berry compote–if you want a change of pace from drowning your pancakes in syrup. Plus, they’re open every day of the week, so you could always ditch your group and head there for a solo meal on a Tuesday when you’re “feeling sick.”