Let’s take a second to discuss the difference between the words “best” and “favorite.” Not because we think you’re dumb and genuinely don’t know the difference, but because we’ve heard Hungry Pigeon described as the “best” restaurant in Philadelphia a lot, and our opinion is that it’s probably not the best place in the city, but it might be our favorite.
So let’s break this down. Bill Murray may technically be the best SNL cast member of all time, but Amy Poehler is our favorite. Turkey may be the best Thanksgiving food, but the sweet potatoes with marshmallows are secretly our favorite (and the first thing finished every year). The highway might be the best way to get to the shore, but our favorite way is to take the back roads through the towns that are hiding all of New Jersey’s Republicans.
We’ve said all of this for a reason, which is to explain that a restaurant being a city’s collective favorite might be as important as being the best. And Hungry Pigeon certainly has a case for being our favorite. It’s Feel Good Factor is through the roof, and while the food isn’t doing anything incredibly different, you won’t ever have a bad meal here. You’ll find things like roasted beets, a halibut dish that’s swimming in clam chowder, and a roast half-chicken on the menu, and all of it will feel familiar and kind of nostalgic - like when you drive by your old high school blasting “Slow Motion,” or when you find an old movie ticket to The Royal Tenenbaums in your childhood bedroom.
Now back to the Feel Good Factor. In case you can’t deduce from the name, it refers to that intangible feeling you get at a restaurant that makes you want to come back over and over again. Hungry Pigeon has it by the hanging plant basket-full. It’s an all-day cafe, and even when you’re here for dinner, it still has the relaxed feel of a coffee shop. The baristas double as bartenders, and the bartenders double as servers. Everyone who works here seems like they’re cooler than you, but in an approachable way that makes you want to be their friend.
If you want to know our real opinion, Hungry Pigeon isn’t the best restaurant in Philadelphia, but would you really go back over and over again to the best restaurant? We doubt it, because it’s probably expensive and you probably can’t get away with wearing your slippers there, even if you refer to them as “house shoes.” But our favorite restaurant? Our favorite restaurant is the one where the bartenders take a casual shot with us out of a coffee cup when we walk in and where we don’t get weird looks when our friend comes in her mom’s 1998 Shania Twain tour t-shirt. That seems like a title worth having to us.
Sometimes they’ll bring you this without even asking. If they don’t, pay the $5 and get it for your table. The bread is fluffy and the butter is salty. Enough said.
Don’t ask us why, but something about this tastes like the holidays. Maybe it’s the nutmeg. Whatever it is, it’s exceptional and you should get it as a starter to share.
These beets taste like the better version of something you could make at home. You don’t absolutely have to get them, but if you’re trying to have a healthier dinner, they make a great side.
The pasta changes often here, and it’s all fantastic. We especially love the gnocchi, and if you see it on the menu, you should order one for here and one to go.
This is basically a really tasty piece of fish sitting in a bowl of clam chowder. The chowder isn’t thick like you might expect from New England chowder, but it’s a perfect pairing for the halibut. This is another dish that seems simple enough to make, but we know we could never accomplish it on our own. Alas.
Remember those chocolate oranges they used to make where you could break off pieces that mirrored orange slices? That’s what this reminds us of, in a very good way.