PHLReview

When we sit down to make guides for The Best Pasta In Philly, Where To Get Roast Chicken So Good That You’ll Cry, and Spots Where The View Is Just As Good As The Food, Irwin’s in South Philly is going to be on all of them. 

Located in the same building as Second Daughter Baking Co., Bok Bar, and Machine Shop Boulangerie, the journey to Irwin’s includes a check-in down an old high school hallway and an elevator ride before you even get to the restaurant. But as soon as you arrive on the 8th floor, the smell of octopus mixed with salsa verde, monkfish bucatini, and smoky broccoli rabe will hit you immediately—all while you get a great view of the surrounding neighborhood.

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On Irwin’s outdoor terrace, where they can fit up to 30 people, you'll be able to see basically all of South Philadelphia. They also have an interior dining space that is full of large plants, colorful rugs, and plenty of bookshelves–we like to think it’s a nod to the classroom that used to be there before. Small parties can eat any of the Sicilian-inspired dishes while sitting in a That '70s Show-style velvet lounge chair, but they also have a large circular table in the back for larger groups. Although, if you sit there, you might have trouble actually having a conversation–it’s next to the restaurant’s main speaker that blasts everything from Meek Mill to Prince during dinner service. 

Beyond the views, the food is the real reason why you’re coming here. Between sips of natural wines, go for one or two small plates, an order of pasta, and save room for at least one of their entrees. When it comes to the starters, you’ll be in good hands—the chef ran Res Ipsa before joining Irwin’s. From their crudo that drenches NJ fluke with lemon, fermented chili, and subtly salty capers to a juicy swordfish milanese, you could make a feast off of these seafood selections and a salad and leave happy. 

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But then you wouldn't get a chance to try their chewy handmade pastas, like gnocchi tossed with eggplant and chili and a mushroom-heavy trofie that has more spirals than the graffiti patterns on the walls. Each pasta on the menu comes in a tasting size ($15 and under) and a larger portion ($26 and under). If you go for the smaller choice–which usually consists of about eight large spoonfuls of pasta–you’ll be perfectly set up for their mains: the whole fish and a half agrodolce chicken. The fish has a garlicky glaze and comes topped with grilled lemons and an earthy salsa verde, while the chicken is our favorite thing on their menu. 

Irwin’s is also a great place to go for after-work drinks. When we’re here, we sip on their Hints & Allegations cocktail that mixes tequila, bonal, salers, rooibos tea, pear shrub, and grapefruit. It’s basically a fancy margarita that goes with everything on the menu (don't worry, we’ve checked). 

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When taking the elevator trip down after a date night or a birthday dinner at Irwin’s, you’ll probably be thinking about a few things–the toasty char of the glazed chicken, the mix of flavors in the spaghetti, and how they made views of row homes and the Walt Whitman Bridge feel like one of the coolest places on earth.

Food Rundown

Fennel Salad

This is exactly what a salad should be–refreshing, balanced flavors, and good enough to demand attention in a pasta-dominated menu. Big enough for three people, it mixes strips of crunchy fennel, lemon vinaigrette, slivers of onion, and gets topped with a confetti of parsley.

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Swordfish Milanese

We don’t know how they did it, but they managed to fry the swordfish to a perfect crisp while still keeping it as juicy as a freshly cut grapefruit. Irwin’s might have been thinking about cafeteria fish sticks and tartar sauce when they decided to serve an order with their tangy aioli, but overall this dish doesn’t need any sauce—the thick cut of fish and breading are good enough to be a solo act.

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Spaghetti Alle Vongole

Irwin’s is a spot where you can order a seafood-heavy pasta and not have to sift through the bowl to find the few pieces. The spaghetti dish has more clams in it than Philly has soft pretzel spots (OK, maybe not, but there are a lot of mollusks in here). This blend of citrusy white wine broth, fresh parsley, and tender clams makes this our favorite pasta here.

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Fileja

With long strands of doughy pasta, a cauliflower puree sauce, and light breadcrumbs, this is the kind of dish you should order for on a winter night when you need some warmth—or if you need to feel better when the Birds lose a game at the Linc (which you can see from the dining room). This is the only creamy pasta on the menu, so if you want to switch things up, this is what you should get.

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Agrodolce Chicken

This is the best roasted chicken in Philly. In fact, we’re working on a time machine just so we can go back and experience our first bite of it. But if Doc Brown doesn’t return our calls, we’ll make another reservation just so we can have another serving of the tender, orangey, vinegary, and honey-glazed poultry.

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