We were in Philadelphia recently and I noticed two very clear facts. There are way too many parents dragging their poor, disenfranchised children around the city from one historical sight to another on what must be the most boring family vacation ever. And much more importantly, Philadelphia has really begun to grown into itself as a top food city. If you’re looking for something different to do in the City of Brotherly Love than stare at a cracked bell, might I suggest you eat your way around Philadelphia.
That’s exactly what we did with during our recent weekend in Philadelphia and it was really a great time. We didn’t focus on one thing – like a cheese steak crawl (although we did eat our fair share of the city’s iconic sandwich). Instead, we stopped in at a trendy local brew pub, toured around the food-centric Reading Terminal Market, dined at a high-end restaurant and went in search of the perfect cocktail. All of these places were within easy walking distance of downtown, with the exception of the rival cheese steak kings.
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A Philadelphia Food Crawl
If this is your first time in Philadelphia, you’re probably excited to try some authentic Philadelphia cheese steaks. It’s the most iconic food that Philly is known for, aside from the fact that it’s delicious, so you should make it your mission to find at least one or two, for comparison sake. As you surely already know, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, located across the street from each other at the corner of 9th & Passyunk Ave in South Philly, are the two most famous cheese steak shops in the city.
Pat and his brother Harry are credited with inventing the famous sandwich back in the 30s. Geno’s opened in the 60s, hoping to outsell the competition. These days, neither makes it on the top of many “Best Cheese Steak” lists, but you can’t beat it for the hype and the fun of it all. There are long standing debates about which is better. Perhaps you should stop by and determine for yourself which is better.
After sharing one of each sandwich at Pat’s & Geno’s, we headed into the city to try another contender that gets better rankings from the masses on Yelp – Steve’s Prince of Steaks. There are four locations. The one downtown is located on S. 16th St. After sinking our teeth into pretty much an exact replica of the sandwich we’d just eaten at both Pat’s and Geno’s, we were both happy to say that Steve’s was a winner. The meat was cooked individually, not in the large pile the other two have in order to keep up with demand. The cheese was more plentiful and the bread was fresh and soft.
A Quest for Craft Beer
I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever thought of Philly as a craft beer town. If asked to name a microbrew that comes out of Philadelphia, I’d be hard pressed to come up with any. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t good beer in the city.
Take, for instance, 2nd Story Brewing, which opened in Old City in 2014. The brew pub has a cozy, warm vibe on the first floor, where you can hang out and try any of the 4 or so house beers on tap, plus a lineup of rotating taps, paired with great food options, and just above you on the second floor is the brewery, with the beer tanks peeking out from the display windows.
After imbibing in a taster tray from 2nd Story Brewing, we made another beer stop at Bru Craft & Wurst, a German beerhall and wursthaus, located on Chestnut and 13th. The beer menu here is quite extensive. There are 38 beers on tap, including some local brews, but then there are also dozens of imported and domestic bottles. It takes at least 15 minutes to peruse the menu and decide what to drink. They also have this cool system called the Haus Key. When you purchase a Haus key for $5, you can pour your own beer from the self-serve beer wall. I mean, where have you ever seen that before?
Philadelphia’s Famous Food Market
We love walking around food markets and sampling the food from the stalls that catch our eye or tempt our sights. Reading Terminal Market, located at N. 12th St., is one of the best in the country. There are dozens of stalls selling all kinds of food, from fresh produce to meats and seafood to Amish specialties. Alongside the vendors are dozens of restaurants cooking up everything from crepes to authentic New Orleans cuisine and, of course, cheese steaks.
If you are lucky enough to be in the city during the week, that is the best time to visit the market. On the weekends, the crowds descend and it’s harder to move around and grab a coveted counter seat at your favorite restaurant. While the Amish shops are closed on Sundays, if you only have a weekend, then Sunday morning is an equally great time to go. We arrived around 9:30am and found we had almost the whole place to ourselves for at least an hour.
Everyone has their favorites at the market. We followed an Internet tip to grab one of the famous roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich from DiNic’s. It was crowned the best sandwich in America by the Travel Channel’s Adam Richman. While I can attest to it being a delicious-looking sandwich, I can’t get on board with it being the best sandwich in America, or even in Philadelphia. The broccoli rabe was so bitter that we immediately scrapped it all off, but then the essence of broccoli rabe made it impossible to continue eating. Neither of us could stomach more than 2 bites each. We threw it out. So sad.
To make up for the bad sandwich, we sat down at the Profi’s Creperie for a perfectly made ham & cheese crepe. I love watching them make the crepes. I wish I had one of those griddles at home.
Fine-Dining in Philadelphia
I saved the best for last, as usual. Our quest for food always includes at least one fine-dining restaurant, and usually that restaurant belongs to a celebrity chef that we’ve watched on various cooking shows, like Top Chef Masters or Iron Chef. There are a great number of fantastic fine-dining restaurants in Philadelphia, which is why I mentioned that the food scene is really burgeoning in the city. When top chefs start to move in, you know you’ve made it into the list of top food cities.
In Philadelphia, one of the most celebrated chefs is Jose Garces, winner of the 2010 Iron Chef competition. He has restaurants in Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlantic City, to name a few. We chose Garces Trading Company in the Washington Square West neighborhood. The menu focuses on Western European cuisine from Italy, France and Spain. We were excited to find yummy things like freshly made burrata with olive oil, and duck liver mousse, on the appetizer list.
From there, we moved on to a Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu that was dusted with parmesan cheese. If I could get away with eating so much pasta, I would eat pappardelle with ragu for every meal. The pasta was great, though the sauce was not my favorite.
We also ordered a Prime Culotte Steak Frites with a sauce Bearnaise that was incredible. The steak was tender and delicious, but the duck fat fries stole the show. We were also able to take our own bottle of wine to open without a corkage fee, which is always a nice thing for a restaurant to offer.
As you can see, there are tons of food options in the city that you can stop by on your very own Philadelphia Food Crawl. It’s definitely found it’s place among the best food cities in the U.S. If you have a favorite place you like to eat at in Philadelphia, share it with us in the comments!
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