How to Guide for Eating and Drinking in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Don't get a cheesesteak
I grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, a short 30 minute drive or so from center city, Philly. Prior to relocating to New Hampshire, I had lived in Philly proper for 7 years. Philly and I share a robust love-hate relationship. Believe me when I say that I love the place -- the food scene has exploded over the last decade, with myriad young, creative, hightly-talented cooks and chefs opening up eateries throughout the city. Similarly, Philly is beer mecca -- the quality and diversity of beer you can find throughout the city is truly incredible. This was nearly non-existent even just a decade ago. However, although Philly is a beer drinking city, it remains to be a beer brewing city, unlike some other beer hotspots in the United States (cue Denver, Austin, Portland, OR). But over time, the faint and ever-present aroma of urine, dirty streets and subway stations, and oppressive summer heat (which really ripens that uric acid smell) does grow on you. It did for me. So like I said, love-hate. But the food and drink can not and should not be understated. If you find yourself visiting the eastern US, put Philadelphia on your list of places to visit if you're interested in eating and drinking really well. Here, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite haunts if you have a lay-over or short-time in the city.
1. Monk's Cafe
Hands-down, no argument, undeniably the BEST place for beer in Philadelphia. Done. Monk's is a Belgian beer café located in Rittenhouse Square. If you're a beer-drinker, visiting this city and skipping Monk's would be nearly sacrilegious. It is a dark, dank, beautiful place lit by the faint glow of burning candles and with an omnipresent smell of garlic mussels. There are two bars, front and back, and unless you get there early in the evening, plan to stand and wait for a chair. It is a beer-forward establishment -- the beer list at times seems endless, with easily over a hundred options. Yes, they have an exhaustive list of Belgian beers (many of which I guarantee you've never heard of) and yes, you will find many types of IPAs and double IPAs to choose from. But consider that their beer menu is loaded with styles and breweries that you simply will not find outside of Monk's. If you are interested in exploring insanely high-quality beer from brewers all over the world that you've never heard about before... go to Monk's. It's where people in Philly who know beer and appreciate beer go to drink. Beer menu aside, keep in mind their food is awesome as well. Without going through their entire menu, this place makes a damn fine burger. The piece de resistance, however, is the mussels. The aroma slams you in the face immediately upon crossing the threshold... garlic, butter, oil. They have a variety of preparations to choose from, but the thai curry mussels are a MUST HAVE. Must.
Address: 264 S. 16th St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
2. Devil's Den
Devil's Den is one of those iconic establishments that embellishes the transformation of food and drink in Philadelphia. This is another place with a robust beer menu, and their food is pretty phenomenal as well. If you come here in the winter, they have a wood-burning fireplace in the middle of the seating area that you can sit next to, and which happens to always be lit. In the summer, pull up a chair on the sidewalk and do some people watching into the night.
Address: 1148 S. 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19147
3. Pub on Passyunk East (aka the POPE)
In Philly, we love stringing together letters that have no business clustering together and calling it a word. For example, Bala Cynwd (pronunciation: Bala Kinwood); Passyunk (pronunciation: Pass Yunk). But, I digress. The POPE is a beautiful place, one of my favorite bars in the entire city. Nay, the entire world. It's dark, loud, and full of character -- the kind of place you visit to get away from all those "bros" up on South St. One of those gastropubs that is just unique and better for the world by simply existing. Outstanding selection of local craft brews and good, cheap bar food make this a must-do for any stopover in Philly.
1501 E. Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147
4. 11th and Washington
Yea, 11th and Washington is not a restaurant, nor is it a bar... It is an intersection. And at that intersection you will find a collection of Vietnamese restaurants that is about as authentic as they come outside of Hanoi. It is the part of the city for authentic phở. If you are in the vicinity, take your pick... there are several places occupying the southwest corner of the intersection, all of them pretty great.
5. Nomad Pizza
If you're looking for the best wood-fired pizza in Philly, this is the spot. They actually have two locations in the city (three restaurants total, with the original being located in Hopewell, NJ, should you find yourself lost in central Jersey). I'd recommend the location at 7th and South, which is the original Philly location and serves a combination of traditional and Roman-style pizza (the second, newer location is located at 13th and Locust and does Roman-style only). They source all of their produce, cheeses, and meats from local farms in the Philly/Jersey region, and the majority of their beer is local as well. The emphasis they place on high-quality products really comes out in their pizzas, which are simply fantastic. It's a low-key, laid-back place that simply does pizza the right way.
Address: 611 S. 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19147
6. Taco Riendo
Simply some of the best and most authentic Mexican you'll find in Philly. It's a little corner jawn that's cash-only with a menu consisting of everything from tacos and burritos to full-on traditional meal plates. Place is awesome. I legit lived across the street from this place for a year, and I was without a doubt their highest-paying customer for that 12-month period of time.
Address: 1301 N. 5th St, Philadelphia, PA 19122
Zahav. Just saying the word brings me back to one of the great meals of my life. I considered putting this post towards the top of this list, considering this is becoming a long blog post, and I would be remiss if readers missed out on what I feel is a life-changing gastronomic experience. However, those who know food will undoubtedly already know of Zahav, regardless of my cheesy writing about it. Nonetheless, it is a restaurant and experience that requires solid mention here as it is simply that good.
Zahav is the wonderful and highly-sought after Israeli brainchild of Michael Solomonov (@mikesolomonov), located in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood. Winner of Best Restaurant in the Country at the 2019 James Beards Awards, Zahav holds true to its title. With a focus on Israeli classics, Solomonov delivers a resounding punch with literally the best Israeli/Middle Eastern fare I've ever had in my life. Getting a reservation at this place will take a solid 2-3 months, however, if you come and wait, you can usually be seated at the bar for full dinner without requiring a reservation ahead of time. Consider trying the tasting menu, as it is the best way to experience all of what Zahav has to offer. The menu changes constantly, and it's been well over a year since I've had the luxury of dining there, but if the grilled duck hearts are on the menu... do it. You're in for a treat, my friends.
8. Chubby's and Jim's on South St.
Ok, ok.. I know I said at the top to not get a cheesesteak. And I stand by that sentiment. Having first-hand seen the boom in seriously high-quality eating and drinking that has taken over Philly in the last decade, it's hard to watch tourists flock into the city and all they want to do is eat a cheesesteak. Spoiler -- they're not that great. But... if you must, do yourself a favor and head to Manayunk for a cheesesteak at Chubby's Steaks. It's out of the way, I won't deny that, but this is the place to go if you want a cheesesteak at a local joint that is actually pretty damn good and far away from the tourists. Plus you can drink beer there, which is nice. Now, if you don't want to make the trek out to Manayunk, or you really do want that "Philly cheesesteak" experience, go to Jim's at 4th and South. The line will be out the door and around the corner, but it's better than Pat's and Geno's in south Philly, which is where 95% of tourists will go when visiting the city. And yes, you should have it with cheese wiz.
Chubby's: 5826 Henry Ave, Manayunk, Philadelphia, PA 19128
W. M. Mulherin and Son's -- One of my favorites. They specialize in New American fare with an ever-changing menu hyper-focused on seasonal, local ingredients. Wood-fired pizza is truly something special here and their cocktails are no joke either. Overall fantastic ambiance with a rustic, whiskey-bar feel, it's a really excellent place for dinner.
Address: 1355 N Front St, Philadelphia, 19122.
Kraftwork -- Gastropub with large, awesome beer selection. Food is excellent, and they do brunch on weekends. Address: 541 E Girard Ave, Philadelphia, 19125
Bottle Bar East -- This place is a gem. It's actually a bottle-shop that also serves food and a terrific array of craft beer on draft. Grab food and drinks, and when you're done, stop by the take-out counter to grab some road beers. Address: 1308 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia, 19125
Fermentery Form -- This one will be challenging, especially if you only have a short time in the city. It's a brewery located deep in the heart of Fishtown, and they are only open 1-2 nights per week for retail/drinks.... which are announced the day prior on their Facebook page. But, if you are lucky enough to be in town when they're open, this place is a must. Super small-scale brewery making beers that others simply can't do or won't do. This is the art of brewing practiced at its highest craft. There is no food here, so eat before you go. Address: 1700 Palethorp St, Philadelphia, 19122
Memphis Taproom -- Located in Port Richmond, it's a small, local corner bar that serves as a great example of Philly's food transformation. Port Richmond is traditionally an older, blue-collar part of the city, but the menu at Memphis Taproom is anything but stale. They boast a large and varied craft beer selection (surprise), and their menu offers creative takes on southern fare, with a not-insignificant number of outstanding vegan/vegetarian sandwiches and entreés (the smoked coconut club is fantastic).
Address: 2331 E Cumberland St, Philadelphia, 19125
I hope this list helps get you started if you find yourself in Philadelphia and are looking for a good, local place to grab a beer and some awesome food. There really are too many places to write about in one blog post, and the above list is by no means exhaustive, especially when you expand it to include the greater Philly metro area. But my hope in writing this is that people start to see Philadelphia as a major destination for food and drink, and the above places, in my mind, really showcase the highlights of extraordinary gastronomy in Philadelphia. Cheers.