Cheesesteak at Mama’s.
Let’s get this one out of the way quickly. Few other cities have a sandwich completely synonymous with the name of the town itself. Philadelphia is one such city, with its famous cheesesteak, known to the rest of the country as the “Philly Cheesesteak.” The ingredients are simple, seared steak, a longItaliann roll and cheese. A protein and carb monster that is sure to cure any hangover. When you’re done with one of these, you won’t remember what it’s like to be hungry. While it’s hard to get a bad one of these in the city, my favorite is at Mama’s in Bala Cynwyd, a tiny suburb northwest of the town. The steak is juicy and delicious and the sandwich itself is massive, almost requiring a lunch and dinner to finish (unless you split it with a friend). You might dream about it for years to come.
Arista at Paesano’s.
Delicious Italian inspired sandwiches are everywhere in the city of brotherly love. One of the best is this roast pork sandwich, complete with sharp provolone cheese, sauteed (and bitter) broccoli rabe, and “long hots” (spicy italian peppers). It’s an explosion of competing yet complementary flavors in your mouth. You can get this kind of sandwich all over town, but Paesano’s, an artisan update on the classic Philly sandwich shop, does it the best.
Tomato Pie at Tacconelli’s.
Call early in the day, sometimes the day before, to reserve your dough at this pizza place in Northeast Philadelphia. This family operation chooses quality several steps above quantity, and when you take your first bite you understand why. The tomato pie is a variation on pizza and seemingly more of a nod to the old country’s original concept. Made with no cheese at all and baked at 500 degrees or more, you won’t be able to stop eating this delicious pie (even as it melts the roof of your mouth). It’s pizza dough and tomato sauce. But it’s the best tomato sauce you’ve ever had. Order it along with a couple (more familiar) cheese pies and taste the difference.
Dan Dan Noodles at Han Dynasty.
This Sichuan inspired Chinese restaurant has turned into an extremely successful chain, with branches opening all over the city, suburbs, and even in New York. The food is chosen via spice level, with each dish rated from a 1 to 10 in terms of spiciness. The Dandan noodles are almost like chips at a Mexican restaurant. The noodles are coated in a paste that combines sesame, peanut and chili oil, with minced pork by request and chopped scallions as a garnish. The server mixes it all up at your table, as you enjoy one of the best dishes at one of the best restaurants in the city. Like almost everything here, it is spicy, so be prepared. But sweating it out never tasted so good.
Cheesesteak at Tony Luke’s.
There are too many great cheesesteak options for just one entry. If you’re trying to stay in the city limits, then venture to South Philly where good cheesesteak places seem to be on every corner. Tony Luke’s on Oregon Ave, however, is one of the best there is. The lines are often long but move quickly, so be ready to give a succinct order using as few words as possible, or feel the potential wrath of the classically Philly mannered cashiers (who don’t have time for your weird questions). Order your steak with or without onions, and get provolone or cheese whiz. It’s that simple. The provolone is deliciously sharp and sure to tingle your taste buds. The whiz might make you feel like you’re a ten-year-old again, but that’s not a bad thing when it tastes this tangy and delicious mixed into the steak.
Hummus and Pita at Zahav.
Make sure you book reservations at this Israeli-inspired Society Hill restaurant a few months in advance because it fills up quickly. You may even need to settle for a 5 PM or a 9:45 PM slot, but it will be well worth it. You’ve simply never had hummus and pita this good before, as if the five greatest grandmother cooks in Jerusalem got together to start their own restaurant. Fortunately for you, if you can’t make the reservation work, the next best thing is Dizengoff, a tiny lunch spot started by Zahav head chef Michael Solomonov, that focuses just on these two staples.
Pierogies in Port Richmond.
Being an east coast city, Philadelphia has a long history of being a town full of working class European immigrants, grouping together and calling this place their new home. Port Richmond is one such neighborhood, with deep pockets of Irish and Polish living side by side. Venture here to get some of the best Pierogies you’ll ever have. Pierogies are like little Polish potstickers, with potato filling and served with a topping of caramelized onions all over. Get them as an appetizer or as the main dish. The best spots for these perfect little dumplings are Krakus, Syrenka’s, or Green Rock Tavern.
8. Duck Fat Fries at Village Whiskey.
This is just one thing at one place of the restaurant empire owned by Jose Garces, a celebrity chef who has taken Philadelphia by storm in the 21st century. Try anything at Amada,Garces Trading Company, Distrito, or Volver, and you’ll be happy. But these fries (cooked in duck fat, obviously) at this always packed Rittenhouse Square bar will stand out in your memory.
9. BYOB Restaurants.
While not a dish, this trend has become an essential part of Philadelphia food culture. To get around the state of Pennsylvania’s restrictive liquor laws, many restaurant owners have taken the BYOB option- Bring Your Own Bottle. It’s a no-brainer for tiny neighborhood restaurants, and what started out as a tiny phenomenon has grown into a full on way of life for city diners. Today there are more than 250 such restaurants operating in the city. Use this interactive map of all such options in the city, and raise a glass to loopholes!
10. Anything at Reading Terminal Market.
This indoor public market mere blocks from City Hall has operated in some form since the 1800’s, with one hundred plus merchants offering everything from baked goods to fresh produce to ice cream to Italian pork sandwiches. Tourists eat side by side with downtown office workers on their lunch breaks, making this an always bustling scene. It’s hard to go wrong here, but a roast pork sandwich at DiNic’s, breakfast at the Amish owned Dutch Eating Place, or a po boy at Beck’s Cajun Cafe will always do you right.
*Featured image: Kimberly Vardeman