- Lunch Time:
- U. Penn Brunch
- Dinner Time:
- 3 Historic District Restaurants
- Snack Time Around Town
Philadelphia has quite a dining scene. It has big-name chefs seeking lowere rents than NYC’s, restaurants the New York Times says you have try–if you can get a reservation—and a long list of beloved local foods.
Despite not booking those hard-to-get reservations, we always manage to eat pretty well and find plenty of options that please all of us.
Her are some of our favorite finds from
• Things to Do in Philadelphia With Kids.
• Pair your Philly stay with a few days in Cape May, NJ.
• Plan a kid-free getaway in nearby Bucks County.
The Best Foods To Eat in Philadelphia With Kids
Seafood & More at Reading Terminal
We headed to Reading Terminal on a Thursday well after lunch hour and it was packed, with long lines for the well-known cheese steak and hoagie stands.
Down Home Diner offers American fare like scrapple, pancakes and meatloaf. Molly Malloy’s gastropub is the only place I saw where you could get a beer. There are some shared tables in the market’s center.
So we returned to Pearl’s Oyster Bar, a local favorite overlooked by tourists. Tiny Traveler and I had enjoyed fried shrimp and oysters (respectively) on our first trip. The food was good and the prices more than reasonable. So we were happy to introduce it to Rich.
The highlight this time was snapper soup, with chunks of fish and a dark, incredibly rich brown broth. We were happy to leave the other tourists to their hoagies.
Tiny Traveler had fried shrimp again. Alongside the soup Rich and I tucked into sliders with plump fried oysters and fresh cole slaw.
After lunch, we walked around to check out the Amish stalls selling pickles, jams, produce, breads, whoopie pies, and some fresh produce. The Amish products are generally good quality and make good souvenirs.
On our first trip our hotel rate didn’t include breakfast so we picked out some Amish pastries to save for the next day.
An unexpected café
If you visit the Magic Garden, try to do so before or after lunch, so you can eat at Hawthornes Beef Cafe, a cheerful neighborhood place about four blocks away.
Choose from a few local beers on tap, or explore the refrigerator cases with a well-curated selection of bottled beer from all over.
The food is fresh, some locally sourced, and all really good. They don’t do a kids menu, but will work with you.
I ordered one buttermilk pancake for Tiny Traveler and she cleaned her plate. Rich had beer-spiked Welsh rarebit, and I had Mexican eggs with a fresh corn and black bean salsa.
An English Pub Lunch
A restaurant row has sprung up on 18th Street along Rittenhouse Square and just north of it. The Dandelion Pub at 18th and Sansom has an authentic English country pub feel and is decorated with whimsical British knick knacks including a well-dressed dandy lion (get it?). It has a great selection of regional beers and ciders as well as British imports.
Rich and I ate there on a couple getaway and then again on a visit with Teen Traveler.
On both visits, Rich and I ordered deviled eggs, which are flavored with curry seasoning instead of the usual mustard and paprika and are quite good.
On our latest visit we sat in a cozy upstairs room that had a corgi theme going on. Rich and I shared a hot roast beef sandwich, whis was very British with watercress, horseradish and brown gravy. It was oozy, good, and not overly large. Teen Traveler has one of her favorite dishes, bangers & mash (British pork sausages and mashed potatoes and gravy).
On our previous visit, Rich and I sat at the bar because the front room seemed both lively and comfortable. That day we also shared a steak tartare, which was served like a bruschetta on a thin, crispy slice of sourdough and topped with watercress and a truffle dressing. It was unusual but also really good. That and the deviled egg made the perfect light lunch.
You can order a good-looking full-English breakfast at weekend brunch and on Sunday afternoon they do a traditional Sunday Roast with roast beef, yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and horseradish sauce. Yum.
Desserts range from a very traditional sticky toffee pudding and raspberry roly poly to an Eton mess updated with pink peppercorn merengue. We didn’t order any thought because we were holding out for ice cream.
U. Penn Brunch
The White Dog Café has been a popular locally sourced restaurant since long before that was cool. It’s moved around but is lately in a townhouse on Sansome Street, a block away from the University of Pennsylania campus.
It has a series of small rooms, each with a unique celebration of ma’s best friend. Brunch has a good mix of sweet and savory dishes. Don’t miss the warm ricotta doughut fritters. They are on the appetizer meu but could easily be had for dessert.
Offerings like churro waffles and Dutch apple pie French toast were tempting but after the doughnuts we all wanted something savory. Teen Traveler had the least traditional dish, ordering a Thai steak salad with udon noodles, peanuts and chili-lime dressing.
I had an omelet with excellet home fries. Rich went with eggs benedict. The White Dog gives the brunch staple a unique twist by replacing the Canadian bacon with pork bello and the hollandaise with a rosemary-maple cream sauce.
Everything was good, and everything other people were ordering looked good. So we’ll no doubt go back. It’s a popular spot as you can imagine and reservations are a must for brunch or dinner on weekends.
We never leave Philadelphia without eating Cheesesteak, and this time we headed to Abner’s near the U.Penn campus.
The last time I ate at Abner’s I had steak juice running down my arms, which is what you want in a cheesesteak. This time the sandwich was short on peppers, onions and cheese and not nearly oozy enough.
It should look like the one pictured, which is not from Abner’s.
Local drinks (the soda tasted like a cherry lollypop) were still good. Next Time, it’s back to Pat’s, Geno’s or Jim’s, which have never let us down.
If you’re in town to see a football, basketball, hockey or baseball game we found a good little cheesesteak place near the sports stadiums. Ace of Steaks sits next to a Citgo station onBroad Street, under Schuylkill Expressway; not promising looking. But it was busy and everything was made to order. The cheesesteak was full of peppers, cheese and onions and very oozy.
South Philly Street Food
We like to shop and eat in the Italian stores on South 9th Street. We have yet to try the taco places moving in among the pasta shops, but word on the street is that they’re good.
George’s roast pork hoagie, which we’ve had on other visits, is a little hunk of heaven with garlicky chunks of meat and broccoli rabe.
Geno’s and Pat’s are legendary rival cheesesteak stands tucked away in South Philly. They sit next to an old but serviceable playground if you need somewhere to sit and eat. if it’s your first time to Philly get one from each place and compare.
Arts District Italian
We passed Giorgio on Pine going to and from the Doubletree City Center and thought it looked like a nice mom-and-pop neighborhood restaurant, and indeed it is, with reasonable prices to boot.
We popped in without a reservation an hour before they closed and they found us a table despite being pretty full. Everything was homemade and had a twist to make it not quite the usual dish.
The gnocchi in a creamy cheese sauce were made with sweet potatoes and Teen Traveler loved them despite not being a fan of sweet potatoes (she’s a big fan of gnocchi). Instead of the usual Francese, Rich had veal with lemon, capers and white wine. My bucatini had a spicy marina offset with sweet vidalia onions and salty pancetta. They were all excellent.
We got one of the last slices of tiramisu for dessert and are glad we did. This was entirely traditional and a nice way to end the meal.
3 Historic District Restaurants
Not long after 8:00 restaurants in the historic dsistrict seem to close or become less family friendly. We don’t normally eat late but if on our last two visits we had early evening activites or late lunches that pushed dinner back and I think we would have been better off in the Rittenhouse Square area.
Spice Up Your Dinner, Szechuan Style
Don’t let Han Dynasty’s stellar reviews and elaborate Old City digs—in a high-ceilinged former bank— intimidate you. This place at Chestnut and 2nd streets is casual, kid friendly, and so big you’re likely to get a table even without a reservation.
Szechuan food is tongue-numbingly spicy but Han offers items that aren’t hot and will dial down the heat for you. Tiny Travler was happy with the string beans with minced pork and dumplings.
Rich and I liked spicy, crunchy, cool cucumbers and cumin-spiced lamb that perfectly balanced heat with other flavors. We eat a lot of Chinese and thought that this was excellent.
This is a good dinner to follow up with ice cream, which is easy to find nearby.
Note: They say they are open until 10:00 pm on weekend. but on two occasional ow we haven’t been able to get a table after 8:30. So got early.
If you want something a little different try Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar on 2nd near Market Street. High ceilings, antique-style ceiling fans, a balcony and rattan furniture evoke everything that’s cool about Havana. The food is fun and really good.
Pineapple-avocado quacamole sounds odd but is really good and comes with long plaintain chips for dipping. Empanadas are crispy with really good flavor and bigger than we expected; both are good for sharing.
Cuban specialties like ropa vieja, arroz com pollo, black bean soup and a pressed Cuban sandwich are spot on. Rice & beans, chicken wings, pollo asado and the empanadas are some of the kid-friendly fare. If you’re going to come with kids you’ll be welcome at 5:00, 6:00 or 7:00 at the latest. As the night goes on the bars are way more crowded than the tables and it has more of an “adult” vibe.
Absolutely ask for a daquiri on the rocks. It’s what the put-upon protagonist drank in Our Man in Havana, and with fresh lime juice and good rum they are tasty.
Note: Absolutely go early in the evening though. Sometime after 8:00 it becomes more of a nightclub and has a velevet rope.
Historic District French
With its plateaus of cold seafood and cool cocktails, the Royal Boucherie, down the street from Havana Central, looked like the kind of place where the staff looks askance when you walk in with kids. Indeed it’s pricey and there are only a few very kid-friendly menu items. But the staff was friendly and the sidewalk tables are laid back. At least with teenagers it’s fine.
Teen traveler and I both ordered and loved a crispy confited duck breast with perfect roast potatoes. Rich had a decadent burger, fortified with bone marrow and topped with watercress and gruyere. The chocolate mousse we had for dessert came with a torched meringue topping, which tasted like a toasted marshmallow and definitely appeals to kids. And teens. And adults.
Snack Time Around Town
Doughnuts and Donuts
After lunch at Reading Terminal we joined the line at Beiler’s for handmade donuts.
While we waited we watched workers cut dough and fill jelly donuts. Our trio—a simple glazed, coconut and chocolate-frosted with M&Ms — cost less than $3.00 and were delicious.
Federal Donuts, a few short blocks from Rittenhouse Square, is a big local favorite. They mingle traditional glazed donuts with modern flavors like strawberry lavender and grapefruit brulee.
The ready-made donuts on display are good but even better are the three flavors that are fried to order. We all liked Rich’s fresh, hot cinnamon donut the best. But over all we liked Beilers better.
Historic District Treats
In the Historic District you have to make a detour to either Franklin Fountain or Shane Confectionary, which always decorates its windows for Halloween, Christma, Valentine’s Day and Easter. They’re on market Street near Penn’s Landing, not far from the Betsy Ross house. It’s okay to stop at both.
Franklin Fountain is old-fashioned ice cream and soda fountain where they make the ice cream that goes into the sundaes, milk shakes and floats. The ice cream comes in old-fashioned favorites like coffee, maple walnut and butter pecan, seasonal flavors like peach and blueberry and trendy options like honeycomb and sea salt caramel.
We finally got to try it on our latest visit and enjoyed great ice cream floats. It was still wearm enough for me to order vanilla soda with peach ice cream, refreshing summer float. Teen Traveler went with one of her favorite float combos, raspberry soda with chocolate ice cream. It’s Rich and actually not overly sweet
The place is small and almost anytime I’ve passed by there’s been a line, but if you’re a fan of good ice cream it’s worth the wait. My only quibble is that they have no indoor seating ad could use some benches or tables outside as it’s hard to eat a float while walking.
We went to Wilson Park, across Market Street and a block up. While sitting on a bench enjoying our frozen treats, Rich noticed an old Philly used book store that he likes had moved across the street from its South Street location, which was better than ice cream for him.
We can’t go to Philly without popping in to Shane’s, which has been in the city since the 1860s. The candy is in glass jars and displayed along the counters in a way that makes you want to buy everything.
Look for chocolate, caramels and barley sugar shapes made on premises, and all kinds of old-fashioned, modern and seasonal candy. You really want to visit if you’re in town at Easter and Christmas time.
On our first visit, Tiny Traveler left clutching a liberty-bell-shaped chocolate lollypop. On our second visit we bought bags of chocolate-malt balls and non-pareils. They both have milk and dark chocolate options and they’re all really good, rich chocolate. Both have become routine purchases when we’re in town. On a latest visit we added soft homemade caramels and a barley sugar squirrel lollypop to the bag of goodies.
South Philly Italian Pastries
After shopping in South Philly we like to stop at Isgro’s Bakery for something to munch on the way home. This baker has excellent cannoli and we get a few different kinds. Tiny Traveler, the renegade, once tried a cannoli-cream éclair. I didn’t get to taste it but I have to assume it was good. t was the size of her head and she ate every crumb.
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Photos by FamiliesGo! except the photos of City Tavern (City Tavern and Only In Our State); Han Dynasty (Han Dynasty), Federal Donuts (Federal Donuts) and Philadelphia cheese steak (Pixabay).