Philadelphia Foods You Have To Try
Updated June 2020
Philadelphia has quite a dining scene. Big-name chefs, 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 managed to eat pretty well and find plenty of options that pleased child and parents.
The Best Things To Eat in Philadelphia With Kids
Table of contents
Lunch: Shrimp and Donuts 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.
This time 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.
Dinner: A Historic Tavern With Good Soup
You can even explore Revolutionary over dinner in Philadelphia.
We’re often wary of colonial taverns because they are of course touristy and the food can be underwhelming, but we tried the historic City Tavern for dinner because the kids menu looked good and its pepper pot soup called to us on a rainy night.
It was a great evening. The chef who’s been on hand for the last few years has done his research into food history and sources as much as he can locally. The restaurant does a great job interpreting traditional foods for modern tastes.
By eating in the cozy taproom we avoided a half-hour wait but gave up the kids menu and the full dinner menu. But that was fine.
From the bar menu we put together a shared dinner of duck sausage with red cabbage and a basket of tasty colonial breads that were coarser, sweeter or more spiced than what we usually eat. They were all really good.
The pepper pot soup was a deep, dark meaty broth with lots of black pepper and collard greens. It was so good we asked for second bowl for dessert.
Tiny Traveler eschewed the soup in favor or a wedge of Linzer torte.
Rich drank a local ale, Tiny Traveler had an Amish apple cider that was incredibly apply, and I had a shrub, a colonial cocktail with rum and fruity vinegar that’s having a renaissance at cocktail bars.
Lunch: An unexpected café
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.
Spice Up Your Dinner, Then Cool Off
Don’t let Han Dynasty’s stellar reviews and elaborate Old City digs—in a high-ceilinged former bank— intimidate you. The place is casual, kid friendly, and so big you’re likely to get a table.
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.
The Olde Creamery Café around the corner sells local Bassett ice cream and is a good place to cool off after all those chilly peppers.
Federal Donuts, a few short blocks from Rittenhouse Square, is a local favorite. They mingle traditional glazed donuts with modern flavors like strawberry lavender and grapefruit brulee.
The readymade 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.
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.
More Lunch? 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 somewher to sit and eat. if it’s your first time to Philly get one from each place and compare.
We stopped at Isgro’s Bakery on the way home from Philadelphia for excellent cannoli. Tiny Traveler, the renegade, tried a cannoli-cream éclair. It was the size of her head, but she ate every crumb.
Time Out For Snacks
If you’re exploring the U.Penn area, head to University Square for everything from Bucks County Coffee and Chinese bubble tea to affordable and good sit-down restaurants.
In the Historic District you have to make a detour to either Franklin Fountain or Shane Confectionary, which had its window decorated for Easter when we stopped by. 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.
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 probably worth the wait.
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 homemade chocolate, caramels and barley sugar shapes, 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.
When the store is open they also brewed cocoa and drinking chocolate.
On our first visit, Tiny Traveler left clutching a liberty-bell-shaped chocolate lollypop. On our second visit we shares a bag of chocolate-malt balls and non-pareils to share.
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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).