Our Family’s Favorite Philadelphia Foods
Philadelphia has quite a dining scene. Big-name chefs, restaurants the New York Times will tell you must try–if you can get a reservation—and a long list of beloved local foods.
Despite not planning in advance to book those hard-to-get reservations, we managed to eat pretty well and find plenty of options that pleased child and parents.
Lunch: Shrimp and Donuts
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. So we returned to Pearl’s Oyster Bar, a local favorite overlooked by tourists.
We ordered fried shrimp for Tiny Traveler, while Rich and I tucked into sliders with plump fried oysters and fresh cole slaw. The highlight 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.
We strolled around the market then 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.
Everything Old is New Again
You can even explore Revolutionary Philadelphia at dinner. 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. I think the local food movement helps places like this to do a good job of interpreting traditional foods for modern eaters.
By eating in the taproom we avoided a half-hour wait but gave up the kids menu. From the bar menu we put together a dinner of duck sausage with red cabbage and a basket of tasty colonial breads that were coarser, sweeter or more spiced than our own. The pepper pot soup (above) 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. TT preferred a wedge of Linzer torte.
Rich drank a local ale, TT 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 with the Hipsters
If you visit the Magic Garden, try to do so before or after lunch, so you can eat at Hawthornes, 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 TT 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. TT 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. A few blocks away there’s also old-fashioned Shane’s Candy Store and the Franklin Fountain, which has been making its own ice cream since 2008.
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. 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.
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 is a little hunk of heaven with garlicky chunks of meat and broccoli rabe.
We stopped at Isgro’s Bakery on the way home from Philadelphia for excellent traditional cannoli. TT, the renegade, tried a cannoli-cream éclair. It was the size of her head, but over the course of the two-hour drive home she ate every crumb.
Don’t Forget: If you know Philadelphia, it can be helpful to check Restaurant.com before you leave for discounts on restaurants you know you like or want to try.
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