Visiting Philly for the first time? We have some opinions. First, don’t stay near the convention center - the hotels around there are cheap for a reason. Second, skip the liberty bell tour and just look at it from outside of the glass house it lives in. Third, maybe don’t do anything except eat?
Our First Timer’s Guide isn’t meant to be a definitive list of this city’s best bars and restaurants - it’s just what we’d do if we were in your shoes, with a weekend in front of us and a whole lot of food and drink options to sort through. Besides doing a National Treasure-themed tour of the city, we all know the main business at hand is to eat as much as possible in 72 hours. This guide should help point you in the right direction.
Breakfast / brunch
If you’re only spending one morning in Philadelphia, get a breakfast sandwich with some of the fluffiest eggs we’ve ever seen at Middle Child. The Herschel Walker, with eggs, American cheese, and short-rib corned beef, is the best single breakfast food in Philly. The place is counter service so there can be a long line on weekends, but it generally moves pretty quickly.
You probably didn’t come to Philly for bagels, but if you knew about this place, you might have. The tiny Fishtown shop boils their bagels in beer, which makes them extra crispy on the outside (so there’s no need to toast them). Whether you just want yours with just cream cheese or one of their piled-high turkey clubs, this is where you should get a bagel while you’re in town.
There are a lot of donut shops in Philly, but Beiler’s is the one that you’ll dream about until you’re on your deathbed. All of their donuts are excellent, but their blueberry fritter is a doughy, chewy sphere of perfection. They have a counter in the Reading Terminal Market, and another location in West Philly, but you can also find them on delivery apps. So, if you don’t feel like walking through a crowded market full of tourists at 10am, just order a bunch to your hotel room and eat them while you map out the rest of your day.
If you want to have a real, sit-down brunch, Café La Maude in Northern Liberties is where you should go. This French-Lebanese BYOB serves brunch seven days a week with a menu that includes everything from lemon ricotta pancakes topped with poached apples and caramel sauce to brisket huevos rancheros. On the weekend, you’ll likely spend at least 45 minutes waiting for a table. But it’s worth spending your entire morning here, especially if you have some time to kill before your walking tour of all of Ben Franklin’s mistresses' homes.
K’far, an Israeli bakery in Rittenhouse, will also likely have a wait. But you should know that you’re in line for some incredible breakfast food. We’d recommend almost anything on their menu, whether that’s the thick, buttery kubaneh toast topped with whipped brown sugar ricotta, egg sandwiches on crispy Jerusalem bagels, or delicious pastries like chocolate babka and gluten-free walnut cake. And considering you might have a tough time getting into Zahav for dinner, this place by the same people is a good substitute.
At some point during your trip, you’ll probably spend some time in Old City staring at buildings with historical plaques on them. After you’ve seen enough, stop by High Street on Market. It’s a casual neighborhood spot that has delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups, and if we could only eat one lunch for the rest of our lives, it would be their smoked duck Cubano. They also have some great cocktails, which will be useful when the people you’re traveling with insist on visiting every revolution-related museum in the area.
If you haven’t heard about how good the tacos are at South Philly Barbacoa, we can tell you that they’re the best in the city (and maybe the country). The Italian Market spot is only open for walk-ins Friday through Monday, and there will always be a long line, but you should get here if you can. There are only three items on the menu - barbacoa and pancita tacos, which you dress yourself, and a bowl of consome that can fix even the worst hangover. Get all three and order the barbacoa tacos by weight - they’ll come with all the toppings, salsas, and tortillas you could possibly need.
Doing a First Timer’s Guide to Philly and not including where to get a cheesesteak would be like calling your mom on her birthday and not actually wishing her a happy birthday. While everyone has their own opinion on which one reigns supreme, Jim’s is our favorite. It’s a retro, counter-service place on South Street that almost always has a line out the door. You have two options - you could suck it up and wait it out for this messy, cheesy sandwich or you could head across the street to Milkboy and order a Jim’s cheesesteak off the menu there. This way you can sit down in a coffee shop and eat your sandwich at a table. Plus, you’ll usually get your cheesesteak before you would have gotten to the front of the line at Jim’s anyway.
People always associate Philly with the cheesesteak, but an even more iconic sandwich here is the roast pork sandwich. It comes on a hoagie roll with roast pork, provolone, broccoli rabe, and long hots - and John’s Roast Pork makes a perfect one. You’ll have to travel to South Philly to get it, but since it’s your first time here, you shouldn’t skip it.
You shouldn’t leave the city without stopping at Hardena - a counter-service spot with excellent Indonesian food. It’s on the corner of a residential street near East Passyunk, and it’s hard to spend more than $10 on a huge plate of food here. You should get a rice plate and top it with up to four different options from their daily dishes, including things like collard greens, curries, and beef rendang.
You were probably already planning on walking around Rittenhouse Square so, while you’re there, stop in at one of the area’s longest-standing restaurants: Parc. This French bistro has a bunch of sidewalk seating that makes for the perfect people-watching situation, especially if you want to see a lot of dogs who look exactly like their owners. You should get some seafood to start - there’s an excellent raw bar with things like oysters and shrimp cocktail. And, if you’re really hungry, you’ll want to order the macaroni au gratin or the cheeseburger with raclette and grilled onion.
If you’re planning on eating at Zahav while you’re in Philly, you either have to make a reservation months in advance or show up about an hour before they open and hope to get a counter seat at 5pm. But if you decide to make it happen, it might just be the single greatest meal you’ll ever have. The Israeli menu is focused on small plates, and nothing costs more than $16. Get the tasting menu, which is $48 per person and includes a bunch of Israeli salads and hummus, plus a couple of small plates, a larger grilled dish, and dessert.
If you can’t get a reservation at Zahav or don’t want to wait in a line just to eat at 5pm, Suraya’s an excellent plan B. The Lebanese spot in Fishtown is one of the most attractive restaurants in the city, with a colorful dining room filled with shelves of pottery, an open kitchen that spans the entire space, and a back garden with a fire pit and its own bar. The plates are small and meant to be shared, so you should try as many things as possible, but the whole grilled dorade and the fatteh (a hot mezze with eggplant, toasted pita, and tahini) should be on your table.
When you need a good spot for a date - one that’s small, dark, and has really good food and cocktails - go to Friday Saturday Sunday. Located in a Rittenhouse Square brownstone, this American spot’s main dining room is upstairs, but the downstairs bar is more fun and you can still order the full menu. Most of the food is shareable, with a raw bar, pasta, and small plates like an excellent sweetbread katsu sandwich. And their cocktails are some of the best in the city - don’t miss out on the smoked eggplant spritz with tequila, cappelletti, lime, smoked eggplant syrup, and soda.
Pizzeria Beddia used to be a small counter-service shop with lines that were famously up to six hours long. Don’t worry, you don’t need to spend that much time in Philly standing in line for pizza. Because now, Beddia has moved to a much bigger space in Fishtown - and they have more than just excellent pies. It’s a full sit-down spot with a long natural wine list, a few starters, and pizza (which, yes, is just as good as its always been). There’s also sweet cream and espresso soft serve that’s better than any soft serve we’ve ever had before.
Beddia might be the most enjoyable place to eat pizza in Philly, but you’ll find the actual best pizza at Circles & Squares in Olde Richmond. It’s not quite the same experience you’ll have at Beddia - you’ll have to put in an order at the counter and wait around 45 minutes for your pie to come out - but the Detriot-style pan pies here are incredible. They also make traditional, thin-crust circle pizzas that are almost as good, but if you’re taking the time to wait for a pie here, it should be for a square. They’re crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside, and just as good when heated up the next day.
Whether you’re a vegetarian or love meat so much you keep bacon in your office ceiling a la Ron Swanson, you’ll enjoy this vegan spot in Midtown Village. Vedge uses vegetables as the centerpiece of every dish, instead of just subbing in fake meats, and focuses on making them taste so good that you might temporarily forget about the entire animal kingdom. The soft pretzel and wood-roasted carrots are must-orders, but there’s nothing that isn’t excellent here. They also have a huge front bar that serves great cocktails, so even if you spent the day shopping in Midtown Village and need a spot for a quick drink, Vedge is still a good choice.
This Filipino BYOB on East Passyunk does kamayan feasts on Wednesday and Sunday nights, and it’s some of the most fun you can have at dinner in the city. They replace the tablecloths with huge banana leaves and, rather than using utensils, you eat with your hands. A layer of garlic jasmine rice is spread out on the table, and topped with a few things like pork belly, fried whole fish, and bok choy. Try all the homemade sauces on the table to customize each bite, and don’t be surprised if you need a to-go bag for your leftovers.
Most of the best bars in Philly are dive bars. And if you’re here for just one night, this is the one you should go to. Aside from just being a fun spot to hang out and listen to live music on the weekends, it’s also where Philadelphia’s classic drink, the Citywide, was born. A Citywide is pretty simple, it’s just a PBR and a shot of Jim Beam, and Bob & Barbara’s sells them for only $3. Even if you like neither of the components, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to order the Citywide at the bar that invented it.
We have a few speakeasies in Philly, but most of them feel kind of lame and corny. Hop Sing doesn’t. This place in Chinatown always has a line, and you can very easily get kicked out and banned for life if you’re too drunk or wearing flip flops. But once you get past the doorman, you’ll realize why Hop Sing is one of the coolest and most unique bars in Philadelphia. There are the cocktails, which always have ingredients like Vietnamese coffee and flower-infused gin, that seem like they’d make no sense together but end up creating an incredible drink. Then there’s the space itself - the walls are covered in velvety red wallpaper and the candelabras on every table look like they’re about to jump to life a la Beauty And The Beast.
Tattooed Mom is your no-words-needed introduction to South Street - a place that’s stuck in the grungy, seedy world of the ’90s in the best way. The walls, top to bottom, are covered in years of stickers, spray paint, and sharpie, and it would take an exhaustive “I Spy” search to find all of the different murals by both famous and local street artists. They make drinks with cotton candy and pop rocks, put on Sunday night craft nights, and have a sticker and marker-covered bumper car in the entrance. It’s the kind of place you’ll only find in Philly, and one that’ll impress your friends just for knowing it exists.
Bok Bar is the only rooftop you should be drinking on when you visit Philly for the first time. It’s on the top floor of the Bok Building, which is a converted school in South Philly, and you have to walk through a gym and a bunch of graffitied hallways just to get to the elevator. But that’s all a part of the charm. Once you get up there, you’ll have some incredible views of the city, plus great drinks and small plates like za’atar fried chicken bites and quinoa fritters. If you want a more substantial meal or just want to sit down somewhere less crowded, Irwin’s is right across the hallway and has excellent, shareable Mediterranean food.
There are a lot of breweries in Philly, but Evil Genius in Kensington is one of our favorites for a bunch of reasons. The space is huge, with games on the tables and an outdoor patio with its own bar. The beer menu changes every few weeks, so you’ll want to take advantage of the option to get a flight and try six at a time. They also have fun with naming their beers - one of their staples is “I Love Lamp,” but there are usually seasonal ones as well, like the “Santa! I Know Him!” saison around Christmas time, and the “#ICantEven” watermelon blonde ale in the summer.
It’s hard to imagine that a place could succeed at being both a cool cocktail bar and a casual, divey beer bar, but that’s exactly what Fiume does. This tiny spot in West Philly above an Ethiopian restaurant called Abyssinia specializes in whiskey and feels like you’re drinking in a friend’s apartment where they happen to make some super creative and delicious cocktails. And, if that’s not enough, Abyssinia makes some incredible food that you should grab either before or after a few drinks here.