Maybe you just got off a train at 30th Street Station and have some time to kill before you head to the office, or maybe your friend is a doctor at Penn and the only way to get a minute of their time is to literally wait for them outside the hospital. Either way, if you’re in the area for long enough to grab a meal, you probably shouldn’t do it at the Drexel cafeteria. From places to impress your visiting parents to quick takeout for a busy day, we have you covered with the 16 best spots in University City.
You ran into your old high school friend a few weeks ago and they gave you one of those “We should totally catch up soon!” lines. You figured they wouldn’t follow up, but now here you are planning a dinner. Instead of doing the classic wine-and-cheese combo, take them to Terakawa. When it comes to ramen in West Philly, you can’t do much better, and the service is super fast, so you can get in and out before their life updates become more painful than listening to the Liberty Mutual jingle on loop.
If you tried to eat at every good place on Baltimore Ave., it would take at least a month of doing two-a-days just to get through the stand-outs. But since you likely don’t have the time or money to make that happen, the first and most important place to visit on that stretch is Vientiane Cafe. It’s a Laotian BYOB that’s great for a casual date or group dinner and serves big portions of noodle and curry dishes. The best things, though, are Lao specialties like the BBQ Cornish game hen and the pan-seared tilapia wraps. Just know, it’s small and cash only, so call ahead for reservations and hit the ATM before you go.
Food-wise, the Loco Pez in University City is basically the same as the one in Fishtown. It has the same great tacos and cheap beers, and if you happen to come here on one of their dollar-taco nights, you’ll be able to eat, grab a PBR, and leave a tip without having spent more than $10. This location near Penn’s campus, though, feels much less divey and is somewhere you wouldn’t feel weird bringing your in-laws to.
Convincing a friend to come all the way across the Schuylkill to meet you for dinner is about as tough as convincing your significant other that you’ll hang out with them after getting a Nintendo Switch. You have to have a really good argument to make it happen and Abyssinia is that argument. It’s not just one of the best Ethiopian restaurants in the city - it’s one of the best restaurants in Philly, period. And if they’re still not convinced, tell them you’ll buy the first round at Fiume (the cocktail bar upstairs) afterward.
Pod is a restaurant that was built for social media before social media even existed. It’s right on Penn’s campus and looks like the lovechild of an Epcot spaceship ride and an ’80s Las Vegas martini bar. When it first opened in 2000, it was the trendiest spot in the city and followed the very 2000s-era trend of serving a mix of Asian fusion dishes. It’s almost exactly the same today as it was then, with things like cheesesteak bao buns and Spanish rock octopus on the menu, but we kind of like it better now than we did when it was at its height. Mostly because it’s a time capsule that takes us back to when The Backstreet Boys were on TRL and “binge-watching” meant renting a bunch of DVDs at once.
Aksum is a big Mediterranean BYOB that’s a solid choice for a weeknight dinner, but is especially good for brunch on the weekends. They have things that you won’t find at most other brunch spots in the city, like Moroccan chicken and waffles and salmon crepes, and you can get subtly tipsy off a $5 bottle of “champagne” that you found in the back of your fridge.
One issue we have with Philly restaurants, in general, is that if you want to eat dinner after 10pm, your options are basically limited to ordering a pizza from Domino’s or assembling a collection of non-perishable items from the nearest convenience store while repeating “tomorrow is a new day” to yourself. The third and less well-known option, however, is to head to Dim Sum House, where you can get things like soup dumplings and beef-stuffed scallion pancakes until 1am. They also have a full bar with a pool table, so really it’s a one-stop shop for an entire night out.
There are a few really solid sit-down pizza spots in West Philly, and Clarkville is one of the best. It’s a colorful, two-floor neighborhood place on Baltimore that’s good for a casual lunch or dinner with a small group, and everything on the menu is $15 or less. Also, if you come during Happy Hour (which goes until 7pm on weeknights), you can get an entire pizza for $7. And if you’re under 12 (or, more likely, responsible for someone that’s under 12), they’ll give you a mini-pizza and a milk carton for $6.
Another place around UCity where you can sit down and get a solid pizza is Dock Street Brewing Co. Located in an old firehouse, it has some of the best personal pies in the area, as well as a pretty big bar food menu and a rotating tap list. Come here during the summer and post up at one of their outdoor tables before bar-hopping to a bunch of spots that clear out as soon as classes end for the year.
If you’ve ever taken a walk around Penn’s campus, you’ve probably noticed that there are tons of food trucks parked near the quad - especially on days when it’s nice out. Honest Tom’s used to be one of those trucks, until the lines got too long and they moved into a colorful little cottage that looks like somewhere you’d find Snow White singing to animals. All of their food is vegan and the tacos are both delicious and pretty cheap (you can get two for $7). Plus, you can be in and out in 10 minutes flat, so it’s exactly what you need after a long day of work or a particularly humiliating group workout.
Franklin’s Table probably came into existence as a kind of quasi-cafeteria for Penn students. But it’s since turned into an outpost for some of the best restaurants in Philly, where they can serve more casual stuff that can be picked up in between classes or on your way home from the gym. KQ, Kensington Quarter’s spot in the hall, serves a short menu of mostly sandwiches (plus fries and pickled vegetables), though the thing you really need to focus on here is the classic burger. It comes topped with cheddar, KQ sauce, and roasted red onions, and is one of the best burgers in the city.
You decided to visit your sister at Penn for the night and, instead of the casual night you hoped for, ended up drinking one too many PBRs and crashing on her futon. Before heading back to your responsibility-filled adult life, thank your sister and her roommate for hosting you by bringing them to Renata’s Kitchen for brunch. The Mediterranean menu has everything from shakshuka to pumpkin french toast and will give you just enough energy to make it back to your apartment to take a five-hour nap on your own couch.
The Han Dynasty in University City serves two main purposes - a place to get some of the best Sichuan food around and a full-on sports bar to watch whatever game happens to be on TV. The dan dan noodles are our favorite thing here and they’re pretty spicy, but if you’re not into that you can ask them to take down the heat. There are also about 50 other things on the menu that you can enjoy while you watch the Flyers lose their 47th game in a row.
Predicting the traffic situation on the way to 30th Street Station is basically like placing a bet in August on whether or not the Eagles will make the playoffs. It could take an hour to make it down the one-mile stretch of 676 that goes through the city, or you could be there in 5 minutes and beat your train by the amount of time it takes to eat a full dinner. If it’s the latter, walk over to Walnut Street Cafe, sit at the bar, and order a glass of wine and some ricotta ravioli.
Manakeesh is part Lebanese lunch spot, part bakery, and whether you want to get some work done over a cup of coffee and a piece of baklava or are just catching up with a friend, it’s a quick and easy option with very good food. The flatbreads are perfect for sharing and are topped with everything from labneh and za’atar to lamb lahm bajeen. And no matter what you do, don’t leave without scanning the bakery cases. You can pretend the big box you leave with is to share with your coworkers, even though there’s about a 0% chance that actually happens.
If you’ve been to the original Vietnam Restaurant in Chinatown, then you already know it has some great Vietnamese food and a large menu of Polynesian cocktails that are way stronger than they taste. The Vietnam Cafe in University City has pretty much the same food and drink situation, but it’s larger than the Chinatown location, and there’s always a table open - even if you show up with your entire competitive stretching team.