What to Eat in Philadelphia: 11 Treats You Should Not Miss
There are lots of reasons to go to Philadelphia. Maybe you're a history buff who wants to see the first capital of the United States and the place where so much of the country's Revolutionary history began. Maybe you're a fan of culture who wants to enjoy the city's incredible museums and art galleries. Or maybe you're a sports fan in town to catch an Eagles or Phillies game.
But whatever brings you to Philly, you'll have a much better time if you drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Philadelphia. Traveling light will make it easier to get to grips with everything this great city has to offer — including its food scene.
Thanks to generations of immigration, Philadelphia has a food scene that can rival any city in the United States. And there's more on offer here than just cheesesteak - although you'll get that too. Whether your tastes run more toward fine dining or you prefer to keep it real with the best street food in Philadelphia, Philadelphia's restaurant scene has plenty to offer.
And in a city as big and vibrant as this one, you can find whatever you're looking for. If cheesesteak is too carnivorous for you, check out our guide to the best vegetarian restaurants in Philadelphia. Whatever you like to eat, you can find it here.
Philadelphia Food: Philadelphia Cheesesteak
If you know anything at all about Philadelphia food, you probably guessed that we were going to start with the legendary Philadelphia cheesesteak. This dish is as iconic as it is delicious, and there's no better place to enjoy one than its place of origin.
There are two ways to eat a Philly cheesesteak: wit or witout. That's with or without onions. If you're feeling brave, go for the witout — it's the more traditional option. But if you want something a little easier on the palate, order your steak wit onions. You can also choose your cheese: American, provolone, or Cheese Whiz are all popular options.
Legend has it that this cheese and roast beef sandwich was invented by the Olivieri brothers, who ran a hot dog stand near Philly's Italian market back in the 1930s. However, it was an employee of the brothers who first thought to put provolone on the sandwich, turning it into the iconic treat it is today.
Nowadays, you can find a cheesesteak just about anywhere in Philly, from the traditional hot dog stands to upscale fine dining restaurants. But the Italian market neighborhood is still home to some of the best cheesesteak vendors in the city.
Philadelphia Food: Tomato Pie
Another dish with Italian roots, the tomato pie, is a delicious pizza-like treat that's popular in Philadelphia and its surrounding areas.
Unlike a traditional pizza, a tomato pie is made with a thinner crust and has a more robust sauce-to-cheese ratio. This means that the flavor of the tomatoes really shines through — making it the perfect choice for tomato lovers.
You'll find some of the best tomato pies in South Philly, where many of the city's Italian immigrants settled when they first arrived. Lombardi's Tomato Pies is one of the most popular spots and has been serving up this dish since 1921. Other great options include Tacconelli's Pizzeria and Ralph's Italian Restaurant.
Philadelphia Food: Soft Pretzels
You can't visit Philadelphia without trying one of the city's iconic soft pretzels. These hand-rolled treats are a staple of Philly street food, and you'll find them being sold at just about every corner.
The best part about these pretzels is that they're not just delicious — they're also super cheap. So if you're on a budget, they're a great option for snacking on the go.
The soft pretzel is one of the classic Philadelphia food items that owes its origin to the Pennsylvania Dutch, who were actually German settlers in the Philadelphia area centuries ago. But these days, pretzels are enjoyed by just about everyone. You can get incredible pretzels at Miller's Twist in Reading Terminal Market or try Philly Pretzel Factory for the city's top outlets for this classic local food.
Philadelphia Food: John's Water Ice
If you're looking for a refreshing treat on a hot day, head to John's Water Ice. This Philly institution has been serving up delicious Italian ices in a variety of flavors since 1945.
The best part about John's Water Ice is that it's super affordable — a small cup will only set you back a couple of dollars. So if you're on a budget, it's a great option for satisfying your sweet tooth without breaking the bank.
There are two John's Water Ice locations in Philadelphia, one in the South Philly historic Italian market neighborhood and the other in the trendy Northern Liberties district. Both are worth checking out, but we recommend going to the original location if you can. It's located just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, making it the perfect spot for a post-sightseeing treat.
Philadelphia Food: Hoagies
The hoagie is another Philly classic that you won't want to miss. This massive sandwich is traditionally made with Italian meats, cheeses, and vegetables, all piled high on a fresh roll.
There are lots of great spots to get a hoagie in Philadelphia, but one of the most popular is Di Bruno Brothers. This gourmet food store has been serving up delicious hoagies since 1939, and today they have several locations across the city. Other great options include Primo Hoagies and Tony Luke's. As is so often the case with Philly's food scene, the neighborhood around the Italian market in South Philadelphia is a great place to track down excellent food.
Philadelphia Food: Federal Donuts
If you have a sweet tooth, you'll want to check out Federal Donuts. This local chain is best known for its creative donut flavors, which change on a regular basis. Some of the most popular include maple bacon, chocolate peanut butter, and strawberry shortcake.
In addition to donuts, Federal Donuts also serves up some of the best fried chicken in the city. So if you're looking for a hearty meal, this is a great option.
There are several Federal Donuts locations scattered around Philadelphia, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one. But the original shop is in Center City, making it a convenient stop if you're exploring the downtown area.
Philadelphia Food: Stuffed Challah French Toast
This may not be the most traditional food item on this list, but it has become a local legend, and that's all thanks to one specific Philadelphia restaurant that has perfected this recipe.
If you're looking for an incredible breakfast option, head to Sabrina's Cafe. This local chain is best known for its stuffed challah French toast, which comes in a variety of flavor combinations. Some of the most popular include blueberry cheesecake, salted caramel and bananas foster.
The stuffed challah French toast at Sabrina's Cafe is definitely an indulgent treat, but it's one that's worth splurging on. Trust us — you won't be disappointed.
There are several Sabrina's Cafe locations throughout Philadelphia, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one. But if you're downtown, we recommend checking out the original location on South Street. It's just a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, making it the perfect spot for a leisurely brunch.
Philadelphia Food: Roast Pork Sandwich
No list of the best foods to eat in Philadelphia would be complete without the roast pork sandwich. This sandwich is made with thinly sliced roast pork, sharp provolone cheese, and sautéed broccoli rabe, all served on a freshly baked roll.
If you're looking for an authentic Philly roast pork sandwich, there's only one place to go — DiNic's in Reading Terminal Market. This local institution has been serving up this delicious sandwich since 1911, and it's still one of the most popular items on the menu today.
Head to DiNic's early if you can, as the line for this sandwich often gets very long. But trust us — it's worth the wait.
Philadelphia Food: Cry Baby Pasta
It's not hard to see that Italian immigration has left an indelible legacy on the food culture of Philadelphia. Lovers of tomato sauce will find no end of places in Philadelphia where you can get incredible Italian food, including the Italian Market itself.
As a result, it takes quite a lot to stand out as a pasta restaurant in this city. But Cry Baby has become a local legend. Located in Queen Village, this unpretentious eatery has a welcoming atmosphere and incredible Italian food you'll remember for a long time after your visit. Try the chicken rigatoni with vodka sauce or the fritto misto, and you'll be sampling true Philadelphia cuisine, even if its origins are definitely Italian.
Philadelphia Food: Tastykakes
No discussion of Philadelphia food would be complete without mentioning Tastykakes. These cakes have been a local favorite for over a century, and they're still going strong today.
Tastykakes come in a variety of flavors, but the most popular are the chocolate cupcakes with creamy filling. These cakes are best enjoyed fresh, so if you can find a shop that sells them, we recommend picking some up. Tastykakes are sold at most convenient stores, including Philadelphia favorite Wawa, and picking some up there will make you feel like a real Philadelphian.
If you can't find a Tastykake shop, don't worry — you can also buy them online. Just head to the Tastykake website and place your order. They'll ship the cakes right to your door, so you can enjoy them no matter where you are.
Philadelphia Food: Scrapple
Scrapple is a dish that's unique to Philadelphia, and it's definitely an acquired taste. This dish is made with pork scraps and cornmeal, and it's usually served fried. This is another classic Philadelphia menu item that owes its existence to the Pennsylvania Dutch, the German settlers who were some of the first Europeans in the Philadelphia area and brought their culinary traditions with them.
If you're feeling brave, head to Reading Terminal Market and try some scrapple from Dutch Eating Place. This local spot has been serving up this traditional dish since the early 1900s, so they definitely know what they're doing.
Scrapple may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's definitely worth trying if you're in Philadelphia. It's one of those dishes that you'll either love or hate, but either way, you'll never forget it.
Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the US, and as a result, it has had centuries to build up a culture all of its own. That is reflected nowhere better than in Philadelphia's unique foods. Sampling the food items of Philadelphia is one of the best ways to see what makes this city unique — and it's also one of the most delicious.
Philadelphia food tends toward the affordable and the hearty, influenced as it is by German, Italian, and other immigrants. Therefore, it may not be the best place to try and maintain your diet. However, if you are worried about going back home carrying more than a few extra pounds, check out our list of the best hikes in Philadelphia to burn some calories from all this tasty food.
Eating your way through the famous foods of Philadelphia makes for a great vacation in the city. So drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage and get ready to sample the best treats the city has to offer.