Philadelphia has a thriving restaurant scene that is grown-up and unpretentious.
PHILADELPHIA — It had been over ten years since my last trip to Philadelphia. Back then, I was a wide-eyed freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and a California native unprepared for my first winter. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city’s cobblestone side streets, diverse crowd, and cherry water ice on hot, sticky days. Like most college students short on money, my appreciation of the city of Brotherly Love was limited. I recently returned to give a place I lived for four years a proper chance. Like me, it had grown up quite a bit since the last time we met.
While images of a victorious Rocky, grilled cheesesteaks, and the proud underdog are often associated with Philadelphia, the city offers much more than its storied persona. Though many consider New York to be the top culinary destination in the Northeast, Philly’s restaurant scene is growing, varied, and totally unpretentious. Around here, the historic and contemporary collide on the most unassuming street corners, with a proud immigrant legacy and string of close-knit neighborhoods, each with their own distinct appeal. Here’s how to go beyond the Liberty Bell and ring in a new Philly experience.
What to Eat
You can find hearty red sauce Italian and affordable Ethiopian. A local favorite is Dim Sum Garden, located in Chinatown and founded by mother-daughter duo Chef Shizhou Da and Sally Song, who draw crowds daily for their Shanghai steamed dumplings filled with broth and juicy pork.
For seafood, make a reservation at the always lively Oyster House, where freshness from the sea is celebrated with an open-air raw bar. The meaty and flavorful lobster roll is memorable, but smoky BBQ oysters will keep you coming back.
Sunday brunch is at its best at Harp & Crown. In addition to a buffet of cured meats, cheeses, and chicken with biscuits, dessert lovers will be wowed by the do-it-yourself donut bar. Ask about hosting a party in their private bowling alley in the basement, complete with its own bar.
For shareable plates in an intimate environment, try Mediterranean-inspired Barbuzzo, where crusty country bread with whipped ricotta, pan-seared gnocchi, and chicken thighs with arborio rice are expertly crafted in an open-air kitchen.
Where to Play
Just around the corner from The Logan Philadelphia, Barnes Foundation houses collections of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings in a building designed by New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. Founded in 1922 by eccentric art collector Albert Barnes, the foundation has more than 3,000 works from artists such as Renoir, Cézanne, and Matisse.
Support local women entrepreneurs in Northeast Philly’s The Sable Collective. Owners Shanti Mayers and Syreeta Scott have created a haven for home decor and vintage fashion that celebrates creative designs and promotes wellness.
For a taste of historic Philadelphia, don’t miss Delancey Street. Registered as a historic landmark, it is a true inspiration for any architecture lover. For a taste of the growing food and art scene, head northeast of the city center to Fishtown, a working-class neighborhood full of restored warehouses, music venues, and sweeping beer gardens like Frankford Hall.
Where to Stay
Check into a downtown favorite, The Logan Philadelphia, for proximity to museums like the Rodin and the trendy neighborhood Rittenhouse Square. Here you’ll find tourists and locals alike gathered around the hotel bar at Urban Farmer to nosh on seasonal produce and cured meats from the in-house butcher. Design is contemporary, open, and features the works of local artists. Sip on a refreshing Aperol spritz at Assembly, the hotel’s rooftop bar, and enjoy incredible views of Ben Franklin Parkway.
For quintessential luxury, look no further than The Rittenhouse Hotel. In addition to its two restaurants, Scarpetta and Lacroix, there is a tea room with selections from around the world. Rooms overlook historic Rittenhouse Square and a bevy of good shopping options.